Shih Tzu
The Little Lion that Doesn't Roar

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Shih Tzu

Once upon a time, long ago, a young and adventurous Lhasa Apso traveled to Beijing and met a Pekingese. They fell in love, nature took its course, and they had a brood of pups. Thus began the long reign in China of the Shih Tzu.

The Shih Tzu, the little lion, is one of the most popular dogs going. It is small and elegant, super friendly, and one of the world's best cuddlers. It is perhaps not the best pet for a family with small children, but it is a very good selection for others. It is an especially good fit for elderly people and those with disabilities. It is not extremely active and does not need huge amounts of exercise; it would rather snuggle than carom around in the woods. It is on the stubborn side, and can take extra time to housebreak. Its long, silky hair requires effort to keep looking good. But most people who have a Shih Tzu would not trade it for anything else.

Here is the Shih Tzu at a Glance
Name Shih Tzu
Other Names Lion Dog, Chrysanthemum Dog
Nicknames None
Origin Tibet\ China
Average size Toy
Average weight 9 to 16 pounds
Average height 8 to 11 inches at the shoulder
Life span 10 to 16 years
Coat type Long, fine , silky
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Varies greatly
Popularity Very high
Intelligence High
Tolerance to heat Poor
Tolerance to cold Poor
Shedding Does shed
Drooling Nota drooler
Obesity Some tendency
Grooming/brushing Needs brushing, combing or clipping
Barking Does bark
Exercise needs Not high
Trainability Difficult, stubborn
Friendliness Very friendly
Good first dog Yes
Good family pet Yes
Good with children Not the best, snappy, jealous
Good with other dogs Yes
Good with other pets Yes
Good with strangers Yes
Good apartment dog Very
Handles alone time well Not so much
Health issues Entropion, patellar luxation, arachnoid cysts, distichiasis, ectopic cilia
Medical expenses $280 average annual
Food expenses $55 average annual
Miscellaneous expenses $105
Average annual expense $440
Cost to purchase $925
Biting Statistics Attacks on people: 5 Child victims: 2 Maimings: 5 Deaths: 0

The Shih Tzu's Beginnings

Not all historians in dogdom agree with the idea that the Shih Tzu is a mix of Lhasa Apso and Pekingese. Some are convinced that these are three separate breeds that have coexisted for centuries. Either way, there is no doubt that the Shih Tzu has been around for a very long time, and probably is one of the oldest breeds in existence. Archeologists have identified bones from several thousand years ago as matching those of the Shih Tzu. Chinese paintings over at least a thousand years show the Shih Tzu; and many believe that the dogs that adorn Buddhist temples are a male and female Shih Tzu. Whatever else, they were known and revered during the last royal dynasty in China, and it was forbidden to sell them or make them available by any other means to other people, especially foreigners.

This began to change in the early twentieth century. The old dowager empress of China adored the little dogs, but her heirs were indifferent. When the dowager empress died, the Shih Tzu were left to fend for themselves. Later, during the early years of the Chinese Communist regime, the breed almost died out in China. The communists saw dogs, pet or stray, as sources of disease, and began a campaign of extermination of canines. This was even more true for a dog like the Shin Tzu, which was seen as a symbol of royalty.

New Lease on Life

The Shih Tzu was saved, ironically, by war. The British, and later the Americans, got to know the Shih Tzu during the era of World War Two, and like so many before and since, fell in love with the little dog. The first Shih Tzu arrived in England in the nineteen thirties, and the Yanks picked things up from there. Since then, the breed has become one of the most popular around. In the United States the American Kennel Club consistently ranks it in or close to the top ten.

The Dog You See Today

The Shih Tzu is Chinese for "little lion," and it does resemble pictures and statues of Chinese temple dogs. It is also referred to as a Chrysanthemum Dog because of the way the hair above its nose grows upwards, giving the face a flowerlike appearance. It is a small dog, fitting into the toy category with room to spare. Its weight runs between nine and sixteen pounds, and it stands eight to eleven inches at the shoulder. The coat is extremely long, with fine, silky hair. It can be pretty much any color. The ears are on the long side, pendant shaped, and dip down, and are completely covered by long hair. The tail is also heavily furred, and curls over the back. The nose is black, and the muzzle short and squared off. The Shi Tzu's eyes are very large and round, and set wide in the face. They are usually dark, but not always.

Shih Tzu, as small as they are, are not fragile. They are sturdily built, and pound for pound are about as strong as any dog around.

The Inner Shih Tzu


Shih Tzu don't walk, they prance. Sometimes they even swagger. They are special dogs, they know it, and they don't have a need to show off or demand attention; they are little lions, after all. Toy dogs have a reputation for being yappy, demanding, and impossible to satisfy. Some of them may deserve that image, but Shih Tzu are not among them. These dogs are perky, smart, and extremely affectionate. They are happy to have all the attention you want to give them, but they are also often content just to be around you. They love to snuggle up, to cuddle, and are not the kind of high energy pets that need tons of exercise. They are ideal pets for elderly people, and for owners who can't get around that well. Compared to many dogs, large or small, they can be surprisingly patient.


Living with a Shih Tzu

Training requirements

When it comes to training, plan on having your work cut out for you. Shih Tzu are not easy to train. They are stubborn, and they have minds of their own. They have, in fact, a reputation for being one of the most difficult breeds to housebreak.

Shih Tzu are stubborn about things, need a fair amount of obedience training, and don't take to it as well as some other dogs. This begins with house training, which can take a considerable amount of time. You should be prepared to do a fair amount of mopping up in the early weeks.

How active is the Shih Tzu?

These are probably among the easiest dogs to live with that you can imagine. They are an extremely good choice for people in apartments, partly because of their size, but also because of their temperament. Compared to a lot of toy-size dogs, they are pretty mellow. They are not incessant yappers, and can be trained to bark even less. Their energy levels are moderate, and they do not need huge amounts of exercise; they are very content to spend a lot of their lives indoors. They get along well with other pets and people, and don't tend to be jealous or demanding-after all, they already know they are at the top of the pecking order.

Caring for the Shih Tzu

Grooming needs

Shih Tzu wear a lot of hair. It is what makes them beautiful when they are properly groomed and cared for, but not so much otherwise. At a minimum they need daily brushing to keep them looking their best. If they do get dirty and tangled, they can be a mess to clean up. Taking them to a groomer is an option, but an expensive one. Many owners have their Shih Tzu's hair clipped, which helps the problem, but at the expense of losing their lustrous locks. It will need to be bathed when it really needs one but should just be done when it really needs one to avoid damaging its natural oil.

When its toe nails get too long clip them if you are experienced with them or have a groomer or vet take care of them. Clean the ears once a week by wiping them down and check them for signs of infection. To keep the teeth and gums healthy brush them at least twice a week.

Feeding time

The Shih Tzu will need around 1/2 to 1 cup of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into two meals. Factors that may affect how much it eats include metabolism, size, age, health and activity level. High quality food does cost a bit more than the generic brands but they are better for your dog. They contain better nutrients and less unnecessary ingredients that are added just to make the dog feel full.

How they get on with kids and other animals

Shih Tzu get along very well with people generally, have never met a stranger they didn't like, and are quite comfortable living with other dogs, with cats, and with pets in general.

On the other hand, Shih Tzu are not the best with children, which seems to be true with small dogs generally. It may be that little kids are too noisy and move around too quickly, or that they have trouble respecting a dog's boundaries. Whatever it is, if you plan to pair a Shih Tzu puppy with a small child, you will need to put in extra work training both the pup and the child.

What Might Go Wrong

Health Concerns

Shih Tzu are generally healthy little dogs, but they do have some vulnerable spots, especially around their eyes. Here are some possible problems the Shih Tzu owner may run into.

Entropion is a disorder where the eyelid rolls inward, so that the lashes are up against the inside of the eye. This can cause irritation, inflammation, and at times corneal ulceration. This appears to be a genetically based disorder and can't be prevented; but it can be corrected by surgery if need be.

Distichiasis is another abnormality that appears to be genetic, and is not infrequently found in Shih Tzu. Eyelashes typically grow only out of the upper eyelids of dogs. In this case, the lashes may grow out of both lids, and often from sensitive parts of the lids-for instance the glands that lubricate the eyes-where they shouldn't be found. The eyes will be red and inflamed looking, and may develop ulcerations. Once again, this can be treated surgically.

A third eyelid affliction, known as ectopic cilia, also involves having too many eyelashes in the wrong places, and is also typically dealt with by surgery if it is severe.

Like many smaller dogs, Shih Tzu can suffer from patellar luxation, where the knee cap fails to stay where it belongs. This may or may not cause the dog pain, but it does lead to limping, and can cause permanent damage over the long haul.

A final disorder, once again genetic, is called arachnoid cyst. In this case, the membrane that covers the spinal cord does not develop properly, leading to cysts filled with fluid. Surgery can be helpful, although in minor cases it may not be necessary.

Biting Statistics

In records looking at reports of dog attacks on people over the last 34 years the Shih Tzu can be found to have been involved in 5 attacks. All 5 were maimings where permanent scarring, disfigurement or loss of limb occurred. Two victims were children. This averages at around 1 attack every 7 years and puts the Shih Tzu as very unlikely to cause casualties. It is important when choosing a dog that you get one that suits your level of experience, how much time you can dedicate to their socialization and training and how active you can be with it. All dogs have the potential to be aggressive given certain factors. Being the best owner you can be will lower those risks.

You Pup's Price Tag

A Shih Tzu is not cheap, but also not the most expensive dog in the world to purchase. The average price in the United States is about $925. If you can find one at an animal shelter the price will of course be lower, on the order of $200 to $250 dollars. There are also numerous Shih Tzu rescue organizations around the country. One of the larger ones is New Beginnings Shih Tzu Rescue.

Once you get your new pup home, there are of course more expenses coming. First of all you need to have your pet spayed, if it is a female, or neutered if it is a male. In most places the veterinarian will charge you on the order of $190 for this service. There will also be other first-time veterinary costs, such as de-worming and the first round of puppy shots. This will usually add up to another $70 or so. In addition you will need a license, of course, for $15 or so, and a leash and collar of some kind for another $25. Some owners like to have a carrier bag for their pets, which will cost perhaps another $40.

Next comes obedience training. If you are experienced at this kind of work, that's great, but most people are not, and as noted, Shih Tzu are stubborn and not the easiest dogs in the word to work with in obedience training, so you will probably want to go to a professional. There you are lookingat approximately $110 for an initial round.

Finally, of course, your pup needs to eat. You get a break there. Little dogs don't eat as much as big dogs. A year's supply of good quality dog food will cost in the neighborhood of $55. That of course doesn't include special treats.

Overall, once you get past the initial expenses of purchase, veterinary costs, and the like, you can expect to spend about $440 a year on you Shih Tzu.


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