The Shih-Tzu breed purportedly originated during the 16th or 17th centuries, and was probably created by crossing the Pekingese with the Lhasa Apso or Tibetan mountain dog. The Shih Tzu is among the earliest of recognized breeds. Highly cherished by Chinese royals, it was several centuries before the dogs were ever sold, traded, or given away in any way. In the 1930s, the first Shih-Tzu pair was imported to England, discovered by soldiers there during the Second World War. It was officially recognized in Britain in 1946, with the AKC (American Kennel Club) formally recognizing the breed in 1969. It is often also called the "Tibetan Lion Dog." Aficionados argue whether it should be officially called a Chinese or Tibetan breed, and the question may never be settled.
It gets its name the "Lion Dog" from the Americanized loose Chinese translation of "Shih-tzu Kou," according to the Wade-Giles system of romanization that was used when the Shih-Tzu was first introduced to America during the Second World War. The Shih-Tzu was apparently bred to resemble the Chinese "guardian lions" shown in ancient oriental art. It is also known as the "Xi Shi quan," perhaps as a reference to Xi Shi, a Chinese woman from ancient times regarded as one of the most beautiful. Finally, it is also occasionally known as the Chrysanthemum Dog, a name given to it in England during the 1930s.
The ancestors of today's Shih-Tzu breed manifest a close genetic relationship to the wolf; one branch of the breed may have begun as a scavenger dog known as the "Kitchen Midden Dog," ultimately evolving into the Pekingese and perhaps the Pug and Shih-Tzu.
The Shih-Tzu is a small, sturdy dog, of generally hardy constitution, with a broad, round head and widely set eyes. An adult usually grows to about 9 to 16 pounds in size, with a body that is relatively long, but not very tall, only about 11 inches in height. The short nose is about an inch long, but broad as well, with open nostrils. Teeth may have a slight underbite or be level.
In stature, the back is level and legs are muscular and straight, with a fairly strong body. The tail is carried high over the back, with lush, abundant hair covering it.
The large, dark eyes are a somewhat lighter shade of brown for lighter-colored dogs vs. darker dogs. Perhaps what is most notable about the Shih-Tzu's appearance is its coat. The Shih-Tzu has a double coat, with dense, long, straight, sleek hair "cascading down" over the head and body. Dogs suitable for show generally have long "bangs" as well; these would fall over the eyes but are generally put in a topknot above the eyes instead. These dogs also have long flowing "beards" and "mustaches," which again make for a striking appearance. The hair is short on the muzzle, however.
Although many pet owners take pride in their dogs' long, flowing locks and/or must keep them up for show, the dogs' hair may also be trimmed short, for easier grooming. (The dog must have long hair for show, although some trimming around the anus for cleanliness purposes is allowed.)
Shih-Tzu dogs come in every color, although gold, white and brown are among the most common.
Generally happy, friendly, very alert and intelligent, these little dogs are perfectly suited for many situations. When well-trained, they are appropriate for large families with small children to single people living alone in an apartment. They can be very loyal to their families, but they need strict discipline and definite "pack leadership" control from all the humans in the house. Rules must be firmly set and maintained consistently.
The Shih-Tzu is a very smart and playful little dog with lots of character and tender affection. In a loving but stern environment, their personalities just shine, and they can become very beloved members of the family.
However, it cannot be stressed enough, they need a strong hand to guide them at all times, and this can be difficult given their adorable appearance! Because they are so "cute" and small, it can be easy to baby them and treat them like small children, but letting your pet simply have its way can lead to a snappish, peevish, badly-behaved and irritable dog. This is characterized by behavior known as "small dog syndrome" induced by owners inadvertently giving the dog the impression that it is in charge. Once this unfortunate shift takes place, it's very difficult if not impossible to undo. To avoid having this happen, make sure discipline is strongly enforced at all times, no matter how cute your pet may be.
Failing to maintain proper discipline can lead to behavioral problems in your pet that can negatively impact the entire family. Some of the behavioral problems include anxiety, growling or even biting. Although generally very trustworthy with small children, dogs who are simply allowed to be "boss" may in fact be unsafe for small children and even adults because they'll snap and bite at will.
It's important to note that the Shih-Tzu is absolutely not aggressive or violent by nature. And because they are so small you may think that even a badly-behaved dog isn't that dangerous, but it's especially important to be aware that even small dogs can cause serious injuries to babies and small children. The best bet in any situation is to simply make sure your dog is well trained. If you are having difficulty with training your dog yourself, the Shih-Tzu performs very well in obedience school as long as you, the owner, also accompany your dog and become clear pack leader – as should all other members of your household.
Exercise and living conditions
Shih-Tzu dogs are wonderful, affectionate and adorable dogs that are suitable within a variety of environments, including noisy, boisterous situations with small children as long as the dog is given proper discipline. Although they need exercise just as all dogs do, they can easily tolerate an apartment setting. However, with a high-spirited metabolism, it is recommended that you take them for a daily walk to exhaust their significant energy, and as a means to show that you're in control and maintain your "pack leader" status. (It's also important that they get enough exercise so that they can avoid weight gain, which can be a problem for this breed.) Trained properly, they are sweet and obedient dogs, although they may be somewhat difficult to housebreak.
The Shih-Tzu dog breed in general has good health and is quite sturdy, with a long life span of about 11 to 16 years, on average. They can experience back problems because they have long backs and short legs, manifested by intervertebral disc disease, which can cause paralysis and inability to coordinate movements. (The Lhasa Apso and Pekingese, the breeds from which the Shih-Tzu came, also have this problem.) They can also experience hip dysplasia.
They can also have upper respiratory problems because of their short snouts, and tend to snore and wheeze. They can gain weight easily, so care should be taken to avoid overfeeding them, and to give them plenty of exercise.
Shih-Tzus tend to have sensitive ears and eyes, and they need to be carefully cleaned to avoid lasting problems. You can buy special drops for Shih-Tzu eyes to help with the sensitivity; your veterinarian can recommend a proper brand.
Shih-Tzus also tend to have problems with hypothyroidism, a disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland begins to under-produce thyroid hormone. It usually occurs in middle-aged dogs and can lead to metabolic problems including weight gain, hair loss, lethargy and muscle loss. If it's not treated in time, heart problems can result, although it's well managed if caught early with medication.
Some Shih-Tzu dogs have epilepsy or brain problems like cancer that they are born with, which makes for a short life span. If a Shih-Tzu is born healthy, though, it can be a remarkably hardy and healthy dog with a long lifespan. You can expect your dog to live up to 16 years, on average, as long as there are no significant health problems.
As you might expect, a long-haired dog like a Shih-Tzu will need significant care. Diligent daily grooming with a stiff bristle brush is a must if your pet's hair is kept long. The topknot is a favorite look for many pet owners who want to keep their pets' "bangs" long, but these can also be trimmed instead.
For those with allergies
The Shih-Tzu breed is considered an excellent pet for most people with allergies, since it sheds very little hair and has almost no skin dander.