About The Breed

The History of Shih Tzus:


Little is known about the origins of the Shih Tzu, but genetic testing tells us that he is one of the more ancient breeds in existence. It’s thought that he originated in Tibet, bred by Tibetan lamas to be a tiny replica of a lion, which is associated with Buddhist mythology. The smallest of the Tibetan breeds, he is noted for his heavy coat and tail that curves over the back. The Shih Tzu served as companions and watchdogs to the monks in the lamaseries. The happy and entertaining little dogs were surrounded by myths. One belief held that they were incarnations of mischievous household gods; another that they carried the souls of lamas who had not yet achieved nirvana, the transcendence of human desire.  The lamas presented the dogs as tribute to Chinese rulers, and it was at the Chinese imperial court that they received the name Shih Tzu, meaning “little lion” or “lion dog.” The Chinese also gave the Shih Tzu another name — chrysanthemum dog — because the hair on the face grows in all directions like the petals of the flower.  In China, the Shih Tzu was bred to have a stylized appearance. A fanciful “recipe” for the breed’s creation reads “a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit, a couple of ounces of domestic cat, one part court jester, a dash of ballerina, a pinch of old man (Chinese), a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part baby seal, a dash of teddy bear, and the rest dogs of Tibetan and Chinese origin.”  The Peking (now Beijing) Kennel Club, when it wrote a breed standard for the Shih Tzu, also waxed poetic, describing the breed as having “the head of a lion, the round face of an owl, the lustrous eyes of a dragon, the oval tongue of a peony petal, the mouth of a frog, teeth like grains of rice, ears like palm leaves, the torso of a bear, the broad back of a tiger, the tail of a Phoenix, the legs of an elephant, toes like a mountain range, a yellow coat like a camel, and the movement of a fish.”

After the end of imperial rule in China, the little dogs might have disappeared, spurned as a reminder of bygone days, but fortunately some of them had been presented to foreigners, in particular General Douglas and Lady Brownrigg. They and others took some of the dogs to England. All modern Shih Tzu descend from only fourteen dogs.  World War II interrupted the breed’s development in England, but it survived and then thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1969. Today the Shih Tzu is popular for his loyal, gentle, cheerful attitude. He ranks 10th among the breeds registered by the AKC, a position that has held steady for a decade.


Shih Tzu Temperament and Personality:

Whatever you do, a Shih Tzu is willing to be there with you. He’s up for anything and isn’t demanding. He’s not high strung, either, and can make a great companion for a senior. If you’re doing something mundane like cleaning the refrigerator, he will sit by and watch in solidarity. If you’re watching TV, he’ll watch too. If you’re up for play, the Shih Tzu is too. If you’re tired, he’ll take a snooze along with you. He doesn’t care what you do as long as he’s doing it with you. Left with toys to play with, he can entertain himself and doesn’t mind if you work all day as long as you come home to him and give him some love.  Shih Tzus tend to like dogs and children. They enjoy play dates and can make great therapy dogs. Some like cats and some don’t; it seems to be entirely an individual preference rather than a breed trait.  He is playful and, on occasion, mischievous. He will steal your shoes. He may want you to chase him after he steals them. On the other hand, if he really wants them, he just might bury them. He’s not above taking toys from other dogs.  Toy breeds can easily become picky eaters, but that problem is often unintentionally created by people. Don’t let your Shih Tzu get away with it. GIve him time to adapt to what he is supposed to eat, as opposed to lunging for your cheesecake.  A Shih Tzu can be stubborn, but it’s hardly the hallmark of the breed. He may not give training the same priority that you do, and it may require some patience and extra time on your part to fully housebreak him. He can be terrific at agility, so he can certainly learn to follow commands. This vivacious little clown is confident and may have a bit too much self-importance, but that’s only to be expected given his imperial background.  Some Shih Tzus can chew too much stuff, nip a bit too often, jump on people, and lick enough to lose fur. The Shih Tzu feels that he is large and in charge, and he can growl to protect his food and toys if he isn’t taught to play nicely and share.  Any dog, no matter how sweet or small, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, chewing, and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained, or unsupervised. Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is 6 months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.  Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.  The perfect Shih Tzu doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Shih Tzu, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.


What You Need to Know About Shih Tzu Health:

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.  The Shih Tzu suffers from many of the health problems common to tiny dogs and has a few particular health problems of his own. Shih Tzus can have teeth that are misaligned or missing. Because their small mouths contribute to tooth crowding, they're also prone to periodontal disease and require regular veterinary dental care. They can also be born with a cleft lip and/or palate.  Like many small dogs, their kneecaps can pop out of position easily — the common condition known as luxating patellas. Their eyes protrude and can be easily scratched or injured, and their breathing can be full of snuffles and wheezes that sometimes turn into major respiratory problems.  Then there’s renal dysplasia, an inherited condition in which the dog’s kidneys don't develop normally. This is something a puppy inherits from his parents, so buy puppies only from breeders who test all their dogs for renal dysplasia. You’ll want to see documentation that both parents’ kidney function is normal. Unfortunately, not even normal kidney biopsies in both parents can guarantee puppies won’t develop renal dysplasia. Shih Tzu owners need to watch their puppies carefully for excessive thirst, failure to gain weight, or signs that they’re not thriving.  The Shih Tzu is prone to several inherited eye diseases, including cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). A cataract is an opaque cloudiness that affects the eye lens. Vision is affected and the effects can range from slight impairment to blindness. Cataracts can be treated surgically. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease that leads to blindness. Shih Tzus are also prone to dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca -- a condition in which inadequate tear production leads to corneal dryness, pain, corneal ulcers, and other complications.  Dogs with bulging eyes, such as the Shih Tzu, are more likely to have an injury to the eyeball that causes the eyeball to bulge out of the orbit, called proptosis. When proptosis occurs, blood flow is cut off, and the lack of oxygen can result in blindness. It is a medical emergency.  Ingrown eyelashes, known as distichiasis, scrape and irritate the eye and can even scar it. Sometimes eyelash hairs burst through the eyelid (ectopic cilia). Both of these conditions can create corneal ulcers.  Like other brachycephalic (short-headed) breeds, Shih Tzus can have respiratory issues because of the shape of their head, face, and airways. Some brachycephalic dogs have an obstruction in their upper airways that makes it hard for the dogs to breathe. This by no means indicates that every flat-faced dog will have these issues. Severe problems can be treated surgically.  The Shih Tzu’s teeth come in a bit later than other breeds’, and they often fall out earlier than other breeds’. Shih Tzus can have underbites (or "undershot jaw") in which the lower jaw extends past the upper jaw, resulting in trauma to the gums and malocclusion of the teeth. They are also prone to periodontal disease and should have their teeth brushed daily.

The breeder should show you written documentation that both the puppy’s parents have had Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) patella (kneecap) evaluations, as well as eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.  Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.  Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems in dogs: obesity. Keeping a Shih Tzu at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.  The Basics of Shih Tzu Grooming Is it the Shih Tzu’s flowing locks of gold and white that made you fall in love with him? The Chinese emperors probably had an entire army of servants who did nothing but comb their dogs, because even one day without grooming and that coat can become a tangled mess.  Fortunately, the long coat is mostly seen in the show ring; retired champions and house pets mostly sport a short puppy clip. Some pet owners can do it themselves with a pair of scissors (difficult) or electric clippers, but keeping your Shih Tzu beautiful and free of mats and skin problems often requires regular professional grooming as well as daily combing at home. Tools you’ll need include a wire pin brush and a stainless steel comb with fine and coarse teeth.  Many Shih Tzu puppies who are approaching a year old tend to change coat; during this period they shed so profusely that you wouldn’t think it possible if you didn’t see it. Keep brushing daily, if not more often, through the change. Thankfully this is a short-term condition that lasts only about three weeks.  The coat is easier to care for after it changes. How much you need to brush or comb a Shih Tzu depends greatly on the texture of his particular coat. Some require daily care, and some need it only once a week. A softer coat gets matted more quickly — even more so if it is thick. A dirty coat will also mat quickly.  Bathe your Shih Tzu as often as you like, but be sure to comb out any tangles before you bathe him. They will tighten up when they get wet. Blow-dry the coat thoroughly to keep your Shih Tzu from getting chilled.  Comb the moustache and topknot daily. A puppy will have enough hair for a topknot when he/she is about 5 months old. Use a latex band sold at dog shows or good pet supply stores to tie the topknot. Rubber bands will break the hair.  The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Clean the inner corners of the eyes daily with a damp washcloth to minimize staining. To keep the hind end clean, trim the fur around the anus. Brush the teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.