Shih Tzu dogs have been a part of Chinese culture since the Tang dynasty, serving as both companions to royalty as well as watchdogs, alerting their owners to strangers in the area. Bred to be companions, they are a friendly and vivacious breed who can easily get enough exercise even in small spaces. These dogs do require more grooming care than many other breeds due to their double coat of long, flowing hair, but they are generally companionable to both people and animals. Care should be taken during interactions with others that they do not fall victim to rough treatment, particularly when they are still growing.
The Shih Tzu is an old breed, and although we can’t be absolutely sure of the exact ancestors of this breed, most experts believe them to be a cross of the Lhasa Apso breed from Tibet and a small Chinese dog, such as a Pekingese. They were frequently favored by the royalty of China and kept at court as far back as the Tang dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907. During the Ming dynasty these small, friendly dogs became popular among the commoners as well. During the Chinese Revolution, the little dogs were nearly wiped out, and only seven males and seven females were saved. It is from these fourteen dogs that all of today’s modern Shih Tzus are descended. In the early 1900’s Shih Tzu’s began to be dispersed to other countries, such as Norway, England, and North America, but the first Shih Tzus were often referred to as Apsos, and clubs that recognized the differences between the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso breeds weren’t established until 1934 and 1935 and a standard to define the Shih Tzu’s unique characteristics, such as its wider skull and less curled tail, was not developed until 1938. When veterans from World War II began returning to the United States many of them brought the friendly little dogs with them from England, and they were recognized as a toy breed with the American Kennel Club in 1969. They gained popularity quickly in the United States, and today they are the twentieth most popular breed dog according to the AKC.
The Shih Tzu is a sturdy little dog who is longer than it is tall with a broad, rounded skull and a short square muzzle with an undershot bite. The fur should frame their face but shouldn’t hide their large expressive eyes. The dog’s heavily furred ears generally hang down like pendants, and the tail is held in a curve over the back and is also heavily plumed. The traditional show coat seen on the Shih Tzu breed dogs is long, flowing and typically straight, although some may have a slight wave to the coat. A topknot is almost always used to keep the hair from covering their face and is listed as such in the official breed standard for the AKC. This breed comes in many colors, from black to white and anything in between and black markings, tan markings, and black masks are recognized as acceptable for this breed. The elegant show coat also requires a great deal of grooming to prevent serious tangles from matting the coat and causing damage to the underlying skin. For this reason, many Shih Tzu owners elect to have it trimmed in a style known as a puppy cut or a teddy bear cut.
The distinctive long and elegant coat of the Shih Tzu requires a great deal of care. Bathing should take place on a weekly basis, and daily brushing and combing are required to keep the coat clean and healthy. Even though this breed typically has a lower shed rate than others, when this dog matures at around two years old the dog will shed more heavily for a short period of time while the juvenile coat is replaced by the mature coat. It is often helpful to accustom your Shih Tzu puppy to the grooming routine at an early age so that they will be more cooperative with the process as adult dogs. Many Shih Tzu owners may choose to either have a professional clip and shape their dog’s fur into a shorter cut, or they learn how to do it themselves in order to make caring for the coat easier. Shih Tzu’s who have been groomed this way will still require brushing and combing every two or three days, and they should have their faces wiped down several times a day to prevent staining of the facial fur. These dogs do best when exercised for short periods at least one or two times daily to maintain their fitness, but they aren’t overly active even in small living spaces. Brachycephalic animals can be sensitive to either very high or very low temperatures, so it is important to protect your dog from excessive heat or excessive cold, and on extreme temperature days, it may be best to exercise indoors. Dental care should also be addressed on a regular basis as this dog’s brachycephalic facial structure, and small size may make it more susceptible to dental disease.