Shih Tzu

The descendant of regal dogs of China, the Shih Tzu makes a loyal and lively friend.

Shih Tzu Breed Photo

His name means little lion, but there's nothing fierce about this dog breed. The Shih Tzu is a lover, not a hunter. Bred solely to be a companion, the Shih Tzu is an affectionate, happy, outgoing housedog who loves nothing more than to follow his people from room to room. In recent years, however, owners have started taking the Shih Tzu off their laps and into dog sports, training him for obedience, rally, and agility competitions.

Additional articles you will be interested in:

Adoption
Shih Tzu Dog Names
More Dog Names
Bringing Home Your Dog
Help with Training Puppies
Housetraining Puppies
Feeding a Puppy
Dog games
Teaching your dog tricks
How to take pictures of your dog

Breed Characteristics

    • Almost always

      Adapt Well To Apartment Living

      Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.
    • Almost always

      Good For Novice Owners

      Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.
    • Moderate

      Sensitivity Level

      Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.
    • Not particularly well

      Tolerates Being Alone

      Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.
    • Not so well

      Tolerates Cold Weather

      Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.
    • Very poorly

      Tolerates Hot Weather

      Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.
    • Somewhat

      Easy To Train

      Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.
    • High

      Intelligence

      Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.
    • Low

      Potential For Mouthiness

      Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.
    • High

      Prey Drive

      Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.
    • Moderate

      Tendency To Bark Or Howl

      Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?
    • Low

      Wanderlust Potential

      Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.
    • Minimal

      Amount Of Shedding

      If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.
    • Very low

      Drooling Potential

      Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.
    • Not at all

      Easy To Groom

      Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.
    • Fair

      General Health

      Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.
    • High

      Potential For Weight Gain

      Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.
    • Miniature

      Size

      Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.
    • Extremely

      Affectionate With Family

      Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.
    • Very

      Dog Friendly

      Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.
    • Almost always

      Friendly Toward Strangers

      Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.
    • Sometimes

      Kid Friendly

      Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.
    • Low

      Energy Level

      High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.
    • Low

      Exercise Needs

      Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.
    • Moderate

      Intensity

      A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.
    • High

      Potential For Playfulness

      Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

Vital Stats

  • Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
  • Height: Generally 9 inches to 10 inches tall at the shoulder
  • Weight: Generally 9 to 16 pounds
  • Life Span: 10 to 16 years

James Mumsford, an American teacher and composer, perhaps described the Shih Tzu best: "Nobody knows how the ancient eunuchs managed to mix together: 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, a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part baby seal, a dash of teddy bear, and, for the rest, dogs of Tibetan and Chinese origin."

The object of Mumsford's colorful description, the Shih Tzu (pronounced SHEED Zoo, SHID Zoo, or SHEET Sue), is a small, regal dog with long, abundant locks; a distinctive face that melts many a heart; and a friendly attitude. The breed can boast a classy background: he was originally kept by royal Chinese families during the Ming Dynasty.

With his flowing hair sweeping the ground and his topknot elegantly tied, the Shih Tzu does appear snobbish, suited only for lying about a palace on silk pillows. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Shih Tzus are beautiful, but they are also friendly, lively, devoted companions.

The Shih Tzu personality is enormously appealing, and even grudging dog observers find it hard to resist this breed. The Shih Tzu simply doesn't allow anyone to ignore him. He was bred to be a friendly companion — he doesn't hunt, herd, or guard — and that's what he is. He loves nothing more than to meet and greet friends and strangers alike. Count on a Shih Tzu to make friends wherever he goes.

Not only is this member of the Toy Group good-natured and friendly, he is highly adaptable. He is as well suited to apartments in the city as to life on a country farm. He loves children and gets along with other animals. However, although the Shih Tzu is a sturdy dog, his small size puts him at a disadvantage. Adults should always supervise interactions between children and dogs, and this is especially important for the Shih Tzu, to prevent him from accidentally getting hurt during rough play.

Interestingly, the Shih Tzu is sometimes called the Chrysanthemum Dog, a nickname that describes the way the hair on his face grows out in all directions — he looks like a flower with a nose for the center.

One unique characteristic of the Shih Tzu is his undershot bite. His lower jaw is slightly wider than the upper, and the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth, rather than outside, when his mouth is closed.

Legends regarding the Shih Tzu abound. One says that Buddha traveled with a little dog fitting the description of a Shih Tzu. As the story goes, one day, several robbers came upon the Buddha with the intent of robbing and murdering him. The little dog changed into a ferocious lion and ran off the robbers, saving Buddha's life. The lion then turned back into a fun-loving little dog, which the Buddha picked up and kissed. The white spot on the heads of many Shih Tzus supposedly marks the place where Buddha kissed his loyal friend.

Many also believe that Fu Dogs, the guardians of Buddhist temples, are representations of the Shih Tzu.