Dog Health & More
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.
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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.