Shih Tzu (aka Tibetan Lion Dogs)

Why get a Shih Tzu?

This endearing little dog has mystical origins in the hills of Tibet as companion dogs to the Buddhist monks.

It was not long before this 'lion-dog', claimed to be a holy dog, became sought-after for its striking looks and winsome personality by no less than the Emperors of China.

Now these popular little dogs are welcomed in more humble dwellings across the western world. With both intelligence and a gentle temperament they make an excellent choice for first-time dog owners.

Physical Attributes

Shih Tzu - Height
Height: Small
Male & Female: 8-11 inches (20-28cm)

Shih Tzu - Weight
Male & Female: 9-15kg (4-7.5kg)

Shih Tzu - Colors
Colors: Any color or combination of colors
Shih Tzu - Group
Breed Group:

Toy Group

Lifestyle Guidance:


Very Good

Very High

Shih Tzu - first dog


Shih Tzu - small pets
Good with Small Pets


Shih Tzu - apartment
Apartment Living

Ideally Suited

Background and History

The origins of the Shih Tzu go back to the misty mountains of Tibet where they prized by monks in Buddhist temples as endearing companions, but also sturdy little watch-dogs. Their association with Buddhism also led them to be venerated as holy dogs.

It was this status that led to them being deemed fitting gifts for Emperors and was known to be highly favored in royal dynastic dwellings by the time of the Ming dynasty. According to some accounts they were often found lying at the bottom of royal beds as useful foot-warmers (a function reputedly also of the now extinct Turnspit dog in the windy churches of England during the nineteenth century).

It is thought that. this breed is originally a cross between the Pekinese and the Lhaso Apso. With the demise of the Chinese Empire, however, this breed suffered some serious setbacks. Not only were they affected by the British looting of Chinese palaces but also the Communist Revolution brought with it a moratorium on dog breeding and the Shih Tzu was certainly not in favor with its various associations with feudal China.

By the 1930s it was reported that there were only 14 Shih Tzu’s remaining and most of this now thankfully popular breed descend from this small pool of survivors. At first in England they were confused with the from the Lhaso Apso but differences in their head shape and their shorter muzzles quickly led to their recognition as a distinct breed. This resilient little dog can now claim to rank as the 20th most popular breed in the United States in 2021 according to AKC registration data [1].

Character and Temperament 

It is not hard to see why so many dog owners have take this breed to their hearts. Many do comment that there is something ‘aristocratic’ about these dogs, and that they know their own minds to the point of bouts of stubbornness.

But at the same time these dogs are adorable and affectionate. They make excellent companion dogs both for families and those that live alone. They are bright, alert and surprisingly bold and sturdy dogs who are always happy as long as they are with their beloved human owners.

Their resilience and adaptability along with their convenient size, means they are the perfect dog to take on dog-friendly holidays or trips away. There lively confidence and naturally friendliness means they are also happy to go out for walks in unfamiliar places and they will be keen to get on with any dogs that you may happen to meet outside. Similarly they are very comfortable as part of a multi-dog household, and their natural geniality also extends to cats.

For anyone who is not able to be very active, such as the frail and elderly, this dog also makes an excellent choice as they do not require much exercise. They are also very good house-dogs, and there as long as they have some space for interactive play they are perfectly suited to apartment-living.

Another facet of their character that makes them good for apartments and anyone who enjoys the quiet is that these dogs are not ‘barkers’. They can be trained to bark an alarm if strangers approach the house, but they are generally at the quiet end of the scale in the canine world. In addition they are far too friendly to be effective watch-dogs and will bound towards a stranger in the hope of affection rather than show any form of healthy distrust.

This bold little dog will occasionally attempt to push boundaries. But with patient, consistent training in place they can be trained to a high standard. Indeed they are an intelligent breed who are always very eager to please their owners.

The Shih Tzu is most certainly a very good dogs for novice owners due to their laid back temperament and consistent eagerness to please their owners, as well as their trainability.

However, the Shih Tzu will not do well if left alone for any extended periods of the day as they suffer acutely from separation anxiety. Anyone considering owning this adorable little dog will need to take steps to mitigate or prevent separation anxiety at the earliest opportunity.

For the different stages in a puppy and adult dog’s development please click here.

Shih Tzu
The ‘Lion Dog’ of Tibet is an endearing and gentle companion for families and those who live alone


These little dogs will be quick and apt pupils in any training class. The Shih Tzu can occasionally be a little stubborn but their enthusiasm to please, and the easiness with which they can be won over by praise and occasionally the odd treat generally makes them highly biddable.

These dogs thrive on approaches based around positive reinforcement and are intelligent enough to learn a range of commands. A particular focus in training should be related to managing separation anxiety and ensuring entirely consistent recall on walks as well as leash training to avoid them being inadvertently pulled along.

Click here for an outline of the benefits of training. Click here for information on socializing a puppy and here for socializing an adult dog.


These dogs only need a moderate amount of exercise, and they are more suited to short walks than anything over around half-an-hour. On hot days ensure that exercise is heavily restricted as these little dogs really do feel the heat. For tips on keeping a dog cool click here.

But in order to keep your Shih Tzu fit and at the right weight ensure they receive lots of interactive play which also keep these bright little dogs mentally stimulated.


The Shih Tzu has a noticeably rounded, apple-shaped head (a key characteristic that distinguishes it from the Lhao Apso) with a white blaze on the forehead. The muzzle is short and the hair grows up from it to give a kind of chrysanthemum appearance to the face.

Under the silky coat this is a firm, compact little dog with strong little legs with a level back and its plumed tailed carried high over the back.

These little dogs measure at around 8-11 inches (20-28cm) and weigh in at between 9-15kg (4-7.5kg).

Coat and Grooming

The Shih Tzu is famed and celebrated for its long, silky outer coat. This dog also has an inner coat which also should not be rough. The breeding standard rightly requires that this little dog should not have either its movement or its vision impeded by the length of the coat, hence the common use of the distinctive topknot you find on many of this breed.

The long, luxurious coat is beautiful, but does require a significant amount of maintenance and these dogs need daily grooming to remove dead. This will be particularly important in periods of hot weather to keep the Shih Tzu as cool as possible.

On the positive side, with a good grooming regime in place, these dogs do not shed often.

The colors of the Shih Tzu are very varied and they can be any solid color or combination of colors..

Lifespan and Health

The Shih Tzu is a robust, healthy little dog with a lifespan of around 13-18 years.

Some can suffer from eye conditions such as PRA. There are instances of Coronary Heart Disease as well as hip and elbow dysplasia. Some are also prey to allergies and skin conditions.

It is highly important to ensure that this dog is kept cool in periods of hot weather to avoid any chance of heat stroke.

US Shih Tzu Rescue (USA)
Shih Tzu Rescue (USA)

Shih Tzu Action Rescue (Worldwide)

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