Shih Tzus: The Ultimate Guide to Shitzu Dogs & Puppies

A shih tzu dog looking all regal in a field of grass.

Once the cherished lap dog of Chinese emperors, the Shih Tzu has never forgotten its royal roots. You can call them your regal companion with a heart of gold. This small but mighty breed is known for its unwavering belief that the world revolves around them, but their regal attitude rarely comes with arrogance or aggression. In fact, the Shih Tzu is one of the sweetest and most popular toy dog breeds—we fall in love with that endearing personality and sweet face every time. 

Quick Shih Tzu Facts  

  • Name: Shih Tzu, Lion Dog  

  • Origin: China, Tibet  

  • Size: 9-10.5 inches tall, 9-16 pounds  

  • Lifespan: Approximately 10-18 years  

  • Appearance: Long, silky coat in various colors, including gold, white, black, and brown  

  • Temperament: Affectionate, playful, and adaptable  

  • Compatibility: Generally good with children and other pets  

  • Intelligence: Moderately intelligent and responsive to training  

  • Exercise & Energy: Low to moderate exercise needs  

  • Grooming Needs: High maintenance, requiring daily brushing and regular professional grooming  

  • Training: Responds well to positive reinforcement training  

  • Health: Prone to dental issues, eye problems, and respiratory concerns  

  • Highlights: Loyal, loving, and adaptable to various living situations 

What Makes Shih Tzus Great 

  • Ideal for apartment living: A small size dog like a Shih Tzu needs less space to run around, with low exercise needs making them especially suitable for apartment living.    

  • Live long lives: Like many small breed dogs, Shih Tzus often enjoy a longer lifespan, with healthy pups living up to 16 years or more. When looking for a new pet, a common question many potential owners ask when considering how long do dogs live? Shih Tzus are a great option for people looking for a long-term friend. 

  • Make devoted companions: Shih Tzus are known for their unwavering loyalty and affectionate nature, making them excellent lap dogs and constant companions. 

  • Enjoy moderate activity: While Shih Tzus have lower exercise needs compared to larger breeds, they still appreciate daily walks and playtime to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. 

  • Have hypoallergenic coats: Shih Tzus are considered a hypoallergenic breed due to their low-shedding coats, making them a good choice for some allergy sufferers. 

What Does a Shih Tzu Look Like? 

The Shih Tzu is a small, compact dog with a distinctive lion-like appearance. Their round, wide-set eyes, short muzzle, and small, drop ears contribute to their endearing expression. The breed's most striking feature is its long, silky coat, which comes in a variety of colors, including gold, white, black, and brown, often in combination with each other. 

How Big Do Shih Tzus Get? 

Shih Tzus typically stand 9-10.5 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 9-16 pounds when fully grown. Despite their small size, they have a sturdy, well-proportioned build. 

Shih Tzu Coats 

The Shih Tzu's coat is long, dense, and silky, reaching the floor when left untrimmed. This long coat is mostly seen in the show ring, but while these flowing locks are a hallmark of the breed, they require extensive grooming to prevent matting and tangling. Many pet owners opt for a shorter, more manageable "puppy cut" to reduce grooming time and maintain a neat appearance. 

Shih Tzu Behavior and Personality 

Shih Tzus are known for their affectionate, playful, and adaptable nature. They thrive on human companionship and love nothing more than being the center of attention. That is why it is easy for them to be adaptable to various living situations and lifestyles, as they are outgoing, friendly, and eager to please. They have a confident, regal bearing that belies their small size, but they are rarely aggressive or snappy. These little dogs are happiest when they are close to their owners, whether snuggling on the couch or following them from room to room. 

Do Shih Tzus Get Along Well with Children and Family? 

Shih Tzus generally get along well with children, yet their small size also makes these dogs vulnerable to injury if handled roughly, which makes them not ideal for small children. They are best suited for families with older, gentle children who understand how to interact with a small dog. With proper socialization and supervision, Shih Tzus can be loving and patient playmates. 

Shih Tzu with Other Pets 

Shih Tzus are typically friendly and adaptable, making them well-suited to living with other pets in the household. Their gentle, non-aggressive nature allows them to coexist peacefully with other dogs and cats, provided they are introduced and socialized properly. However, their confident and somewhat regal personality may occasionally lead them to assert themselves with larger dogs, particularly if they feel challenged or threatened. To ensure a harmonious multi-pet household, it is great to expose your Shih Tzu to a variety of animals from a young age, using positive reinforcement and supervision to encourage friendly interactions.  

How to Care for your Shih Tzu? 

Caring for a Shih Tzu involves regular grooming, training, and meeting their specific living needs which includes feeding them their proper diet to ensure they remain healthy and happy. 

Importance of Grooming your Shih Tzu 

We all know how beautiful a shih tzu’s flowing locks of silky gold coat can be, but this signature silky coat also requires daily brushing to prevent matting and tangling. If left untrimmed, the coat will need to be brushed and combed thoroughly every day to keep it free of debris and maintain its shine. This is one of the reasons why some owners lean more into grooming their shih tzus with the shorter "puppy cut" to reduce grooming time and make maintenance more manageable. Regular professional grooming every 4-6 weeks is recommended to keep the coat in top condition and address other grooming needs, such as nail trimming and ear cleaning. 

Are Shih Tzus Easy to Train? 

Shih Tzus are moderately intelligent and respond well to positive reinforcement training. Trick training can be especially fun! But they can be stubborn at times, so patience and consistency are key when teaching basic obedience and house training. Like many small breeds, Shih Tzus may be prone to barking and can be difficult to housetrain. Early socialization and gentle, firm training can help prevent these issues from becoming problematic. 

Living Needs  

Shih Tzus are well-suited to apartment living and do not require a large yard or extensive exercise. They are too small, too human-oriented, and too sensitive to heat and cold so they should live indoors as part of the family. Daily walks and short play sessions will help keep them physically and mentally stimulated. Shih Tzus crave human companionship and should not be left alone for long periods. 

Feeding your Shih Tzu 

Feed your Shih Tzu a high-quality, age-appropriate dog food to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients. Due to their small size, they have a tendency to become overweight, so monitor their food intake and limit treats. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate portion sizes and feeding schedule for your individual dog. 

A shih tzu puppy caught on camera eating a leaf.

Common Health Issues of Shih Tzu 

Shih Tzus are generally a healthy breed, but they are still prone to certain health issues that their human companions should be aware of. Since they are small breed dogs, they suffer from most of the health problems common to tiny dogs, but overall, it is a fairly healthy breed.  

What Health Issues Do Shih Tzus Commonly Encounter? 

Dental Problems: Shih Tzus have small mouths, which means they are prone to dental issues such as misaligned teeth, missing teeth, and periodontal disease. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings are essential to maintain good oral health. 

Eye Problems: The breed's protruding eyes are vulnerable to injury and conditions such as corneal ulcers, dry eye, and cherry eye. Regular eye exams and prompt treatment of any issues can help prevent complications. 

Respiratory Issues: Shih Tzus may experience breathing difficulties due to their short muzzle and elongated soft palate. Owners should be aware of signs of respiratory distress such as wheezing and snuffling and take steps to keep their dog at a healthy weight and avoid extreme temperatures. 

Luxating Patellas: Like many small breeds, Shih Tzus are prone to luxating patellas, a condition in which the kneecap slips out of place. Severe cases may require surgical correction. 

Renal Dysplasia: In simple terms, this is what happens when the dog’s kidney stays stuck in an immature stage and can’t handle the demands of an adult-sized dog. This can be an inherited condition that affects kidney development and function. Puppies with renal dysplasia may fail to thrive and exhibit signs of kidney failure. Responsible breeders screen their breeding stock to reduce the risk of passing on this condition. 

Protect Your Shih Tzu’s Health by Getting Pet Insurance  

Responsible pet ownership includes both proper care and financial preparedness. Consider Shih Tzu pet insurance to ensure they receive the best possible care, regardless of the situation. Shih Tzus are prone to certain hereditary conditions that can be costly to treat, making pet insurance an important consideration for owners. Enrolling your Shih Tzu in a comprehensive dog insurance plan while they're young and healthy is crucial. Pet insurance companies don't cover pre-existing conditions, which are any illnesses or injuries present before your pet's coverage starts. Early enrollment helps avoid this by ensuring any potential health concerns are covered before they develop. 

In addition to accident and illness coverage, Embrace's optional pet wellness plan is a budgeting tool that targets preventative care costs, such as checkups and vaccinations to keep your pet healthy and happy. It even covers grooming, which can be very helpful for a pup that needs as much pampering as a Shih Tzu! 

The Origin of Shih Tzu 

The Shih Tzu's origins can be traced back to ancient China, where they were bred as companion dogs for Chinese royalty. The breed's name translates to "Lion Dog," reflecting their lion-like appearance and regal bearing. Shih Tzus were prized for their affectionate nature and loyalty, and they remained a closely guarded breed within the imperial palace for centuries. 

In the early 20th century, Shih Tzus were introduced to the Western world, where they quickly gained popularity as companion dogs. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969 and has since become one of the most beloved toy breeds in the United States and around the world. 

Getting a Shih Tzu  

If you're considering adding a Shih Tzu to your family, it's essential to do your research and find a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Begin at the website of the American Shih Tzu Club, where you’ll find a referral list for breeders who have agreed to be bound by the club’s Code of Ethics which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores. Responsible breeders prioritize the health and well-being of their dogs and perform genetic testing to reduce the risk of inherited health issues. They should be willing to answer your questions, provide references, and allow you to visit their facility to meet the puppies and their parents. 

Adopting a Shih Tzu from a rescue organization can be rewarding, as many wonderful dogs need loving homes. Rescue organizations often have adult dogs available, which can be a good choice for families who prefer a dog with a more predictable temperament and energy level. 

Regardless of where you get your Shih Tzu, and whether it is a puppy or adult, it's important to have them examined by a veterinarian shortly after bringing them home. Your vet can help identify any potential health issues and provide guidance on care, nutrition, and preventative measures to keep your new companion happy and healthy. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Shih Tzus 

Are Shih Tzus good with kids?  

Shih Tzus can be good with children when socialized properly and treated gently. However, their small size makes them vulnerable to injury if handled roughly, so they are best suited for families with older, responsible children. 

Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?  

Shih Tzus may have long, silky coats, but they are considered a low-shedding breed. Regular brushing and grooming can help minimize shedding and keep their coat in good condition. 

Are Shih Tzus hard to potty train?  

Like many small breeds, Shih Tzus can be challenging to potty train. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key to successful housetraining. Crate training and establishing a regular toilet routine can also be helpful. 

Do Shih Tzus bark a lot? 

Shih Tzus can be prone to barking if not properly trained and socialized, but with consistent training and positive reinforcement, they can learn to control their barking. 

How much exercise does a Shih Tzu need?  

Shih Tzus have relatively low exercise needs and can adapt well to apartment living. Daily walks and short play sessions are usually sufficient to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. 

How long do Shih Tzus live?  

With proper care, nutrition, and preventative healthcare, Shih Tzus can live between 10-16 years. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can help ensure a long, healthy life for your Shih Tzu companion. 

What are the Shih Tzu's pros and cons? 

The pros of owning a Shih Tzu include their affectionate nature, adaptability to various living situations, and low-shedding coat, while the cons include their high grooming needs, potential stubbornness, and susceptibility to certain health issues.