The Shih Tzu (also called the Chrysanthemum Dog) is an ancient breed dating back more than 2000 years. Although the exact origins of the Shih Tzu are unknown, one commonly held belief is that the breed was developed by Tibetan Monks who gifted their dogs to Chinese emperors. The Shih Tzu (which means “lion dog”) was intended for royalty and nobility, never to leave the royal court. In fact, anyone caught with a Shih Tzu outside the palace was said to be immediately sentenced to death. Perhaps the most famous of royal Shih Tzus belonged to Empress Tzu Hsi who ruled in the 1860’s. She further increased the popularity of this breed, which over time were gifted to rulers of other nations, such as England and Germany. Shih Tzus came to America in the 1930’s where they were met with great popularity, and in 1969 they were recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Shih Tzus are well revered because of their playful, affectionate, and outgoing personalities. Befitting for a noble breed, some say that the Shih Tzu carries itself confidently and arrogantly, while still maintaining alertness and loyalty. The breed is also known for being stubborn, so training and socialization should begin as early as possible. As companion-bred dogs, Shih Tzus are highly affectionate and prefer the company of people, even strangers. They are great apartment-dwelling dogs as they are low-maintenance with minimal exercise requirements and are not prone to barking.
Shih Tzus are a toy-sized breed weighing less than 19 lbs for both males and females. Despite their small size they have a sturdy build, as well as a characteristic underbite. Their hair is long and silky, and their minimal shedding makes them well-regarded as a hypoallergenic breed. Daily brushing is required, especially when the coat is kept to its traditional floor-length style. Shih Tzu owners may also opt to clip the coat short, which reduces the amount of required daily grooming. There are numerous acceptable coat colors for the Shih Tzu, with common colors being black, black and white, or blue and less common variations being red and white, red, or gold.
Due to the Shih Tzu’s size as well as the nature of its respiratory system, there are a number of common health problems that owners must watch out for. Hypothyroidism is a common issue, where the thyroid gland under-produces necessary hormones, often leading to lethargy and weight gain. This disease is easily diagnosed and managed with medication. They also suffer disproportionately from Intervertebral Disk Disease, which is common among toy breeds. Signs include back pain, temporary paralysis, and loss of coordination. In some instances, surgery may be required. Due to their bracycephalic nature Shih Tzus may suffer from breathing problems, exercise intolerance, and inefficient cooling, requiring owner vigilance in keeping the dog from overworking itself. Eye problems are also common, due to their relatively small skulls and large eyes. In general, Shih Tzus have a long life span, with many dogs reaching 16 years of age.