August 17, 2017

Introduction to the Shih Tzu

The aristocratic Shih Tzu, with the beautiful flowing coat, probably originated in Tibet and then the breed was developed in China.

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“Shih Tzu” is both the singular and plural for the breed and means “lion dog.”

While the Shih Tzu looks haughty, looks can be deceiving in this case. These little dogs are playful, affectionate, and friendly. They make very good apartment dogs and they are a good family dog, provided they are supervised with small children so kids don’t play with them roughly.

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History of the Shih Tzu

DNA evidence suggests that the Shih Tzu is an ancient breed, along with some other breeds from southeast Asia such as the Pug and the Pekingese. These breeds are so old that they were some of the first dogs domesticated from wolves according to their DNA. There are various theories about the origin of the Shih Tzu, mostly debating whether the dogs derived from China or Tibet. Current thought seems to place the origin of the breed in Tibet, though it was greatly developed in China, picking up the name “lion dog” or Shih Tzu by 800 BC.  According to one theory, the breed was an early cross between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso, but this is speculation. Shih Tzu do appear in Chinese paintings from early times and they were selectively bred and prized by the royal family in some Chinese dynasties. For many years Shih Tzu were so valued that they were never allowed to leave China.

The first dogs to leave China – going to England and Norway in 1930 – were mistakenly called “Apsos” (Lhasa Apsos) by the Kennel Club in England, so there was some confusion about what kind of dogs they were since they had not been seen before. By 1935 there was a Shih Tzu club in England and they had written a breed standard for the breed. Shih Tzu were brought to the United States after World War II. Military personnel stationed in Europe brought back some of the dogs to the U.S. in the 1950s. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1969.

In the United States today the Shih Tzu is very popular. They are ranked as the 17th most popular breed in the country today out of nearly 200 breeds by the American Kennel Club.

Shih Tzu Health-Related Issues

Like most breeds, Shih Tzu can have some health issues in the breed. The American Shih Tzu Club has an encyclopedic listing of health issues for the Shih Tzu on their web site. Topics range from routine vaccinations to very minor problems to serious concerns. If you have a Shih Tzu or are thinking of getting one, this is an excellent site.

Issues of concern in the breed include: hypothyroidism, interverterbral disk disease (IVDD), breathing problems affecting brachycehpalic dogs, liver shunt (portosystemic shunt of the liver), and hip dysplasia. Epilepsy has been reported. Shih Tzu can also get ear infections.

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Hypothyroidism in dogs is similar to hypothyroidism in humans. They thyroid produces low levels of the thyroid hormone that is needed for proper metabolic function. Dogs can be tested to confirm whether they have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism seems to occur in dogs of many breeds. It usually appears in dogs of middle age. Symptoms include hair loss, lethargy, weight gain, and loss of muscle tone. The condition is easy to treat with an inexpensive daily pill once it is diagnosed. However, breeders should consider carefully whether they want to breed a dog with hypothyroidism. There are worse health problems but you might be able to find dogs for breeding that do not have this condition.

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) relates to the dog’s spine. It occurs in many chondrodystrophic dogs. Chondrodystrophy refers to dogs that have a normal-sized body and shorter legs. These breeds are, to some extent, dwarves. The Dachshund, the Bulldog, Corgis, and Basset Hounds are other chondrodystrophic breeds. Dogs that have IVDD can have sudden back pain, impaired movement or weakness in the legs, a loss of coordination, and a loss of feeling of deeper sensations of pain.

The Shih Tzu is a brachycephalic breed (short-nosed). Dogs can have difficulties breathing in hot, humid weather, especially if they are exercising when it is very hot outside. It is best is Shih Tzu are not allowed to over-exert themselves in very hot weather.

Portosystemic liver shunt refers to a condition in which the blood that normally goes to the liver to be “cleaned” instead bypasses the liver and goes into circulation in the body. This releases “dirty” blood into the body, which contains toxins. Some dogs (and cats) are born with this condition, especially Toy dogs. Symptoms usually appear by the time a dog is six months old. They include a failure to gain weight, vomiting, tremors, depression, seizures, drooling, and pressing the head against things. Liver shunt can be repaired with surgery.

Hip dysplasia can occur in Shih Tzu. Most people associate hip dysplasia with larger breeds, but Shih Tzu are ranked 35th by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals among breeds x-rayed for hip dysplasia (more than 100 samples). More than 600 Shih Tzu have been x-rayed (which is still a small sample) and some 19.7 percent of the dogs had abnormal x-ray results, so hip dysplasia can be a concern in the breed. It can lead to arthritis or mobility problems later in life.

Remember that most dogs do not major have health problems. Breeders work diligently to test and screen their dogs so they produce healthy puppies. But no one can completely guarantee that every dog will be healthy throughout their lifetime. If you are interested in getting a puppy or dog, be sure to talk to the breeder about their dogs and their health guarantees.

Shih Tzu Temperament

Although they have a proud appearance, the Shih Tzu is actually a happy, alert, outgoing little dog. They are loyal and affectionate with those they love. They are usually quite friendly with everyone and more than willing to be friendly with strangers. Shih Tzu have always been companion dogs and they enjoy being with people. Because they are alert and notice things, they can make a good watch dog, but this is not their purpose. They will give a warning bark but they don’t really try to scare anyone away.

Owners say that Shih Tzu can be stubborn. It is important to start socialization and training early so your Shih Tzu learns that he needs to obey commands. Shih Tzu need to know that rules apply to them. They usually get along well with other pets but it is very important to remember that the Shih Tzu is a small dog. Don’t leave them unattended with larger dogs who might unintentionally injure them during play. The same is true with children. Shih Tzu are sturdy for their size but they can still be hurt if children play with them too roughly.

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The Shih Tzu does not need much exercise but they do enjoy playing outside if you have a fenced yard. They are very smart so make sure that your dog cannot escape if you let your Shih Tzu play in a fenced area. It’s best to supervise them while they are outside. They are quite capable of wiggling under a fence or slipping through a small hole.

Some Shih Tzu can be snappy and nip if they are allowed to misbehave. Make sure that your Shih Tzu is well-socialized and learns good manners from a young age. They normally have a lovely temperament if they are well-trained.

Shih Tzu Grooming

The Shih Tzu can have a beautiful, long flowing coat but it requires lots of care. It is silky, fine, and straight. They are not hypoallergenic but they don’t shed a lot. All colors are permitted. Colors include Gold, Dark/Light Brown, White, Black, Black/White, Gray, Brindle red, and Blue. Parti colors (black and white, red and white, etc.) are often seen.

If you want to keep your Shih Tzu’s coat long, you will need to brush it daily to avoid tangles and bathe and condition the coat often. The hair on the head, called the “top knot” is kept tied up, out of the dog’s eyes. Many pet owners choose to keep the coat clipped shorter because it is easier to care for. You can talk to a pet groomer about pet clips. The coat grows fast so you would probably need to have it trimmed every 6-8 weeks.

Otherwise, grooming a Shih Tzu is similar to grooming other dogs. You will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition.

Shih Tzu Fun Facts

  • The Shih Tzu is also called the “Chrysanthemum Dog” because of the way the breed’s hair frames its face, looking like a chrysanthemum.
  • Imperial or Teacup Shih Tzu are names for Shih Tzu that are bred to be smaller than the breed standard dictates. Dogs that are smaller than the breed standard can have health problems and a shortened lifespan.
  • Shih Tzu have an underbite. This is normal in the breed.
  • Shih Tzu are surprisingly good at agility. They enjoy doing things with their owners and they are active little dogs. If you are interested in a Toy dog for dog events, the Shih Tzu might be for you.
  • Shih Tzu can be very susceptible to cold weather, especially if they are clipped, It is not unusual to see them wearing sweaters or coats in cold climates to prevent shivering.

Common Shih Tzu Mixes List

The Shih Tzu is an adorable little dog with a very pleasing personality. As such, they have been crossed with several other breeds to make designer dogs. Some of the breeds that have been crossed with Shih Tzu include the Poodle (Shih-Poo), the Shorkie (Shih Tzu and Yorkshire Terrier), the Mal-Shi (Maltese and Shih Tzu), Shinese (Shih Tzu and Pekingese), the Shih-chons (Shih Tzu and Bichon Frise), and the Cava-Tzu (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Shih Tzu). There are probably other mixes, but these hybrids have been popular.

  • Bea-Tzu – Beagle and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Blue-Tzu Heeler – Shih Tzu and Australian Cattle Dog Mix
  • BoShih – Boston Terrier and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Care-Tzu – Shih Tzu and Cairn Terrier Mix
  • Chinese Boston-Tzu – Chinese Crested x Shih Tzu x Boston Terrier Mix
  • Cock-A-Tzu – Cocker Spaniel and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Crested-Tzu – Chinese Crested and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Daisy Dog – Shih Tzu x Maltese and Poodle Mix
  • Fo-Tzu – Toy Fox Terrier and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Havashu – Havanese and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Jack Tzu – Shih Tzu and Jack Russell Terrier Mix
  • Jatzu – Japanese Chin and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Mal-Shi – Shih Tzu and Maltese Mix
  • Papastzu – Papillon and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Mal-Shi – Shih Tzu and Maltese Mix
  • Papastzu – Papillon and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Pomshinese – Pekingese and Pomeranian x Shih Tzu Mix
  • Pug-Zu – Pug and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Ratshi Terrier – Shih Tzu and Rat Terrier Mix
  • Schnau-Tzu – Shih Tzu and Miniature Schnauzer Mix
  • Schweenie – Dachshund and Shih Tzu Mix
  • ShiChi – Chihuahua and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Shiffon – Shih Tzu and Brussels Griffon Mix
  • Shih Apso – Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso Mix
  • Shih-Mo – Shih Tzu and American Eskimo Dog Mix
  • Shih-teze – Pekingese and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Shihpoo – Poodle and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Shiranian – Pomeranian and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Shmoodle -Poodle x Shih Tzu and Maltese Mix
  • Shorgi – Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Shorkie Tzu – Shih Tzu and Yorkshire Terrier Mix
  • Silky Tzu – Silky Terrier and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Skip-Shzu – Schipperke and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Tzu Basset – Basset Hound and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Weshi – West Highland White Terrier and Shih Tzu Mix
  • Zuchon – Bichon Frise and Shih Tzu Mix
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Shih Tzu FAQs

What is a Shih Tzu’s Life Expectancy?

According to a health survey conducted by the Kennel Club in Britain in 2004, the median life expectancy of the Shih Tzu is 13 years and 2 months, which is quite a long life for most dogs. Most Shih Tzu in the survey lived between 10 and 16 years.

Are Shih Tzu easy to train?

Yes, if you begin when your Shih Tzu is young, they can be easy to train. However, they can be stubborn, especially if you wait until later in life to start training your dog, so start as early as possible with socialization and basic obedience. Even though the Shih Tzu is a Toy breed, they need to learn basic obedience commands and good manners.

Do Shih Tzu shed a lot of hair?

No, Shih Tzu do not shed a lot. However, they do grow a lot of hair and it grows quickly. They need regular brushing. If you do not want their coat to grow long, you will need to talk to a pet groomer about keeping it clipped short or learn to clip it yourself.

Do Shih Tzu make good apartment pets?

Yes, Shih Tzu make excellent apartment pets. They are small, mostly quiet, friendly, and they do not require a lot of exercise.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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