Shih Tzu actually translates to “little lion”. And while the breed may not seem very lion-like, he just might’ve been. It’s said that a Tibetan Buddhist God brought along a Shih Tzu on his travels.
And when needed, that little lion dog could transform into an actual lion.
Pretty awesome, right?
But as intimidating as it sounds, you probably don’t need to worry.
I doubt a little 10-pound Shih Tzu is gonna grow to be 40 times his actual size anytime soon.
Before purchasing or adopting a Shih Tzu for yourself, it is important to educate yourself on the breed’s unique traits and needs.
Unfortunately, not all households are going to be a perfect fit for the Shih Tzu.
For instance, this breed doesn’t do well with large dogs or young children, as they may present a safety hazard to the breed. They also require a sufficient amount of mental exercise to keep their minds stimulated and to prevent boredom.
Luckily for you, this guide provides all the information you need to know about the Shih Tzu to help you decide whether or not it could be a good fit for your family.
Evidence of the Shih Tzu’s existence can be found up to 2,000 years ago from depictions of the breed upon ancient tapestries.
The breed was likely developed by Tibetan Monks who then offered the dogs as gifts to Chinese emperors.
During the Ming and Manchu Dynasties, the dogs could be found inside strolling about the palace.
Noblewomen would sometimes even carry them inside their robes or use them as bed warmers. Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who ruled over China from 1861 to 1908, was a particularly huge fan of the breed.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s when Shih Tzus were finally brought to the Western hemisphere.
The breed was then brought into the United States after World War II when members of the U.S. military brought back members of the breed from Europe and Asia.
In 1969, the AKC classified the Shih Tzu as a member of the toy dog class. Since then, the breed has enjoyed a consistent surge in popularity over the years. In fact, the breed is consistently ranked in the top 20 most popular toy dog breeds in the world.
Are Shih Tzus Good Family Dogs?
Because Shih Tzus have been traditionally bred as companion animals, they tend to make great family dogs.
Their eagerness to please their humans and become their best friends has delighted numerous families for years.
Shih Tzus are comfortable in almost every type of environment.
Apartment dwellers in particular are in luck, as Shih Tzus are known to adapt well to apartment living.
Whether they are in a large home or a modest apartment, they will be happy as long as they get to spend time with you. However, he is a house dog who prefers spending most of his time indoors.
Due to their docile personalities, they usually get along well with mature kids and other gentle dog breeds.
It is important to advise young children to take extra care when handling a Shih Tzu to avoid causing injury to them. Some experts even advise against bringing a Shih Tzu into a home with toddlers, as improper handling from them can severely injure the small dog.
Because the Shih Tzu is a brachycephalic breed, meaning it has a shortened snout, and is a toy-sized dog, you should be aware of its various breed-specific needs when caring for one.
For instance, because Shih Tzus are susceptible to heat strokes, you will need to avoid taking them outside for prolonged periods of time during hot weather.
They are also susceptible to dental problems due to their tendency to wheeze and snore often.
It’s important to remember that if you purchased a Shih Tzu puppy, the breeder has already been raising it on food from a specific brand. Do yourself a favor and continue feeding it the same brand for at least a month before switching to a new one. Attempting to switch out the brand immediately could stress your Shih Tzu out, which may lead to a loss in appetite.
Shih Tzus have sensitive stomachs, so make sure you are feeding your puppy hypoallergenic dog food.
As puppies, their diets should be comprised of around 25% protein and 10% fat and oils. These nutrients will help your Shih Tzu maintain strong muscles and a shiny coat.
At around 10 to 12 months old, your Shih Tzu can transition to an adult diet.
Look for adult dog food brands designed for toy-sized dogs, as they will contain the proper nutritional percentages for your Shih Tzu.
If you are thinking about feeding your Shih Tzu home cooked meals (raw dog food), consult with your veterinarian on the daily nutritional percentage goals you should aim to hit, as they tend to vary a little depending on the individual dog.
Adults need to be fed two or three meals a day. No matter what feeding frequency you decide on, you need to make sure you are feeding it on a consistent schedule and are not constantly switching it around.
Shih Tzus have gorgeous hair that needs to be brushed daily in order to avoid becoming knotted and matted.
A brush with flexible pins and a slicker are important tools to have on hand when grooming your Shih Tzu.
Pay special attention to the area behind the ears, the upper corners of their legs, and around the rear as these places are especially prone to matting.
Nail and teeth care are also important components to a regular grooming routine. Because they are difficult to do alone, most owners have a groomer take care of them instead.
Due to their sensitive skin, Shih Tzus do not need to be bathed frequently. In fact, bathing them too much can cause their skin to dry out. Most owners only bathe their Shih Tzus if they become so dirty that brushing alone will not clean off their coats.
When you do need to bathe your Shih Tzu, make sure you are using a natural, moisturizing shampoo that won’t dry out its skin.
Shih Tzus are small, energetic dogs. Therefore, a regular exercise routine is vital for their emotional and physical health.
Your exercise routine can be as simple as a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. However, your Shih Tzu will also be happy with a game of catch or Frisbee every once in a while.
During extreme weather conditions, it is important to avoid keeping your Shih Tzu outside for prolonged periods of time.
Be cautious when taking them out during the summer, as they can easily become overheated.
Try to find ways to keep your Shih Tzu entertained inside: a fun game of hide and seek or some simple training exercises are great ways to keep your Shih Tzu mentally and physically stimulated.
It is important to start training your Shih Tzu at a young age…like right when you bring him home!
During this time, you will be teaching him basic commands, house breaking him, and discouraging unpleasant behavior.
Patience and treats will be your best friends throughout this sometimes exhausting period. Pet training schools can be great resources for learning effective training techniques. They also provide a fun and safe area for socializing your puppy.
It is up to you to decide whether or not you are ready to train your dog on your own or if you would like a little help along the way.
Shih Tzu Health Issues
Shih Tzus have an average lifespan of 10 – 16 years.
Traditionally, they are a healthy dog breed. However, there are still a variety of health issues that you want to keep an eye out for. These issues include:
- Keratitis – the inflammation of the cornea
- Proptosis – a disorder that occurs when the eyeball is dislodged from its socket
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy – a disease that initially affects your Shih Tzu’s night vision
- Patella Luxation – a condition that occurs when a dog’s kneecap is separated
- Stenotic Nares – when the passageway inside the nostrils are too small to allow a proper amount of oxygen to pass through
- Collapsing Trachea – this condition occurs when the cartilage inside the trachea weakens and becomes flat
- Ear Infections
This is why it is so important to take your Shih Tzu to the vet on a regular basis.
He or she will be able to check for any red flags or troublesome signs that your Shih Tzu may be sick in order to help them get back into tip-top shape.
Things to Know About Shih Tzus
1. Their Name Translates to “Little Lion Dog”
In Mandarin, the term “Shih Tzu” translates to “Little Lion Dog”.
This translation should come as no surprise when considering the fact that ancient Chinese owners used to breed them to resemble lions.
The phrase is also associated with an ancient Chinese legend, which claims that the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning would travel with a small lion dog that had the power to transform into a full-sized lion.
2. They Like to Jump off of Furniture
Shih Tzus are high-energy dogs that, for whatever reason or another, enjoy soaring off of high-ledge areas.
But because they are small dogs, they have a high risk of becoming injured when doing this. These injuries can contribute to long-term disabilities that will lower your Shih Tzu’s quality of life. Therefore, it is important to train them to not jump onto or off any furniture.
If you do wish to allow your Shih Tzu onto your furniture, you should provide a foundation or set of pet stairs so they can easily climb up on them.
3. Owners Need to Watch Out for Tear Stains
Tear stains, which are discolored hairs found around the eyes, are commonly observed in Shih Tzus. They are usually caused by runny eyes.
To remove these stains, you will need to wipe your Shih Tzu’s eyes two or three times a day with a canine tear stain wipe.
Wiping your Shih Tzu’s face with a facial wipe daily will also be effective in helping prevent tear stains from forming. If this doesn’t work, you may have to bring your Shih Tzu into your veterinarian, as your Shih Tzu may have an infection.
4. They are Difficult to Housebreak
Shih Tzus are known to be stubborn, impatient, and easily-distracted, which can lead to difficulties in house training them. Therefore, you will need to practice a great deal of patience with them during this process. Consistency, praise, and a keen eye will also go a long way in successfully house training him.
Make sure you take your Shih Tzu puppy out at least once every two hours.
After he is finished, heap plenty of praise on him for doing a good job. You will also need to keep an eye out for signs that your dog needs to relieve himself. If he starts to circle around and sniff an area, this is most likely a sign that he needs to go out.
5. Shih Tzus Were Almost Wiped Out During the Communist Revolution
Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, the primary supervisor for the Shih Tzu breeding program in China, died during the Communist Revolution. As a result, the prestigious breeding program fell apart.
Luckily, several dedicated Shih Tzu fans made great strides to preserve the breed and help bring it back to its former glory.
They were able to save seven males and seven females, who are all responsible for rebuilding the entire line.
6. They Were Brought Over to the United States by Military Personnel
Shih Tzus were originally imported to England from China before being brought to other European countries.
American soldiers who were stationed in Europe then discovered and fell in love with the breed.
When their time in Europe was over, they brought the dogs back with them to the United States.
7. Mariah Carey, Bill Gates, and a Variety of Other Celebrities Have Owned Shih Tzus
Shih Tzus are a popular breed among Americans, so it should come as no surprise that a variety of celebrities have owned one over the years.
Famous Shih Tzu owners include:
- Nicole Richie, who owned a Shih Tzu named Honeychild
- Queen Elizabeth, whose Shih Tzu’s name is Choo Choo
- Mariah Carey, who owns two Shih Tzus named Bing and Bong
- Beyonce, who owned a Shih Tzu named Munchie
- Bill Gates’s Shih Tzu is named Ballmer
- Andie MacDowell has a Shih Tzu named Lollipop
8. They Have a Lot of Nicknames
Shih Tzus have developed a variety of nicknames over the years. Lion Dog may be its most popular nickname, but it isn’t its only nickname. Other Shih Tzu nicknames include:
- Holy dog
- Chrysanthemum-faced dog
- Sleeve dog
- Under the table dog
- Tibetan poodle
- Shock dog
- Lhasa terrier
If you’re wondering how the Shih Tzu got the nickname “Chrysanthemum-faced dog,” it’s because of the way its hair grows upward on its muzzle, giving its face a chrysanthemum-like effect.
The name “shock dog” also came from this unique look.
9. They Come in 8 Different Colors
There are eight solid colors that Shih Tzus can come in:
Shih Tzu coat colors can also come in various combinations of these colors, such as black and white or red and white. Some dogs may even have a white blaze on their forehead and a white tip on their tails.
10. The White Spot on Their Foreheads is Called the “Star of Buddha”
Speaking of the white spot often seen on their foreheads, the supposed “origin” of this mark has a very interesting story.
According to legend, Buddha was walking with a small dog when a group of robbers tried to attack them. The dog suddenly transformed into a fearsome lion and scared them off.
Buddha was so grateful for the dog’s heroic deed that he kissed him on the forehead, giving it a little white mark.
11. Shih Tzus are Closely Related to Wolves
Believe it or not, Shih Tzus are more closely related to wolves than most dog breeds.
Back in 2004, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tested genetic data from 85 different breeds.
They found that Asian breeds are the oldest and most closely related to their wolf ancestors out of the group.
12. There is No Such Thing as Imperial or Teacup Shih Tzus
Imperial, miniature, munchkin, teacup and dwarf Shih Tzus are not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The official breed standard for the Shih Tzu calls for a weight range of 9 to 16 pounds. A Shih Tzu weighing less than that may be a runt, or an unhealthy dog.
Unscrupulous breeders may attempt to market these dogs as “imperial” or “teacup” Shih Tzus.
You should be wary of them, as these dogs likely have a variety of health problems. Always do your research and make sure you are dealing with a reputable breeder before purchasing a Shih Tzu from them.
13. Their Coat Color can Sometimes Appear to Change Over Time
Shih Tzu puppies are usually born with a dark coat that appears to grow lighter over time.
However, the actual hairs do not change color.
Rather, the adult coat is simply beginning to grow in. Staining and discoloration may also sometimes occur due to drinking water with a high mineral content or even from infection.
Keep an eye out for discoloration under the eyes, on the paws, or around the groin area, as this could be a sign of an allergy or disease.