Shih Tzu

When most people think of a small, cute, fluffy dog, they think of a shih tzu. These small dogs have long and luxurious coats that are generally white, or tan and white. They can often be seen with bows in their fur, and tend to be very affectionate with their owners. This dog can be nervous around strangers if undersocialized, but is generally a fantastic small dog. Read on to learn more about the shih tzu.

Description of the Shih Tzu

With a super-long white coat, the shih tzu can be strikingly pretty, or easily dirtied – they require nearly constant care to stay clean. Popular with families, and affectionate with children, this dog was once the royal dog of choice in China.

The breed probably originated as a cross between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso, and remained unknown outside of the Chinese emperors’ palaces until around 1930. Thanks to their cheery temperament and cute looks, the shih tzu quickly rose as one of the most popular small lap dog breeds in the world.

Life Expectancy and Size

The shih tzu stands just under a foot tall, and weighs in around 10-16 pounds. They look a bit larger than they are thanks to a long and thick coat. Like many small dog breeds, the shih tzu is long-lived and generally healthy. They may live up to 18 years, but more commonly live into their early to mid teens.

Protective Ability

Since this dog has been bred for hundreds of years as a friendly and royal lap dog, almost nothing about this dog makes it a good guard dog. While some shih tzus will become quite barky and animated towards intruders, they are not intimidating, and generally are upset because they are afraid. They are not good guard dogs in any sense of the term.


A bright and cheerful learner, the shih tzu responds well to reward-based training. They quickly pick up on new tricks and enjoy learning new skills.

That said, some owners do not take advantage of this breed’s sharpness, instead succumbing to a cute face, and neglecting to fully train their pet. This is generally more of a lack of will on the owner’s part (who could resist that face?) than a lack of skill on the dog’s part. Patience and consistency, especially paired with clear goals, will result in a shih tzu that is a model citizen.

Energy Level

The shih tzu was bred to be an easygoing house companion for royal families. As such, their exercise needs are relatively minimal. A regular outdoor walk, paired with indoor playtime will generally suffice for this small dog.

These dogs also tend to enjoy puzzle toys, and can be fed out of a variety of different toys to engage their minds.

What Living with a Shih Tzu is Like

This dog was bred to live in the house with busy royal families. As such, they are generally easy companions that enjoy the company of their families. They should be gentle with children, and do not require constant exercise.

While the shih tzu can tolerate busy lifestyles and small apartments, their small bladders mean that they absolutely need regular bathroom breaks during the day. This breed is also bred to be around his family, and would rather be near his people than left alone all day.

Care of the Shih Tzu

The mild exercise needs of the shih tzu are balanced with intensive grooming needs. Care of this popular house dog is not as easy as it may seem at first.

Environmental Needs

The coat of a shih tzu can be trimmed or shaved to accommodate heat and dirt in the summer. Their small size makes them ill-suited to extreme cold or major outdoor adventures.

Exercise Needs

A lap dog through and through, the shih tzu is generally content with a few short potty breaks and some playtime. This dog would rather have multiple short outings per day than one long exercise session. Regular, mild exercise will keep these dogs fit and happy well into their teens.

This breed’s short nose means they do not tolerate heat well, and they should not be allowed to exercise in the heat. They also tend to be poor swimmers.

Shedding and Grooming

A shih tzu will require regular trimming, bathing, and brushing to avoid serious mats. If this dog is not trimmed, it needs to be brushed daily to avoid dreadlocks, dirt, and eye irritation. To reduce the daily burden, owners can have a groomer shave or trim their shih tzu with a short coat. Either way, this breed requires regular grooming attention.

Thanks to their long hair (rather than a double coat), the shih tzu generally does not shed much. Their hair just keeps growing, and growing, and growing!

Ideal Home Environment

This breed does well in almost any home, ranging from a busy suburban family to an elderly couple. Their small size and affectionate nature make them easy to deal with in almost any space.

The shih tzu, like almost all dogs, does best in homes that can provide daily attention and interaction. While they might not need much intense exercise, they do not do well in homes that are empty for eight to ten hours (or more) per day.

If you are looking for a running buddy or a hiking dog, the shih tzu is probably not the best fit for you. Otherwise, these small dogs are popular with families around the world for a reason.

Health Concerns

These dogs are generally hardy and healthy, living into their teens. However, many shih tzus also suffer from luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps), hip dysplasia, and they are vulnerable to a wide variety of eye issues. Be sure to ask your breeder about health testing for all of these concerns before purchasing a puppy.

Behavior Problems

This breed is generally sweet and gentle, but may be easily spooked thanks to their small size. A shih tzu that rarely leaves the house can easily become fearful, reactive, or aggressive around things outside the home – or even with new people inside the home. Proper socialization using positive methods will help prevent these issues.

Many shih tzus will also misbehave simply because their owners let them get away with it. Like any dog, gentle guidance using treat-based training to reward good behavior will help prevent and remedy issues such as barking, digging, destruction, and improper house training.