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Shih Tzu: Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Care, Traits & More

Written by: Matt Jackson

Last Updated on May 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

Happy Shih tzu dog sitting on green grass.

Shih Tzu: Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Care, Traits & More

Shih Tzu means “little lion,” but this toy breed was bred to be a companion and has the heart and temperament of a companion dog. The breed is usually happy, lively, and playful. They will get along with most people, though their small size means they might not be the best fit for families with small children.

They usually get along with other animals, including family dogs, visiting dogs, and even cats. The size of the dog means they are  suitable for apartment life and are the ideal dog for anybody who wants a close canine partner that will want to spend as much time as possible with them.

Breed Overview

Height:

9–11 inches

Weight:

10–16 pounds

Lifespan:

10–16 years

Colors:

Black, white, gray, tan, brown, liver

Suitable for:

Owners that are home a lot and looking for a companion

Temperament:

Playful, lively, alert, fun, loving, clingy

The Shih Tzu is a companion dog. Not only will they enjoy spending time with you and ideally, sitting on you, but they also need this closeness. As such, they are not the best choice of breed for those who go out to work or are out of the house for extended periods. They can suffer separation anxiety if left alone for too long.

Although they don’t need long walks and can do very well living in an apartment, the Shih Tzu is a lively breed that does require exercise and mental stimulation, if you want a dog that is well-adjusted and well-behaved.

Shih Tzu Breed Characteristics

Energy
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High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Trainability
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Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Health
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Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Lifespan
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Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Sociability
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Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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Shih Tzu Puppies

Shih Tzu puppy
Image Credit: Lana Langlois, Shutterstock

The Shih Tzu is a popular and well-known breed, which means there are plenty of breeders about. This also means that there are some unscrupulous breeders, including those who might try and pass off crossbreeds as purebred Shih Tzus and those who run puppy mills.

Do your research when deciding on a breeder. Ensure the parent dogs were fully screened for potential health problems before they were used to breed. Ask questions, and ensure that you get to meet the puppy before you make a final decision. You should also meet at least the mother.

The popularity of the breed also means that prices can be high for a Shih Tzu, although the highest prices are generally reserved for those with exhibition-winning lineage. The Shih Tzu is a popular show dog, and prices for dogs that have been bred from exhibition winners will be high.

The breed is popular with seniors due to the size and affectionate nature of the breed, as well as the fact they don’t need much daily exercise and can live in apartments. Unfortunately, this does mean that a lot of Shih Tzus end up in rescues and shelters when their owners can no longer care for them. Adopting means you save the life of the dog you take home, and it frees up space for another dog to be rescued, so always consider adopting first. When you do adopt, try to get as much information about the individual dog as possible, from the rescue.

If you have other dogs, have them meet the prospective new addition to your family, whether you are adopting or rescuing.

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu is a friendly and affectionate dog. They require a lot of time and attention from their owners, or they can suffer separation anxiety. They’re a great breed for those who are at home all day and want a dog that will be happy sitting on their lap for long periods, but they’re not ideal for those who go out to work or leave the house for long periods.

Although the breed is intelligent, they won’t always listen to commands and will generally do what they think is the right thing to do. This might not align with your opinion, and this can lead to problems.

The “Lion Dog” was bred as a companion dog and is considered one of the oldest breeds in existence, dating back to around 8,000 B.C. The exact origins are somewhat unclear, but it is known that the Shih Tzu originated either in Tibet or China. They were kept by royalty as companion animals. In 1928, the Shih Tzu was introduced to England, and by 1960, there were three official Shih Tzu clubs in the U.S. In 1969, they were officially recognized by the AKC in 1969.

Because this breed was raised as a companion, they won’t have guarding, protective, or particularly sporting traits. They will enjoy relaxing, napping, and befriending just about anybody that crosses their path, though.

The breed is adaptable. They can live in an apartment, but they can also do well when given some space in the yard. The Shih Tzu will happily follow you as you go about your business outdoors, although they likely won’t spend too much time outside alone, preferring your company instead. Despite the length of the coat, they do only have a single layer, which means that the Shih Tzu can struggle in cold weather and may protest at being walked in very cold conditions without a jacket or jumper.

white and brown Shih tzu standing on the grass
Photo Credit: Radosław Zmudziński, Pixabay

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

This very friendly breed is considered a good choice for families. They will get on with you, other family members, and all visitors to the house. They shouldn’t be overly protective, which means they won’t cause a fuss if children have friends over and play gets a little rough. However, the dog is small, so rough play shouldn’t include the Shih Tzu themselves.

If you do have young children, they will need to be taught to be respectful and how to gently handle a small dog. Picking the Shih Tzu up too roughly could cause injury. They aren’t an especially fragile breed, but their size means it doesn’t take too much to cause injury.

The Shih Tzu will also get along with visitors, whether they are family, friends, strangers, or delivery people. With a lively and playful nature, the Shih Tzu enjoys having older children to play with, and they will relish having multiple people in the home to lavish attention on them.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?🐶 😽

The Shih Tzu is usually as friendly with other animals as they are with people, although this depends on the temperament of both individuals. The Shih Tzu doesn’t tend to have small dog syndrome. They will approach bigger dogs but will want to make friends or play, rather than challenge or attack them. You will need to ensure that other dogs are friendly and are open to being visited by your little pup.

The size of the breed means they will also get along well with cats and are unlikely to want to chase them or attack them. However, cats still recognize Shih Tzus as dogs, and you may find that a bully cat will be able to dominate a dog of this stature.

If you are bringing a new Shih Tzu to a home with existing pets, you should still ensure that introductions are gradual. Your existing pets might see the Shih Tzu’s introduction as a threat to the balance of the house. Careful introductions get everybody used to the others before they are left to roam and mingle.

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Things to Know When Owning a Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu can come in a variety of colors. Common colors include white, black and white, and brown and white. All are accepted by Kennel Club standards and can be shown at events. They have a long and silky coat that takes some maintenance, but this luscious coat is one of the reasons that the breed is popular in shows. The breed is known as “The Little Lion Dog”—not for their ferocious attitude but because of the mane of hair they have on the top of their head.

Coat maintenance is a major commitment when taking on one of these dogs, although you can get help from a professional groomer. Some owners who will not be showing their Shih Tzu opt to have the coat cut right down. It offers easier maintenance, although it does mean losing that beautiful coat.

Here, we look at some of the most important things you need to know when taking home a Shih Tzu.

shih tzu with puppy cut
Image Credit: AlexFilim, Shutterstock

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

This is a small dog and as such, has small daily feeding requirements. Depending on the age, activity level, and whether the dog has any existing health conditions, you should feed them around 1 cup of dry food per day. It is a good idea to choose a food that is formulated for small breeds. Not only do these foods contain the appropriate protein and other vitamins and minerals for small breeds, but the kibble pieces are also smaller and easier for a Shih Tzu’s small mouth to eat. If offering them wet food, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the amount.

No more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake should come from treats. You must measure and weigh treats and food with small dogs because it only takes a few extra biscuits or one too many treats to push your pup well over their daily calorie allowance. Even a small increase can lead to considerable weight gain in a dog that weighs 10 pounds.

Exercise 🐕

Although lively and quite playful, the Shih Tzu is not a high-energy breed by any means. Like all dogs, they do require daily exercise, but their size means that a lot of this exercise can be given indoors. Do take your dog out for one or two daily walks, but remember that they only have small legs and will struggle to keep up even with a brisk pace. Be prepared for a relatively casual stroll around the block or to a very local dog park.

At the most, you should be walking a Shih Tzu for about 45 minutes a day. Much longer than this and you could cause injury or pain for your little companion. Although the Shih Tzu does take part in exhibitions and dog shows, and they can do well in modified agility events, their diminutive size means that they won’t tend to do well in other canine sports.

side view of a running shih tzu outdoors
Image Credit: Helena Lopes, Pexels

Training 🎾

All dogs benefit from socialization and training, even dogs like Shih Tzus, which are renowned for their personable natures. Socialization means introducing your companion to other dogs, as well as people and even cats. It teaches them that new situations and new people or animals are nothing to be scared of.

Poor socialization means a dog may not know how to react around others when they get older. It can lead to anxiety or even to reactive behavior. Training teaches your dog good behavior and discourages bad behavior. Going to puppy classes helps create a strong training basis on which to work. It combines socialization with teaching your dog some of the basic commands. It also gives you the techniques that are needed to continue training when you get home.

The Shih Tzu is an intelligent dog, but they won’t always do what you say. If they aren’t in the right frame of mind or in an attentive mood, the Shih Tzu will ignore what you say and do what they think is the right thing. Be persistent and consistent. Train every day and try to keep sessions fairly short. Use treats, but do make sure they are healthy treats that won’t eat into your pup’s daily allowance.

Grooming ✂️

Grooming is one of the more difficult aspects of owning a Shih Tzu. That beautiful coat is long and it does require attention. You should expect to comb and brush daily, with regular bathing also proving beneficial for you both. You can use a professional groomer who will keep the coat short and tidy, while also checking nails and teeth for you.

Trim nails when they get long enough that you can hear them clicking on wooden floors. Be careful not to cut too far up the nail, stopping before you reach the solid white section. If you do cut too far, it will cause bleeding and your dog will become distrustful of the clippers.

Brush your pup’s teeth at least three times a week. You can supplement this with dental treats, which can help prevent plaque and tartar buildup. Do make sure you have the vet give your dog’s teeth a good check every year.

shih tzu face
Image Credit: Angel Sallade, Shutterstock

Health and Conditions 🏥

This is a small breed, and small breeds tend to live noticeably longer than large dogs. It isn’t unusual for a Shih Tzu to reach 20 years of age, although 16 is a more likely age. While the breed is a generally healthy one, there are some health concerns and hereditary conditions they are more prone to.

Those big eyes are prone to problems, and since they have a long back and short legs, they are also more likely to develop conditions like intervertebral disc disease. The brachycephalic facial features also mean that Shih Tzus can suffer breathing problems.

Minor Conditions
  • Cleft Lip
  • Otitis Externa
  • Urolithiasis
Serious Conditions
  • Brachycephalic Syndrome
  • Eye Problems
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease

Male vs. Female

Male and female Shih Tzus require a lot of attention from their owners, but females can be moody. They can also become jealous of other female dogs getting your attention. They are also harder to train than males. Males will grow to be a little larger than females, although the difference in such a small breed is minimal.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Shih Tzu

1. The Shih Tzu Is One of the Oldest Dog Breeds

It is not exactly clear whether the breed originates in China or Tibet, but it is clear that they are an ancient breed. There are records of dogs with similar features to Shih Tzus existing in China around 1,000 B.C., and there are documents showing the breed existing in Tibet 1,000 years ago. The Shih Tzu was bred as a companion dog. They were never a working dog and were only ever meant to keep their handler or owner company.

The modern Shih Tzu has all the trademarks of a companion dog. They demand attention from their owner and can struggle with separation anxiety if left alone for too long.


2. They Nearly Became Extinct

Because they were kept by the wealthy classes, the Shih Tzu breed was not well thought of during the Communist Revolution. In fact, so closely was the Shih Tzu associated with wealth that they nearly became extinct during this period. Fortunately, seven males and seven females survived, and every Shih Tzu alive today can be traced back to one of these 14 dogs.


3. They Can Do Very Well at Agility Events

When we think of Shih Tzus, most people think of the lap dog companion. Some may think of the Shih Tzu performing at exhibitions or dog shows. But despite only needing relatively little exercise, the Shih Tzu can do well in agility events, although they will rarely do well in strength or even stamina sports.

In 2014, a Shih Tzu became the first of their breed to win both the champion title and an agility title, showing they have the potential to be good all-round performers.

shih tzu with cone paws
Image Credit: Ihar Halavach, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Shih Tzus are small dogs that have been bred and are kept primarily as companion dogs. At home on their owners’ laps, these friendly little dogs struggle if they don’t get the level of attention they feel they deserve.

They can be difficult to train if they aren’t in the right frame of mind, but they do love attention, so this can be used to your advantage. Use praise and attention as the reward for successful training activities. Grooming will likely be the most challenging aspect of owning a Shih Tzu because while the coat is lovely and luscious, it is also difficult to keep in top condition. Your little lion dog won’t need too much exercise, but they will benefit from some indoor playtime and a couple of walks each day to keep them healthy and fit.

See also:


Featured Image Credit: Orawan Pattarawimonchai, Shutterstock

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