Caitlin UltimoBehavior / Breed Lists

Shih Tzu Dog Breed

The Shih Tzu is considered one of the most ancient dog breeds. In fact, many members of ancient Chinese royalty kept the breed as pets. Today, they are also kept as companion animals.

Shih Tzu Physical Characteristics

The Shih Tzu has a small build with round black eyes, medium drop ears and a tail that curls over the back. It is also considered a brachycephalic breed, which means its muzzle is so short that it is prone to breathing problems and bouts of sneezing and snorting.


Most commonly seen in black and white, tan and white, and gray and white.


The outercoat of a Shih Tzu is long, straight and soft. Its undercoat, meanwhile, is dense and has a similar texture to cotton balls. Often the hair around its face is tied up in a ponytail in order to see its eyes.

Shih Tzu Personality and Temperament

Activity Level



The Shih Tzu is playful and loves to learn new things. It is also typically good with children and other dogs.

Things to Consider

The breed is more susceptible to having respiratory issues due to its short muzzle. This also causes it to snort and sneeze frequently.

Shih Tzu Care

Ideal Living Conditions

The Shih Tzu fares well in the city or country.

Special Requirements

The breed requires regular grooming.

Shih Tzu Health

The following conditions are commonly seen in Shih Tzus:


Shih Tzu History and Background

The name Shih Tzu Kou, or Shih Tzu, translates to “mini lion,” the moniker given to it in deference to its lion-like appearance. The name is likely based on the word for lion, “shishi.” The lion was highly esteemed in China for its connection with Buddhism, since it had a long tradition as guardian of the temples and palaces. The lion’s strength and courage was revered, and it made its way into many of Buddha’s teachings. This little dog was bred to reflect that appearance of strength, regality, and beauty, and it took the position as a practical stand in for the lion, acting as companion and guardian of the palace and temple.

It is probable that this dog was actually developed in Tibet in the 1600s, where it was considered a holy animal. It is accepted as one of the oldest dog breeds on record. The modern Shih Tzu developed in China in the late 19th Century, when the Dowager Empress Cixi ruled the kingdom.

Though the Pekingese and Shih Tzu breeds have similar backgrounds, and have often been linked over the years, the two had been long distinguished in Chinese art, where the latter is shown with a pien-ji or topknot, denoted by bumps on the head. It is worth remarking that the topknot is still the style that is used for the Shih Tzu, especially in the show ring.

When the Dowager Empress Cixi ruled during the latter part of the Qing dynasty, the Shih Tzu were held in great regard, and were kept as special house pets. She personally oversaw their breeding, and the eunuchs in charge of the palace breeding took great pride in producing the most beautiful and distinct dogs, interbreeding, without the Empress’ knowledge, within the groups of Pekingese and Pugs that were also a part of the palace kennel in order to achieve those ideal. Because the dogs were also regarded as protectors of the palace, the instinct for barking at strangers was undoubtedly honed during this time. In fact, the breed is still a highly recommended watch dog because of its quick and vocal reaction to strangers. The Empress was very jealous over her dogs and was not wont to share them with foreign dignitaries or friends. Many of the Empress’ dogs were lost after her death, causing a big blow to the breed. Later, the breed was displayed in China as Tibetan Poodles or Lhassa Terriers.

In 1935, the breed was shown as the Lhassa Lion Dog, and it was then that it began to gain popularity on a wider scale. In England there was confusion between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso, but in 1934, after the Apso was displayed, the two breeds were split into their own distinct classes. It was then that the smaller dogs with the shorter-noses and wider-skulls from Peking were given the Shih Tzu name. Just one Pekingese outcrossing was allowed, in 1952, but this cross was not permitted again. The standards for the purity of the bloodline have been strictly upheld since. In the 1960s, the U.S. saw immense growth in the breed’s popularity, paving the way for recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1969. It is among the most lovable of the toy breeds, and its popularity as a domestic companion and show dog continues to rise.

Shih Tzu National Clubs and/or Organizations

American Shih Tzu Club
279 Sun Valley Court
Ripon CA, 95366

By: Chewy Editorial