8 Important Facts to Know About the Shih Tzu
By Sviat Oleksiv | Updated on Mar 14, 2022
Shih Tzus are small, gorgeous, and quite playful and opinionated. Even if you know nothing about dogs, however, it’s clear at a glance that the Shih Tzu’s coat requires a lot of care – so much so that many dog owners stay away from the breed for this reason alone.
Is grooming a Shih Tzu really that much of a pain, however? What about the breed’s other qualities – surely they are not just eye-candy? Let’s find out by going over the following 8 important facts to know about the Shih Tzu breed.
8 things to consider before getting a Shih Tzu
Most small Chinese dog breeds bear the nickname “Little Lion” but only the Shih Tzu is literally named that way in Mandarin. The ancient Chinese people were indeed fascinated with lions as temple guardians and small breeds like the Shih Tzu were frequently kept as temple or palace “guard” dogs.
Of course, that doesn’t make them actual guard dogs like Rottweilers or Dobermans. Instead, the Shih Tzu has essentially been a pet breed for millennia. Does that make it the right pet for you, however?
1. Shih Tzus are social and friendly enough with both people and other animals
Shih Tzus have been around people for millennia. As they were bred to be symbolic and spiritual “temple guards”, they used to spend all day every day surrounded by both people they knew and strangers. So, today, these small dogs make for fantastic family pets for people who love bringing guests home or going out with their little lion.
An important note to make here, however, is that Shih Tzus still need socialization. The fact that they are social by nature doesn’t mean that they’ll still be social if you deprive them of early contact with other people and animals. It just means that they socialize faster and more comprehensively than other breeds. So, make sure that your young pup is meeting plenty of new people, dogs, and other pets in its early months and that those interactions are enjoyable and safe. Otherwise, a Shih Tzu can become just as antisocial as any other breed.
2. That sociable nature comes at the price of some major separation anxiety
One major pitfall of highly social, friendly, and loving breeds people don’t think about is just how much attention they need. Shih Tzus don’t just tolerate human presence – they _need _it. This is a breed that literally becomes frustrated, anxious, and outright depressed if it’s forced to spend too much time away from its humans.
This separation anxiety is best circumvented by simply avoiding separation. If you can work from home – do so. If you need to work away from home, get a family member to be home while you’re out. If that’s not possible, consider hiring a dog walker/dog sitter or arranging for playdates with another pet owner. Exercising your dog well before going out also hopes as a tired dog is a calm dog.
Getting a second pet can also help but, as a rule, Shih Tzus need human presence even if there are other dogs around. That’s why this breed is great for families with young kids – as they can almost always be around. As a last resort, you should consider getting some pet gates for your home to protect certain parts of your home from the destructive tendancies of a dog with separation anxiety.
Do not isolate your dog too much while you’re away, however – that’d make your Shih Tzu feel outright “punished”.
3. Shih Tzus are smart but housetraining can be slow and frustrating
The intelligence of this breed is often underestimated because of its stunning appearance and small size. Don’t be fooled, however – Shih Tzus are smart cookies. The issue, however, is that they are not a working dog breed. Instead, they’ve literally been bred as pets for thousands of years.
So, while they are smart, they are not necessarily easy to train. If you want your Shih Tzu to be a “good dog” and listen to you, obedience training early in the dog’s life is imperative. Otherwise, your dog will just channel its intelligence into its own playful and mischievous purposes instead.
Additionally, as with most other small dog breeds, housebreaking or potty training your Shih Tzu can take quite a bit of patience. This isn’t because the breed isn’t smart, it just isn’t as instinctive to them as it is for other breeds.
4. These dogs are on the smaller end of the small dog range
Shih Tzus are really small dogs. The average height at the shoulder for these dogs is 9 to 10.5 inches (23 to 27 cm). The average weight is 9 to 16 pounds (4 to 7 kg) even if their coats create the illusion that they’d be heavier.
This puts Shih Tzus squarely on the border between small breeds and toy breeds which is why many refer to them as a toy breed.
5. If you don’t want to spend too much time in the dog park, the Shih Tzu is a great choice
Suffice it to say that these dogs don’t need that much exercise. A couple of brief walks outside are all this dog needs to remain in shape – it’s literally a matter of “getting his steps in” for the day. Yard space isn’t needed either as all the rest of the Shih Tzu’s exercise and playtime can easily be acquired indoors. A yard can even be a drawback as it’d just mean gathering extra dirt on the Shih Tzu’s gorgeous coat.
So, if you’re looking for the quintessential apartment dog, the Shih Tzu is one of the perfect candidates.
6. Get ready to deal with quite a lot of barking
Small dogs are often viewed as “overly aggressive” and that’s both wrong and true, depending on how you look at it. The so-called "Napoleon Complex" is definitely present in a lot of small dogs, including many Shih Tzus. However, that’s often more the result of poor training and socialization – things people often skip with smaller breeds as they view them as less necessary. After all, if you have a giant Rottweiler, for example, you know you need to train that dog well or there might be trouble.
On the other hand, if you simply train and socialize your dog well, there should be few problems. That being said, Shih Tzus are “talkative” so some no-bark training might be necessary too but it’s usually enough to just avoid triggering your dog’s separation anxiety.
7. The Shih Tzu’s marvelous coat takes some time to maintain
The main talking point most people have about this breed is its coat. And it is indeed gorgeous – it’s no surprise that Shih Tzus frequent all doggy fashion shows. Long and either wavy or curly, the Shih Tzu’s coat comes in various color combinations such as black and white, full black, white and gold, red, liver, red and white, silver and white, liver and white, and more.
And, needless to say, frequent brushing and grooming is a must. In addition to that, a monthly bath, nail trimming, eye and ear cleanings, and dental hygiene are all a must. Shih Tzus shed moderately throughout the year provided that you care for their coats well. However, there are two seasonal coat blowouts in the spring and autumn so you may want to visit a professional groomer before that.
8. When they are taken care of properly they are healthy and live for a long time
Shih Tzus are a relatively healthy breed and have an average lifespan of about 15 years. With the right care, however, a healthy Shih Tzu can easily go beyond that threshold and reach 18 or even 20 years.
Getting a dog from a reputable breeder that offers a health certificate is important, however. If you’re adopting, ask for an extensive health profile of the dog.
Another note is the fact that Shih Tzus have Brachycephalic Syndrome, i.e. they have a flat face. This leads to some potential breathing problems and low tolerance to heat. Other potential health issues to watch out for include Hip dysplasia , Patellar luxation , Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) , cataracts , and others.
In other words, Shih Tzus are probably the most “objectified” breed out there. Most people who get them do so for their coats and most people who avoid the breed do so for the same reason. And Shih Tzus’ coats are indeed spectacular but these dogs are much more than just that.
Instead, Shih Tzus are social, lovable, playful, and fantastic companions for kids of all ages. Yes, grooming those little lion manes can take time but these dogs repay the kindness in spades with all the love and attention they offer. The much more significant factor that ought to stop some people from getting a Shih Tzu is if you don’t spend much time home and you need a dog that can be left home alone – the social Shih Tzu definitely ain’t that type of breed.