Shih Tzu Breed Highlights

Three small Shih Tzu puppies sitting together in the park

  • Time for a language lesson. Shih Tzu means “Little Lion” in Chinese! Since it was believed that Buddha rode down to earth on the back of a lion, the Shih Tzu was loved and respected by Chinese royalty.

  • Shih Tzus share more DNA with wolves than most other breeds. The only breed group with more shared wolf DNA is the Nordic spitz group (Huskies, Samoyeds, and Malamutes).

  • The breed almost went extinct in the early 1900s after the death of Empress Tzu Hsi. Thankfully a dedicated group of breed enthusiasts brought the Shih Tzu back from the brink! All Shih Tzus around today are descendants of a group of 13 Shih Tzus and 1 Pekingese!

  • After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the Shih Tzu went extinct in China, with the only living Shih Tzus thought to be in Europe and America.

Unique Physical Features

Trupanion Dog Breed Guide - Shih Tzu illustration

  • Shih Tzus got the nickname “Chrysanthemum-faced Dogs” because the fur on the top and sides of their muzzle grows straight out, resembling the flower.

  • They’re brachycephalic, meaning they have a shortened muzzle or “flat-face.”

  • Their coat, if properly cared for and allowed to grow, is very luxurious and beautiful (but takes lots of work to maintain)!

Unique Personality

Trupanion Dog Breed Guide - Shih Tzu illustration

Shih Tzus are sweet and love life! They take their noble origins seriously and love to be pampered — definitely living up to their responsibility as “royal lap dog!” But don’t let their glamorous appearance fool you — they’re quite sturdy little dogs. They love to play and will bond closely with their family.

Preferred Lifestyle

Energy Level

dog energy level - low (couch potato) to medium (mall walker)

With Kids

Icon - outline of a little boy and girl

Friendly and sturdy, this is a great breed for families with children.

With Other Pets

Icon - cat and dog outline

They do well with other animals in the household, when properly socialized.

Environment

Icon - outline of a house

Shih Tzus are a favorite choice for apartment-dwellers. As long as they’re close to their humans, they’re happy.

Average Lifespan
(Range)

10 to 16 years

Average Size
(Range)

9 - 16 pounds

Breed Group

Toy

Similar Breeds

  • Lhasa Apso

  • Maltese

  • Tibetan Terrier

  • Pug

  • Pekingese

History of the Shih Tzu

A Shih Tzu dog standing in the park with a bow in her fur

The Shih Tzu is an ancient breed, originating in Tibetan monasteries and often given to Chinese royalty as gifts. They’re seen in tapestries dating back more than 2000 years! These dogs were so cherished by many Chinese dynasties that they lived in the royal court and were kept hidden from the public eye. Shih Tzus were companion dogs and considered “warmers” for their humans, often kept in sleeves or placed on the feet of royalty to help generate heat.

Empress Tzu Hsi (Cixi) was gifted a breeding pair of Shih Tzus by the Dalai Lama, when she came to power in the late 1800s, and started a strict breeding program to create her ideal “Imperial Dog.” After she died, the breeding program was discontinued and the breed almost went extinct. A pair of Shih Tzus eventually found their way to England in 1930, with the Shih Tzu Club of England forming in 1934. The Kennel Club (UK) officially recognized the Shih Tzu as a separate breed from the Lhasa Apso in 1940.

U.S. History of the Shih Tzu Over Time

The Shih Tzu made its way to the United States when American soldiers stationed in Europe and Asia brought them home after World War II. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Shih Tzu breed in 1969 and they have become increasingly popular as family pets and companions.

Shih Tzu Behavior and Training

Shih Tzus were bred as alert dogs, trained to let larger guard dogs know someone was approaching by barking. But they found their niche as the perfect lap dog for Chinese royalty. They love being companions, which makes training a joy with this fun-loving breed. They’re smart and quite athletic, even at their small size, and love to learn new things (although it can take them some time to truly “get it.”)

Plays Well with Others?

  • Shih Tzus are known for being outgoing and social. Proper proactive exposure to new sights, sounds, people, dogs, and other animals as a young puppy is essential for their socialization.

TRAINER TIP

Pair meeting new people or animals with high-value training treats or a favorite toy, and keep introductions short and sweet so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

  • They’re known for doing well with children, due not only to their sweet nature but also their sturdiness. Make sure they’ve been properly introduced and socialized with children as a puppy to set them up for success. Young children and dogs should always be supervised, and it’s helpful for a dog to have their own “safe space” where they can go when they need some quiet time.

  • Shih Tzus can enjoy the companionship of other animals in the home, as long as they have been properly socialized since puppyhood and introduced.
Graphic - bouncing red ball image

Exercise Requirements

As a small breed, Shih Tzus don’t require a high level of physical exercise to stay in shape. They do best with a short daily walk and a little play time with their human family or other dogs in the home. You might see them get the “puppy zoomies” every once in a while, which is completely normal (and pretty funny). Heavy exercise, or exercise in warmer temperatures, should be avoided to prevent health issues and heatstroke. Shih Tzus, like all flat-faced breeds, should always be monitored for heatstroke symptoms, which often include: heavy panting, drooling, bright red tongue or gums, rapid pulse, and wide, panicked eyes.

Mental Enrichment Needs

While their physical exercise needs are minimal, Shih Tzus need lots of mental enrichment to keep their minds engaged and prevent unwanted puppy behaviors (such as destructive chewing). Daily training for obedience and tricks are a great way to provide enrichment and keep their brain sharp, as well as providing puzzles or other interactive toys.

Fun Activities the Shih Tzu Enjoys

Trupanion Dog Breed Guide - Shih Tzu illustration

Shih Tzus enjoy activities that keep them close to their human and require a little quick thinking:

  • Rally Obedience

  • Trick Training

  • Conformation

  • Canine Freestyle

  • Small Dog Agility

Shih Tzu Coat Type

Shih Tzus have a long and dense double coat. When left long, they often sport a fashionable top knot to keep the hair out of their eyes to prevent irritation.

Shedding Level

dog shedding level - 1 of 5 piles of fur

1 out of 5 piles of fur

Grooming Requirements

  • Daily Maintenance
  • Professional Grooming Required

The Shih Tzu coat is high maintenance and needs consistent upkeep to prevent matting. Daily brushing, especially of the top knot and beard, and regular bathing is needed to keep the coat clean. Dirty coats are much more likely to tangle.

Many owners prefer to keep the coat shorter, to simplify maintenance. This is best done through regular professional grooming. Introducing your Shih Tzu puppy to positive grooming and handling while they’re young will make their lifelong grooming needs easy for everyone.

Best brush for a Shih Tzu: Pin comb, Pin brush, Slicker brush

Famous Owners of the Shih Tzu

  • Beyonce (Singer)

  • Bill and Melinda Gates (Philanthropists)

  • Nicole Richie (Actress)

  • Mariah Carey (Singer)

  • Geri Halliwell (Singer)

  • Katherine Heigl (Actress)

  • Elizabeth Taylor (Actress)

  • Jon Stewart (Former TV Host)

  • Colin Ferrell (Actor)

  • Queen Elizabeth (Queen of England)

Shih Tzus in Books, Movies and TV

  • Daisy in The Secret Life of Pets 2

  • Bonny in Seven Psychopaths

Miss Agnes and sibling in Best in Show

Non-Endorsement Statement: The social media posts displayed here do not imply any endorsement of these people or products, nor does it imply they endorse Trupanion or our product.

Common Health Conditions for the Shih Tzu Breed

Use the chart of Trupanion claims data below to find out what health conditions happen most frequently for Shih Tzus. Every Shih Tzu is unique, but understanding what health conditions are likelier to occur can help you be a more prepared pet owner.

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Here's what our
dog-loving members say about Trupanion

Trupanion member Kelly

Kelly

Groton, CT

Condition: Sarcoma

The Trupanion policy paid: $18,522.39

"My golden Kelly was young when I found a softball-sized lump on Kelly’s left hind leg. Four weeks straight of radiation, six rounds of chemo and checkups every three months, including x-rays and full blood panel were needed. Because of Trupanion, I didn’t have to address the biggest deciding factor that most people face—can I afford this? I can honestly say Kelly is alive today because of the financial support Trupanion provided."

- Lori

Trupanion member Axl

Axl

Ontario, Canada

Condition: Pneumonia, Hip Dysplasia, Lameness

The Trupanion policy paid: $2,084.01

"At two, our German shepherd Axl was diagnosed with pneumonia. Trupanion took care of all our financial concerns. At four, his hip issues led to pain medications, rehabilitation and rest, which all resulted in improved pain-free movement. I’m so grateful that we chose a plan that not only covers the cost of his treatment but also any physical therapy or rehabilitation he may need."

- Nanette K.

Trupanion member Bella

Bella

Ellijay, GA

Condition: Cushing’s disease, tumor, cruciate rupture

The Trupanion policy paid: $15,283.83

"Bella was treated for Cushing’s disease and a pituitary tumor with radiation therapy. Had we not had insurance for her, the decision for her medical care would have been more difficult, as each treatment was expensive. However, because we have Trupanion, these decisions were easier. Rather, we could focus our attention on her treatment and recovery instead of the financial impact these procedures would have on our family."

- Jason P.

Here's what our dog-loving members say about Trupanion

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