Shih Tzu dog breed characteristics, origin and care

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Shih Tzu breed characteristics

  • Size: Toy
  • Traits: Devoted. Affectionate. Sociable.
  • Maintenance: High maintenance! Regular brushing, bathing and clipping is required, which can be expensive and time consuming.
  • Best suited to: Families, singles, and seniors that enjoy a pampered pet.
  • Lifespan: 12 to 16 years

Outgoing. Friendly. Trusting. Despite their name, meaning "Lion Dog" in Chinese, Shih Tzus are docile creatures that make excellent companion dogs for families and seniors.

If you are looking for a sweet-natured, toy-sized dog with the longest luxurious locks in the canine kingdom, then a Shih Tzu might be the right dog for you.

Where I’m from

Shih Tzus are one of the world's oldest breeds of dog. They may have originated in Tibet, where they lived in temples. Later they were given as gifts to Chinese royals, who cross-bred them with Lhasa Apso and Pekingese. The dogs became prized in China's regal circles and named Shih Tzu, meaning "Lion Dog".

Shih Tzus are featured in many Chinese artworks. The Fu Dog statues that protect Buddhist Temples are thought to be depictions of the Shih Tzu. One legend tells of a Shih Tzu that protected the Buddha from robbers by temporarily turning into a lion. This won Buddha's blessing - a kiss on the forehead - which explains the white patch on their brow.

What I look like

Shih Tzus are a unique longhaired dog breed. With a toy-sized frame and long coat that often reaches the floor, they often live up to their little lion reputation. Shih Tzus come in a variety of white, brown, gold and black colour combinations. They have little faces with floppy ears and a long soft beard. One of their distinguishing traits is a pronounced underbite.

How I act

Shih Tzus were bred as companion dogs. The classic 'lap dog', they do not guard, hunt or fetch. Even so, Shih Tzus are lively dogs. They love attention and affection, and thrive when socialising with doting friends and family. Shih Tzus are good with children, but children need to play gently to prevent injury.

Shih Tzus are easy to train but need a patient hand. Early training and socialisation is important for the dog to become confident despite their small stature.

Get ready for mess. Shih Tzus can be slow learners when it comes to house training. They need ample opportunity to do their business outside, which needs to be relatively often as puppies, until they learn to control their needs.

Whilst Shih Tzus are very outgoing pups, they are so small that they do not require much exercise. Playing with family members and short walks are enough to keep this dog fit and healthy.

Excitedly jumping off furniture or out of people's arms should be discouraged to avoid injury.

Looking after me

Shih Tzus can suffer from a number of health issues, which can include thyroid, back and breathing problems. They are not good in hot weather and should be kept cool indoors. Eye complaints or ulcers leading to blindness can also affect the breed. It is advisable to check the temperament and medical history of a puppy's parents and view veterinarian clearance certificates to ensure you get a healthy dog. Be very wary of uncertified 'backyard' breeders.

Shih Tzus have a lifespan of 12-14 years.

Am I the pet for you?

Shih Tzus are good for singles and seniors, or families with older children. They are delicate, so rough play can injure them. They can live in small or large homes.


  • Shih Tzus are good-natured dogs, but like all dogs, Shih Tzus should be supervised when around children.
  • Due to the Shih Tzus small size, they don't require too much exercise. They will enjoy a playful romp in the park with their canine friends.
  • Despite their long locks, Shih Tzus are low-shedding dogs and their fur is hypoallergenic.


  • Shih Tzus have allergy-inducing saliva, so any 'pooch smooching' should be limited.
  • Shih Tzus have high-maintenance coats. Grooming may prove costly.
  • Shih Tzus are very delicate little dogs and can be injured by young children in rough play.

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