Ten Things You Didn’t Know About… Shih Tzus

A cute poodle is out playing in her back yard on a summer day.

They may be tiny dogs, but they come with a lot of history and a much bigger namesake. In this installment, it’s time to give a Shih Tzu his due.

Breed Name

The breed name comes from the Chinese for “lion dog,” although the dog part has been left out of the name we all know. They are also sometimes known as “The Chrysanthemum Dog,” based on their resemblance to the flower, as well as Xi Shi Quan, a reference to Xi Shi, said to be one of the most beautiful women of ancient China.

The Shih Tzu Beginning

The modern breed began with two British humans, General Douglas and Lady Brownrigg, who imported a few dogs that became the ancestors of all the others in the West. At one time, the group opposed allowing breeders to export Shih Tzus to the U.S. because they would immediately be re-registered as Lhasa apsos due to lack of American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition of the breed.

AKC Recognition

Speaking of AKC, the breed was not recognized by them until 1969, which was the same year that Lady Brownrigg died.  This is even more ironic given that Shih Tzus are a truly ancient breed, with its wild forerunner having been identified from 10,000 year-old remains. References to the current breed can be found as far back as the 7th century C.E.


Being misidentified as Lhasa apsos isn’t that unusual, though, as the breed was derived from a cross between it and a Pekinese.

Shih Tzu Personality

Although Cesar says that breed is not the most important trait of a dog, Shih Tzus can share certain personality traits. They tend to be high-energy, but are also slow learners (sorry, fans!), although whether that’s due to intelligence or stubbornness is up for debate. They are also not normally big barkers, unless you’ve failed to socialize them properly, very people friendly, and devotedly loyal to their own humans.

Health Issues

Health-wise, Shih Tzus can be prone to all of the same conditions that dogs with brachycephalic (“pushed-in”) faces can be, including breathing issues. Like their bigger relatives, they can also suffer from hip dysplasia, luxating patellae, and the seemingly-fancifully named “stenotic nares,” which literally means “narrow nostrils,” but which can prove fatal due to lack of sufficient oxygen getting to the brain.


Per the AKC, Shih Tzus come in 8 basic colors: black, white, liver, blue, brindle, gold, red, and silver. They also recognize a number of two- and three-color combinations, making for a very colorful breed indeed. Note that liver and blue refer to skin color and not coat color, and will show up as brown or blue nose, paws and eye rims.

Comfort Dogs

In New York, Petey Parker the Shih Tzu has been enlisted to comfort Middle School 88’s 1,400 students as part of the school district’s Comfort Dog program, which will be expanding to 30 more schools in the fall.


While Shih Tzus have a reputation for being hard to housetrain, it may be an undeserved accusation, with the real cause being — what else? — the humans. Since many of the claims of difficulty come without real evidence to back them up, then the fault is (most likely) not in our dogs, but in ourselves.

Dog Dancing

Stubbornness aside, Shih Tzus have a natural aptitude for “dancing,” and it can be a cute trick to teach them to impress your friends and family — and maybe make your dog a video star.

Let us know about your Shih Tzus in the comments and tell us which breeds you’d like to know ten things about. Also, don’t miss the previous installments in this series, on Chihuahuas, pugs, and German shepherds.

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