The Dog Journal


Shih Tzu

The cute and fluffy Shih Tzu is a popular breed throughout the United States. On the popularity ranking by the American Kennel Club, this breed is ranked at 20 out of 195 breeds around the country. But where exactly did this small breed come from? Let’s take a closer look!

The Dog Journal Dec/Jan 2023

Story Credit: Writing by Raegan



The ancestral history of Shih Tzus is a little scattered and there isn’t a solid foundation showing where they originated from. However, there is evidence that we have a fair amount of knowledge leading to the existence of these small companions. Dating back centuries ago the Shih Tzu was recognized as the “lion dog.” This is because Lions are associated closely with Buddhism which was the spiritual upbringing in China and Tibet. They didn’t want to use an actual lion because it isn’t native to their country so instead, the Chinese and Tibetan lamas (spiritual leaders) bred toy dogs to resemble the lion and named them Shih Tzu (meaning lion).

Breeding these small lion dogs quickly became a favorite pastime for the rulers in that country. The whole purpose of the Shih Tzu was to bark and alarm the leaders when people or other animals were approaching the palace. After some time, the Shih Tzu was a favorite of the Chinese imperial court and was then considered a companion rather than a working dog. The Chinese leaders loved the Shih Tzu so much that even when they were making trades with the West, they would never trade this small breed of dogs.

Fast forwarding to the late 1940s and 1950s, the first Shih Tzus were brought into the United States by military personnel. Though they were a recognized breed by Britain in 1946, it wasn’t until 1969 that the Shih Tzu was then recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club) in the USA. Once the AKC recognized this breed, the Shih Tzu quickly went from being unknown to becoming one of the most favored dog companions around.

Close up portrait of a cute little Shih Tzu puppy dog


One of the best qualities of a Shih Tzu is their personality. It is rare to find a dog of this breed that is aggressive or mean. Shih Tzus are usually happy, perky, and always ready to give everyone love. They are friendly enough to get along well with people of all ages and even with animals of all types.

Though they don’t constantly have a barking issue, they do tend to have a higher barking level than some other breeds. They were bred to alert their owners of people or animals that may be approaching the area and because of this, it is in their genes. No worries, they won’t keep you up at night yapping, but they will let you know when someone or something is around!

Shih Tzus are very smart and eager to please. Those characteristics make them easily trainable and with a little work, they will listen to your commands in no time.

Among those things, Shih Tzus are highly adaptable to situations. Whether it be a new home, a new family, or a change in everyday schedule, this breed will have a little issue getting accustomed to the new lifestyle. As long as they have someone to give affection to and to get affection from, they will be happy!

Grooming Needs

Every breed of dog has grooming needs that are different from one breed to another. Shih Tzus have long hair that needs to be kept under control. A good thing about their long hair is that they don’t shed much so there isn’t much concern for hair being on all the furniture. On the other hand, grooming a Shih Tzu comes with the need for preparation.

It can sometimes cost a pretty penny to take a Shih Tzu to the groomers depending on how long the hair has gotten. It may be a better option to do the grooming at home. You will likely already have the brushing down pat because this breed needs to be brushed daily to keep its hair from getting matted. About once a month it will be time to bathe your dog and trim its nails.

Like any other dog, you will need to get specific shampoos and brushes that work for your Shih Tzu. Start by brushing out the hair to remove any tangles before washing their hair. Once the dog is washed, dried, and brushed, you can then use dog trimmers to remove the excess length of the hair.

Bathing and trimming may be done on a routinely basis or as needed. Sometimes your Shih Tzu may go on a digging adventure in the backyard and in those cases, it is OK to bathe them more than usual. If they aren’t too dirty you can simply wash their feet and wipe them down to get them through until the next set bath time. If you notice their hair is getting matted up but brushing doesn’t solve the issue, it may be time to trim their hair.


This small breed doesn’t require much exercise. Many dogs that were bred for physical work may need more exercise but not this pup. They were bred as a companion that would sit and watch the palace, so leisure is in their nature.

They need a maximum of up to 1-hour of physical exercise a day and once they hit that limit, they will likely sit complacent not wanting to move. Shih Tzus do, however, like to have more than one walk per day. Take note that if you do take them on multiple walks throughout the day, it is best to split them up with plenty of time for rest in between. Other than that, their typical playtime will be a sufficient amount of exercise.

Popular Shih Tzus

While there aren’t specific Shih Tzus that are famous for their own personal reasons, there are many famous people that own a Shih Tzu. People such as Beyonce, Bill gates, Mariah Carey, and many, many other celebrities have chosen this breed to be their loyal companion.

It has been said that the reason so many celebrities choose a Shih Tzu is not only because of their loving personality and their way of being the perfect family dog but also because of their size. This breed of dog is easy to care for, easy to pack around, and they don’t require much physical activity. Most of these people have to travel a lot or will stay in small places and having a Shih Tzu rather than a larger dog makes for an easy travel buddy.

Interesting Facts About Shih Tzus

If you have a Shih Tzu or have ever seen one, then you know that they are interesting canines from their looks and style down to their personality and what makes them the dogs that they are! Aside from their long hair and sweet personality there are some interesting facts that you may not have known about these cute pups.

The Shih Tzu breed was almost completely wiped out during the communist revolution. Between the revolution taking place in China and the death of the empress who supervised the breeding program, Shih Tzus almost disappeared. In the end, only 14 Shih Tzus (7 males and 7 females) remained which in turn kept this breed from disappearing forever.

After being imported from China to England and then to European countries, military personnel that had been stationed in Europe brought the Shih Tzus back with them to the United States. Because of this, Shih Tzus have been able to become one of the most glamorized breeds in the country today.

An interesting fact that may come as a surprise is that many Shih Tzus perform well in agility. Even so, many have won competitions and in 2014, the first Shih Tzu won an agility and a champion title!

Aside from being named “the lion dog,” Shih Tzus have another nickname, the “chrysanthemumfaced dog.” They are sometimes called this because their face hair grows in so many directions. It’s easily noticeable on Shih Tzus who are trimmed short. Once the hair on their face starts growing back it will stick up from their snout to in front of their eyes.

Wrap it Up

As mentioned before Shih Tzus are one of the most popular breeds on the market. From the very first time that they were brought to the USA and recognized by the AKC to now, the love for these dogs has only continued to rise. They may not be well-known for working the hardest, but they are well-known for their diligence and their desire to love everyone unconditionally.

This is the type of dog that you can load up and travel anywhere with and won’t have to worry about where they are going to fit. With their size and easy-going personality, it doesn’t take much to keep them entertained. They are the perfect side companion and you won’t ever regret bringing this breed into your family.

Popular Names for Shih Tzus

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