Shih-poos, Shorkies, Havashus, Mal-Shis, Schweenies, Shichons (Teddy Bears), and more … they’re all mixed breeds that have become popular due to the qualities of the desirable Shih Tzu. This adorable little dog was bred specifically for companionship, and they do their job very well. They’re affectionate, happy little dogs that adore their human family members, from toddlers to seniors. Pronounced “sheed-zoo” or “sheet-su,” here’s an overview of everything you need to know about this much-loved dog.

shih tzu looking at camera

Shih Tzu Appearance

Shih Tzus reach about 9 to 10 inches high at the shoulder and weigh nine to 16 pounds. They can live between 10 and 18 years. And although they’re small dogs, they’re quite sturdy and not as delicate as other toy breeds. Shih Tzus have a double coat of hair that needs regular grooming, especially if kept long and flowy instead of short. Their coat varies in color and is typically multicolored. The typical look of the Shih Tzu is to keep the hair long and put it in a ponytail on the top of their head to keep it from hanging in their face. It is a cute look but needs regular brushing. Their muzzle is short, and their tail is curved over their backs.

shih tzu with tongue out

Shih Tzu History

Shih Tzus have a rich history in China, specifically in ancient Tibet, where imperial breeders developed it to be a companion dog. Shih Tzu means “lion dog,” despite having zero similarities to a lion, other than its long mane. The breed is believed to be a cross between two other Tibetan breeds: the Pekingese and the Lhaso Apso.

As dogs of royalty, Shih Tzus lived a life of luxury with their emperors’ families. The breed was virtually inaccessible to the general public, as they lived hidden inside walled palaces. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the breed was further developed and refined. And despite its ancient history, it wasn’t until 1969 that the AKC formally recognized the breed.

shih tzu running in the field

Shih Tzu Temperament

Shih Tzus are popular for temperament. On the list of perky, happy, friendly, fun-loving dogs, this breed is high up there. They also get along well with everyone, whether it is humans of any age, or other pets. Most are very sweet and gentle if raised with a loving family.

You also don’t have to worry too much about a Shih Tzu chewing on your furniture or shoes, as they’re not big chewers. As far as nuisances, they may bark now and then and even dig. But if you fulfill their desire to be near humans, you’ll curb any undesirable behavior on their part. They require a good amount of attention and don’t like being left alone too long. Since they’re so charming, it is easy to spoil a Shih Tzu. Try your best not to. Succumbing to their charms with too many treats could lead to your Shih Tzu becoming overweight, which leads to stress on their joints, as well as other health conditions, especially since they don’t exercise much.

Although Shih Tzus are good with children, it is important to supervise their play to make sure children don’t play too rough with them. They’re not a very protective dog, so you don’t have to worry about them negatively reacting to strangers. That being said, don’t rely on one to guard your home. They’re too friendly to be relied upon as a guard dog. And their little bark isn’t likely to scare anyone away.

shih tzu on leash

Shih Tzu Exercise Needs

Shih Tzus don’t require long runs or extensive exercise, but they do need regular walks. Since they can charm you in to too much treat-giving, they risk becoming overweight. They do tend to enjoy agility training since they love to please, so that might be a good choice for exercising your Shih Tzus. Just be careful about the weather conditions when exercising them. Because of their short muzzle, combined with their thick coat, they can overheat quickly and risk heatstroke. Their muzzle also doesn’t do them any favors in the swimming department either, so don’t rely on swimming as an exercise choice for Shih Tzu. Since they are quite small and don’t need too much room to roam, they do well with apartment life.

Training a Shih Tzu

As mentioned, Shih Tzus love to please, and teaching them new tricks is a great way to allow them to be the center of attention. However, they’re also quite crafty at getting what they want. So if they don’t feel like performing a trick, even if they know how, they will try to shmooze you into just giving them the reward they crave. However, it shouldn’t be a problem if you refuse to cave in to their charms.

Positive reinforcement is important when training a Shih Tzu. Harsh corrections won’t work. As with any breed, early obedience training and socialization is important.

Shih Tzu Grooming

Shih Tzus are renowned for their thick, flowy hair. Despite the fact that their coat has two layers, they actually don’t shed much, although they might shed when brushed or bathed, as well as when changing coats as a puppy.

These dogs have hair, not fur. That means it can easily become tangled and matted if not brushed regularly. Start early to get them accustomed to this practice, since you’ll need to do this often. It can be quite labor-intensive if you allow them to keep a long coat. Many Shih Tzu owners opt to choose a short coat instead. The texture of their hair will make a big difference when brushing them. If it is weekly oiled and bathed, it will mat less. Talk to your groomer about how often to do this, however, as overbathing can cause dry skin.

Shih Tzu Health Concerns

As previously mentioned, heat is not a friend to the Shih Tzu, since they have such heavy coats and short muzzles. Other than that, they’re typically a healthy, sturdy dog. Generally, a Shih Tzus good health will depend on responsible breeding practices, however. A knowledgeable breeder will screen for common health risks like hip dysplasia, kneecap problems and eye abnormalities.

There is no doubt that a Shih Tzu makes a great pet, but if you’re considering one, it is important to research a breeder with care. This isn’t just to avoid health concerns, but also to also ensure you’re not supporting a puppy mill. They are mixed with so many designer breeds that this is an unfortunate reality. Adopting from a shelter or doing your due diligence when buying from a breeder will ensure you have a healthy Shih Tzu who lives a long, happy life.

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Shih Tzu Dog Breed Everything You Need To Know

Shelly lives in Iowa with her husband and Australian Shepherd named Tex. She's been an animal lover since she was a child. Currently, she enjoys reading and writing about dogs, and spending time with her family and getting involved in all things pets.