20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Shih Tzu

They are called “Dynasty Dogs”. They are regal looking Shih Tzu originated in Tibet and lived a pampered life as it was bred in the Chinese Imperial Palace long ago. The Shih Tzu, also known as “little lion” and the “chrysanthemum dog” is a wonderful companion dog.

The dogs are happy, energetic, alert, loyal and affectionate. With a bit of a stubborn streak, the Shih Tzu still loves those that live in its household and even other people and other dogs. Its long silky hair and rounded teddy bear face make this toy dog a beloved pet.

Although a bit high maintenance, the Shih Tzu makes a wonderful pet and is a pro in the dog show circuit. The Shih Tzu is unique because it is a breed that is both glamorous and athletic. Here are 20 cool facts you didn’t know about the Shih Tzu.

1. Origins

The Shih Tzu is believed to have originated on the Tibetan Plateau. The breed was more than likely developed by Tibetan monks. It’s believed that the monks offered the dogs as gifts to Chinese emperors. Images of the Shih Tzu appear in tapestries over 2000 years old.

The Buddhist monks most likely bred the dogs to look like little lions as lions are an important part of Buddhist mythology. In Chinese, Shih Tzu means “Lion Dog”. The dogs’ regal look made them popular in the Imperial Chinese court.

Palace eunuchs bred the little dogs and they were considered palace pets. During some dynasties, people living outside of the Imperial Palace were not able to own a Shih Tzu. The Shih Tzu led a pampered life in the Palace. Nobel women carried them in their robes. The dogs were often used to warm the beds of royalty.

Shih Tzu

2. Purebred

The Shih Tzu is not considered to pure bred until the mid-nineteenth century. That is when the Dalai Lama presented Empress Tzu Hsi with a pair of purely bred Shih Tzus. The Chinese Empire gifted the beautiful small long haired dogs to nobility in England and other parts of Europe.

The first Shih Tzus began to arrive in the United States in the late 1930’s. The numbers increased dramatically during the 1940’s and 1950’s. This is due to the fact that American soldiers stationed in England brought Shih Tzus home with them when they returend to their families.

The Shih Tzu breed’s popularity dramatically increased during the 1960’s. The breed remains very popular in the United States today. All pure bred Shih Tzus are related too the Chinese bloodline.

Shih Tzu

3. Name

The name Shih Tzu is derived from the Chinese term Shizigou. This means “lion sun dog”. The dog breed has also been called little lion. Another popular nickname for the Shih Tzu is the Chrysanthemum Dog.

This is because of the way its facial hair grows out from its nose. This cute little lap dog has a face that looks like a Chrysanthemum flower with a cute little black button nose in the center.

4. General Appearance

The Shih Tzu is a small toy companion breed with a notable long, silky coat. The dogs are longer than they are tall. The average Shih Tzu weighs between 9 and 16 pounds and stands about 9 to 10 inches. The dog is small but sturdy.

The Shih Tzu has a short muzzle and big dark colored eyes. Its ears drop and are covered with long hair. The dog has a pronounced under bite which is a breed standard. The Shih Tzu’s tail is covered in thick fur and curls backward over the dog’s body. In keeping with its regal lion name, the Shih Tzu carries itself with an air of arrogance and distinction.

Shih Tzu

5. Coat

Its coat is one of the defining characteristics of the Shih Tzu. The hair is long and silky. It’s also fast growing and often reaches the floor. As mentioned, the Shih Tzu’s facial hair extends from its nose like a flower so the Shih Tzu’s face looks like a chrysanthemum.

The long body hair can be wavy or coarse. The coat comes in a variety of colors but is typically white with brown or gray. Other coat colors include solid white, black, brown, gold, liver, red, silver and blue.

The coat can come in a variety of color combinations and patterns including black and white, liver and white, red and white, brindle and tri-color. The Shih Tzu often has darker brown pigments at its shoulders and between its arm pits.

The coat features a warming undercoat. Despite this, the dog doesn’t shed that much. Although the dogs are often advertised as hypoallergenic, this is not completely true. Some people with fur allergies do find that being around a Shih Tzu does not cause problems.

6. Grooming

With its long silky hair and undercoat, the Shih Tzu requires daily brushing to keep the hair from becoming tangled and knotted. The hair on the Shih Tzu is fast growing. This means the dog requires regular grooming including clipping.

This should be taken into consideration when purchasing a Shih Tzu because it can be costly. When not showing their Shih Tzu, some owners prefer to keep the hair cut a bit shorter. This is called a “puppy cut”.

When the dog is groomed with the puppy cut on the body and a rounder fuller cut at the face, the style is called a “teddy bear cut” because the dog can appear like a cuddly stuffed animal.

7. Temperament

The Shih Tzu is a great companion pet. Although temperament can vary from dog to dog, most often the Shih Tzu is an affectionate and loyal companion. The dog is typically outgoing and alert which can be a good quality for a watch dog.

A Shih Tzu is often very adaptable to people other than their main companion, so they aren’t really that great of a watch dog. The people dog usually gets along well with children, adults, strangers and other dogs.

The Shih Tzu gets is typically great at interacting with others. Another trait common in the Shih Tzu is stubbornness. This usually rears its ugly head during training sessions. As with most dogs, early training and socialization will help when teaching the Shih Tzu to obey commands.

8. Health

As with any pure bred dog, the Shih Tzu is prone to some health complications. The breed is prone to Hypothyroidism which affects the metabolism and the immune system. The disease will hit at middle age and cause weight gain, hair loss, muscle loss and lethargy.

It can be treated with veterinarian prescribed medication. The Shih Tzu is also prone to Intervertebral disk disease which causes chronic back pain, muscular weakness and loss of coordination.

Because of their facial shape and short nose, the Shih Tzu is prone to respiratory problems. The breed is also prone to eye irritations with age. Allergies can cause increased discharge.

Eye drops may be prescribed to ease eye problems. If not treated, the dog could develop cataracts requiring surgery. The Shih Tzu is also prone to heat stroke. The dog should not spend much time outdoors in hot weather.

It’s best to keep the dogs inside in cool air conditioning during periods of extreme heat. Other health problems associated with the Shih Tzu include hip ear infections, anemia, hip dysplasia and epilepsy.

9. Care

Along with regular grooming, regular health care is important with the Shih Tzu. As with any pet, the Shih Tzu should receive annual examinations by a veterinarian. The dog should receive all vaccinations and preventive medication.

The Shih Tzu should be fed nutritional food and always have a bowl of fresh water available. Typically, the dog requires between 1/2 and 1 cup of high nutrient dry food each day.

Treats should be used sparingly and human food should be a rare treat. Special attention to what type of human food is given is very important. There are certain foods that could cause serious health problems in any dog. Although the Shih Tzu is happy to be a lap dog, it’s important to provide the dog with some daily light exercise including short daily walks and periodic indoor play.

10. Breed Standards

The American and United Kingdom Kennel Clubs both recognize the Shih Tzu breed. The breed standards were set in the United States in 1938. The standards of the American Kennel Club for the Shih Tzu breed is straight front legs and muscular hindquarters.

Neither quarter should be too long or short. The head should be large and round. The face is set high and looks up or forward with large front facing eyes. The neck and body should not be exaggerated. The shoulders should be frontal. The under bite should be present. The Shih Tzu is classified as a Toy breed.

11. Showing

The Shih Tzu is a popular show dog. Once shown only for appearance, the breed is now often entered in sports competitions including Rally and Agility. When shown, the Shih Tzu should have its coat left in its natural state.

The coat can be trimmed at the feet and around the anus for neatness. There are many Shih Tzu clubs in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Shih Tzu competes in many dog shows including the National Dog Show and the Westminster Kennel Club Show in New York City.

shih tzu at show

12. Pop Culture

The Shih Tzu is well received in popular culture. With its sassy attitude and regal good looks, the pint sized, long haired dog has been featured in film. In the 2000 mockumentary “Best in Show” co written and starring Eugene Levy and co-written and directed by Christopher Guest, a Shih Tsu named Miss Agnus competed in a famous dog show. A Shih Tzu named Bonny played the character of a Shih Tzu named Bonny in the 2012 dark comedy “Seven Psychopaths” with Colin Farell.

13. Housebreaking

Maybe due to their inborn stubborn behavior, the Shih Tzu can be a very difficult dog to housebreak. The breed is notoriously known to ignore all training. The dogs tend to eat their own waste too more so than other breeds.

Early training and consistency are the key to housebreaking a Shih Tzu. Before a Shih Tzu is properly housebroken and before it reaches the age of maturity, it is a good idea to keep the dog contained in a dog crate when left alone. Otherwise, your home could become a disaster.

14. Famous Owners

Several celebrities have proudly brought their Shih Tzu’s out into the public. Jane Seymore had a Shih Tzu named Suki. Nicole Richie showed off her famous dog, Honeychild. Mariah Carey likes to show off Bing and Bong. BeyancĂ© is the proud owner of Munchie. Microsoft founder Bill Gates owns Ballmer.

Fashion designer Oleg Cassini owns Mr. Flinton. Other celebrity Shih Tzu owners include actress Andie MacDowell (Lollipop), comedian Susie Essman (Sumo), Spice Girl Geri Haliwell (Harry), “Lost’s” Rebecca Mader (Bella), and stage and television star Betty Buckley owns 3 (Bridget, Gemma and Jessie). Of course the Dalai Lama has a Shih Tzu. Although Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom owns several corgi’s, she also has a Shih Tzu named Choo Choo.

shih tzu

15. The Shih Tzu breed was nearly wiped out

The Chinese Dowager Empress, Tzu Hsi, played a major role in the breeding of the Shih Tzu. The “Tzu” in the breed’s name is in honor of her. She supervised and helped advance the major breeding program durin her lifetime.

When the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi died in 1908, the breeding program died with her. Many blame the decline in the breeding program on the Communist Revolution but, more likely, the culprit was the sad death of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi and the demise of the breeding program. The number of Shih Tzus dramatically began to dwindle during the early twentieth century.

16. The breed was saved by 14 dogs

The advancement of the Shih Tzu breed and the savior of its demise is owed to just 14 dogs. After the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi died and the Shih Tzu breeding program nearly fizzled, 14 pure bred dogs helped revitalize the breeding program.

Seven males and seven females with direct ancestry ties to the original Shih Tzus that lived in the Chinese Imperial Palace were bred to continue on the precious line of these regal dogs. Today, every Shih Tzu can trace its ancestry back to these 14 dogs and the line that they come from.

17. The Shih Tzu is close to a wolf

Recent genetic testing has concluded which dog breeds are the closet to their ancestor, the wolf. While Nordic breeds are the closest dogs that match the wild wolf, Asian breeds come very close.

Nordic breeds like the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the Samoyed are obviously a part of the wolf ancestry due to their appearance and temperament. Recent research has shone that the Asian dog breeds are also very close to the wolf genetically. It may be surprising that small breeds like the Shih Tzu and the Pekingese are closely related to the wolf, but the genetic ties are very close.

18. Breeders

Some breeders label their Shih Tzus for sale as Imperial or Teacup. These breeders are often disreputable. These terms are not official names. Imperial actually denotes a very large Shih Tzu, and Teacup denotes one that is very small.

When purchasing a Shih Tzu, it’s vital to research the breeder. The line should be pure. A Shih Tzu should never be purchased from a backyard breeder or a puppy mill. If you purchase a pure bred Shih Tzu through a local breeder be sure to thoroughly research the breeder.

If you purchase a Shih Tzu through the internet, be very careful and make sure the breeder is well known and reputable. Look at at all reviews. The average cost to buy a pure bred Shih Tzu can run anywhere from $900 to $2500.

19. They aren’t yappy

Unlike some other small breeds, the Shih Tzu is not a yappy dog. They love attention and are not always vocally shy, but the Shih Tzu is an active member of the family and never intends to annoy. A Shih Tzu will be drawn to keeping its place in the family. One thing is for sure, the Shih Tzu won’t upset the family by being a “yappy” dog.

20. Personality

The Shih Tzu is a truly iconic breed in the world of dogs. The Shih Tzu has an amazing history and a distinguished lineage. The breed is truly remarkable. The dogs are full of personality and bring joy to their human families.

As stubborn and precocious as the Shih Tzu dog is a loving, loyal and fun pet. Whether a show dog or a loving companion, your Shih Tzu craves affection and enjoys being a special part of the family.

The dogs are precotious, affectionate and fun. The dogs can be stubborn and arrogant but the breed always carries itself well. Shih Tzus are affectionate, loyal and always alert and active in his or her family’s life. The term “class and sass” sincerely fits the Shih Tzu’s life.

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