Shih Tzu were bred to be affectionate companion dogs. They are outgoing and playful, yet carry themselves in a proud manner. They expect pampering—it's in their genes. Shih Tzu are thrilled to greet new people, especially if they're going to get attention for it. The loving—and lovable—breed is sturdier than it looks. DNA tests have shown the Shih Tzu to be one of the oldest dog breeds—a close ancestor of the wolf. This lively little breed is always thrilled to accompany family on walks through the garden or curl up for a nap, as long as they can be where the people are.
Shih Tzu are also known as Chinese Lion Dog and Chrysanthemum Dog.
Shih Tzu Mixes
You may find Shih Tzu mixes available for adoption in shelters and rescues. Mixes may present some physical traits and temperament of Shih Tzu but the genetics of the other breeds in the mix will also be present. Most shelters do not perform DNA testing on the animals they care for—breed is often determined based on physical characteristics, as well as information provided at the dog's surrender.
To adopt an AKC registered or a mixed breed Shih Tzu, the best first step is to contact shelters and breed-specific rescues to let them know you're interested. Shih Tzu and other small breed dogs are popular and tend to get adopted quickly. Shih Tzu mixes adopted from a shelter may share physical characteristics of the breed, but because their genetics contain an unknown mix, their temperament may not match the breed standard. Shelters and rescues attempt to determine each dog's personality through a series of evaluations—even if the dog's temperament may not follow the breed standard, you can get the dog that suits your home.
Shih Tzu mixes may include Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, Maltese, and other small breed dogs.
Shih Tzu show off a long, flowing double coat that can reach the ground. They are born with a single, short coat, and a second coat grows in as they get older. There are 14 standard colors and three marking types, but the AKC allows any color or marking.
Average Height: 8-11 inches
Average Weight: 9-16 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The lively and alert Shih Tzu is a toy breed companion dog, meant to live alongside people. Though compact, they are a solid breed. They are slightly longer than they are tall. They are not leggy, but should not appear squat either. A round, broad head and large, well-placed eyes should offer a friendly expression. Large, low set ears are heavily coated with hair. The jaw is broad, with an undershot bite. Short and sturdy with a broad chest. Plumed tail is carried high and proud, curved over the back. The luxurious double coat is long and flowing, a slight wave is allowed. The trusting, friendly, outgoing, temperament is one of an affectionate companion animal. – AKC Breed Standards
The history of the Shih Tzu is difficult to trace, partially because the breed is so ancient—DNA testing ranked them among the 14 oldest dog breeds. The breed was most likely developed by Tibetan monks or in China, with a combination of the two likely.
While documents state the breed was gifted to the Chinese court by the Byzantine Empire in 624 AD, others say the Dalai Lama brought the first of the breed to China in the 1600s. Others claim the breed was developed entirely in China, meant to resemble little lions. Marco Polo's 13th century accounts say Shih Tzu were kept alongside lions as companions. Artwork and documents from 600 AD to the 1700s show little lion-like dogs, most likely early ancestors of Shih Tzu.
Shih Tzu were well-loved in China, and were not allowed to be sold or traded anywhere else in the world. Empress Dowager Cixi bred some of the finest examples of Shih Tzu, but after her death in 1908 her breeding program came to an end.
Shih Tzu nearly went extinct, but 14 of the dogs had been smuggled or sent to England and elsewhere. Beginning in 1930, those seven male and seven female dogs were used to re-establish the breed. All Shih Tzu registered today can be traced back to those 14.
American soldiers brought Shih Tzu back from Europe and Australia in the 1940s. The AKC recognized the breed in 1969.
AKC Breed Category
Shih Tzu were bred to be the ultimate companion dog, and their friendly, loving nature is a constant reminder of this. They're perky, playful, and affectionate. The outgoing and alert dog loves to spend time with people.
Are Shih Tzu Good with Kids? The easygoing, trusting nature of the Shih Tzu makes them a wonderful companion for children. They're surprisingly sturdy for a dog in the toy group, but children should still be advised not to lift or carry Shih Tzu to prevent injury to the dog, as well as dog bites.
Are Shih Tzu Good with Other Pets? Shih Tzu do well with other dogs. They're also known to live with cats without issue.
Shih Tzu are fiercely loyal to their family—but there's not an ounce of ferocity in the companion breed. They're alert and will often bark when a stranger approaches the home, but they are polite and friendly with guests.
The lively Shih Tzu is always up for play, but does not require extensive activity. They have a medium energy level.
Shih Tzu were bred as an indoor companion and this is where she is best suited. She wants to accompany you from room to room and spend time relaxing in your lap. Shih Tzu are adaptable dogs that can live in most homes, from small city apartments to the sprawling countryside.
Shih Tzu enjoy walks through the yard and time outdoors with family, but they are not built to spend lots of time outside. They cannot tolerate heat, and their long coat may mat, tangle, and catch burrs. Shih Tzu should not be expected to spend time outdoors alone.
Though energetic, Shih Tzu do not require a lot of exercise throughout the day. They are happy following you around, and a short walk or two—about 40 minutes total each day—is enough to satisfy their needs. Shih Tzu do not tolerate hot weather well. Booties and a dog coat may be necessary to protect her from the cold during winter.
Endurance may be limited in Shih Tzu. Though Shih Tzu are playful and energetic, brachycephalic breeds may have difficulty breathing or regulating their temperature if pushed beyond their ideal activity level. Take care not to overwork your Shih Tzu.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Shih Tzu are not ideal running partners due to the short face and small nasal passages that are features of brachycephalic breeds.
- Hiking Miles: Shih Tzu may be able to hike one to three miles—if the hike is not strenuous and plenty of water and breaks are provided. Shih Tzu do not tolerate hot weather and they may overheat easily. They will need to work up to a longer hike. Their short legs must also be considered—you may end up carrying a Shih Tzu for much of the hike depending on terrain.
Shih Tzu may be prone to food allergies and may need a special diet if they show symptoms of food allergies such as itching, chewing on feet, or digestive issues. The brachycephalic breed may also need a special, easy-to-chew food due to their pushed in nose and underbite. The general recommendation for how much high-quality dry dog food (based on average weight and activity level) to feed is ¾ -1 cup per day. This should be split between two or three meals.
Shih Tzu can exhibit food guarding behaviors, despite their companionable nature. Any instances of resource guarding should be discussed with a trainer before it escalates. Children should never be allowed to touch or remove food from any dog while it is eating.
Shih Tzu can learn to stay home alone for four to eight hours, but this social breed does not like spending time alone. Shih Tzu were bred to provide companionship: that is their only job. Boredom and lack of exercise may turn into destructive behaviors, so creating a safe area or crate training may be necessary.
Health and Grooming
The Shih Tzu possesses a long, luxurious double coat of hair—not fur—that requires daily brushing and regular grooming. The coat may be puppy clipped for dogs kept as pets, but Shih Tzu in the show ring must have meticulously groomed, long hair. More involved monthly grooming at home or at the groomer's is necessary. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Shih Tzu are considered a hypoallergenic breed, though there is still potential for a reaction in allergic individuals.
Common Health Issues
Shih Tzu have some breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Hip dysplasia
- Knee and joint concerns
- Eye disorders or injuries
- Ear infections
- Dental problems
You can minimize serious health concerns in Shih Tzu by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Though intelligent, Shih Tzu may be difficult to train due to their short attention span and stubborn nature. Basic training should begin in puppyhood. Polite behavior should be taught early. Discouraging jumping is important not only for good manners, but also to prevent injury to growing bones. Shih Tzu are notoriously difficult to housebreak, so persistence is necessary. Praise and rewards are the way to win the cooperation of Shih Tzu.
Discouraging nipping and guarding behaviors early can prevent dangerous situations in the future. Always discourage play biting in young Shih Tzu. Every time a puppy nips, get up and walk away. Do not interact with a dog who is biting—instead, ignore the rough, rude behavior and offer lots of praise for gentle play.
Shih Tzu can learn advanced tricks, but they may be stubborn or uninterested in extra training. Rumors say Shih Tzu kept by Empress Dowager Cixi were trained to greet her by standing on their rear legs, waving, and performing tricks. They are natural entertainers, but they have an independent streak so it may take patience and lots of praise to encourage Shih Tzu to perform specific tricks.
Motivated Shih Tzu can learn agility. Shih Tzu have participated in—and won—agility competitions. The sport is not ideal for every small dog. Brachycephalic breeds may have difficulty with strenuous activity or heat, so always watch for signs of discomfort or distress during extra activity.
Sporting Dog Training
Shih Tzu are not ideal hunting companions. They were bred as indoor dogs and are better suited to the lap than to the field. Though sturdy, their short legs, tendency to overheat, and breathing concerns mean they are not likely candidates as sporting dogs.
Shih Tzu, pronounced 'Sheed-zoo,' comes from the Mandarin word for lion. The Shih Tzu is called Xi Shi dog in China, named after Xi Shi from ancient Chinese stories. Shih Tzu are often called 'chrysanthemum dogs' because of the way the hair grows around the face, resembling the flower. Owners of the breed use the nickname 'Tzu.' The singular and plural of 'Shih Tzu' are the same, as one would say deer.
Shih Tzu often snore, snort, and reverse sneeze, as is common in brachycephalic breeds. Their short, pushed-in nose is to blame for the noisy nature of this breed. They may be especially loud while teething, until about six months old.
Some breeders market teacup versions of Shih Tzu as 'Imperial Shih Tzu' or 'Princess Shih Tzu,' but they are not an AKC-recognized breed. The tiny versions may be the result of breeding the smallest dogs from Shih Tzu litters, so these dogs would not be within the recommended healthy weight range for the breed. The potential for undesirable breeding practices or serious health concerns may be greater in this type of dog as they do not conform to breed standards, but not every breeder of designer dogs is irresponsible.
Peanut butter can be a delicious treat for Shih Tzu if given in moderation. The fat content can cause dogs to gain too much weight, so a small amount will do. Just check the label first—some brands add xylitol to peanut butter as a sweetener. This sweetener is toxic to dogs, so do not feed peanut butter sweetened with xylitol to any dog.