Shih Tzu: The lovable lap dog

Shih Tzu History

Well-known for its trademark long, luxurious coat and chrysanthemum-shaped face, the Shih Tzu continues to be a popular companion, as it was during the Ming Dynasty. This dog breed’s origin traces back to 17th century Tibet, where these highly regarded holy dogs were mainstay residents and guards of the sacred temples. The modern day Shih Tzu was developed in China with major genetic contribution from the pairing of Pekingese and Lhasa Apso breeds. The name Shih Tzu roughly translates to “lion dog” or “mini lion,” which reflects its appearance as well as its long-standing connection with Buddhism.

Characteristics of the Breed

Intelligent and Affectionate


The AKC officially recognized the Shih Tzu breed in 1969 as a member of Toy Group. Though its appearance seems to be light and fluffy, this dog is in no way a pushover. The Shih Tzu is lively, active and very intelligent. In fact, this breed requires an alpha human in order to help minimize its stubbornness, especially when training.

This affectionate dog prefers being adored on someone’s lap, but has a definite playful energy and a friendly spirit to match. The Shih Tzu is sweet natured for the most part, yet determined and independent when he wants to be.

The Shih Tzu has a trusting attitude, but if mistreated or roughly handled, this demeanor can become nervous and skittish. Young children, who might mistake this dog to be more of a toy, can sometimes be less careful than older children and inadvertently cause injury with overzealous play.

Moderate Activity Level

A Shih Tzu is a compact dog, who may have descended from royalty, but finds great happiness living either in a small apartment or a suburban home. This is not a dog suited to be an outdoor dweller. His short, flat ‘brachycephalic’ muzzle makes it difficult to breath in warm weather, making him prone to heat stroke and his full dense coat, can easily become tangled in leaves, dirt and other landscape elements.

Signature Coat

In order to keep up with the gorgeous signature look of this breed, daily brushing for the Shih Tzu isn’t just recommended, it’s a must. A groomer can help by teaching the proper technique and tools for brushing the coat and trimming to a more manageable length without sacrificing the dog’s regal appearance.

Since the Shih Tzu’s eyes tear up on a constant basis, it is advised to gently wipe his face with a soft, damp cloth. That will also eliminate any leftovers from meal times.

Daily exercise is a must, but indoor games of fetch, short walks outside or a few quick rushes around the yard will be enough.

Nutritional Needs

The Shih Tzu is the epitome of the phrase, “You are what you eat.” His eyes, teeth and coat will directly be affected by the dog food he is fed. Shih Tzus need a balanced, high-quality dog food diet with nutrients for healthy skin and soft coat. Since he is short-muzzled the appropriate shape and size need to be top-of-mind when choosing his food.

Learn more about ROYAL CANIN® SHIH TZU dog food, exclusively designed for the pure bred Shih Tzu.

Although this dog breed has a lifespan between 12 and 14 years, regular vet visits and preventive care will help detect any of the known Shih Tzu health issues that may occur.  Banfield Pet Hospital lists these as some of the more common Shih Tzu health issues:

  • Periodontal Disease
  • Atopy
  • Urolithiasis
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)
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