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Is a Shih Tzu Smarter Than Other Dogs? The Surprising Answer!

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog breeds shih tzu

Is a Shih Tzu Smarter Than Other Dogs? The Surprising Answer!

If you’re looking for a loyal companion dog, you can’t go wrong with the Shih Tzu. They’re perfect for small homes and moderately active families. However, many people believe that these dogs aren’t intelligent due to how willful they can be. The breed is naturally stubborn and can be slow at learning new commands and following instructions.

Compared to working breeds, the Shih Tzu is ranked relatively low intelligence-wise. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart in their own way. Their ability to understand human emotions, communicate their desire to get what they want, and solve puzzles actually makes them highly intelligent.

To help clear the air—and prove why the Shih Tzu deserves to be considered smart—this guide goes over everything that you need to know about canine intelligence and how your Shih Tzu compares to other dogs.


What Are Shih Tzus?

Like many Chinese dog breeds, the Shih Tzu has a regal nature and spent most of their history within palace walls. Before they were officially introduced to the world in the 1930s, the Shih Tzu enjoyed a life of luxury among Chinese royalty.

Their purpose as companion dogs gives them a loyal nature and a fondness for human companionship. These traits, along with their adorable faces, big eyes, and small stature, are what make these dogs so popular around the world today.

shih tzu dog walks in the garden
Image By: Yarnawee Nipatarangkoon, Shutterstock

How Is Intelligence in Dogs Measured?

Before we begin comparing the intelligence of the Shih Tzu to that of other dogs, you need to understand how canine intelligence is measured. Two methods are commonly used and differ in judging how intelligent a dog is. As a result, these methods often have varied results.

Stanley Coren’s Dog Intelligence Test

When you think of intelligent dog breeds, your first thoughts will likely be the working dog breeds that everyone is familiar with. Border Collies, for example, are renowned for topping the list of the smartest dogs in the world. That list is a result of Dr. Stanley Coren’s efforts and his 1994 book, “The Intelligence of Dogs.”

Coren first introduced the idea of dogs having different types of intelligence1. While he also introduced instinctive and adaptive intelligence, his work focused primarily on working and obedience intelligence.

He determined the order of the list by testing a breed based on two factors:

  • The repetitions needed to learn a new command
  • The success rate of obeying a known command the first time

The dogs that scored the highest on Coren’s test were breeds that needed fewer repetitions to learn a command and obeyed commands more often. He also determined that a dog’s mental capabilities are the equivalent of a 2-year-old human child2.

Adaptive Intelligence

While Coren’s intelligence ranking is the most well-known, dogs are all individuals, and their intelligence can vary depending on their personality. This means some members of a breed might be more intelligent than others.

Adaptive intelligence is how a dog figures things out on their own without you going out of the way to teach them. While obedience covers commands like “sit” and “stay,” adaptive intelligence would be your Shih Tzu figuring out to get their ball when it rolls under the couch on their own.

How Does a Shih Tzu’s Intelligence Compare to Other Dogs?

Determining how intelligent a Shih Tzu depends on what type of intelligence you’re measuring. If you use Coren’s measure of intelligence, the Shih Tzu doesn’t do well at all due to their stubbornness and how slow they are to pick up new commands.

While they did qualify for the final ranking due to their popularity, the Shih Tzu is ranked 70 out of 793. They are in the sixth tier of least-effective working dogs.

Although the test doesn’t include every dog breed, the Shih Tzu is a long way behind a few of the most well-known dogs, such as the Border Collie, Poodle, German Shepherd, and Golden Retriever.

However, if you consider adaptive intelligence, the Shih Tzu is more intelligent than you might think. When they want to, they can solve puzzles, understand human emotions, and communicate their desires just as well as, if not better, than more obedient dogs. They might not obey instructions as quickly as the hard-working Border Collie, but they’re equally loyal to their family members.

Brown Shih Tzu
Image By: David Soanes Photography, Shutterstock

Are Shih Tzus Smart Dogs?

Despite how low the Shih Tzu ranks on Coren’s list, they are incredibly smart. Their stubbornness might make them incredibly difficult to train at times—which can make them seem less smart than eager-to-please breeds—but they’re also incredibly good at problem-solving. They might not want to listen to you often, but these two areas prove that they are intelligent in their own way.

Communication Skills

One way that the Shih Tzu’s stubbornness serves them well is their ability to use it to do what they want. If they don’t feel like doing something that you want them to do, they’ll quite happily not do it at all. The Shih Tzu is also incredibly good at communicating their desires with their owners or even convincing you to do something that they want, like give them an extra snack or go for another walk.


The Shih Tzu has always been a companion breed, even when they were solely used as palace lap dogs in China. They’re such good companions because of their ability to understand how their owners are feeling. While all dogs will respond to your emotions, the Shih Tzu is one breed that excels at responding to how you’re feeling.

Whether you’re sad or happy or feeling another emotion, your Shih Tzu will be by your side the whole time. They’ll cuddle with you when you’re feeling down or join in with your excitement.



Depending on how you measure your Shih Tzu’s intelligence, they can rank relatively low or quite high. In Coren’s official ranking for obedience and working intelligence, the Shih Tzu ranks 70 out of 79. Their stubborn streak and preference to do what they want rather than obey commands make them seem less intelligent than other dogs. Due to this, they’re ranked with other “least-effective working dog” breeds.

But when you consider their adaptive intelligence, the Shih Tzu can hold their own against many other breeds. Their ability to solve problems on their own and communicate with their human companions enables them to contend with some of the smartest dogs out there.

Although they likely won’t win a prize for being the most intelligent dog in the world, their puzzle-solving ability and lovable loyalty show that the tiny Shih Tzu is smart too. Your dog might be even smarter than you think. Try giving them a few puzzles to solve, and see how well they do!

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Featured Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak

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