At the time of writing, the Shih Tzu (pronounced shi-zoo), is one of the most popular family dogs in the UK. It is also referred to as the chrysanthemum dog, because of the shape formed around the nose and mouth when the fur first starts to grow, which resembles the flower. The plural of ‘shih tzu’ is also ‘shih tzu’.
General Shih Tzu Information:
This dog breed is generally good natured, non aggressive and just loves being with its owners. They are very cuddly and fluffy, and they are known as non-shedding, so are often suitable for those who suffer from pet allergies. Actually, the shih tzu is not completely non-shedding – see the below Grooming section for more detail.
Typical Shih Tzu
Height: 9 – 11 inches
Weight: 7 – 8 lbs
Average Litter Size: Around 3 – 5 puppies
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years, although known to live up to 18 years
Good with Children: Yes
Kennel Club Classification: Utility Group
Colour of a Shih Tzu:
Any – the most common colour is a base of white with patches of brown or beige, although some have black patches. Traditionally, the shih tzu should have a saddle of colour in the middle of their back, a white tip to the tail and what is termed a white ‘flame’ from just above the nose and between the eyes. A solid colour is quite rare, although you can get solid red and solid black colours. However, any colour is acceptable by the Kennel Club nowadays.
Grooming a Shih Tzu:
The shih tzu has two coats of fur, which is very similar to human hair. The top fur coat is non-shedding, however, the inner coat sheds just a little. This bottom level of fur sheds into the outer coat and hence the shih tzu appears to be non-shedding. If you brush the dog regularly, this small amount of fur becomes caught in the brush so there will be no fur all over your house.
Without clipping, the shih tzu’s fur can grown down to the ground (this is the usual image you will see on most shih tzu artwork and memorabilia, and it is how most people who are not acquainted with the shih tzu will know them). If you let it grow, the fur is extremely high maintenance.
Most owners have the fur clipped every six to ten weeks. This costs around £15 – £30, dependent on when and where you go. If you are considering showing the dog, then you should never have them clipped, even at an early age, because a good judge can tell.
Their eyes can weep frequently, so the shih tzu may need his eyes wiping every now and then. As with many dog breeds, their ears need checking to ensure they are dry and clean.
Shih Tzu Common Ailments/Health Issues:
Compared to many breeds, there are fewer problems with the shih tzu, because it is quite a hardy breed. Well-bred lines should have little trouble. Eye or knee problems are the most common ailments. Reading extensive dog profiles, you may find other ailments listed, such as anemia, luxating patella, vWD, thyroid or kidney problems and other such scary sounding problems. These are possible problems with poorly-bred shih tzu puppies but having owned more than 20 shih tzu and never having experienced anything other than one eye problem, it could be considered unlucky to have any of these. Having said that, all puppies should be vet-checked.
Shih Tzu Coughing/Reverse Sneeze (Inspiratory Dyspnea):
The shih tzu is ‘brachycephalic’ (i.e. snub nosed, with a short muzzle). As such, they are sensitive to high temperatures, like many dog breeds. It also means that occasionally, especially when they get excited, they might seem to cough or snort. From experience, this could happen once a week or so. They will only cough for less than a minute, but you can help them recover quickly by helping them swallow.
To do this, simply place your fingers or thumb over their nostril and rub the throat gently, and slightly open their mouth. This should stop it almost immediately. Be sure that this ‘reverse sneeze’ is the issue and not something more serious. If this corrects it, then it is probably just a reverse sneeze/cough. If you do this, your shih tzu is likely to learn to run to you when it happens.
Temperament of the Shih Tzu:
Non aggressive, good natured, good with children and pets (subject to the usual correct socalisation). Although friendly, they will bark a warning if someone comes to the door so they make quite effective watchdogs.
Training a Shih Tzu:
The shih tzu is intelligent, responsive and eager to please, so their training requirement is quite low. Some can be quite stubborn and haughty, but with perseverance they make a great addition to the home.
Exercise for a Shih Tzu:
Many describe the shih tzu as having a low exercise requirement level and this is true to some extent. However, there are shih tzu known to be happy to go running with their owner. When raising a shih tzu puppy, it is important to build them to, and maintain, the exercise level you wish them to have. Hence, if you want your shih tzu puppy to enjoy a walk round the block with you, then that will suffice, but if you build him up to going running every day, then that is usually what he will do.
History of the Shih Tzu:
The shih tzu originated in Tibet, and was bred in China. Reportedly, Tibetanese Terriers were used to guard the temples of Tibet and if anyone managed to get past the terriers, the shih tzu acted as warning dogs for the Tibetan monks. Some say that a shih tzu is the reincarnation of a sinned monk.
Since approximately 700BC, the little dogs became known as the little ‘lion dog’. They were referred to as ‘Shih-Tze-Kou’. The word ‘Shi-Tze’ or ‘Shi-Tzu’ is a compound term meaning ‘lion’ and ‘kou’ means dog. Reportedly, this name came about because the legends said that when Buddha was travelling as a simple priest, he would always be accompanied by a small shih tzu. Whenever anyone threatened Buddha, the little shih tzu would transform into a lion, allowing Buddha to ride away to safety in a saddle on the back of the shih tzu. This is why the traditional colouring of the shih tzu would include a saddle of colour on his back – see Colour section above. The Chinese Emperors of the imperial dynasties bred dogs to look like small lions to encourage a comparison between themselves and Buddha.
Shih tzu were often given as a gift to indicate good luck, and they were always presented in pairs. Tibetan monks would present a pair of shih tzu to the Emperors, and this was a tradition that the Chinese continued.
The dogs came to England in the 1830’s and to the USA around 100 years later when they were initially registered as the ‘Lhasa terrier’. Approximately 1940, the American Kennel Club registered the breed as the Shih Tzu but it wasn’t until 1969 that the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso were officially separated.