Shih Tzu: The Ultimate Guide


Shih Tzus are beautiful small dogs with luscious hair and “love me” eyes. They are adorable little charmers that demand to sit on your lap and bask in your attention.

Pronounced “sheed-zoo” or “sheet-su,” their name translates to “little lion,” a nod towards their Chinese heritage. But they also go by other names like “under-the-table dog” and “sleeve dog” due to their unwavering loyalty to their owners.

Shih Tzu

Key Facts

Each dog breed is different, so there are some key facts you need to be aware of before you buy or adopt a Shih Tzu.

Average lifespan

The average life expectancy of a Shih Tzu is 10 to 18 years. This is longer than the average dog, although somewhat typical for a small breed. Realistically, most Shih Tzus pass away after 13 happy years.

The eldest Shih Tzu ever recorded passed on their 23rd birthday.

Minimum exercise (per day)

Shih Tzus were bred to be house companions, meaning they prefer to be at home relaxing rather than walking. 

Ideally, you should take your Shih Tzu on a short 1-hour walk, once a day, or dedicate half an hour of indoor playtime. 

Coat length

Shih Tzus are considered long-haired dogs. They are born with fluffy fur, which becomes silky smooth when they grow into adulthood. 

Some owners like to keep these long hair lengths to accentuate the beautiful floaty nature of their puppy, but doing so will mean keeping to a haircare plan. If you don’t have a haircare plan, these luscious locks will start to knot. This thick fur can be a problem for hot environments as their elegant coat doesn’t allow Shih Tzus to cool down effectively. Your friend will love to spend hours sitting by a fan and basking in its breeze.

Surprisingly, Shih Tzus silky coats help them become streamlined, which means they are excellent swimmers! If your puppy jumps into a pool, you don’t have to worry about their hair pulling them under.

Minimum cost (per month)

On average, you should expect to pay around $50 – $100 a month for your Shih Tzu.

Being a small dog, Shih Tzus do not need a ton of food to keep them going, so the expected daily costs of your pet will be relatively low. However, Shih Tzus do need to have a strict hair care routine, and they are susceptible to a number of illnesses. These illnesses are treatable but might add to your monthly vet bill.

The hair care routine can be completed by yourself, but you may wish to hire a professional to keep the style the way you like it. 

You can learn more about Shih Tzu illnesses and their grooming scheme in our “Health And Grooming” section.

Appearance

Shih Tzus are a toy breed with a sturdy frame. They have around 14 different colors, including various shades of whites, reds, and blacks.

Their slight underbite gives these tiny teddies a unique smile that can bring joy to anyone’s face!

Size

Toy breeds are tiny, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are lap dogs. Many toy breeds were produced to be hunting or working dogs. Shih Tzus, however, do fit into the lapdog personality type, and they will love to cuddle up on the couch with you.

Average height

The average height of a Shih Tzu is 9 to 10.5 inches tall, that’s about the same size as 2 soda cans.

Average weight

The average weight of a Shih Tzu is 9 – 16 pound, that’s about the same weight as a gallon of paint.

Temperament

Shih Tzu

The temperament of a dog breed can give you some real insight into whether you will be a good match together, so keep in mind your needs before you purchase your new pet!

Apartment Living

Shih Tzus are perfect apartment dogs because they prefer to spend all their time indoors. They were specifically bred to stay in Chinese palaces, so they won’t feel cooped up behind walls.

Their small size means that they won’t take up a lot of space, and as long as you give them their 1-hour walk a day, they will be content in your living room.

Good for novice owners

Shih Tzus are an excellent choice for first-time dog owners because they love to have attention, and they don’t need that much exercise. 

You do, however, need to make it clear that you are the alpha, as Shih Tzus have an independent streak that might lead to bad behavior if left unchecked.

If you keep your Shih Tzu’s hair short, then you don’t need to worry about constant grooming, but as long as you brush their hair daily, you can attempt to grow it long.

Sensitivity level

Shih Tzus aren’t super sensitive, so it’s okay to change up their daily routine, bring around guests, and listen to loud music without worrying about how they will react. If you need to punish your pup for bad behavior, they will not start to hate you as a result.

Overall, they have a moderate emotional level which means you can both control your dog and let it be independent without too much interference.

Tolerates Being Alone

Shih Tzus hate to be alone. They always want to be around friendly faces, whether that is another dog or a human. This is because they need a lot of social interaction. 

If you plan on being out of the house often, then a Shih Tzu might not be for you.

Tolerates Cold Weather

Due to their luxurious fur, Shih Tzus can tolerate colder temperatures. That being said, they wouldn’t have a great time in super snowy locations.

Tolerates Hot Weather

If you live in a hot climate, then you may need to cut your Shih Tzu’s hair short so that their fur doesn’t trap in the heat. Alternatively, your toy dog will be happy with a fan they can chill out with.

Affectionate With Family

Shih Tzus are soft and gentle dogs that are genuinely loyal and affectionate towards their handlers. They enjoy spending time with their family and will create tight emotional bonds with at least one person. 

They are so affectionate that they are considered therapy dogs for those in need.

Kid-Friendly

Although Shih Tzus love affection, they don’t like to be picked up or prodded too often. This means that they aren’t the best pet for young children. If you have a Shih Tzus as a puppy, they may be boisterous enough to enjoy a young child’s company; however, you should consider your child’s likely behavior and the fact that the Shih Tzu will grow into an adult after a year.

Dog Friendly

Shih Tzus are very dog friendly! If you have a family with dogs already, it won’t take long for a Shih Tzu to bond with your pets and become affectionate with them. They may begin to test their hierarchy in the group, but if all of your dogs are chilled out, then they will be chill too.

Friendly Toward Strangers

Shih Tzus are okay with strangers. They will prefer their handlers over anyone else due to their strong, loyal attachments, but that loyalty will not make them hostile to outsiders.

Health And Grooming

We have already discussed some of the health and grooming issues that Shih Tzu owners should be aware of, but we haven’t gone into a lot of detail. This is the part of our article which should help you determine their risk factor.

Shedding

Let’s start with the good news. Shih Tzus barely shed. This means that there isn’t a lot of fur for you to clean up, so your home can stay nice and clean.

Drooling

Again, Shih Tzus barely drool. If you find your Shih Tzu drooling often, then they might be experiencing a medical issue. Take them to their vets if you notice excess drooling.

Grooming

To make sure your Shih Tzu gets used to the amount of grooming they will need, you should introduce the grooming equipment as early as possible. Because they need their hair combed or brushed daily, they need to be accustomed to a hair care routine.

There are three methods of grooming, depending on how you would like your Shih Tzu to look and what hair type they have. 

The first is to have their hair shaved low. This will reduce their daily grooming and help them cool down in the summer; however, this does mean that the iconic Shih Tzu hairstyle will be lost.

The second and most common method is to use a wire brush with flexible pins to brush their hair daily. We suggest that you pull the hair into sections to make the brushing easier.

The third option is to have a professional work on your Shih Tzu’s hair monthly, alongside the daily brushing. This is so that their ears and eyes are regularly cleansed to reduce infection.

If you want to cut the hair on your Shih Tzu’s face yourself, we recommend wiping their face clean with warm water and a soft cloth, then snipping away any fur that looks like it will cause irritation.

Many people, both owners and professionals, opt to put Shih Tzu’s face fur in a top knot to create a stunning look that keeps their pooch’s face clear.

General health

In general, Shih Tzus are healthy dogs, but as with every breed, there are a couple of health conditions you need to be aware of.

Sometimes a Shih Tzu grows their permanent teeth too early, as their baby teeth have not fallen out yet. This is due to their undershot jaw. A trip to the vet to get the baby teeth removed should fix this issue, but don’t be surprised if your little pooch starts to create a loud snore.

As your fur baby gets older, you may notice that their eyes are giving them trouble. They can develop cataracts, corneal dryness, progressive retinal atrophy, and retinal detachment. If you see your buddy having eye issues and cannot close their eyelids properly, you need to take them to the vet straight away.

If your Shih Tzu gets too excited while eating, they may begin to suffer from reverse sneezing, which is a wheezing sound. To stop this, you may need to give your dog a bowl with built-in obstacles to slow them down, or you may need to consider an allergen in their food.

Common health problems

The most common health problems will come from their eyes and ears. 

Due to their long hair, Shih Tzus can get ear infections. This issue is the most common health complaint you will probably find.

Other health issues include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation (which is the scientific name for a slipped kneecap), umbilical hernias, and portosystemic liver shunt (which is a blood vessel abnormality). All of these issues are treatable, so if your pooch does become ill, there should be a cure for them.

Potential For Weight Gain

Shih Tzus can quickly gain weight, so you need to be aware of how much you are feeding them. If you have noticed a little weight gain in your dog, you should take them for longer walks to burn off those calories. 

Shih Tzus can easily become obese, so try to avoid snacking on excess food.

Trainability

Shih Tzu

Training is essential for any dog breed, but each type will have its own strengths and weaknesses.

Easy To Train

Shih Tzus are easy to train, but they do like to flaunt their independence. This means they might refuse to listen if you command them too often. If you are consistent with your training, then they should obey your commands.

Intelligence

Shih Tzus aren’t very intelligent, so you will encounter difficulties if you want them to learn more complicated tricks. They can know between 80 and 100 repetitions.

Potential to bite

Shih Tzus have a low likelihood of biting. If your dog is biting you, it is normally for a reason. For example, they may be protecting something, they could be in pain, they may have become too excited, or they are feeling provoked.

If your Shih Tzu has bitten you, you should evaluate the situation and determine what caused this unlikely behavior. 

Tendency To Bark Or Howl

Shih Tzu love to talk, so expect to have a barker in your home. They enjoy barking and howling, and they will communicate with you by changing the tone and pitch of their bark.

Different barks will mean different things, so try an attune yourself to their voice to decode their language. The top reasons for barking are to alarm you, for attention, saying hello, protection, fear, anxiety, or compulsive behavior. 

History

The Shih Tzu breed is over 1,000 years old, and its heritage line can be found in Chinese literature from 8,000 BC. It is believed that Tibetan monks bred these tiny dogs and gave them to Chinese emperors as gifts, along with Pugs, Pekingese, and Lhasa Apsos.

Some reports suggest that Shih Tzus were also known as “lion dogs,” and they were kept with hunting lions to keep them calm. 

Shih Tzus really started to gain a royal status when Empress Dowager Cixi of China began to breed them in 1861. She loved them so much that she had them trained to sit and wave at her when she entered her palace.

When the empress died in 1908, her mass breeding center came to a halt, and the once royal pet almost became extinct.

Costs

The monthly cost of a Shih Tzu is around $50 and $100, but buying a Shih Tzu and keeping it throughout its lifetime can create a dent in your budget.

Shih Tzu puppies tend to cost between $500 and $1,600. The first year of ownership will come with training costs and one-time accessory purchases (like dog beds). This means the first year will likely cost you around $2,000 – $3,000, including the monthly food and accessories (like poop bags).

On average, Shih Tzus live for 13 years, which means the lifetime cost of your Shih Tzu will be around $16,000 – $17,000.

Fun Facts

  • It is believed that Buddha traveled with a Shih Tzu. In the legend, robbers tried to attack Buddha, but a tiny dog transformed into a lion to scare away the bandits. When the robbers ran away, the lion turned back into a small dog.Buddha was so thankful that he kissed the dog on the head, which is why Shih Tzus tend to have little white spots on their heads
  • In the 1940s and 1950s, American soldiers stationed in Europe found comfort in Shih Tzus. When World War II was declared over, and our soldiers came home, Shih Tzus gained popularity as a calming hero
  • When Shih Tzus almost became extinct in 1908, there was a mass effort to bring back the population. Seven males and seven females were used to boost the overall population size. You can safely say that every Shih Tzu alive today can be traced back to one of those 14 dogs.

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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