By Sergey Uhanov (Certified Veterinarian)Dr. Sergey Uhanov Last updated: 5th October 2023

Shih Tzu


Sergey Uhanov (Certified Veterinarian) Dr. Sergey Uhanov
Last updated: 5th October 2023

The Shih Tzu, pronounced “SHEED-zoo” or “SHEET-Sue,” is famed for its dark, beady eyes, soft flowing coat, small frame, and sweet disposition. Its fluffy facial hair has earned it the moniker “Chrysanthemum Dog.” Capable of charming anyone, this ancient dog has long been a favorite among Chinese and Tibetan aristocracy. Playful, intelligent, and affectionate, it makes a great family pet.

Shih Tzu translates to “Lion Dog” in Chinese, and this breed holds great significance in the region’s culture. Folk tales describe a similar dog as the Buddha’s companion. When bandits ambushed them, it transformed into a lion and scared them away. As a token of his gratitude, the Buddha bestowed his blessing on his dog in the form of a white patch of hair in the middle of its forehead, called the “Star of Buddha.” The “Foo” or “Fu” dogs guarding Buddhist monasteries are believed to be lionized Shih Tzu renditions.

Shih Tzu Pictures

Quick Information

Other namesLion Dog, Xi Shi Dog, Chrysanthemum Dog
CoatLong, flowy double-coat
ColorBlack, brown, gold, brindle, white, black and white, and gray
Breed typePurebred
Group Toy
Life expectancy10-18 years
Height9-10.5 inches
Weight9-16 pounds
Litter Size2-9 puppies
Behavioral Characteristics Affectionate, playful, charming, lively, and friendly
Good with children Yes
Barking Tendency Moderate; may bark at strangers
Climate compatibilityLow; their thick coats and smushed noses make them prone to overheating
Apartment compatibilityHigh
Do they shedThey are minimal shedders
Are they hypoallergenicYes
TrainabilityModerate; can be stubborn and difficult to housetrain
How much do they cost$1,000 – $3,000
Competitive Registration Qualification/ InformationAKC, UKC, FCI
CountryChina, Tibet

History and Origin

This dainty dog was likely bred from two older varieties, the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese, at least a thousand years ago by Imperial breeders in the royal palace of China, making it one of the oldest breeds. Prized for its regal appearance and cheerful nature, the royal family kept it closely guarded inside the palace walls for several centuries. Emperors gave lavish gifts and benefits to breeders with superior-quality dogs. It appears in many Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) paintings, writings, and carvings. Mongolian rulers are rumored to have kept it as companions for their pet lions. This dog was the official house pet for most of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with mentions in various documents. Empress T’zu Hsi conducted breeding programs and helped popularize them in the royal courts in the late 1800s.

Lady Brownrigg brought the first Shih Tzu pair to Europe in the 1930s, where they were initially classified as Apsos. After much debate, they earned distinction as a separate breed by forming the Shih Tzu Kennel Club of England in 1935. They almost went extinct after the fall of the Imperial Court in China. Still, they managed to survive thanks to breeding efforts using fourteen dogs. All Shih Tzus today trace their ancestry back to them. They entered the US with returning WWII soldiers and received recognition by the AKC in 1969. Since then, it has been one of the most popular breeds in the country.

Temperament and Personality

Bred as a lap dog, it always craves companionship and attention from its owner. A great family pet, it gets along excellently with children, provided they are cautious with its small size. This small frame and lack of hunting, guarding, or tracking instincts make it a perfect apartment pet. It is calm, personable, and joyful, quickly becoming the center of attraction wherever it goes. Its favorite activity is being carried around in its owner’s arms. However, it tends to jump off and land on its face, so be careful and provide proper support to avoid injuries. Curious with a tendency to dig, it may damage yards unless supervised. Also, it may try to eat its own or other’s feces, so one must keep it clean and stop it from becoming a habit. Despite these tendencies, this is an incredibly charming and docile pet, instantly making friends and being loved by everyone in the family.



As a house dog, it doesn’t need much exercise. Short daily walks, indoor playtime, and toys are enough to keep it physically and mentally fit. Avoid going outside in hot weather as it overheats rapidly. Games like tug-of-war, fetch, and chase are great avenues for releasing pent-up energy and preventing boredom and anxiety. Dog sports such as rally, obedience, trick-dog training, and agility competitions are also brilliant options for you and your pet.


Shih Tzus require extensive grooming to maintain their heavy coat. Daily combing, oiling, and brushing to the skin with a flexible wire brush is necessary to prevent tangles and mats. Puppies are fluffy, but the coat becomes straight and silky at around a year old, which may cause extra matting. However, this is temporary, clearing up in about three months, making brushing easier. Their long facial hair can cause eye irritation, so many owners prefer to tie it in a topknot to keep it away from the face.
Many prefer to get their pets professionally groomed, trimming their hair short in a “puppy cut” to lessen the need for brushing. Also, their faces get dirty and tear-stained often, requiring daily wipes and monthly baths. Check the ears for infection and redness, and trim the nails as needed.

Health Concerns

They are usually healthy but may suffer from hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, juvenile renal dysplasia or JRD, bladder stones and infections, glomerulonephropathy, umbilical hernias, portosystemic liver shunt, snuffles, reverse sneezing, ear infections, dental issues, eye problems, and allergies. Sourcing your dog from responsible breeders can eliminate the risk for many of these conditions.


They do well on one to one-and-a-half cups of good-quality dry food daily, split into two or more meals. Avoid overfeeding as it can cause obesity. You should keep them away from unsafe foods such as chocolate, garlic, onion, and sweeteners like Xylitol. You can make dog treats yourself to keep their diet healthy. Always consult your veterinarian while properly formulating a diet plan to account for age, health, and activity levels.


Shih Tzus can be clever and stubborn, taking longer to listen. Still, they are gentle, affectionate, and loving companions with the correct training.

Socialization: Early socialization is a must to prevent shyness and become comfortable with strangers. Patience is vital as they are difficult to housetrain, requiring constant reinforcement of rules. Firm and consistent training is essential to avoid Small Dog Syndrome due to a lack of leadership. Puppy classes are a good option for your dog, provided they focus on positive encouragement.

Obedience: You may use clicker training, a reward-based system to help learn tricks and good behaviors, to train your pet. Housetraining must begin at the earliest. Some prefer teaching their dog to use an indoor litter box to reduce messes and avoid having to go outside. Crate training is recommended to give them a safe place to relax and help travel.

Interesting Facts

  • They have starred in several movies and documentaries, like “Best in Show” in 2000, “Seven Psychopaths” in 2012, and most recently “The Secret Life of Pets 2” in 2019.
  • Their endearing personalities are loved by many famous owners such as Queen Elizabeth II, Beyoncé, Bill Gates, Miley Cyrus, and Mariah Carey.


1. Why do Shih Tzus lick so much?

They usually lick their owners to show affection; however, this may also happen because of stress, nerves, or separation anxiety. They may also lick themselves excessively due to underlying skin conditions, irritation, or dryness.

2. How many months does a Shih Tzu get pregnant?

The average gestation period is 63 days or around nine weeks. Still, this may vary by a few days.

3. What is the difference between a Shih Tzu and a Maltese?

Despite being similar lap dogs, the notable difference is that they are larger, longer-lived, and more comfortable around people than the Maltese.

4. How does the Shih Tzu differ from the Havanese?

The Havanese are from Cuba, while Shih Tzus are Chinese-Tibetan. Despite being similarly sized, the Havanese weigh less and live for a shorter time.

5. How is a Shih Tzu different from a Yorkie?

The significant difference is that Yorkies are relatively compact and have silkier fur. They are also more excitable and energetic than the other.

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