The Shih Tzu is a small lapdog weighing up to 16 pounds with long, silky hair that requires regular grooming.
This breed is loyal and friendly towards their family members, but can be known to misbehave!
Despite its popularity, the Shih Tzu has some health problems that every potential owner should be aware of.
What’s In This Guide
- Shih Tzu At A Glance
- In-depth Breed Review
- Shih Tzu Training And Care
- Pros And Cons Of Getting A Shih Tzu
Shih Tzu FAQs
Here are some of our readers most common questions about this little pup!
Breed At A Glance
- Popularity: 20 out of 193 breeds on AKC!
- Purpose: Lapdog
- Weight: 9 – 16 pounds
- Temperament: Confident, affectionate, playful.
Shih Tzu Breed Review: Contents
- History and original purpose
- Fun facts about Shih Tzu
- Shih Tzu appearance
- Shih Tzu temperament
- Training and exercising your Shih Tzu
- Shih Tzu health and care
- Do Shih Tzu make good family pets
- Rescuing a Shih Tzu
- Finding a Shih Tzu puppy
- Raising a Shih Tzu puppy
- Popular Shih Tzu breed mixes
- Shih Tzu products and accessories
So we’re going to discuss absolutely everything you should expect from your Shih Tzu.
But first, let’s look at whether this distinctive little dog came from. As well as what sort of a family might welcome one into their home.
History and Original Purpose
Shih Tzu are thought to be one of the oldest breeds of dog, with their origins stretching back to Tibet or China.
They are believed to originate from breeds like the Lhaso Apso and the Pekingese.
The Shih Tzu was favoured as as lapdog for emperors and their families. This little dog stayed in its royal bubble until the 1930s, when it became known to the rest of the world!
They are now born and bred lap dogs, and have been that way for generations. With a breeding focus placed on their highly characteristic looks.
Fun Facts about Shih Tzu
Shih Tzu also means “lion”, perhaps reflecting their beautiful coats!
Plus, we’ve seen these pups were a favorite of Chinese and Tibetan royalty. But do they have any other famous owners we might know?
Shih Tzu Appearance
This appealing little dog has a regal look, which makes sense when you find out that he was once the property of Chinese royalty.
They are small and stocky, with flat faces that give the expression of being rather cheerful. However, these flat faces have some serious health problems. We will look at these in more detail later.
Their bodies are slightly out of proportion for a dog breed, with shortened legs and a lengthy spine.
Height and Weight
So, when we say these are lap dogs, they really are small!
A fully grown, healthy Shih Tzu will generally weigh between 9 and 16 pounds.
You can expect your pup to grow to between 8 and 11 inches at the shoulder as an adult.
Check out this article on development stages to see when your pup should be fully grown!
If you’re looking for a dog name inspired by this small size, we’ve got loads for you to choose from!
These little dogs are covered from head to toe in silky hair. It can even be tied up to allow them a clear visual field.
They have a double coat that is usually long and flowing.
This coat comes in a huge variety of colors, including the following standard ones:
They can also come as a combination of white with any of these colors. Some non-standard colors include black, gold and silver, black, gold and white, black white, and silver, silver, gold and white, and just white.
These pups also have a variety of markings.
- Black markings
- Black mask
- Tan markings
- White markings
Shih Tzu Temperament
Shih Tzu fans love the breed for their loyalty and warmth to their owners. They are affectionate and loyal, but not without a spirited side.
Being bred as lap dogs and companions, this pup is at home having a fuss made of him. And if properly socialised they should be happy to wander up and greet friends and strangers alike.
Without proper socialisation some Shih Tzu have been known to growl or even snap when bored with physical affection like stroking.
They are therefore not always the most reliable breed to have around children who are not yet old enough to understand when to give them space, or the need to handle such a small dog with care.
Remember, that just because these dogs look like a cuddly toy, it doesn’t mean he has the personality of one.
Although they are technically toy breeds!
Teach children to be respectful and always supervise their interactions, as kids are not as good at spotting warning signs that the dog has had enough.
This said, if you have your pup from 8 weeks old and make sure he is used to being handled. This will reduce the likelihood of this problem.
Make sure to socialize your Shih Tzu from as early as possible. Not only will this minimise aggression, but it will also help your pup be as happy as possible in new situations.
Crate training can also help you to keep your dog separate from the unwelcome, prodding fingers of guests.
Training your Shih Tzu
This small breed has a charming personality to go with his looks. But unfortunately this can make training quite tricky.
With its independent personality, they’re often able to get their own way if owners let them!
So, it’s important to stick to training, and be as consistent as possible. Otherwise, you may find your pup exhibiting some naughty behaviors.
If you’re worried about giving in, puppy training classes are a great way to go!
Being a small breed they do not require huge amounts of exercise, and can be just as happy living in a flat as in a big house with a garden
Like any dog though, they do enjoy having somewhere to run around outdoors and benefit from regular training. In recent years people have begun to enter them in miniature agility, and demonstrated that they can be more than just a pretty face.
However, it’s important to remember the problems that come with their flat face.
Flat faced breeds are not good swimmers, so make sure to keep exercise on dry land.
Intense exercise can also lead to overheating, and trouble breathing. So be sure to never over-exert your little pup when exercising, especially in hot weather.
Shih Tzu Health and Care
Shih Tzu can suffer from a few serious conformation related problems.
These are the main drawback of this breed. As some of the health conditions can lead to a much worse quality of life for these pups.
Let’s take a look at some of these issues.
Brachycephalic, or flat-faced, dogs have a ton of serious health problems that can cause extreme discomfort.
This flat face has been bred into dogs, by mating dogs in a breed with exceptionally short snouts. This is often just to satisfy breed trends, and to achieve the ‘cutest’ dog possible.
However, there is often little focus on the health of these pups.
Below are some of the conditions brought on by this flattening of the face.
Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome
Shortened muzzles also create various eye problems due to a more shallow eye socket.
Brachycephalic dogs often appear to have wide, bulging eyes. But this is just because of shallow eye sockets, and it actually leaves the eyes more vulnerable to damage.
This can include scratches or ulcers. In some cases, these pups can lose their sight.
Plus, there is a real chance of their eyes literally popping out of their sockets.
You can read more about Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome in this detailed article.
Heat Control Problems
Shortened snouts actually make it more difficult for dogs to cool themselves down.
This is why too much exercise is bad for these dogs.
Because they cannot cool as efficiently as other breeds, they are also prone to heat stroke.
When a dog’s snout is shortened, the number of teeth in his mouth is not reduced.
This means dental health is all the more important. Flat Faced dogs’ teeth are crammed together with very little room to grow, which can lead to increased decay.
These dogs need their teeth brushed every single day to minimise dental issues.
Having a shorter muzzle also affects the breathing in these dogs.
Brachycephaly reduces the size of a dog’s nostrils and the size of their airway.
These problems often cause the snorting and grunting noises in flat-faced dogs.
Although not all dogs are severely affected, some can suffer from brachycephalic issues to the extent that they require surgery in order to breathe easily and freely.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
These pups don’t just suffer from brachycephalic issues.
Although it is often disguised under their long and silky coats, Shih Tzu can be afflicted by the spine related disorder Intervertebral Disk Disease.
This is caused by the dogs back and legs not being correctly proportioned. The spine is essentially too long to be properly supported by the shortened legs.
This can result in severe back pain, coordination problems and even paralysis.
There are some health issues that affect other pedigree breeds too that should also be looked out for, including hypothyroidism, epilepsy and hip dysplasia.
Many pups can be screened for these problems. If your heart is set on getting a Shih Tzu puppy, try to make sure it comes from a line that does not suffer from these issues.
Shih Tzu coats are not for the faint hearted. They are long and require regular grooming and care. It’s vital that your Shih Tzu is used to being groomed from a young age, unless you are prepared to pay regular visits to your local groomer for some serious clipping.
You will also need to take care to keep their long head hair from obscuring their vision or causing irritation to their eyes.
The Shih Tzu coat does however have definite positives, if you are happy with its maintenance. Although long and shaggy in appearance, it is actually relatively low shedding. Which means that you are less likely to be troubled with allergies, or constantly hovering up after them!
They are also very distinctive and a lot of people find them very appealing, and enjoy making them up with bows and ribbons.
Do Shih Tzus Make Good Family Pets
This is a companion dog, perhaps best suited to an older family or couple. They don’t require large amounts of space or extreme exercise, but do still require regular walks and benefit from obedience training.
Their coats are long, and you must be happy to keep on top of their grooming for their lifetime.
When you choose you puppy make sure that you are shown copies of clear health tests from both parents, and ideally meet them both too.
The health conditions that this pup is prone to can lead to a really poor quality of life. While some of them are avoidable through health tests, others, like brachycephalic issues, cannot be avoided.
You may want to look at getting a mix or a different purebred who will have a better quality of life.
Or, if your heart is set on this little breed, you could rescue one who is already in need of a home.
Rescuing a Shih Tzu
Rescuing a dog is a great way to give a second chance to one without a home.
Rescues are also usually a lot cheaper than choosing a dog from a breeder.
They will be able to give you a lot of information about the temperament and health history of your chosen pup.
And usually will interview you to make sure you’re the best fit for a new doggy home.
Click here to go to our list of rescues.
Finding a Shih Tzu Puppy
If your heart is set on getting a Shih Tzu puppy, make sure you go to a reputable breeder.
These popular pups can actually cost up to thousands of dollars.
Make sure to put in lots of research to get the most reputable breeder. You should ask them lots of questions, and expect them to do the same!
You’ll want to see health certificates, and meet the puppy’s parents.
Where to Avoid
There are some places you need to avoid when you’re getting any puppy.
Puppy mills tend to sell puppies cheaper than reputable breeders.
Raising a Shih Tzu Puppy
Caring for a vulnerable puppy is a big responsibility.
There are some great guides to help you with all aspects of puppy care and training.
Popular Shih Tzu Breed Mixes
Mixed breed pups are increasingly popular these days.
Plus, a mixed breed puppy with a longer muzzle and shorter back could be a better option from a health point of view.
Comparing the Shih Tzu with Other Breeds
The health conditions of this breed can lead to a poor quality of life for these little pups.
But there are plenty of similar breeds that don’t suffer from the same extreme health problems.
Pros And Cons of Getting A Shih Tzu
If you want a quick overview of this breed, we’ve got a summary here!
Here’s the pros and cons of getting one of these small pups.
They can experience lots of health problems that are costly in vet bills and quality of life.
Shih Tzus require a lot of grooming.
These pups can have an independent streak, which means training can be a challenge.
If not socialized properly, they can be a little unfriendly towards strangers and children.
They don’t need big places to live in.
Products and Accessories
To prepare for the arrival of any new puppy you’ll need to get some products and accessories.
But there are so many out there, choosing the best can be tough.
Although you can find these pups in regular rescue centers, you can also find breed-specific ones.
Here are some rescues that you can check out.
If you know of any other breed-specific rescues, let us know in the comments so we can add them to this list!
References And Resources
- Gough A, Thomas A, O’Neill D. 2018 Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats. Wiley Blackwell
- O’Neill et al. 2013. Longevity and Mortality of Dogs Owned In England. The Veterinary Journal
- Schalamon et al. 2006. Analysis of Dog Bites In Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years. Pediatrics
- Duffy D et al. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behavior Science 2008
- Packer et al. 2015. Impact of Facial Conformation On Canine Health. PlosOne
- Adams VJ, et al. 2010. Results of a Survey of UK Purebred Dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice.