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12 Interesting Facts About the Shih Tzu

Written by: Brooke Billingsley

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Dogster Team

Cute Shih Tzu puppy in the park

12 Interesting Facts About the Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus are adorable little dogs that have proven to be a favorite breed, often landing in the top 20 most popular dog breeds year after year. These cute dogs are often thought of as prissy and high maintenance, but they are far more interesting than many people give them credit for. This ancient breed has been in development for more than a millennium, and its history is packed with interesting facts. Let’s talk about the cute but complex Shih Tzu!

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The 12 Facts About the Shih Tzu

1. The Breed Is Ancient

The Shih Tzu breed dates back more than 1,000 years, making it one of the oldest recognized dog breeds in the world. As early as 1000 BCE, small dogs that were known as “under the table” dogs existed in China, and these dogs are often considered to be the predecessors to the Shih Tzu.

Believe it or not, the groundwork for the development of this breed began around 10,000 years ago in the Gobi Desert. These early dogs went on to help develop the Shih Tzu breed, as well as multiple other dog breeds, including the Pekingese and Pug.

shih tzu face
Image Credit: Angel Sallade, Shutterstock

2. They Were Bred for Companionship

While many dog breeds were developed to perform a specific task, the task expected of the Shih Tzu was simple: provide companionship to its people. In some cases, their companionship duties extended to providing warmth to Chinese royalty through multiple means, including sleeping on their master’s feet, napping in beds to preheat them for people, and even being carried around in women’s robes to help keep them warm.

More than anything, this breed was loved and maintained for its affectionate personality and loyalty.

3. They’re Originally From Tibet

While Shih Tzus are often associated with China, the breed actually originated in Tibet. The earliest Shih Tzus were developed by monks in Tibet, along with other Tibetan breeds, like Pugs and Lhasa Apsos. The Tibetan monks eventually began offering the dogs as gifts to Chinese royalty, which led to the Shih Tzu’s place as the official royal dog of the Ming Dynasty, which controlled China from 1368 to 1644 CE.

4. The Breed Name Is Mandarin

Although they originated in Tibet, the Shih Tzu name actually originates from Mandarin. The Shih Tzu name is often translated as “little lion,” but it likely originates from the Mandarin phrase “shizi gou,” which translates to “lion sun dog.”

Kukkuripa Mahasiddha is an important figure in Buddhism and is often associated with achieving full enlightenment with the aid of his lion-like dog. This story is sometimes associated with being the reason that the Shih Tzu received its name.

A very cute Shih Tzu puppy posing on a warm summer day
Image Credit: Duncan Woodhouse, Shutterstock

5. They Have a Breed Nickname

The breed’s name is well known, but many people don’t realize that the Shih Tzu breed also has a nickname: the “chrysanthemum-faced dog.” This is because of the way that a Shih Tzu’s face is shaped and the pattern of hair growth on the face looks similar to the flower of a chrysanthemum plant.

6. Shih Tzus Almost Went Extinct

During the Communist Revolution in China, the Shih Tzu breed was almost eliminated due to its association with wealth and royalty. In 1908, Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi also passed away after long serving as the supervisor of a breeding program of multiple breeds, including the Shih Tzu, Pug, and Pekingese.

While the breed was nearly wiped out, there were a handful of dogs that were able to be saved and re-entered into a new breeding program in the early 20th century. All purebred Shih Tzus alive today can have their lineage traced to just fourteen dogs that were used to redevelop the breed.

7. They Can Be Quite Athletic

Many people associate breeds like the Shih Tzu with being lazy and untrainable. This couldn’t be further from the truth, though! The Shih Tzu is an intelligent and trainable dog that can also be quite an impressive athlete.

While many people don’t seek out a Shih Tzu when looking for an athletic dog, with the right training and owner, they can be quite successful in canine sports. In 2014, a Shih Tzu won both its championship and agility titles, making it the first of its breed to do so.

Happy Shih tzu dog sitting on green grass.
Image Credit: Orawan Pattarawimonchai, Shutterstock

8. World War II Helped Bring Shih Tzus to America

Prior to World War II, the existence of Shih Tzus in the United States was essentially unheard of. In fact, the average person would never have seen or heard of the breed. In the 1940s and 1950s, American soldiers who had been stationed in European and Asian countries began returning home to the US. In some cases, they came home with Shih Tzus in their arms, creating the beginning of the booming popularity of the Shih Tzu.

9. Shih Tzu Ownership Used to Be Highly Guarded

As the royal dog of the Ming Dynasty, ownership of the Shih Tzu was highly regarded and often extremely exclusive. In fact, when commoners and other people who weren’t associated with royalty were found in possession of a Shih Tzu, they could have suffered the punishment of death.

Although anyone can own a Shih Tzu today, they’ve proven to be a popular breed among celebrities even still, with many famous people opting for Shih Tzus, including Mariah Carey, Queen Elizabeth II, Beyonce Knowles, Nicole Richie, Bill Gates, and Colin Farrell.

10. The Breed Was Formally Recognized in the 19th Century

While the Shih Tzu breed has been in development for centuries, the breed wasn’t formally recognized as a developed breed until the 19th century, around the time that Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi was presented two Shih Tzus by the Dalai Lama. It wasn’t until 1938 that the Shih Tzu breed was recognized by the AKC and UKC and the standard of the breed was defined.

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

11. Their Coat Requires Routine Care

The long coat of the Shih Tzu consists of a silky, long outer coat, as well as a downy interior coat that helps the dog maintain its warm body temperature. On its own, the silky coat can be high maintenance, but with the presence of a double coat, grooming of a Shih Tzu is often best left to professionals.

Because of the necessary maintenance of the coat—brushing multiple times per week to prevent mats and tangles—many people opt for a “puppy cut” or “lion cut,” which typically means that the body of the dog has been cut quite short for easier maintenance.

12. They Can Live Long Lives

Like many small breed dogs, the Shih Tzu can easily live into the double digits. The life expectancy of the Shih Tzu is 10–18 years, according to the AKC. However, a Florida Shih Tzu by the name of Smokey lived to the ripe old age of 23 years. Smokey was born in 1986 and passed away in 2009. Other Shih Tzus that have had notably long lives past the age of 19 years include Tutsy, Teddy, and internet famous Shih Tzu, Marnie.

Close up White shih tzu dog laying on the floor
Image Credit: Sanyalux Srisurin, Shutterstock

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Shih Tzus are lovely dogs with lots of fascinating history. They make great pets for many types of households, but their high-maintenance coat care should always be taken into consideration before bringing one of these lion dogs home. It’s also important to always choose responsible breeders who have performed all health testing recommended by the Shih Tzu breed club before breeding their dogs. Due to inbreeding and irresponsible breeding practices, many Shih Tzus have serious health problems that can significantly shorten their lifespan.

Featured Image Credit: sanjagrujic, Shutterstock

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