Breed Group: Toy
The Shih Tzu (SHEET sue) is one of the few breeds created specifically to be a loving companion animal. They are equally interested in being friends with anyone who will return their affection be it family members or a stranger. Though solidly built, they are best with older children who understand how to treat animals as they are easily overwhelmed by small youngsters. They are also social with dogs and other pets. Docile but rarely aggressive, they sound off when appropriate but are otherwise less apt to use their voice than almost any other breed in the toy group. They are even protective enough to make an average guard dog if they feel their people are threatened. They love playing in the yard and need little more exercise than that. Once back inside, they typically seek out a soft, comfortable spot to longe. With their easily managed size, they make an excellent choice for seniors. No matter what the senior activity level, they are always ready to participate or just cuddle in a lap. They make great traveling companions and are small enough to fit in a crate under an airplane seat. Perhaps their only drawback is their difficulty in housebreaking.
Tiny in size, the Shih Tzu stands 8 to 11 inches tall and weighs 9 to 16 pounds. Their long, luxurious coat comes in almost any imaginable color. Although they shed among the least of all breeds– a show coat as pictured requires regular professional grooming to maintain. Many pet owners opt for the convenience of clipping them in what is sometimes called a “puppy cut”. They need moderate temperatures, doing very poorly in heat and, in spite of their long coat, only slightly better in the cold.
Needing no more than an average socialization effort, they are a great choice for families and first-time owners alike. Although rarely aggressive, they can display a stubborn streak, especially if asked to do something that does not meet their idea of a good time. Other than housebreaking which can be a challenge with some, if you rely on praise and reward them with food, the little training they need should go well. A Shih Tsu makes a good choice for a first-time dog owner provided there are no pre-teen children in the home.
The Shih Tzu has a fairly high occurrence of Hip Dysplasia with one in five dogs affected. Another seven percent have Elbow Dysplasia. They are susceptible to Renal Cortical Hypoplasia, a fatal kidney disease and Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, a frequently fatal disease of the blood. Other less frequently seen health problems include an incidence of Patellar Luxation of between four and five percent. Rarely seen but causing blindness is PRA. Other problems that affect their eyes include Corneal Dystrophy Ectropion, Entropion, Distichiasis, Trichiasis and Ectopic Cilia. They are also affected by a condition that reduces the ability of their blood to clot called Von Willebrand’s Disease.
The Shih Tzu ranks as the 9th most popular American Kennel Club breed with between 25,000 and 30,000 registrations annually. Many less knowledgeable breeders are in business primarily to satisfy this demand. Avoid puppies with excessively bulging eyes or with an excessive amount of white around the colored part of their eye.
Although usually associated with China, the breed probably originated in Tibet in the 17th century where it was viewed as holy. A favored pet in the Ming Dynasty, it was highly prized by the royal family and it shares a similar history with the Pekingese. The Shih Tzu rose significantly in popularity in the US in the 1960’s resulting the American Kennel Club recognizing the breed in 1969.
Notable Shih Tzu owners range from the Dalai Lama to baseball pitcher Greg Maddux and include Queen Elizabeth, King George VI, Yul Brynner, Phyllis Diller, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The national (US) breed club is the American Shih Tzu Club.