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American vs European Shih Tzu: Which Should I Choose?

Written by: Kit Copson

Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Dogster Team


American vs European Shih Tzu: Which Should I Choose?

For dog lovers looking for a loving, happy-go-lucky, and willing companion, the Shih Tzu never disappoints. The Shih Tzu counts as just one breed, but there are multiple different types of Shih Tzu, two of which are the American Shih Tzu and the European Shih Tzu.

These two Shih Tzu types have some clear physical differences, and some claim that there are slight differences in terms of temperament, but each Shih Tzu has their own unique personality, so this should be taken with a pinch of salt.

If you’re unfamiliar with the differences and similarities between the European and American Shih Tzu and would like to know more, read on for the full lowdown.

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Visual Differences

American vs European Shih Tzu - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – Eric Isselee, Shutterstock | Right – chaoss, Shutterstock

At a Glance

American Shih Tzu
  • Average height (adult): Around 11 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 9–16 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–18 years
  • Exercise: 45 minutes to 1 hour per day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes, with socialization
  • Other pet-friendly: Often, with socialization
  • Trainability: Thrives on positive reinforcement, can be stubborn
European Shih Tzu
  • Average height (adult): Around 11 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 9–16 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–18 years
  • Exercise: 45 minutes to 1 hour per day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes, if socialized
  • Other pet-friendly: Often, if socialized
  • Trainability: Intelligent but can be headstrong, needs plenty of consistency and positive reinforcement


American Shih Tzu Overview

shih tzu puppy black color walk in nature
Image Credit: Photobox.ks, Shutterstock

The Shih Tzu was first recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1969. Today, they sit at number 20 on the AKC’s popularity rankings, making them one of America’s most beloved dog breeds. They originated in Tibet and date back over a thousand years. The American Shih Tzu is just one of several Shih Tzu types, along with the Imperial Shih Tzu and the European Shih Tzu.


The main difference between the American and European Shih Tzu is their appearance. American Shih Tzus are distinguished by their narrower chests (which give them a more “compact” stance, if you will), square-shaped heads, forward-facing legs, and wide-set eyes.

Their bodies are quite long and slender, which makes them appear more graceful than a European Shih Tzu when they walk. The tail is held upright and tends to curl over the lower back.


Shih Tzus are generally charming, affectionate, and friendly dogs with a hint of stubbornness. They require lots of positive reinforcement and consistency during training, ideally with an owner who won’t let them wheedle their way out of what they’re supposed to be doing!

Shih Tzus typically love cuddles with their families and don’t need a huge amount of exercise—45 minutes to an hour per day should be fine.

The American Shih Tzu seems to have a reputation for being a little less clingy and more reserved than the European Shih Tzu, but this is just a generalization and doesn’t guarantee that your American Shih Tzu will be the same.

Shih tzu puppy dog eyes
Image Credit: Angel Sallade, Shutterstock

Health & Care

Shih Tzus can wear their coats long or have them trimmed short. If your Shih Tzu has a long coat, they’ll need to be brushed daily to keep it smooth and tangle-free.

With short-coated Shih Tzus, you can get away with brushing them about once per week—these dogs don’t shed heavily, which is a big bonus. It’s also important to trim their nails regularly and have a look inside their ears often to see if they need cleaning.

In terms of health conditions, Shih Tzus struggle with heat and can suffer from breathing problems due to their short snouts and flat faces. This is because Shih Tzus are brachycephalic, like Pugs and French Bulldogs.

This fact can cause a number of respiratory issues, which sometimes makes surgery necessary, so be sure to communicate with your vet when you first bring your Shih Tzu home to ascertain how often they should be brought in for checkups.

Suitable For:

An American Shih Tzu would fit perfectly into any family ready to provide plenty of love and cuddles, but that will also be consistent with training and will commit to socializing the Shih Tzu with other people and pets from as early as possible.

Shih Tzus suit apartment life well due to their low exercise needs, but still need a few short walks every day to enhance their emotional and physical health. You should also incorporate a few play sessions at home into a Shih Tzu’s daily routine.


European Shih Tzu Overview

dog breeds shih tzu
Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak

The European Shih Tzu became popular in Europe in the 1930s and didn’t set foot (or paw) in America until several years later. This type of Shih Tzu differs from the American Shih Tzu in terms of appearance, but they tend to share many of the same personality traits. Let’s explore this further.


Compared with the American Shih Tzu, the European Shih Tzu appears chunkier and heavier due to their larger chests. This makes them carry themselves more widely than American Shih Tzus, which have a more graceful gait.

The neck also stretches out longer and the body tends to be a bit bigger than that of a European Shih Tzu, but the two types don’t vary much in terms of size or weight.


The European Shih Tzu has the same wonderful traits as the American, though they are reputed to be somewhat smarter and friendlier. Again, this should be taken with a pinch of salt—dogs’ temperaments vary greatly and depend on multiple factors, like how well they’ve been socialized and how positive their experiences with people and other animals have been.

nine month old shih tzu standing on an ice floe
Image Credit: Tatiana Gasich, Shutterstock

Health & Care

Like the American Shih Tzu, long-haired European Shih Tzus need daily brushing, and they need to have their nails trimmed and ears checked frequently. They’re also prone to breathing issues due to being brachycephalic, and they don’t do well in hot weather.

The European Shih Tzu is also quite a stocky dog, which may make them even more susceptible to obesity if they’re overfed, are fed poor-quality food, or don’t get enough exercise. For this reason, it’s important to feed a high-quality, balanced, and complete formula and consider feeding on a set schedule rather than free-feeding.

It’s also a good idea to watch how many treats you’re feeding your Shih Tzu and make sure they get around an hour of physical exercise every day in the form of a few walks and play sessions at home.

Suitable For:

The European Shih Tzu, like the American Shih Tzu, makes a wonderful companion and family dog in both large and small homes as long as they get plenty of affection and stimulation, and are socialized.

Try not to be bowled over by their charm during training—they can be headstrong and tend to like life in the slow lane a little too much sometimes!


Which Breed Is Right for You?

Appearances aside, there aren’t many differences between the American and European Shih Tzu. In terms of temperament, health, and care requirements, they’re pretty similar, so if you choose to make a Shih Tzu a member of your family, your choice will depend mostly on whether you prefer a certain kind of look and, most importantly, how well you gel with the dog you have in mind.

We would recommend checking out adoption organizations to see if they have any Shih Tzus waiting for a new home. Adoption is a great way to support rescue organizations while getting a true friend for life. We even came across some organizations dedicated solely to Shih Tzu adoption, so you might want to consider seeing if any are available in your area.

Featured Image Credit: (T) Jumpstory | (B) Seba Tataru, Shutterstock

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