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the search for a dog
Red shih tzu looking at camera

Breed overview

  • Breed group – Toy Group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height – 9 to 10.5 inches
  • Weight – 9 to 16 pounds
  • Coat length & texture – Double coat with long fur
  • Coat color – There are 19 breed standard and non-standard colors, including black, white, gold, silver, red, and brindle combinations. They may also have tan, black, or white markings or a black mask.
  • Exercise needs – Moderate
  • Intelligence – High intelligence
  • Barking – Moderately vocal
  • Life span – 10 to 18 years
  • Temperament – Playful, outgoing, and loving
  • Hypoallergenic – Yes
  • Origin – China

👉 No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some are better than others for allergy sufferers.

Shih tzu fun facts

  • This breed is also known as the Chrysanthemum Dog. The nickname describes how the hair on their face grows out in every direction, often resembling a chrysanthemum flower. 
  • The name “shih tzu” translates to “little lion.” These pups were likely given this name due to their association with the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning. He was said to travel with a small lion dog who could transform into a full-sized lion. 
  • Shih tzus are beauty pageant-winning athletes. Shih tzus often perform exceptionally well in dog sports like agility competitions. These show-stopping dogs have some hidden muscles underneath their flowing manes.
Grey shih tzu in the yard

Shih tzu temperament and characteristics

Being adorable is a way of life for the shih tzu. These little dogs are loving and friendly companions with irresistibly good looks and charm. While some dogs live to dig holes and chase cats, these pups are content to lay in your lap and look adorable with their big dark eyes and long fur. They’re known to be especially great with children due to their playful and loving nature, and they often respond well to strangers and other pets. However, like most small breeds, it’s important to properly introduce your shih tzu to any larger animals to ensure they’ll be compatible. If you’re willing to spend some extra time (and money) on grooming, this breed is an excellent choice for first-time dog owners or older couples and is sure to be a sweet and gentle friend for years to come.

Common shih tzu health problems

Shih tzus are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health issues. Primarily, this breed is known for eye problems and health conditions like wheezing due to its face shape and short muzzle.

  • Patellar luxation. Usually an inherited congenital disorder, shih tzus and other small dogs experience a condition called a luxating patella, where the kneecap slips side to side and becomes dislocated. 
  • Eye problems. Shih tzus can experience a variety of eye problems, including keratitis, proptosis, distichiasis, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, or dry eye. Contact your vet right away if you notice any redness, irritation, or excessive tearing. 
  • Renal dysplasia. This is an inherited condition where the kidneys don’t develop normally. It’s usually detected in puppies, so watch your pup closely for excessive thirst, failure to gain weight, or signs they aren’t doing as well as they should be. 
  • Teeth problems. The shih tzu’s adult teeth often come in a bit later (and fall out sooner) than other breeds. They may have an underbite, which can cause damage to the gums and teeth, and they are also prone to periodontal disease.

Cost of caring for a shih tzu

The cost of caring for a shih tzu can be challenging to pin down. The puppy itself may cost $500 to $1,600 from a reputable breeder, but if you’d rather rescue a pup in need, you can visit your local animal shelters, or check out rescue organizations dedicated to this loving breed. 

The first year with your new pup is always exciting, but it’s not always cheap. With vaccinations, routine checkups, microchipping, food, toys, a bed, grooming, flea and tick medications, and anything else your pet may need, you’re likely to spend about $2,000 in the first year. However, after that first year, the price drops to about $1,000 to $1,200, excluding any unexpected medical procedures. Pet health insurance or a pet savings account are great ways to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses.They provide the greatest benefit to owners who sign their pets up early in life.

History of the shih tzu

Shih tzus are bite-sized pieces of Chinese history. Translating to “lion dog,” these pups were adored by Chinese emperors and were developed from the Lhasa Apso breed centuries ago in the Imperial Palace. For hundreds of years, shih tzu dogs lived as royal lap warmers, spending their days being pampered and adored. The breed stayed hidden behind the palace walls and was kept secret until the 1930s. It’s said that the emperors would give extravagant gifts to breeders who produced the most beautiful and affectionate dogs. 

Breed clubs that formed in Peking and England helped further refine the shih tzu breed, working to reduce their size and give them unique and desirable markings. Today, the shih tzu is one of the most popular toy breeds in the United States and England. Owners as diverse as Queen Elizabeth II and Miley Cyrus have all been enamored with this breed’s unique charm.

Shih tzu at sunrise

Caring for your shih tzu

Regardless of breed, caring for a new puppy can be overwhelming. From your first trip to the vet and scheduling your pup’s vaccinations to puppy-proofing your home and preparing for teething, there’s a lot to do. Here are some shih tzu basics to help you prepare for your new furry friend. 

Exercise 

The shih tzu was bred to be a companion dog. While this breed is generally quite playful, they don’t require much exercise. Due to their small size, they do great in homes of any kind, from apartment living to larger houses. With some short walks and indoor playtime, this breed will stay happy and healthy. However, these dogs often require a lot of attention, so when they aren’t curled up in your lap for some R&R, they’ll generally stick close by, happy to get pets and love throughout the day.

Shih tzu exercise

Grooming 

These dogs need pampering to look their best, including regular nail trimming, ear cleaning, and teeth brushing to keep those pearly whites clean and healthy. In addition, the shih tzu’s long, dense coat requires daily brushing and regular baths every three to four weeks. 

Since this breed has a double coat, it’s best to layer the fur as you brush to ensure you reach the skin. Be gentle with knots and tangles, and gently clean the corner of the eyes with a damp cloth to prevent tear stains. If you don’t have time to care for your pup’s long locks, these dogs look adorable when given a “puppy cut,” too!

Diet and nutrition 

The shih tzu generally eats about half a cup to one cup of food per day, but you’ll need to consult your vet to determine the right portions for your pup. These dogs do well on high-quality dog food appropriate for their age, but like most toy breeds, they’re prone to gaining weight. However, with proper food portions and limited treats (no matter how hard those puppy eyes beg), these dogs will be happy and healthy.

Training your shih tzu

Training a shih tzu can be an…interesting experience. This breed generally does best with positive reinforcement like praise and rewards, but they tend to charm their owners. If you let your pup get their way during training, you may end up with a chubby puppy who’s still not housebroken. These dogs are often difficult to potty train, so consistency, patience, and supervision will likely be your best friends. Early socialization and puppy training classes are also recommended to help make sure your dog is well-mannered and comfortable in a variety of situations.

Shih tzu strolling down street

Breeds similar to the shih tzu

Not quite sure a shih tzu is the right dog for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Maltese. Like the shih tzu, these pups are known for their long, silky fur. Maltese are happy, playful, and intelligent dogs who love spending time with their family. 
  2. Maltipoo. A cross between a poodle and a Maltese, these dogs are playful and affectionate but need a lot of mental stimulation. 
  3. Havanese. These pups are friendly, loving, and incredibly loyal. They love to play and are often great with children and other pets.

Frequently asked questions

Is a shih tzu a good house dog?

Bred to be royal companions, shih tzu dogs are loving, happy, and playful pets who love spending time with their humans. Don’t be surprised if they beg for some extra cuddles throughout the day.

Do shih tzus bark a lot? 

Shih tzus can be a bit vocal — whether it’s barking, howling, or asking you why their food bowl is empty. They aren’t as vocal as other breeds, but some shih tzus tend to bark more frequently. 

What health problems do shih tzu have?

Shih tzus are prone to various eye, tooth, and respiratory problems due to their face shape and

short nose.

Is a shih tzu a good choice for a first time owner?

Absolutely! This breed’s affectionate and friendly nature makes it a good dog for first-time pet owners or older couples who need a furry friend. 

Are shih tzus high maintenance?

Bred for royalty, the shih tzu’s coat needs regular grooming to look its best. Their long fur requires daily brushing and regular baths, but these pups look just as adorable with a “puppy cut” to make their fur easier to maintain.