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Breed Series

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu playing in a field

Shih Tzus are a toy breed dog with a long royal history, even to this day! Bred to be a lapdog for nobles, they are now a very popular dog thanks to their playful, affectionate, and outgoing nature. Often called the "little lion," Shih Tzus are sure to capture hearts because of its long, lush hair and smooshed face. They are great family dogs and make friends easily. Shih Tzus need a lot of attention, so they do best with families who are home often.

Shih Tzu History


Shih Tzus are more than 1,000 years old, with roots that date back to China and Tibet. It is likely a crossbreed between the Lhaso Also and the Pekingese, though its exact origins are unknown. Interestingly enough, DNA testing proved that Shih Tzus are more closely descended from wolves than other breeds.

Shih Tzus were bred to be lap dogs for noble families, and they have been pampered ever since! Shih Tzus were even the royal house dog to the Ming Dynasty in China from the 14th to the 17th century. Because of this, Shih Tzus were largely unknown to the outside world until the early 20th century, but once the word got out, they became very popular.

Beginning in 1930, Shih Tzus were imported into Europe, and it was recognized by the AKC as an official breed in 1969. Since then, they have been capturing hearts across the world.

Shih Tzu Appearance


Shih Tzus are known for their long, luxuriant coats, their smooshed faces and underbites, and their small yet regal demeanor. They stand between 9 and 10.5 inches tall and weigh between 9 to 16 pounds. Shih Tzus are typically longer than they are tall, with a short muzzle, underbite, and prominent eyes. Because their hair often gets in their eyes, many Shih Tzus will have a top knot or bow in their hair to stop irritation.

Their most distinguishing feature is often their coat. Shih Tzus have a long, silky double coat that can be black, white, gray, red, and a mixture of colors. They can also have a white tip on their tail and a white blaze on their foreheads.  Shih Tzus coats can be kept long or shorn shorter, and their tail is curled up over their backs.

Shih Tzu Personality


Despite having a straight carriage that can make them appear snobbish, Shih Tzus are actually known for their friendly temperaments! They are perky, happy little dogs that are very sweet and lively. 

They were bred over 1,000 years to be companion dogs, so they prefer to be with people, whether sitting on your lap or outside doing something with their families. Shih Tzus are highly affectionate dogs, and they love to give and receive attention. Because of this, they are easy to train. They can be barkers, especially when they want to get your attention, but even after they bark, they will make friends with everyone.

Shih Tzu Exercise Requirements


Shih Tzus are small dogs with a moderate energy level, so they don’t need a lot of exercise. You will want to make sure they are active for at least 20 minutes per day, but you can increase their activity level with time.

Shih Tzus will do well with short, daily walks and a lot of indoor playtime. After all, they thrive with a lot of attention! You will want to keep an eye on the temperature though. Shih Tzus are prone to heatstroke because of their short muzzles, so if it is too hot, you will want to make other accommodations. 

Shih Tzus are toy breeds and can become overweight without enough exercise. If you notice your dog becoming overweight, you will want to cut down the treats and increase the activity level.

Shih Tzu Training and Care


Shih Tzu thrives with attention, so they do great with training given there is a lot of positive reinforcement. They love learning tricks - anything that will give them the attention that they need and adore. 

Much like other small breeds, they can be hard to housebreak, so you will need a lot of patience. If you prefer, they can be trained to use a litter box, though they have been known to eat poop if left to their own devices. 

Shih Tzu can live in small apartments in the city and large houses in the suburbs or country alike. They are indoor dogs, and they should be fed between 1/2 cup to 1 cup of food per day. Clean water should always be available. About 5 to 10 minutes after eating or drinking, you will want to make sure to take a Shih Tzu outside to go potty if you want to avoid an accident. 

Shih Tzu Health


Shih Tzus are prone to several types of health issues, and if you are going through a breeder, you can ask for health screenings to know what your dog may be susceptible to. These can include:

  • Hip dysplasia and patellar luxation 
  • Renal dysplasia, particularly in juvenile dogs
  • Bladder infections and stones
  • Various eye issues, including keratitis, proptosis, distichiasis, progressive retinal atrophy, and dry eye
  • Ear infections
  • Retained teeth and gum problems 
  • Food, skin, and other allergies

Shih Tzus may also have snuffles and reverse sneezing given the size and shape of their snouts. Some of these issues can be avoided through proper breeding, while others are standard in the breed based on how they are built, including their bulging eyes, short snouts, and underbites.

Shih Tzu Grooming

Shih Tzus require a lot of grooming because of their coats. Even if you don’t keep them long, they will need to be brushed regularly. They are considered hypoallergenic between they have low-to-no shedding and do not drool a lot.

Long Shih Tzu coats need to be brushed and combed daily to prevent matting and tangling. It is best to have your Shih Tzu lay on its side to brush the coat in sections. They should also be bathed once a week. Shih Tzus with shorter coats can go longer between sessions but require frequent trips to the groomer, every six to eight weeks, to keep their coats under control. 

You will want to trim their nails monthly and check their ears weekly for any dirt and residue that may become trapped because of the floppy ears. Unlike other dogs, you will need to also wipe your Shih Tzu’s face regularly with warm water to remove any dirt on their face and eyes. Additionally, you may need to trim their facial hair to keep it out of their eyes to prevent irritation.

Smaller breeds are prone to dental issues, so you will want to make sure to brush their teeth regularly. Check for any retained baby teeth, odor, and other oral hygiene issues to prevent long-term health issues.