Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Shih Tzu
Average Cost to keep/care for a Shih Tzu
Breed Specific Buying Advice
Shih Tzus are energetic, lively little dogs that thrive on human company and for decades they have been among the most popular family pets and companions throughout the world and in the UK for good reason. Bright, alert, smart and loyal to their owners, sharing a home with a Shih Tzu is a real pleasure. Known for their boldness and longevity, these little dogs are also highly adaptable by nature being just as happy living in an apartment as they are in a house.
The Shih Tzu is often mistaken for a Lhasa Apso because they are similar looking, but the two breeds are quite different when it comes to their temperaments and conformation. One of the most endearing physical features of the Shih Tzu is the charming shape of their head and the way the hair on their faces grows upwards on the bridge their nose. For centuries, these little dogs have been delighting the world with their delightfully charming looks and endearing personalities.
The Shih Tzu is a lively little dog that was first bred in China where they were highly prized by Emperors. Today, they are classed as Utility dogs with The Kennel Club and have earned themselves a place in the hearts and homes of people all over the world. They are also very popular in the showring both with spectators and judges alike.
The Shih Tzu originates from Tibet where they were highly prized for thousands of years by Tibetan monks. They were kept in monasteries because they were known to be loyal and trustworthy companions as well as extremely good watchdogs. From time to time, these little dogs called Tibetan Lion Dogs were sent as gifts to Chinese Emperors where they were kept in the Imperial Palace. Ove time, they were to become firm favourites with Manchu Emperors. There are those who believe that these little dogs may have been crossed with short faced Chinese breeds which includes the Pekinese and the Chinese Pug. These crossings is why the Shih Tzu has their unique look making them that much different in appearance to the Tibetan Lion Dogs which today are known as the Lhasa Apso.
One of the breeds biggest fans at the time was the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi who set about establishing a successful breeding programme and which is why the breed is recognised as originating in China rather than Tibet. Their name Shih Tzu translated to English from Mandarin means "Little Lion" and they remained firm favourites with Chinese Emperors and Empresses for centuries because they were such loyal and affectionate companions.
A few dogs did arrive in Europe before the advent of the First World War and they also arrived on British shores in 1928 when Lady Brownrigg, wife of a Quarter Master General to China bought two Shih Tzus back with her. The names of the dogs were Hibou and Shu-ssa and both had black and white coats with the female, Shu-ssa, closely resembling Shih Tzu puppies we see today. The two dogs were mated and a few years later in 1933, Shu-ssa was put to another Shih Tzu named Lung-fu-ssa, a dog that belonged to Mrs. Hutchins and these dogs were to become the foundation dogs for many of the Shih Tzus we see today.
One of the breed's biggest fans back in the thirties was Gay Garforth-bles who was to become one of the main people to develop and promote Shih Tzus not only throughout the land, but around the world too. In 1949, the Shih Tzu was recognised as a breed in its own right by The Kennel Club and over the years, these charming little dogs have been a huge hit both in the show ring and the home environment thanks to their adorable looks and sweet, albeit lively and often mischievous natures.
Height at the withers: Males 20 - 28 cm, Females 20 - 28 cm
Average weight: Males 4.0 - 7.25 kg, Females 4.0 - 7.25 kg
The Shih Tzu is a sturdy little dog that boasts a silky, luxurious long coat. They are known to have a bit of an arrogant look about them which often makes these little dogs even more endearing. They have a "chrysanthemum face", their heads are broad and round with a lot of width between their eyes. They also have a nice beard and full whiskers with the hair growing upright on their muzzles, hence their "chrysanthemum" appearance.
Their muzzle is square, short and wide without any wrinkles and dogs have black noses although in liver coated dogs, their nose matches the colour of their coat. Stops are well defined and noses are level or slightly tilted with nostrils being nice and wide. Eyes are round and large, being dark in colour with dogs boasting a warm look about them. Dogs with liver coats can have slightly lighter coloured eyes which is allowable as a breed standard.
Ears are nice and large boasting long leathers which dogs carry drooping down. Their mouth is slightly undershot although it can be level too. Necks are nicely proportioned which dogs carry well arched adding to their proud and arrogant look. Their shoulders are well laid back with front legs being short and well-muscled showing lots of bone.
A Shih Tzu has a compact body with a broad, deep chest and a firm, level back. Hindquarters are muscular with a dog's back legs being short and well-muscled with well-rounded and powerful thighs. Feet are firm, round and nicely padded being covered in hair. Tails are extremely plumed and set high which dogs carry over their backs gaily.
When it comes to their coat, the Shih Tzu has a long, dense outer coat and a moderate undercoat that should never be woolly in texture. Some dogs have a slight wave in their coats which is permitted under the KC breed standard. It is worth noting that the length of a Shih Tzu's coat should never be that long that it interferes with their movement nor should affect a dog's vision either which is it is common practice for Shih Tzus to have a top knot. They come in just about any colour and colour combination with parti-coloured Shih Tzus having a white blaze on their foreheads and white tips to their tails.
Any colour is acceptable in their breed standard with white blazes on a dog's forehead and a white tip to their tails being very desirable in dogs that have parti-coloured coats. The only colour which is not allowed in the Shih Tzu is "merle".
Shih Tzus are confident, outgoing in characters, they are confident and arrogant in their movements too. They move smoothly with their front legs having a good reach forward and a strong hind quarter action.
Male Shih Tzus should have two normal testicles fully descended into their scrotums and if they are not, this is considered a fault.
The sizes given in their Kennel Club breed standard are a guide only as to how tall and how heavy a Shih Tzu should be. As such, some dogs can be shorter or taller and they can be lighter or heavier than stated in their KC breed standard.
The Shih Tzu is known to be a lively, confident, outgoing little dog and a character that boasts a really extrovert side to their natures. There is nothing they like more than to be part of a family and just love being involved in everything that goes on in a household which is why they have consistently been a popular choice as family pets and companion dogs. They thrive on human contact and are never happier than when they are around the people they love.
They are a great choice for first time owners because they are intelligent and are always willing and eager to please. There is a downside is that they do not do well when left on their own for any long periods of time. They are quite high maintenance when it comes to keeping their coats looking good which is always something new owners should keep in mind.
Shih Tzus can be a little wary and suspicious of strangers although they would rarely show any sort of aggressive behaviour towards people they have never met before, preferring to just keep their distance until they get to know someone.
The Shih Tzu is the perfect first-time pet for novice dog owners because they are always so eager to please and being so people-oriented, they are not only easy to train, but incredibly loyal too.
Shih Tzus are social little dogs by nature more especially if they have been well socialised when they were still with their mothers and litter mates. With this said, they do have a bit of mischievous streak in them and would happily chase a smaller animal or pet just for the fun of it.
Shih Tzus are known to be the real clowns of the dog world loving nothing more than to entertain and be entertained. Being so intelligent, these little dogs can learn new things extremely fast which includes interactive games. They adore being the centre of attention.
The Shih Tzu has always been a highly adaptable small dog even centuries ago when they were taken from the colder environment of Tibet to a much warmer climate in China. They are just as happy living in an apartment as they are living in a house in the country, providing they are given the right amount of mental stimulation and daily exercise.
These little dogs thrive on human contact and are never happy when left on their own for any length of time. As such they are better suited to households where at least one person is around when everyone else is out of the house so they always have company. Another solution is to get another dog or a cat so they can keep each other company when people are out.
Unfortunately, if not checked early enough Shih Tzus are known to like the sound of their own voices. It's a trait that is deeply embedded in a dog's psyche, but all is not lost because Shih Tzus are intelligent and they can be gently taught not to bark unless really necessary which needs to be instilled in them when they are still puppies and before their barking turns into a real problem.
Shih Tzus are not very good swimmers and although they do like to play along a beach, they are not particularly fond of being in water. Care should always be taken when a Shih Tzu does go in water because they have such short muzzles and could easily inhale some which could lead to all sorts of problems. The other thing to bear in mind is that these little dogs have long, dense coats which could easily weigh them down when they are swimming.
Shih Tzus are always quick to let their owners know when something is happening in their environment that they don't particularly like. They are just as fast to bark when there are strangers about or when they hear someone coming to the front door.
Shih Tzus are intelligent, but they do boast a bit of an independent side to their characters which means their training and socialisation must start as early as possible. They can also be a little stubborn at times and often give owners the impression that it is beneath them to do certain things asked of them. With this is mind, a lot of patience and consistency are needed when training and educating a Shih Tzu to be obedient, although they do tend to always have a mind of their own and will often choose to ignore a command because they think they know better.
Teaching a Shih Tzu the basic commands from the word go does pay dividends always bearing in mind that these little dogs are known to be quite independent by nature and they do have a bit of a stubborn streak when it suits them. The commands a Shih Tzu puppy should be taught are as follows:
Although an affectionate and friendly dog by nature, the Shih Tzu is not the best choice for families with very young children because they can be a bit nippy if they feel threatened in any way. With this said, if a Shih Tzu has grown up with the kids and they were well socialised from a young age, they can be very loving, more especially if the children have been taught how to respect and behave around their pet. However, any interaction between children and dogs should be supervised by an adult to make sure things don't get too boisterous.
If a Shih Tzu has grown up with other pets in the home, they will generally tolerate having them around because they are social by nature. Care should be taken when they are around any small animals though, just in case. If these little dogs are well socialised when they were young, they do get on with other dogs, but care always must be taken when they meet a dog they don't know because a Shih Tzu can be feisty when the mood takes them.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Shih Tzu is between 10 and 16 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages. With this said, they generally enjoy a long and healthy life and it's more a question of taking care of any day to day problems as dogs age than anything else.
Like so many other breeds, the Shih Tzu is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active, attractive little dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most although not all dogs will develop them include the following:
Because Shih Tzus have flatter faces than many other breeds, they are one of the brachycephalic breeds around. The length of a dog's muzzle can vary with some Shih Tzus having longer muzzles than others and as such they can suffer varying degrees of problems breathing which means care should always be taken when a Shih Tzu is exercised in warmer weather.
Shih Tzus are prone to suffering injuries to their eyes thanks to their shorter muzzles and the fact they have large slightly protruding eyes. The good news is that most eye injuries can be treated and if caught early enough, the outcome is generally good. It's always good to wipe a dog's eyes every day which not only keeps them nice and clean, but it allows for injuries to be spotted sooner which in turn reduces the chance of an eye infection flaring up.
Shih Tzus are known to suffer from several types of hernia with the two main ones being Inguinal and Umbilical. Often a hernia can be quickly and easily corrected by a vet who would simply push the protrusion back to where it should be. However, if a hernia is incarcerated, things get a bit trickier and it must be treated as a veterinary emergency. The most commonly seen hernia in Shih Tzus are umbilical hernias where a bulge has developed right in the middle of a dog's stomach on the site of their umbilical cord and in most cases, they correct themselves. If they don't, a vet would typically surgically correct the problem when they spay or neuter a dog. The reason why some Shih Tzu suffer from hernias remains unknown, but the general consensus is that dogs with hernias should not be used for breeding purposes.
Fortunately, inguinal hernias are less commonly seen in the breed, but most require surgical intervention to correct the problem if they don't resolve themselves as puppies mature. It is worth noting that female Shih Tzus are more at risk than their male counterparts of developing them and again any dog known to suffer from the problem should not be used in a breeding programme.
When Shih Tzus are puppies, they often have pinched nostrils which occurs when they start teething. The result is that a dog sounds like they have a cold and they might blow clear bubbles through their noses which can be worrying for owners when they don't know what is going on. The problem is caused by swelling that typically occurs when a puppy starts to cut their new teeth. In most cases, the problem resolves itself once the adult teeth have finished coming through which is typically when a puppy is around 6 months of age or so.
A few Shih Tzus might need to have surgery to correct the problem, but only if they are having real trouble breathing because always have mucus around the nose which is constantly blocked.
A lot of Shih Tzus suffer from ear infections which is a real problem in the breed. This is because they have hair on the insides of their ears which needs removing in order for air to circulate properly in a dog's ear canal. Another cause of ear infections are mites which Shih Tzus tend to pick up from other dogs they meet. It's important to treat ear mites as quickly as possible to prevent an infection from flaring up which can be notoriously hard to treat and clear up.
Shih Tzu puppies would have had their first vaccination prior to being sold. After this, they need to be vaccinated again following the guidelines below:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if even a dog needs to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be fully up to date.
Female Shih Tzus can be spayed when they are 6 months old and not beforehand. Males can be safely neutered when they are 6 months old too providing their testicles have fully dropped into their scrotums.
Shih Tzus like their food with some dogs being more prone to overeating than others if allowed. It's very important to keep an eye on a Shih Tzu's waistline and to ensure they are not being overfed or not given enough daily exercise to burn off the calories, bearing in mind that being obese will shorter their lives by several years and it puts a lot more strain and pressure on their joints, hearts and other internal organs.
Shih Tzus do suffer from allergies although less so than many other breeds. They may be intolerant to something or it could be that something triggers an allergy, but whether it is one or the other, they often prove challenging to clear up simply because finding the triggers is so hard. With this said, the most likely cause of a Shih Tzu's allergy or intolerance is typically one of the following:
Recognising when a Shih Tzu may be developing some sort of health concern and having them examined by a vet so a treatment plan can be set in place typically makes a condition that much easier to treat although not always. It does however, mean that a dog is made to feel more comfortable sooner rather than later.
Currently, there are no DNA tests or veterinary screening schemes available for the Shih Tzu, but responsible breeders would always ensure they only use healthy dogs in their programmes.
Currently there are not breed specific breeding restrictions for the Shih Tzu.
There are no Assured Breeder Requirements in place for the Shih Tzu.
As with any other breed, Shih Tzus need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition, bearing in mind that their coats are very high maintenance. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives and that treats should be kept to a minimum.
Shih Tzu puppies are incredibly cute and when they have been well socialised from a young age which is when they are still with their mothers and litter mates, they adapt well and quite quickly to a new environment, providing they are not left on their own that is. Reputable breeders will only let their puppies go to their new homes when they are 8 to 12 weeks old and never earlier. The longer a puppy can stay with their mothers and litter mates, the better it is for them.
A puppy should have already been given the first of a series of vaccinations and have been microchipped. A puppy would also have been wormed and all this information should be included in their paperwork. The documentation should include any health concerns the breed is known to suffer from and the puppy's KC registration information too.
Puppies are sent to their new homes with a feeding schedule detailing what they have been fed and the frequency of their meals which is typically four times a day once a puppy has been weaned off their mother. Shih Tzu puppies need lots of sleep which can be anything up to 21 hours a day. Because Shih Tzu puppies are so cute, it is all too easy to spoil them which is often the case. This can lead to all sorts of problems with adult dogs showing a more dominant and wilful side to their natures, a condition known as small dog syndrome. It's essential to lay down ground rules right from the word go to avoid this from happening.
Puppies need to be taught limits and boundaries although, some Shih Tzus will always test how far they can go. All dogs whether young or old, like to know what is expected of them and who they can look to for direction and guidance. Even small dogs must know who is the alpha dog in a household to prevent unwanted behaviours.
A new puppy should never be left on their own so it's crucial to time their arrival when there will be people around for the first few days. It takes puppies a while to get used to a strange environment and they need housetraining which should start as soon as they arrive. In short, it's a good idea to take a few days off work to help settle them in.
It's also important to make a note of the next time a puppy needs to be wormed and as a guide this should be calculated from the date they were last wormed by the breeder:
Setting up an area for a puppy in a quiet part of the house is important because they need to nap throughout the day and the more peaceful an area is the better they would be able to relax and unwind. Puppies often sleep for 21 hours a day in between bouts of play. Placing a bed or crate somewhere that's quiet but not too out of the way will help them settle when they need to sleep. However, it needs to be somewhere that owners can keep an eye and ear on them and so puppy knows there is someone around.
Getting everything ready for the arrival of a new puppy means making the home and garden safe for them. Puppy proofing takes organising things around the house, but is something that needs to be done well in advance of a puppy's arrival because puppies are boisterous, inquisitive and notorious for chewing on things they shouldn't which includes electric cables and other things they can swallow which could end up with an expensive trip to the vet.
Some owners buy playpens which are great for keeping puppies safe when they want to play and owners are too busy to keep a close eye on their pets. Other things needed for puppies include the following:
Reputable breeders would always make sure they give potential owners a contract which would include all a puppy's paperwork. The schedule should cover the following:
It is very important to stick the schedule for the first week or so, but a puppy's diet can be changed once they are settled into their new homes providing it is done gradually and carefully over a period of 4 weeks making sure that puppy does not experience any digestive upset and if they do, to change back to their original diet before discussing things with the breeder or the vet.
It's important to set up a routine as soon as a new Shih Tzu puppy arrives in the home because this helps with their settling in period. They need to be fed at the same times of the day and ideally this needs to be 4 times a day until a puppy is around 6 months old after which time they can be fed 3 times a day till they are 11 months old. Below is a rough feeding guide of how much a puppy should be fed daily during the first months of their lives:
Like all other puppies, Shih Tzus can sleep or up to 21 hours in a 24-hour period which they need to do so they build up their strength for the next bout of playtime and so they continue to grow properly. It's important to keep noise levels down because they are sensitive to loud sounds and this includes noise from a television or any other device.
A puppy needs to have all their vaccinations at specific times so they are fully protected. It's essential to keep vet appointments, not only for a puppy to be given their remaining jabs, but so a vet can check them over too.
Shih Tzus like other breeds slow down as they age which often means they don’t respond as quickly when called, or maybe their hearing and eyesight are not as good as they once were which all needs to be factored into their management and care. Older dogs can be less eager to go out for walks, but it's important not to let them become couch potatoes. They need to be given the right amount of mental stimulation which helps maintain their cognitive function through their golden years.
An older Shih Tzu may get a little fussier about their food so it's important to rethink a dog's diet if necessary following the advice of an expert nutritionist or the vet. Their immune systems may not be as strong as they used to be which puts an older Shih Tzu more at risk of catching an infection and their coats may lose their lustre. Older dogs very often suffer from arthritis so it’s important they sleep somewhere comfortable that’s not too cold or too warm. Investing in a heat mat helps keep an older dogs cosy when they are in their beds at night.
Shih Tzus are high maintenance when it comes to keeping their coats looking sleek and their skin in good condition. Their coats are long, luxurious and silky and if not regularly trimmed, their hair which is not like other dogs grows right down to the ground. With this said, daily grooming sessions are a must to keep a Shih Tzu's coat tangle-free which is why it's essential for puppies to be groomed from a young age so they get used to all the tools and having their ears, paws and other parts of their bodies touched and played with. It’s important for the experience to be good right from the start so a dog looks forward to a grooming session rather than be afraid of being brushed.
The hair on the bridge of a Shih Tzu's nose grows upwards which owners often tie up in a knot top adding a lot of appeal to their already cute looks. They also need to have their faces washed every day because food often gets lodged in the hair around their mouths which not only gets smelly, but it can cause a skin irritation which can be hard to clear up.
Shih Tzus really need to be professionally groomed on a regular basis which is typically every 6 to 8 weeks when their coats can be trimmed to the right shape making it much easier to keep on top of things in between visits to a parlour. These little dogs tend to shed more in the Spring and then in the Autumn, much like other breeds which means more frequent brushing at these times of the year are necessary, but because they have hair rather than fur, they leave long lengths of it around the home.
It is not a good idea to brush a Shih Tzu's coat thoroughly every day because by doing so it might end up damaging their hair. A quick daily once over is all that's needed, but their top-knots need redoing every day. Ears and eyes should be checked daily too. It is far better to thoroughly groom a Shih Tzu once a week to keep their coats and skin in prime condition.
Shih Tzus need to be bathed regularly without overdoing things and it does depend on whether a dog lives in town or the country and how dirty they get when out on a walk or in a back garden. It also depends on the time of the year, but as rule of thumb if a dog's coat starts looking dirty and has a slight doggy smell, it's time to give them a bath.
As previously mentioned, Shih Tzus are high maintenance on the grooming front and therefore owners should invest in lots of grooming tools to keep their pet's coat looking good. The tools needed include the following:
Shih Tzus love going out for walks, but they are not high energy dogs which means 30 to 40 minutes a day would be fine to keep them happy which is why they have always been such a popular choice with people who lead quieter more stay at home lives. A short walk in the morning and then a longer, more interesting one in the afternoon, would keep these little dogs happy, fit and healthy.
Because they are so playful by nature, Shih Tzus love getting involved in lots of interactive games and really do benefit from being given as much stimulation as possible to prevent boredom from setting in. If a dog gets bored, being so intelligent they will look for other ways to amuse themselves which results in dogs developing some unwanted behaviours around the home and this includes excessive barking as well as separation anxiety.
Mature Shih Tzus are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean they can be fed a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
A mature Shih Tzu can be fed twice a day and as a rough guide the amounts they can be given are as follows:
There is a huge selection of pet food on the market and some are better than others. It is important to choose better known brands and to avoid feeding any commercial dog food that contains the following because they could trigger an allergic reaction:
If you are looking to buy a Shih Tzu, you would need to pay anything from £400 to over £1000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Shih Tzu in northern England would be £18.24 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £39.16 a month (quote as of April 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £30 - £40 a month. On top of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Shih Tzu and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £800 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Shih Tzu would be between £60 to £90 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a well-bred pedigree puppy.
When visiting and buying any puppy or dog, there are many important things to consider and questions to ask of the breeder/seller. You can read our generic puppy/dog advice here which includes making sure you see the puppy with its mother and to verify that the dog has been wormed and microchipped.
When buying a Shih Tzu, the size of a dog as stated in the Kennel Club Breed Standard is only a guide and is given as being the ideal for the breed. As such, a Shih Tzu could be smaller or larger and may weigh slightly more or less than the given size in their breed standard.
Shih Tzus are an extremely popular breed both in the UK and elsewhere in the world which means that well-bred puppies command a lot of money. As such, with Shih Tzus there is specific advice, questions and protocols to follow when buying a puppy which are as follows:
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