Country of Origin: The Shih Tzu, also known as the ‘Chinese Lion Dog’, ‘Chrysanthemum Dog’ (because its face resembles a flower), or ‘Shih Tzu Kou’ (which translates to ‘Lion Dog’, designating its revered status in Buddhism) originates in Tibet as far back as the 1600’s. The Shih Tzu in its current form was primarily developed in China during the reign of Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi in the late 1800’s, likely from crosses of the Pekingese with the Lhasa Apso. The Shih Tzu was a favored pet of royalty, but fell into decline when British troops raided the Forbidden City in 1860. The breed survived, but was generally not distinguished from the Lhasa Apso until 1934, when the smaller, shorter nosed variety was reassigned its original Chinese name, ‘Shih Tzu’. The Shih Tzu was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969 and has continued to climb in popularity to this day. Crossbreeds between Shih Tzu and other toy breeds are also increasing in popularity, particularly crosses with the Poodle and Bichon Frise.
Size: The Shih Tzu has a shoulder height of about 25 cm (10 in) and weighs 4-7 kg (9-16 lbs). It has a large, domed skull, pronounced stop (depression where the muzzle meets the forehead), undershot bite, and short muzzle. Shih Tzu (the plural noun is the same as the singular) have a tail carried over the back and should have head and tail in correct proportion to the body.
Coat: The Shih Tzu has a long double coat similar in texture to a human’s hair. It can be a variety of colors including black, red, beige, and white. The Shih Tzu is distinguished from the Pekingese by the topknot, or ‘pienji’, on its head. Shih Tzu lose hair gradually as humans do rather than shedding in the standard sense.
Character: The Shih Tzu is an independent dog which is intelligent, dignified, lovable, affectionate, sociable, and cheerful. It is not as outgoing as most breeds. Shih Tzu seldom bark. James Mumford described the breed in American Shih Tzu magazine as ‘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.’
Temperament: The Shih Tzu gets along well with other household pets and children. Though the Shih Tzu may bark frequently, it does not make a good watchdog.
Care: Shih Tzu with a long show coat require a lot of grooming; to prevent tangles, the coat must be combed every day and professionally groomed every few months. A hair bow or clip is required to keep the hair out of the Shih Tzu’s eyes. Shih Tzu with a shorter ‘puppy coat’ can be trimmed much less frequently. Special eye drops should be applied to keep the eyes clean, ear passages should be cleaned regularly, nails should be clipped monthly, and the face should be wiped after eating. Water can enter the Shih Tzu’s snout easily, for which reason some Shih Tzu are taught to drink from a ‘licker’ like a hamster. The Shih Tzu has a lifespan of 11-14 years. Common health problems are liver shunt (a congenital circulatory disease), renal dysplasia (symptoms include bone fractures and ‘rubber jaw’), eye problems, and in larger dogs, hip dysplasia (malformed hip joint which can cause lameness or arthritis). Scratching in the absence of fleas may indicate an allergy to red dye number 40, a common food additive.
Training: The Shih Tzu’s somewhat obstinate nature makes consistency essential in the training process. Patience is important as housebreaking may be difficult. The Shih Tzu should be taught from puppyhood to relax during the grooming process as it will be a constant throughout the Shih Tzu’s life.
Activity: Shih Tzu require an ample amount of exercise for their small stature. They are happy with daily walks or romps in the yard. Shih Tzu cannot regulate their body temperature easily, which makes them highly prone to heat exposure; they should never be over exercised or left outside in hot weather. The Shih Tzu is well suited to apartment life.