10 Facts About the Shih Tzu: The Pampered Pooch

One of the most popular dog breeds, the Shih Tzu is an adorable companion in a small package. Keep reading to learn more about these fuzzy, snuggly little dogs.

Feb 22, 2024byHolly Ramsey
facts about the shih tzu the pampered pooch

Shih Tzu lovers find these happy-go-lucky dogs to be the ultimate companion. Those who have never owned a Shih Tzu wonder what makes them so popular. The simple answer is their happy nature. But let us dive a bit deeper into the breed and find out more.

The Shih Tzu Did Not Originate in China

brindle shih tzu brocade chair
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Most people believe the Shih Tzu originated in China; however, it is believed that they hail from Tibet. The first documentation of this breed dates to the 7th century. The Shih Tzu may have developed from the smallest Lhasa Apsos.

Shih Tzu dogs were gifted to Chinese emperors and others in the royal households. It is uncertain who gave the breed its name, but Shih Tzu means lion dog in Chinese. Only royals were allowed to own and breed Shih Tzu and the breed evolved into the flat-faced, silky-coated toy dogs everyone loves today.

The Chinese royalty gifted several Shih Tzu to British royals and diplomats. Once the breed was introduced to England, it was only a short time later that it was brought into the United States. US military personnel brought these dogs back to the United States with them after their deployment. When the Communist regime took control in China, most of the native Shih Tzu were wiped out.

Communists Nearly Wiped Out the Shih Tzu

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The gene pool for Shih Tzu breeders became much smaller when China came under Communist rule. These magnificent little dogs were killed because they were associated with wealth and royalty. Only a few were smuggled away from the palace and kept hidden.

There were still Shih Tzu breeders in England and the United States, but most of their dogs came from the same bloodlines. Another contributing factor to the demise of the Shih Tzu was the death of Dowager Empress Tzu His in 1908. She oversaw a world-renowned breeding program of Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu. Her breeding program fell apart after her death.

Because the breed dwindled to almost nothing, all Shih Tzu today can be traced back to just 14 purebred Shih Tzu. Seven males and seven females essentially saved the breed from extinction.

Shih Tzu Have Happy-Go-Lucky Personalities

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The lively little flat-faced dogs are renowned for their happy-go-lucky personalities and their sweet nature is perfect for almost any person. Most Shih Tzu also get along well with other dogs and other household pets.

A well-bred Shih Tzu will have a wonderful disposition, will not be fearful, and will want to make friends with everyone they meet. It is rare to see a well-bred Shih Tzu that is snippy or aggressive. The Shih Tzu is not generally a big chewer but can be rather talkative when they want attention.

Most Shih Tzu Do Snore and Snort

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The flatter their face, the more a Shih Tzu will snore. All brachycephalic dog breeds snore, the severity of their snoring will depend on the flatness of their noses and the size of their nostrils. If you notice your Shih Tzu is snoring excessively, have them checked by your veterinarian to ensure their nostrils are not too tiny and do not need surgically opened. Pet insurance is a good thing to have in this instance.

After strenuous exercise, Shih Tzu may snort or wheeze a lot more. This will be more noticeable in warm and humid weather. Brachycephalic breeds should be closely monitored when the temperatures begin climbing. For Shih Tzu, they should not be in temps above 80 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended time, especially if they are in full coat.

Some snoring and snorting are adorable when coming from a small dog, but when it is excessive or very loud then you may have cause for concern. As flat-faced dogs age, their snoring will also increase.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome may also be the cause of sudden and excessive snoring and wheezing. This syndrome may be the culprit if you hear loud, pronounced noise in the airways or the Shih Tzu collapses or faints after exercising. Gagging, coughing, and vomiting can also be symptoms of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.

Chrysanthemum-Faced Dogs

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The Shih Tzu is also called a chrysanthemum-faced dog and breeders use this reference as a visual aid to ensure they are producing proper head conformation. They were given this moniker because the hair grows in every direction on their face forming a circle like a chrysanthemum.

Most Shih Tzu owners who are not planning on showing their dogs in conformation shows will keep their dogs’ faces clipped short. Longer hair on their head and face can get into their eyes and irritate them. Keeping the hair on their face short also keeps their faces cleaner when they are eating and drinking.

Celebrities Also Love Shih Tzu

nicole richie shih tzu
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These little dogs are loved by everyone, even celebrities. Being one of the most popular dog breeds, even celebs have owned them including Bill Gates, Nicole Richie, Colin Farrell, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce. Queen Elizabeth II also had a Shih Tzu as her faithful companion.

It is not surprising to see them tucked under the arms of famous people including musicians, actors, celebrity chefs, authors, and even royals. Seeing them with their famous owners has only increased the breed’s popularity.

Grooming Can Be a Nightmare

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The long flowing coats of Shih Tzu can be a nightmare to keep brushed and conditioned. This is why many pet owners choose to shave their beloved companions or keep them in a puppy cut. A puppy cut means their hair is cut short, usually about an inch to two inches long and their face kept clipped short. It will also prevent tear stains from becoming an issue.

Groomers love Shih Tzu owners because of the coat maintenance required. Shih Tzu kept in a long coat must be brushed daily and bathed weekly. Those in a puppy cut will need clipped every four weeks and a fully shaved Shih Tzu will require shaving every six to seven weeks. Bathing a clipped Shih Tzu should also be done every four weeks to keep their hair and skin in optimal condition.

Shih Tzu Are Athletes

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Most people see the cute little Shih Tzu and do not think they are anything but this glamorous pooch to be set on a velvet pillow. But, underneath all the fluff, there is a stout and muscular body built for dog sports.

The first Shih Tzu to win a conformation championship and agility title was in 2014 and since then many people have enjoyed competing with these wonderful dogs in agility, obedience, rally, and even dock diving. Luxating patella can be a problem in Shih Tzu, especially one who is overweight or exerts too much stress on their knees.

At home, the Shih Tzu loves racing in the backyard for exercise, going on long walks, jumping on and off furniture, and even going on hikes with their owners. Have plenty of toys, especially interactive doggy toys, ready to keep them busy when they are home alone or you do not have enough time to play with them.

A Shih Tzu’s Eyes Can Become Damaged

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The condition is called proptosis and it is a medical emergency. Proptosis is when an eyeball dislodges and pops out of the socket. Severe cases of proptosis can cause the eyeball to detach completely and result in blindness in that eye.

Proptosis usually occurs from an injury or a swift hit to the head or face. Immediate medical attention is required and in many cases a trip to the emergency vet if it happens when your regular veterinarian is closed. In mild cases, the eyeball can be manipulated back into the socket but in severe cases may have to have the eyeball removed.

Corneal damage is very common in Shih Tzu because of their large, round eyes. Eye ulcerations are the leading cause of corneal damage, so it is important to keep their facial hair brushed away from their eyes or trimmed short. Dry eye is a common condition causing inflammation in the cornea. Protecting Shih Tzu’s eyes is an important part of their care.

Imperial Shih Tzu Is a Sales Gimmick

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Fad breeding is always detrimental to a breed, and this includes the “Imperial” Shih Tzu. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a breed standard approved by the Shih Tzu Club of America that clearly defines the size of a Shih Tzu is between 9 and 16 pounds.

There are people purposely breeding undersized Shih Tzu for the sake of creating a tinier dog that people will pay big money to purchase. Purposely breeding undersized dogs could potentially lead to significant health problems and decreased life span. Reputable breeders will not purposely breed for undersized puppies.

When an ethical breeder has a runt or undersized puppy, they will not offer that puppy as a potential breeding dog. These dogs are usually placed as family companions to be spayed or neutered. Finding an ethical Shih Tzu breeder is not difficult, there are several across the United States.

The Shih Tzu is an ancient breed that was bred to be a companion. In ancient China, they were referred to as “under the table” dogs because they would sit at the feet of their owners and keep them company. Today’s Shih Tzu is more athletic and inquisitive but just as loyal and sweet as their Chinese ancestors. This is a breed that is perfect for the elderly, young families, or even single people with an active lifestyle.

Holly Ramsey
byHolly Ramsey

Holly is a 2nd generation dog breeder/trainer and has over 25 years of experience with several different breeds. She enjoys working with her Japanese Chin and Rough Collies and helping her mom and daughter with their chosen breeds. Most evenings, Holly is hanging out with her daughter watching movies, crafting, or playing with the fur-kids.