Pet First
Shih Tzu
By Robyn Martin

So, you’ve decided to bring a Shih Tzu home to be the newest member of your family. How do you know if this is the right breed for you, your home and your family? From the beginning of the breed until now, the Shih Tzu is known for being a complete companion dog. They’d rather follow you around than chase a ball. They’d rather sit on your lap than sit on the floor. They’d rather you carry them in your arms than take them out on the leash. Owning a Shih Tzu can be a pleasurable experience, but keep in mind, these cute little balls of fur need constant care and attention in order to be a happy and healthy part of your family.


The origins of the Shih Tzu are not completely known, but it is known that a similar dog in characteristics was depicted in Oriental paintings as far back as 600 AD. These dogs’ ancestors are traced back to the temples of Tibet where the Tibetan Lion Dogs were highly regarded as sacred animals. Only the most distinguished were allowed to own them and if any person should harm or steal a Shih Tzu, they faced a penalty of death.

The Shih Tzu breed can be traced back to China during the 17th Century AD.This is when a pair of Shih Tzu’s was given to Emperors of China during the Manchu Dynasty as a token of kindness and good fortune.It became customary for all distinguished Chinese visitors to be presented with a pair.

Although the Shih Tzu faced extinction during the Chinese Revolution, one of their rulers, Empress Dowager, had been an avid breeder of the Shih Tzu. It is thought that some of her eunuchs sold some of the palace’s dogs to the wealthy Chinese as well as foreigners. Although the death of the empress in 1908 ended an era for the Shih Tzu in China, its popularity continued to grow in the Scandinavian countries, Holland, and eventually, the Unites States.


The breed known and loved today comes in a variety of sizes. Some believe this is because of earlier breedings of Shih Tzu’s with Pekingese to make a smaller, stockier dog. The standard range in weight is from 9 to 16 pounds and in height from 8 to 11 inches. The size variations are ideal for picking out the dog that is appropriate for different families and different lifestyles. The smaller sized Shih Tzu’s would be perfect for a home with no children or older children, whereas the larger variations would be ideal for a family with small children, provided they are well supervised. Despite their small appearance and their laid-back demeanor, the Shih Tzu is a very compact and solid dog.

There is no set standard for coat color in the Shih Tzu as any color and any variations in color are acceptable. The most recognizable colors are the gold and white or the black and white, but the solid gold color variety is the most popular amongst Shih Tzu owners. Very rarely will there be a solid white Shih Tzu in a litter. They will usually have “tips” on their coats, usually on the ears or back. Their coat should be a long, flowing, straight double coat without wave or a single coat.


From the first day this new puppy is brought home, they will begin displaying their unique personalities. It is referred to as a companion dog for just that reason- they are absolute companions. Their sweet temperament and non-aggressive behavior is ideal for any home, even with children or other dogs. And because these dogs are small, they are perfect for apartment living as long as they have plenty of toys to play with. These little guys can almost always entertain themselves as long as there is someone there for whom they can show off. They are play driven and everything, including work, should be a fun experience. They need constant love and reassurance that they are the most important.

Shih Tzus are very people oriented and will do anything to please their master, as long as it doesn’t involve long hikes. They’ll get plenty of exercise just by following you around the house. Although they thrive for attention from their owner, the Shih Tzu is not demanding. They would be perfectly content to just sleep most of the day away stretched out on their back, or better yet, sleeping the day away in your lap.

Although the Shih Tzu is known mainly for being a companion dog, don’t think they are incapable of working. They live for pleasing their owner so beginning your Shih Tzu in obedience is ideal. Along with obedience, the Shih Tzu was made for the show ring. Their long, flowing hair and stocky stature sets the Shih Tzu apart from the many companion breeds showing in conformation. You will see their confidence shine through as they prance around the ring thinking they are the only dog there.


The Shih Tzu is known for having such a long, beautiful coat but without proper grooming and brushing, you are going to have a big ball of matted fur before long. You should start grooming your Shih Tzu the first day you bring it home. The earlier you start, the better the experience for you and your dog. Using a medium to soft bristle brush, start by brushing the sides of your dog. The easiest way to start grooming is to make him (or her) lie down on his side while you brush. He may try to get away from you, but you have to stand your ground and show him who’s boss – just don’t be overly harsh or he may become scared of grooming, or even worse, afraid of you! You want to teach them that grooming is a daily part of life. He will eventually become used to the idea, and will begin to love primping!

Bathing your dog shouldn’t be a bad experience. Because of the size of the Shih Tzu, you can get away with giving baths in your kitchen sink. Make sure the water is not too cold or too hot. You want your dog to be as comfortable as possible in this stressful situation. Make sure you thoroughly saturate your dog’s hair with water before applying shampoo. A mild shampoo with conditioner is best for the Shih Tzu’s coat. Baby shampoo, with its no-tear and tangle free formula is ideal for shampooing because of the amount of hair around the dog’s face. Start by applying the shampoo to your hands and working it through the coat to the ends. Don’t scrub the dog’s scalp as this may cause irritation and dry skin. Make sure you rinse all the shampoo from the dog’s coat. Any excess shampoo can cause hair breakage and scalp irritation.

After shampooing and rinsing your dog, you can begin drying. Brush or comb through the hair before drying to remove any tangles. If you use a hair dryer to dry your dog, make sure it is on the lowest setting so as to not burn your dog’s scalp. Dry sections of your dog’s hair with the dryer, working from the back to the front. When your dog is completely dry, brush through the entire coat from root to end to remove dead or brittle hair as this causes matting and tangles. Trim the hair on their paws between the pads. Pull the front hair to the top of the head and fasten with a barrette.

You also want to make sure that your Shih Tzu’s nails are trimmed. Most outside dogs don’t need their nails trimmed too often because of the amount of play on concrete or a surface that can file down their nails when they run. Because the Shih Tzu is an inside dog, their nails will turn into knives if they aren’t trimmed often. If you are unsure as to how to trim your dog’s nails, have your groomer trim them.


Although the Shih Tzu is a small dog, they are very healthy dogs. They have an average life span of 14 to 16 years, so be prepared to have a buddy for a very long while. Other than normal health problems of all breeds, such as heartworms, parvo or kennel cough, the Shih Tzu has very little problems with its health.

The most common health problem I have encountered has been skin allergies. This can be caused by a number of things. If you live in an area of high pollution, the air may cause you dog to itch. Check your dog frequently for fleas as they will cause your dog to scratch and bite the affected areas. Grooming your dog will also help to prevent skin irritations. Keeping his hair clean, tangle free and mat free is a must or you will encounter “hot spots” under the mats that can lead to loss of hair, sores, and possible infections of the skin.

Another health problem has to do with the eyes of your dog. Because they have no snout to protect their face, it is not uncommon for the Shih Tzu to have eye injuries. The best way to prevent eye accidents is to dog proof your home. Pick up all sharp, long objects that your mischievous puppy may want to play with and replace them with soft toys. Check your dog’s eyes frequently for mucous or clouding as this could be a sign of an eye ulcer or a cataract. Moisture around the eyes may also cause conjunctivitis so you should always make sure the hair around your dogs eyes are neatly trimmed and are free of any kind of discharge to keep them healthy.

When Shih Tzu’s are puppies, you may notice an excess of snorting or sneezing. This is because of their short nasal cavities. This is commonly known as “pinched nostril”. This is not a life threatening ailment and will usually subside when the puppy reaches six to eight months. If there is a large amount of thick fluid coming from the nostrils, you may want to contact your vet as this could be a sign of infection in the nostrils or sinuses.

As in all small breeds, you should never force a puppy to walk or train with a choke collar on lead. Because of their delicate frame, this could be a potential hazard to their trachea. If your dog’s trachea is damaged or collapsed it could pose a serious health problem or possibly death. Their breathing will become greatly impaired and because of the size, or lack of size, of the nostrils and sinuses, any obstruction to their breathing could be fatal.

In general, the Shih Tzu is a fairly healthy dog. If you notice any odd behavior, such as excessive drinking and urinating, lethargy, trouble breathing, vomiting or any other symptom that is not typical to your dog, seek veterinarian assistance immediately. This could be a sign of a serious problem.

It’s hard work owning a Shih Tzu, and if you are looking for a low-maintenance breed, then this is not the dog for you. But if you are looking for a sweet, loyal, well tempered companion, that you will enjoy spending your time with, you will want a Shih Tzu. From the beginning of the breed until now, this little lion dog has captured the hearts of many.

Being a large dog owner for most of my life, I never thought I’d find a companion dog that I could truly bond with. The Shih Tzu is not a dog, but a human in dog’s clothing. I don’t think I could ever own another breed.