About Shih Tzus

The Origin of the Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu history as we know it today began during the 17th Century in Tibet.  The Tibetan monks bred Tibetan Spaniels and Lhassa Apso to develop the Shih Tzu.  They were a temple dog that were bred to resemble a lion.  In 1850 the Tibetan monks sent several of these dogs to the Manchu Emperor’s in the Forbidden City of Peking.  The Chinese named these dogs Tibetan Shih Tzu Kou which translates to Tibetan Lion Dog.  In 1908 the Dalai Lama presented Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi with several shaggy Shih Tzus.  The Empress was a renowned breeder of Pekingese and Pugs already and now she closely supervised the breeding of the Shih Tzu to maintain the breeds’ characteristics.  After her death, the breeding became sloppy and Pekingese and Pugs were cross-bred with the Shih Tzu.

The breed was very much in chaos during the next four years.  There was much competition to breed dogs to obtain the finest coats and colors.  Those that did not meet standards were sold on the market and some were smuggled out of the palace and sold to foreigners and Chinese noblemen.  In 1930 Lady Brownrigg of England discovered the breed in Peking.  In 1935 the Kennel Club of England recognized the Shih Tzu as a separate breed.  The Shih Tzu was introduced to the U.S. via American soldiers stationed in England during World War II.  The soldiers fell in love with these dogs and brought them back to the states.  The AKC recognized the Shih Tzu as a separate breed in 1969.

The Breed Standard

A compact and solid dog, the Shih Tzu’s long, flowing double coat is its most distinctive feature. The word Shih Tzu means “lion” and although this dog is sweet and playful, he is not afraid to stand up for himself! One of the most popular dogs in the United States according to the AKC.  The Shih Tzu is a sturdy, lively, alert toy dog with long flowing double coat. Befitting his noble Chinese ancestry as a highly valued, prized companion and palace pet, the Shih Tzu is proud of bearing, has a distinctively arrogant carriage with head well up and tail curved over the back.  Weight of mature dogs should be 9-16 lbs.  The AKC does not recognize Imperial size Shih Tzus.  The height at the withers should be 8-11 inches.  Nose, lips, and eye rims should be black on all colors except liver.  Bite should be undershot.  The complete breed standard can be viewed at http://www.akc.org/breeds/shih_tzu/.


As the sole purpose of the Shih Tzu is that of a companion and house pet, it is essential that its temperament be outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly and trusting towards all. Shih Tzu are a playful dog and are content playing with themselves when you are not at home. They get along with kids, other animals, and pretty much anyone they meet. We have 2 cats and our Shih Tzus will bark at them but they have never gotten in a fight. Shih Tzus can be trained easily if started early and training is consistent. They can be stubborn. One of our females, Chryssi is so stubborn at times. When grooming her she will want to lay down and when you lift her back up she just goes limp. It is the funniest thing to watch. They love attention but do well without it if you are busy, especially when there are other dogs in the house. Potty training has to be started early just like with any other breed. I must stress that you have to be consistent.

Care & Maintenance

Shih Tzus have a dense double coat. When grown out and well cared for it is absolutely beautiful. It takes a lot of work to maintain a show coat. They must be brushed 1-2 times a day and washed once a week. When brushing your Shih Tzu’s coat make sure that you spray the coat with a spray conditioner to moisten it, never brush a dry coat. Keep hair out of the dogs eyes. If hair is kept in the dogs eyes this can cause eye infections. You can keep a topknot once the dog is around 5 months old to keep the hair out of its eyes. You can do this with a rubber band or cute bows.

These dogs will overheat really quick in hot weather due to their short muzzle and thick coat. I recommend a puppy cut for the hot months of the year. It makes them so much happier. Care must be taken to ensure that their environment does not have any sharp protruding objects sticking out that may poke an eye. Shih Tzus do well in apartments where there is no yard to play in. They don’t require as much exercise as other breeds but I do recommend a daily walk. Banjo our male will display his stubborness when we walk him. When he has had enough he will lay down and continue to lay down until you pick him up. If you are looking for a dog to run with you or walk 3 miles with you then a Shih Tzu is not the dog for you. Shih Tzus are prone to losing teeth just like other toy breeds. A regular weekly tooth brushing will be great for them. If you can do it more then that is better. I recommend a professional cleaning with your vetenarian once a year.

Breed Specific Health Issues

The Shih Tzus main health problem are eye diseases. They range from cataracts to renal atrophy. There is also eyelash disease of two types called distichiasis and ectopia cilia. There are many eye diseases that a Shih Tzu can have and some of them are hereditary. A good site to visit to learn about these eye diseases is http://www.shih-tzu-rescue-of-wi.org/CanineHealth/BrachiocephalicSkull.shtml . Hip dysplasia is a more common genetic disease in larger dogs, although it can happen in toy breeds. Hip dysplasia can be very painful to a dog and can cripple them. We have decided to go ahead and get an OFA certification for hip dysplasia next spring when a clinic comes to our area.

Renal Dysplasia is another disease that Shih Tzus may have. It is a developmental or genetic defect of the kidneys. A dog that has this genetic disease will be born with relatively immature kidneys. Also, some nephron units do not develop and are replaced with fibrous tissue. Some signs of renal dysplasia are excessive water drinking, excessive volume of urine, and pale urine. Signs of severe renal dysplasia are reduced body weight, reduced appetite, and weakness. There are different levels of renal dysplasia ranging from borderline to severe. There are methods of testing but they are not very proven and they are very expensive. Much research is still being done to develop a DNA test. A biopsy of the kidneys is a method of testing but does not sound very safe to me and it is not very accurate for lower levels of renal dyspasia. None of our dogs display any signs of having renal dysplasia. At any time if one of our dogs are diagnosed with a genetic disease that can be passed on to offspring it will be retired from our breeding program. Although tests are done to ensure we have healthy breeding stock, this is no guarantee that a puppy will not have heath problems during its lifetime. We are doing this to improve the breed and reduce the likelihood that anyone who buys a puppy from us wiil have a puppy with health problems.