Shih Tzu:  The Lion Dog

Gold and White Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu (pronounced “Sheet-soo”) 

The plural and singular form of the name is the same.

If split personality could describe a small dog breed it would be this breed—laid back, couch potato, perfectly content to nap on your lap all day OR, speed demon, happy to run at top speeds around your home or yard. 

As fearless watch dog, this breed tends to bark loudly when someone comes to the door, but then greet the visitor enthusiastic with kisses and affection. 

Other than the occasional bark when visitors arrive, he is not as yappy as some other small breed dogs.  This is a loyal, friendly, gentle dog that loves people and will bond with all members of the family. 

For those who love a dash of color, the Tzu breed is eager to please, coming in a wide array of colors, all of which are permitted under the standard. 

From the traditional black and white, gold, and brindle come exotics such as reds, chocolates, and silvers.  There's a color pattern for every taste. 

Red and White Shih Tzu PuppyHere is a young red and white Shih Tzu

Even though the standard size is between 9 and 16 pounds, some adult dogs are much smaller than the AKC Standard. 

Called Chinese Imperial or Imperial Tzu, these smaller versions of the dog are not identified as a separate breed as may be the case in the Poodle. (i.e. Toy, Miniature, Standard), but are nonetheless miniature versions of the normal sized Shih Tzu dogs.

Quick Facts

  • Other Names Used:  Lion Dog, Chrysanthemum-faced dog

  • Affiliation:  AKC:  Toy, UK:  Companion, CKC: Group 6, Non-Sporting

  • Size:   

    Height:  9-10.5 inches         
    Weight: 9-16 pounds

  • Coat Type:  Long, dense, smooth, flowing

  • Colors:   Gold, White, Brindle, Chocolate, Cream, Black, Red—Orange, Gray and combinations of 2 and 3 colors. For a thorough discussion of Shih Tzu Colors, please check out Coat Colors page.

  • Country of Origin:  China

  • Activity Level:  Low to moderate

  • Life Expectancy:  10-15 years

  • Good with Children:  Yes

  • Good with other pets:  Yes


Black Shih TzuBlack Shih Tzu with white markings

The known history of the breed breed dates back to antiquity. 

The exact date of origin of the Shih Tzu is not known, but evidence of its existence has come to us from documents, paintings and objets d'art dating from A. D. 624.

During the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 A.D.), the King of Viqur gave the Chinese court a pair of dogs said to have come from the Fu Lin (assumed to be the Byzantine Empire).

Another theory of their introduction to China was recorded in the mid-17th century when dogs were brought from Tibet to the Chinese court. These dogs were bred in the Forbidden City of Peking.

The smallest of these dogs resembled a lion, as represented in Oriental art. "Shih Tzu" means "lion".

These dogs are reported to be the oldest and smallest of the Tibetan holy dogs, the lion being associated with the Buddhist deity.

These dogs were bred by the Chinese court and from them the dog we know today as the Shih Tzu developed.

They are also called "the chrysanthemum-faced dog" because the hair grows about the face in all directions.It is known that the Tzu was a house pet during most of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 A.D.) and that they were highly favored by the royal family. Dowager Empress Cixi (T'zu Hsi) kept an important kennel of Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu.

After her death in 1908 the dogs were dispersed and breeding mostly ceased. When the Communist Revolution occurred in China the breed became almost extinct.

Every member of the breed today can be traced to fourteen dogs - seven bitches and seven dogs - some of which were imported to England where breeding of the Tzu began in 1930.

There the breed was first classified as "Apsos" but after a ruling by the Kennel Club (England) that Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus were separate breeds, the Shih Tzu Club of England was formed in 1935.

From England members of the breed were exported to other countries in Europe and Australia. American soldiers stationed in these countries brought the breed back to the United States thus introducing them to this country.

The breed was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book in March, 1969 and to regular show classification in the Toy Group at AKC shows beginning September 1, 1969. 

So there, in a nutshell is the history of this breed.  The breed continues to evolve as breeders strive to improve the breed. 

Breed TraitsRating
Affection Level
Friendliness Towards Strangers
Good with Children
Good with Other Dogs
Exercise Needed
Ease of Training
Watch Dog Ability
Grooming Requirements
Cold Tolerant
Heat Tolerant

Dog Breed Ratings Got You a Little Confused?
Here's a little help in understanding them

  • Playfulness:   Most Playful = 5    Least Playful = 1
  • Affection:  Most Affectionate = 5   Least Affectionate = 1
  • Friendliness Towards Strangers: Most Friendly = 5  Least = 1
  • Good With Children:  Great= 5    Not Good with Children = 1
  • Good With Dogs:  Great = 5   Not Good Around Dogs = 1
  • Exercise Required:  Extensive Daily Exercise = 1  Minimal = 1
  • Ease of Training:  Very Easy = 5     Difficult = 1
  • Watch Dog:  Excellent Watch Dog = 5  Minimal = 1
  • Grooming:  Time Consuming = 5   Minimal = 1
  • Shedding:  Heavy Shedder = 5     Minimal = 1
  • Cold Tolerance:  Well Tolerated = 5   Poor Tolerance = 1
  • Heat Tolerance:  Well Tolerated = 5  Poor Tolerance = 1


He is sociable but not as outgoing as some breeds.  He needs people so he is not likely to be happy alone for extended periods of the day.  His exercise requirements are minimal. 

He enjoys a romp in the yard or home and a daily walk.  He especially enjoys being with you so he is likely to want to jump in the car when you go out. 

He is not an outdoor dog, so never leave this breed outdoors unattended, nor in a locked car.  He tolerates the cold better than the heat.

This little dog is rarely aggressive and gets along with children and other pets.  Some have a jealous streak if he lives in a household with multiple pets. 

Shih Tzu PuppyGold Shih Tzu Puppy with a Black Mask

He does well with older children but may be a little fearful of younger toddlers therefore, Dogs of this small breed make better pets for families with older children.

Small dogs of this breed are intelligent and can be trained although there tends to be a stubborn side to his personality.  

He responds best to gentle positive approaches to training.   

He can be hard to house-train, so he does best with a very patient owner who is consistent and calm.

James Mumford described the breed, in the American Shih Tzu Magazine as...

 “a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit,

a couple of ounces of domestic cat,

one part court jester,

a dash of ballerina,

a pinch of old man (Chinese),

a bit of beggar,

a tablespoon of monkey,

one part baby seal,

a dash of teddy bear and the rest dogs of Tibetan and Chinese origin.” 

How to Make a Shih Tzu (Infographic)

Health Concerns

Shih Tzu Health Concerns

Some of the most common health concerns in the Tzu involve the eyes because they are big and protruding, but also because the Shih Tzu's coat hair continues to grow.

Hair that is not removed or tied back can iritate the eyes causing many different problems. 

Other Common health concerns include liver shunt, renal dysplasia,  allergies, hip dysplasia, thyroid disorders and Von Willebrand’s Disease. 

For a discussion of health concerns specific for this breed, check out a separate page about Shih Tzu Health Issues.

Grooming Requirements of  The Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu Grooming RequirementsTips for Grooming a Shih Tzu

Contrary to what the photo to the left would have you believe, the Shih Tzu coat should be long, dense and straight. 

No hair curlers required, but a little hairspray and a flat iron could help!

Most people are attracted to the lovely double coat that comes in a variety of colors.  But with this heavy coat, there comes the responsibility to groom regularly. 

If you've ever seen a Shih Tzu Show dog in his full regalia you know the beauty these dogs possess.  But to achieve this requires much more time, money, and effort than the average pet Tzu lover cares to expend. 

This is a breed that requires much grooming especially if you decide to keep the coat long.  If not, you will need to learn to groom him yourself at home or budget for visits to the groomers every couple of months.  

Some of the grooming challenges for this breed include keeping the coat brushed because the thick double coat tends to tangle and mat easily. 

Eye care is important because eyes can be injured easily.  Keeping the hair out of the eyes and wiping them daily will help keep them healthy.

Light haired dogs are also prone to tear staining.

Ears need care too as hair continues to grow inside the ear canal.  This hair should be removed and ears cleaned periodically. Hair grows continually between the pads of the foot and this can mat easily if not clipped and removed.  For an in depth look at grooming  please visit D.I.Y. Grooming.

From Our Readers...

Meet Bam Bam

by Lorraine Tuccinardi from Coventry, RI (USA)

Bam Bam was purchased in 2015 at 8 wks old. He is now 1 1/2 yrs old and is the joy of our lives!!!

Trained to eliminate on puppy pads, he gets along with my 11 yr old pug, Maxx.

He can get easily jealous if Maxx is given extra attention but they still love each other.

Bam Bam is definitely a lap dog and relies on lovings and attention always.

He now weighs about 6 lbs. He is groomed about every 6-8 weeks. He is adorable and I would certainly recommend him to any home.


Only annoyance is the barking. Love him to death!!!!

What you need to know about the Shih Tzu

Attention Shih Tzu Owners...

If you are on Facebook, you might want to check out this active group of like-minded friendly and very helpful people.  Click on the picture to be taken to the page.  (See you there)


Need more information about the breed.  We've hand picked a few books from Amazon that we think are worth checking out.  Also, please visit our sister site for more information on the Shih Tzu Dog.

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