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So You Want a Shih Tzu?


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So you’re thinking about getting a shih tzu but wonder whether it’s the right breed for your family. 

Shih tzus are sweet, friendly dogs and can be great even for first-time pet parents. 

But, before you make your decision, you need to know something about them, such as potential health problems and grooming needs.

Shih Tzu staring at the camera.

I’ve had three shih tzus and have trained many for other people. 

They’re adorable and look like stuffed toys. And they are full of personality and spunky. 

Although they’re smart dogs, shih tzus aren’t the easiest to train. 

My first shih tzu, Cuddles (appropriately named as she was cuddly), was a tan-and-white ball of fur. She loved everyone and learned many cues and tricks. 

My second, a black-and-white tzu, named China became a therapy dog and obedience dog. 

Trevor, my third, was a rescue who also became a therapy dog and was shown in obedience and rally.

36 Facts About Shih Tzus: What’s Good About Them and What’s Bad About Them

1. Shih Tzus Are Classified as Toy Dogs by the American Kennel Club (AKC)

They are small, sturdy dogs for their size. The breed is pronounced “sheed-zoo.”

2. Shih Tzus Are Fine for Novice Owners

As long as you can meet their needs (discussed below), shih tzus are fine for novice owners

They are pets who were bred to be lap dogs. So you don’t have to meet any needs that you would for working dogs such as herding or sporting breeds.

3. Shih Tzus Are an Ancient Breed Who Are Companions, Not Working Dogs

One of the 14 oldest dog breeds, they have existed as early as 8,000 B.C. 

Imperial breeders in the palace of the Chinese Emperor developed the shih tzu many centuries ago from Tibetan breeding stock. 

Although there is some mystery how the breed developed, it is thought that shih tzus were originally bred from two Sino-Tibetan breeds, the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese.  

Cherished lap dogs of Chinese emperors and their families, shih tzus were hidden behind palace walls until the 1930s. 

Then breed clubs began forming in Peking and England. The first shih tzu was registered by the AKC in 1969.

4. Shih Tzus Are Known as Lion Dogs

Shih Tzu - Lion Dog

Although they are far from fierce, shih tzus are known as “lion dogs.”

  • In Mandarin, “ shih tzu” means “little lion,” which is an animal considered to be sacred in the Buddhist religion. Lions symbolize royalty, strength, and bravery. And shih tzus are brave dogs with an aristocratic air.
  • Pairs of statues of lions or lion dogs–called Foo (or Fu) Dogs– are located outside guard palace doors, tombs, temples, and public buildings to protect these buildings from harmful individuals and spiritual influences.
  • Fu translates to “happy” in Manchurian. Legion has it that happy Foo (Fu) dogs are shih tzus who forever guard the temple of Buddha.
  • Legend has it that a shih tzu accompanied the Buddha of wisdom, Manjushri, and could become a lion and carry the Buddha on its back. The tale is that several robbers surrounded Buddha to rob and murder him. It’s said that the shih tzu transformed into a ferocious lion, scaring the robbers who quickly fled the scene. Buddha blessed the shih tu, who had returned to the form of a dog. So there’s a long, eternal tradition linking shih tzus with the Buddha.

5. Some Shih Tzus Are Famous

  • A shih tzu was a main canine character named Miss Agnes in the movie Best in Show
  • The video game character Isabelle’s design (from the popular video game franchise Animal Crossing) is based on the features of a Shih Tzu. And her original name in Japanese, Shizue, seems to be based on the name of the dog breed
  • Many famous people have owned–or have been owned by–shih tzus, such as: Nicole Richie, Kelly Ripa, Queen Elizabeth, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Bill Gates, the Dalai Lama, Phyllis Diller, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Colin Farrell, Oleg Cassini, Vidal Sassoon, Andie MacDowell, Jane Seymour, and Colin Farrell–to name a few
  • The Instagram Sensation Marnie, a rescued shih tzu who was known for her extraordinary long tongue, has charmed many celebrities

6. Shih Tzus Don’t Require Much Exercise

Unlike working breeds, shih tzus don’t require a lot of exercise. A short walk and a few play sessions meet the dog’s needs.

So, if you’re looking for a couch potato and lap dog, a shih tzu is a great companion.

7. They Don’t Make Good Hiking, Jogging, Biking, or Swimming Buddies

If you’re interested in having a dog who will accompany you on hikes or while biking or jogging, a shih tzu isn’t for you. 

They don’t have the stamina. With their short legs and long bodies, they couldn’t keep up. And a shih tzu would overheat on such ventures.

Because of their body conformation, shih tzus also don’t generally swim very well.

8. Socialization Is Crucial for a Friendly, Confident Dog

Shih tzus are naturally friendly, confident dogs. But they still require socialization so that they become all that they should be. 

And, if they aren’t properly socialized, they may become fearful of the world. 

Or, they can potentially develop “small dog syndrome” and become protective and aggressive.

9. Obedience Training Should Be Fun With Short Sessions

Although shih tzus are intelligent, they will quickly tire of robotic obedience drill sessions. 

Patience is a virtue when training a shih tzu. 

They were bred to be pets, not tireless workers. And they have an independent, stubborn streak.

So keep training sessions short with just a few repetitions of each cue, then move on. Play in between. 

Use positive reinforcement of yummy treats, praise, petting, and play. 

Shih tzus are very bonded to their owners and will love to train if you make the session fun.

Although many people have noted that they may require many repetitions to learn a command, I’ve found that they are willing learners when trained properly. 

No, they’re not going to be border collies or Aussies, but they can learn many commands. 

You may have to break down some more complicated behaviors and teach them in more steps than you would for a working breed. 

And you may have to, over time, do more repetitions for reliability, but they can learn even complicated tasks. 

My shih tzu Cuddles won trick contests and even learned complicated behaviors. For example, I taught her to “answer” a child’s phone. 

When I said “answer the phone,” she picked up and dropped the receiver, then spoke. 

When I taught it, I broke the trick down into four behaviors: take the receiver; hold it; drop it; and speak. It took weeks for reliability.

My shih tzu China was a top obedience shih tzu who learned many tricks and to take and retrieve a dumbbell, go over jumps, heel, scent work, long sit and down stay, and much more.

Trevor, my rescued shih tzu, also learned tricks, formal obedience, and rally obedience.

So, yes, shih tzus are capable of learning complicated behaviors if you have the patience to teach them.

10. They Require Mental Stimulation

So that they don’t become bored and to expand their minds, play games with them. 

Have your shih tzu fetch. Provide enrichment activities such as puzzle toys.

11. They Are Great Trick Dogs and Therapy Dogs

Since shih tzus are very friendly and have a stable temperament when bred, trained, and socialized properly, they can make great therapy dogs. 

They shouldn’t be skittish. A shih tzu shouldn’t be fazed by the equipment found in nursing homes and hospitals. 

Two of my shih tzus were therapy dogs who visit hospital patients on a weekly basis. They loved it as much as the patients and staff enjoyed meeting with them.

Shih tzus can also be exceptional trick dogs. They get bored with repetitive commands. 

So learning new tricks should be a fun learning experience. Dance, beg, roll over, and speak can be great party tricks for a shih tzu.

12. Not Just Another Pretty Face: Shih Tzus Can Excel at Canine Sports

When trained using positive reinforcement, shih tzus can do well in many canine activities, such as:

  • Obedience
  • Rally
  • Agility
  • Canine musical freestyle (aka dancing with dogs)
  • Tricks

Two people who I became friendly with at dog shows achieved advanced titles with their shih tzus in agility and rally. 

And mine were very accomplished in tricks and competitive obedience and rally.

13. Shih Tzus Love Everyone: Adults, Children, and Other Dogs

A shih tzu who has been well-bred, trained, and socialized should be friendly to everyone. 

So, if you have children who respect a dog and aren’t rough, it could be a great match.

But you have to ensure your shih tzu’s safety from toddlers and other dogs. 

14. They Are Playful and Love Attention

4 pics of Shih Tzu, Trevor

If you’re looking for a friendly companion who wants to be with you, a shih tzu can be a great companion. 

Although they love to be with you, they aren’t needy like some breeds and can be left to occupy themselves. 

As long as a shih tzu’s socialization, exercise, and training needs are met, he’s not likely to develop separation anxiety.

15. Shih Tzus Are Great Lap Dogs

Unlike their cousin, the Lhasa apso (for which they’re often mistaken), shih tzus love being a lap dog. 

16. They Are Difficult to House Train

Shih tzus are notoriously hard to house train. Some other small breeds are much easier even though both have small bladders. 

I got lucky with my first shih tzu puppy, Cuddles. She house trained pretty quickly and was pretty reliable within weeks. 

But my second, China, was the normal shih tzu. It took months for her to be reliable. I even took some time off to help her along the process.

But, with patience and persistence, I haven’t met a healthy shih tzu who couldn’t be reliably house trained. Also, you can train them to use potty pads for your convenience and in case they need to go to the bathroom when you’re away.

17. They Adapt To Most Places

Shih tzus are great in apartments or houses. They adapt to where you live.

18. They Don’t Do Well in Temperature Extremes

Shih tzus are a brachycephalic breed. Their flat face makes them prone to heat exhaustion. 

So, if you live where it gets very hot, make sure that your shih tzu isn’t taken outside except for a quick potty break during the hottest part of the day. 

Have him remain in air conditioning, relaxing. After all, they were bred as treasured companions who lived in Imperial palaces. 

And when it’s too cold, a shih tzu shouldn’t be taken out for more than a potty break. 

In cold weather, you can put a coat or sweater on your shih tzu. 

19. They Are Quiet Dogs

Although shih tzus may bark occasionally, they aren’t a noisy breed.

20. They Are Small

Shih tzus measure nine to 10.5 inches at the shoulder and weigh between nine and 16 pounds.

21. There Is No Teacup or Imperial Shih Tzu

Shih tzus should be between nine and 16 pounds. Run from unscrupulous breeders who try to sell miniature or larger versions.

22. Shih Tzus Are Portable and Great Travel Companions

Get your shih tzu used to traveling when he’s young so that he doesn’t become car sick. Then you can take him with you on your adventures. 

There are many car seats for small dogs that will be perfect for a shih tzu. 

And there are small kennels and soft travel bags to transport him. You can even carry him in a pouch made for that purpose

I used to take my shih tzus in stores in a shopping cart. I’d place a dog bed in the bottom of the cart, and my canine would happily accompany me on my spending spree.

23. Take Your Shih Tzu Out on a Harness

It’s best to take your shih tzu for walks in a well-fitting harness. Their necks are prone to tracheal damage if too much pressure is put on their neck as can occur in a collar.

24. Shih Tzus Require Regular Grooming, Which Can Be Expensive

A shih tzu who is kept in a long, flowing double coat that isn’t cut requires daily brushing and combing that gently reaches to the skin.

Grooming is for his health as well as his appearance. 

You can use a pin brush, slicker brush, and greyhound comb. The facial hair and topknot must be combed daily. 

If not properly groomed, a shih tzu can become a matted mess. 

Daily cleaning of the corners of the eyes is required.

And don’t forget to brush the heavily plumed tail that’s carried in a curve over his back.

You can choose to keep your shih tzu in a puppy cut for easier coat care. 

You still need to brush the coat and facial hair. But the brushing and combing are much easier on you–and the dog. 

A puppy cut keeps your shih tzu looking young and stylish. 

You can have a professional groomer perform a puppy clip. But I won’t fool you: a good groomer is expensive but worth it. 

Your shih tzu will need to be clipped every six to eight weeks, depending on how fast his coat grows. 

You still need to brush and comb daily, but the sessions will be shorter than when a shih tzu is kept in full coat.

I’ve kept my shih tzus in puppy cuts, with the facial beard and tail hair kept longer to maintain the look of the breed. I learned how to groom them from breeders and groomers I know. 

Of course, you also need to trim their nails every week or two and check–and clean if necessary–their ears on a weekly basis.

Because they require such routine, extensive grooming, get them used to being handled and groomed as puppies.

25. They Don’t Shed and Are “Hypoallergenic”

Although no dog is truly hypoallergenic, shih tzus come close. 

They have hair, not fur. And, if groomed and bathed regularly, they may be fine for some people who are allergic to dogs.

26. Shih Tzus Come in a Wide Variety of Colors

  • Black
  • Black and white
  • Brindle
  • Brindle and white
  • Gold
  • Gold and white
  • Red and white
  • Silver
  • Silver and white
  • Blue
  • Blue and white
  • Liver
  • Liver and white
  • Red
  • Black, gold, and silver
  • Black, white, and silver
  • White
  • Silver, gold, and white
  • Black, gold, and white

Shih tzus can also have a black facial mask or black, tan, or white markings.

27. Shih Tzus Have Long Lives

If you want a canine companion who will be with you on many adventures, a shih tzu may fit the bill. 

They have a life expectancy of 10 to 18 years. 

Two of my shih tzus lived to be 13.5 years old. My rescued shih tzu lived to be about 16. 

The oldest recorded shih tzu lived to be 23 years old.

28. Their Flat Faces Cause Them To Be Prone to Certain Problems

Shih tzus are a brachycephalic breed, which means that their head is both broad and short, resulting in small nostrils, long palates, and a narrow trachea.

This can lead to brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome, which can result in severe respiratory distress. 

They are also at risk in extremes of temperature and humidity. 

Shih tzus also can have a reverse sneeze, in which he will snort and gag to remove mucuous, for a minute or two at most. Although not harmful, hearing a shih tzu with a reverse sneeze can be frightening.

If you’re a light sleeper, be prepared to sleep with ear plugs. Because of their flat muzzles, shih tzus tend to snore. 

My shih tzu China weighed only 11 pounds. But she sounded like a freight train coming through when she was soundly sleeping.

Because their beautiful, large, round eyes are very prominent, shih tzus are prone to eye injuries. So, although shih tzus are sturdy for their size, take care in playing with them.

29. They Are Also Prone To Other Health Issues To Be Aware Of

All breeds can have certain health problems. Because of their long back, short legs, and flat muzzle, shih tzus are prone to some health issues. 

So be careful that your shih tzu doesn’t jump on or off furniture that’s too high. If you want him to be on the furniture, teach him to use stairs or a ramp made for that purpose.

Make sure that you get your shih tzu from a reputable breeder or rescue group

Potential health issues in include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Patellar luxation (a slipped kneecap)
  • Eye anomalies including cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, retinal detachment, and corneal dryness and inflammation from excessive exposure to the air because of improperly closing eyelids
  • Heart issues
  • Ear infections
  • Skin sensitivities
  • Bladder stones and infections
  • Retained baby teeth and gum problems
  • Umbilical hernias
  • A portosystemic liver shunt, which is a congenital abnormality in which blood vessels allow blood to bypass the liver
  • Snuffles, in which the gums swell when a puppy is teething at about four months old. Because of their flat muzzle in which there isn’t much room, a shih tzu puppy may snort, snuffle, snore loudly, or wheeze during this time, and may even have a clear nasal drainage
  • Glomerulonephropathy, a kidney disease
  • Congenital dyshormonogenic hypothyroidism with goiter
  • Prekallikrein deficiency, which is a disorder that causes blood to take longer to clot

30. Shih Tzus Can Be Beggars and Put on Too Much Weight

Even though their human baby-like adorable face stares up at you when you’re eating, don’t give in to temptation and share your meal. 

Shih tzus can tend to become obese.

31. They Tend To Have Dental Problems

Brachycephalic breeds tend to have more dental problems than other breeds. 

So regular teeth brushing and veterinary care is important.

32. Check Their Eyes Regularly To Avoid Problems

Because of their prominent eyes, problems may occur from dust, pollen, humidity, or brushing against a surface, So check your shih tzu’s eyes for signs of redness or irritation. 

Make sure that the facial hair on your shih tzu doesn’t rub against his eyes, which can also cause injury to his eyes.

33. They’re Popular

Shih tzus rank 20th out of 284 breeds according to the AKC.

34. A Well-Bred Shih Tzu Isn’t Cheap

Because the breed is so popular, there are many unscrupulous puppy mill and back yard breeders selling the dogs at various prices, both high and low. 

But a shih tzu from a reputable breeder can cost from $1,500 and up, depending on where you live and whether the dog is show or pet quality.

35. They Tend To Eat Poop More Than Some Breeds Do

This is known as coprophagia. Just make sure to clean up any feces so that this doesn’t become a habit.

36. There Are Valuable Resources To Find a Great Shih Tzu

You may decide to get a shih tzu from a reputable breed or rescue organization.

For rescue information about shih tzus, contact the American Shih Tzu Club, Shih Tzu Rescue, Inc., or Tzu Zoo Rescue

For breeder referrals, contact the American Shih Tzu Club or the American Kennel Club


I live in an apartment and need a dog who doesn’t bark often or need a fenced yard. Would a shih tzu be a good choice?

Yes! They are quiet dogs who aren’t excessive barkers. They also don’t require tons of exercise. A walk or two and some play should meet their physical exercise needs.

You must be willing to regularly groom a shih tzu (or hire a professional groomer). But be aware it may take longer than some breeds to house train a shih tzu. 

I love to travel. Would a shih tzu be a good choice? 

Yes. If you get a well-bred shih tzu who is properly trained and socialized, a shih tzu can be a great travel buddy.

Shih tzus are portable and love everyone and adapt to new environments.

Plus, they are very bonded to their pet parents and love to accompany them on new adventures.

I love dogs but don’t love grooming. I’ve only had only short-coated breeds. My friend has a shih tzu who I love. Would a shih tzu be a good choice?

Probably not.

They require regular–daily–grooming. But if you keep the dog in a short puppy clip and are willing to groom him, it can work out.

Final Thoughts

Shih tzus are friendly, spunky, outgoing adorable dogs. They don’t require a lot of exercise and are portable lap dogs. 

But they are difficult to house train and need daily grooming. 

If you’re looking for a sweet, charming dog to accompany you everywhere, a shih tzu can be a great choice.

Do you have a shih tzu?

If so, what made you choose the breed?

If you are thinking about getting a shih tzu, did this article help you to decide?

Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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So You Want A Shih Tzu? - shih tzu staring back at the camera.

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