Shih Tzu Dog Breed: History, Personality, and Care

Are you interested in the Shih Tzu dog breed? If so, there’s a lot to know before welcoming one of these fluffy dogs into your home. Shih Tzus are one of the most common small breeds out there, but like any other dog breed, they take a lot of time and commitment to care for. So, what do you need to know in order to care for one of these adorable little dogs?

History of the Shih Tzu Dog Breed

The Shih Tzu dog breed first originated in China, where it was called the “lion dog”. They were initially bred to warm the laps of royalty and guard the emperor, so they spent all their time in the Chinese emperor’s palace. Emperors adored the beautiful dogs so much that they gave valuable gifts to their Shih Tzus’ breeders. It is unclear exactly how the Shih Tzu was bred, but it is guessed to be a cross between a Pekingese and Lhasa Apso.

Shih Tzus were solely kept by royalty for many years until finally, they became known to the outside world in the 1930s. Since then, the breed has continuously grown in popularity. Today, the breed is known as a common companion dog. Much like their ancestors, Shih Tzus today are great at cuddling on your lap and protecting you.

Shih Tzu Breed Characteristics

Like every dog, Shih Tzus have their own unique personalities and characteristics. Not every Shih Tzu will be exactly the same, but here is some information about what to expect.

Shih Tzu Appearance

Shih Tzus are a small breed, typically weighing between 9 and 16 pounds. They have soft hair, which is similar to a human’s hair rather than the typical fur that other dog breeds like Chihuahuas or German Shepherds have. Because of this, they barely shed, and their hair continuously grows instead of shedding throughout the year.

This breed comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Most commonly, you will see them with a brown and white pattern, but they can also have other patterns such as black and white or black and brown. Oftentimes, they even have solid coat colors, which includes black, brown, white, gray, red, and brindle.

In dog shows, they are commonly seen with long hair that drags on the ground, but as common pets, they usually have shorter hair. However, their tails are almost always left long and you will commonly see them wearing bows in their hair. A popular Shih Tzu style is to leave the hair on the top of their head long so you can keep a bow or clip on it. Others just keep their Shih Tzu’s hair trimmed short to keep it out of their eyes.

Shih Tzus can often be distinguished by their unique faces. They have a small, squished nose and large, bulging eyes. It doesn’t sound appealing, but it actually makes them extra adorable. It’s also common to see a Shih Tzu with an underbite, which is where their bottom teeth stick out a little too far. While this isn’t considered a desirable trait, most dog lovers find it to be extra cute, only adding to this breed’s uniqueness.

Shih Tzu Personality

These little dogs are known for their affectionate and outgoing personalities. They are generally very friendly around people, and they love to snuggle up next to you. However, they are also very stubborn. They know what they want, so they’ll often do their own thing regardless of what you tell them. Because of this, they’re a bit more difficult to train.

Despite their small size, Shih Tzus are also very alert and protective. They’re not usually loud or aggressive, but if they see a stranger that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll be sure to let you know. This also means that they get jealous really easily, so if they see you spending too much time with another dog or person, they’ll likely pout.

Above all, Shih Tzus are lazy dogs. They value their naps more than anything else, and they’ll often sleep in later than you. In fact, you’ll likely even catch them snoring from time to time. They do enjoy going for walks and playing with toys like any other dog, but they’d prefer that you don’t bother them when they’re in a deep sleep.

Shih Tzu Care Requirements

All dogs have the same basic needs, but they slightly differ between each breed. In general, Shih Tzus are fairly low-maintenance since they are more independent than other small dogs, but there are still some specific things to be aware of.

Housing Requirements

Shih Tzus are a small breed, so they don’t have any special requirements when it comes to where they live. They’re great apartment dogs because they don’t need too much space to run around. As long as they have a comfortable bed to sleep in and a nice window to look out of, they’ll be content.

Since they are a small, less active breed, they don’t need a large, fenced in yard for exercise. Usually, a few short walks throughout the day will suffice. They like to explore, but they get tired easily. So, at least one or two 20-minute walks around your neighborhood each day should be enough for their exercise needs.

Grooming Your Shih Tzu

As mentioned earlier, the Shih Tzu dog breed has a silky coat that’s made up of hair and not fur. Dogs with hair need to get groomed on a regular basis to keep their coats healthy. Some dog parents prefer to groom their Shih Tzus from home, but it’s much easier if you let a professional groomer handle it. A groomer can usually do bathing, brushing, hair trimming, nail clipping, and ear cleaning all for a set price.

Most Shih Tzus should get groomed every 6 to 8 weeks, even if you want their hair to stay long. This can help keep their coat healthy, and it will get them in the habit of being groomed regularly. Since Shih Tzus are stubborn dogs, they often try to put up a fight during grooming, especially for nail trims, which is another reason why many dog parents go to a professional.

Even if you take your dog to the groomer on a regular basis, you still need to do some minor grooming at home. Every 2 to 3 weeks, it’s recommended that you give them a bath to keep their coat clean and soft. Also, you should brush them a couple times a week. Many dog parents neglect brushing their dog’s hair, but it’s essential, especially if you’re trying to grow their hair out.

If a Shih Tzu doesn’t get brushed regularly, they could develop matts in their hair. Matts are extremely tangled clumps of hair on your dog. Oftentimes, matts are painful for dogs, so groomers have no choice but to cut them out. They can try to brush out smaller matts, but if they’re too dense, shaving your dog is much safer. So, brushing not only helps your Shih Tzu look pretty, but it keeps them healthy too.

Training Your Shih Tzu

Despite their loving personality, Shih Tzus are actually difficult to train, especially as puppies. The best way to get them to listen to you is to be patient, gentle, and consistent. If things don’t go as planned, try not to get frustrated. It might take them longer to learn than other dog breeds, but they’ll eventually make progress if you keep trying.

If your Shih Tzu isn’t house-trained, then that will likely be the most difficult part of training. Their bladders are very small and they get anxious easily, especially when you first bring them home. Take them outside every two hours to help them get used to bathroom breaks. Also, it can be beneficial to take them out right after they eat, play, and sleep because odds are, they’ll want to go to the bathroom soon after those activities.

In the event of an accident, take your Shih Tzu outside immediately after it happens. This can help them associate doing their business with being outside. Also, make sure you don’t punish them or scold them for accidents since they are still learning. Reacting negatively when they misbehave will only scare them and cause them to misbehave even more. This is true for all dogs, but Shih Tzus are extra sensitive to yelling and scolding.

When you first bring your Shih Tzu home, you should also practice basic commands with them too. ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, and ‘Come’ are all great commands to start off with. While these tricks might be simple for other dogs, Shih Tzus need lots of repetition before they will listen to you. When they get something right, be sure to reward them with a small, low-calorie treat.

These little dogs are very food motivated, so if you try new tricks consistently throughout the week, they should begin to understand. However, you will slowly need to wean them off the treat rewards to ensure that they don’t get too greedy. Attention and playtime can easily be substituted as another positive reinforcement.

Feeding Your Shih Tzu

When it comes to choosing food for your Shih Tzu, there are a lot of things to consider. There are so many different dog food brands out there, so it’s difficult to choose which one is best. When you get your Shih Tzu, either from a breeder or a rescue, they likely already have a consistent diet. Make sure to ask what kind of food they eat so you can get them the same type of food.

Feed your new Shih Tzu the same food for at least a week to keep something familiar for them. Then, you can slowly begin transitioning them to a new food if you wish to change it. Dogs should have a high-quality food with plenty of protein in it, so you’ll likely want to switch them to something healthier than what they were being fed before.

Make sure to look closely at the ingredients before choosing a food to make sure it has beneficial ingredients instead of inexpensive fillers. Also, some dog parents even choose to create home-cooked meals for their Shih Tzu to make sure their food is as healthy as possible.

Choosing the amount of food for your Shih Tzu greatly depends on their age, weight, and activity level. Generally, Shih Tzus should eat 3/4 cups to 1 cup each day, but you should adjust it based on if your Shih Tzu needs to lose or gain weight. As a puppy, you should serve them their food in 3 servings throughout the day to promote healthy growth, but as adults, only 2 meals is recommended.

Shih Tzu Health Problems

Unfortunately, all dogs can develop serious health problems, especially as they age. Shih Tzus are no different. In fact, Shih Tzus actually have a lot of common health problems that you should be aware of before bringing your furry friend home.

First, note that the Shih Tzu dog breed is considered a brachycephalic dog. This means that they have a short snout, making their face flatter than most other dogs. Because of this, they are prone to any health concerns related to breathing. To reduce this risk, make sure you don’t make your Shih Tzu exercise for too long and don’t keep them outside in the heat for long periods of time.

Other common Shih Tzu health concerns include:


Since Shih Tzus typically have unnaturally large eyes, they are prone to eye problems. Proptosis occurs when their eyeball actually dislodges from their socket, which is extremely painful for them. It usually starts with eye inflammation, and it just gets worse from there. If you notice something off with your Shih Tzu’s eyes, contact your vet right away because it could easily lead to this or another eye inflammation called keratitis. For both of these health problems, your Shih Tzu will likely need surgery and it could cause blindness.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is actually common for most dog breeds, but oftentimes small dogs are more prone to it as they age. For Shih Tzus, they love to try jumping on and off furniture items like beds and couches. They often don’t realize how high up something is until it’s too late.

So, by constantly jumping up and down from a tall furniture item, their joints will slowly deteriorate. Damage to your dog’s hips and joints can be very painful for them, and it might require surgery if it worsens. The best way to prevent this is to stop them from overexerting their joints. Provide them with their own dog stairs to help them get up and down from things easier.

Stenotic Nares

This health concern is commonly seen with Shih Tzu puppies. It’s when they’re born with nostrils that are too tight, making it difficult for them to breathe. It can easily be treated with surgery, but if it goes on for too long, the Shih Tzu’s body will not develop properly due to the lack of oxygen.

Collapsing Trachea

If cartilage in the trachea is weakened, its structure will collapse, once again causing breathing problems for Shih Tzus. This health problem is most commonly seen for smaller dogs, and it can be extremely painful. Your Shih Tzu can adjust to a collapsed trachea, but it’s much better to correct it through surgery.

Ear Infections

Many dog parents forget to clean their dog’s ears, but for floppy-eared dogs like the Shih Tzu, it’s an essential care item. Their floppy ears keep the ear canal warm, causing bacteria to easily build up inside. Usually, your Shih Tzu’s ear will start to smell much worse when this happens, and they’ll likely be more sensitive to noises. Antibiotics can easily clear up an ear infection, but if you clean your dog’s ears at least every few weeks, you should be able to reduce the risk.

All these health concerns might sound frightening, but it’s better to know about them ahead of time. While the Shih Tzu dog breed is prone to these problems, your dog’s risk can be reduced if you keep up on their health and take them in for yearly vet checkups. If anything ever concerns you about your Shih Tzu’s health, it’s better to ask your vet sooner rather than later.

Life with a Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu dog breed is a great companion dog despite being stubborn and independent. It might take some time to bond with your Shih Tzu, but you will never regret bringing them into your family. Before bringing your Shih Tzu home, make sure you have plenty of supplies ready for them including food, a bed or crate, toys, and a leash. The more things they have to call their own, the sooner they’ll be able to adjust to their new surroundings.

A new dog can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to fully adjust to their new home. So, continue to be patient with your Shih Tzu and practice regular training to help them bond with you. They are the ideal dog for anyone who’s looking for a love bug that enjoys snuggling and napping, and their silly personality is sure to entertain you on a daily basis. If you think you’re ready to welcome a Shih Tzu into your home, make sure you consider all the above information before making that big step.

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