Shih Tzus are friendly and lively dogs with beautiful flowing double coats. They’re excellent companions that love attention and affection, which makes them highly popular.
Shih Tzus have a long ancestry and can trace their roots back to China and Tibet. In Mandarin Chinese, the name ShihTzu translates as ‘little lion or lion dog’ and they were popular within the Chinese Royal court.
They also have a long connection with Buddhism and for a long period in their history dwelt in religious temples and palaces.
The breed remained largely unknown to the West until the 20th Century which is when they first arrived in Europe. In 1933, the first Shih Tzus was shown in England alongside the Lhasa Apsos.
In China, the breed almost became extinct during the 20th Century following the takeover of the Chinese Communist party in 1949. A small number survived, and 14 Shih Tzus became the foundation of all Shih Tzu that now exist.
Shih Tzus are great dogs for families and children in particular. They’re easy to manage and control, and can happily live in a variety of different homes; from small flats to larger suburban houses.
Find out more about this lovable breed in our in-depth guide.
How much does Shih Tzu insurance cost?
According to ManyPets data, Shih Tzus cost an average of £346.86 per year to insure (based on data from March 2022). This makes Shih Tzu insurance quite affordable compared with other popular toy breeds like pugs (£518.85 a year to insure) and larger breeds like golden retrievers (£449.80).
In 2022, the average cost to insure a Shih Tzu with ManyPets was £330.08 Our average dog insurance cost for all our breeds was £412.25, so Shih Tzus on average cost less to insure compared to other breeds.
Shih Tzu training
Shih Tzus are extremely friendly lapdogs that love cuddles and attention. They’re a highly intelligent breed and can quickly be trained to sit, stay, and follow. All you need is a little patience.
Shih Tzus can be stubborn and aren’t always an easy breed to train. It can take some time and plenty of patience to socialise and toilet train them. Because they’re companion dogs, training should always involve lots of praise and rewards.
To house train your Shih Tzu properly, you’ll need to start as soon as they’re puppies. It’s best to take them outside regularly at first to minimise the risk of accidents and to help them associate relieving themselves with being outdoors. Have plenty of puppy pads ready around the house, though: they won’t always make it to the back door in time, even as trained adults.
If they do have an accident inside, it’s important not to shout. This increases a Shih Tzu’s anxiety, making them harder to train in the future.
Breed bad habits
While Shih Tzus are loyal companions and have plenty of personality of their own, which is fertile ground for some bad habits to crop up if left unchecked.
Here are a few you might expect from your Shih Tzu:
Disobedience — While other dogs may have problems with chewing, you may find your Shih Tzu is more problematic when it comes to barking or refusing to come to you when called. Shih Tzus can find it more challenging to ignore their own desires in favour of obeying you than other breeds might.
Barking — Shih Tzus are quite guarded and tend to bark when someone is near the house. Without the correct discipline at an early age, they can become quite vocal and loud, but even a trained Shih Tzu will find it difficult to restrain themselves from barking all the time. You may find they mellow as they get older though.
Jealousy — While Shih Tzus generally get along well with other dogs in the home if introduced early, they can become jealous if they feel other pets are receiving more attention. They may also struggle to share things like toys or food, and will put their foot down with other pets if they feel they’re being treated unfairly.
Training tips for Shih Tzus
One important thing to remember about Shih Tzus is that they have a clear idea about what they want.
Discipline should start early and remain consistent. Even a well-behaved Shih Tzu will take its opportunity to get up to mischief if given the chance!
Shih Tzus will be easiest to train when they feel secure and cared for. That means plenty of cuddles and praise when it’s warranted. They’re very affectionate, and owners should tap into this when it comes to training. Focus should be on rewarding good behaviours, rather than punishing bad ones.
Shih Tzu gender differences
Female Shih Tzus
Female Shih Tzus are fairly small and have an average weight of about 5.5 kg. Like most toy breeds, they reach maturity quickly at about 10 months of age.
Females also tend to have more of a stubborn streak and can be possessive, demanding attention from their owners. This can also make them more challenging to train compared to other breeds but patience and lots of positive reinforcement will help particularly if they are reluctant to follow instructions.
Female Shih Tzu size
Height: 20-28 centimetres (8-11 inches)
Weight: 4-7 kilograms (9-16 pounds)
Length: 38-44 centimetres (15-18 inches)
Male Shih Tzus
Height: 20-28 centimetres (8-11 inches)
Weight: 4-7 kilograms (9-16 pounds)
Length: 38-44 centimetres (15-18 inches)
Male Shih Tzus come in at roughly the same size and weight as females: unlike other dog breeds, there’s no clear difference between the two.
Males are also often more eager to please their owners than females, making them more likely to follow instructions. They can however get distracted more easily, so patience and consistency are key when training.
Arthritis — Arthritis is a condition that can cause significant pain in the hip joints in old age from wear and tear. It’s primarily a genetic disease, but lifestyle problems like a lack of exercise and a poor diet increase the chances. Shih Tzus are prone to this condition because they are chondrodystrophic (have short legs and a long back). They often have joint issues in their elbows, wrists, and knees due to their abnormal leg shape. Mild arthritis can be treated with an adjusted diet and medication, while more severe conditions may require extensive physiotherapy or even surgery to treat.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) — IVDD affects dogs with short legs and long backs, so Shih Tzus are an at-risk breed for this condition. It occurs when a disc slips out from between two vertebrae and presses on the spinal cord. It can cause muscle spasms and can even render your Shih Tzu unable to walk. It typically affects Shih Tzus when they’re between 3 and 6 years old. While there’s no cure for IVDD, it can be treated with rest, followed by physical therapy and medication. Extreme cases may warrant surgery and may be needed on an emergency basis.
Canine chronic bronchitis — This disease affects the major airways/lungs and is most common in small dogs like Shih Tzus. The condition creates inflammation in the airways and can leave permanent damage, getting progressively worse over time and decreasing your dog’s life expectancy. It can be made worse by cigarette smoke inhalation and airborne allergens, so Shih Tzu owners would do well to keep the air of their home free of either. Canine chronic bronchitis can’t be cured but it can be managed with medication and weight control.
Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) — Shih Tzus are technically classed as a brachycephalic breed, meaning they have short noses and flat faces. Therefore, they are at risk of breathing problems. If you notice any coughing, excessive panting, or your dog struggling to breathe, you should take them to the vet immediately. Surgery may be required to improve airflow through the nostrils.
Renal dysplasia — Renal dysplasia is a condition that can affect your dog’s kidneys while they’re still developing, which causes them to grow abnormally with limited function in adulthood. Early symptoms can be spotted between 6 months and 2 years old. Sadly, Shih Tzus with this disease normally have a significantly reduced lifespan.
Ocular diseases — As a brachycephalic breed, the globes and orbits of a Shih Tzus’ eyes stick out slightly. Therefore, they are more prone than other breeds to developing eye conditions like keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), also known as dry eye, glaucoma, and ulcers. It’s best to seek medical assistance as soon as possible, as some conditions can lead to blindness if not taken care of. Most ocular diseases can be treated with eyedrops provided by your vet.
Allergic skin disease — Shih Tzus are susceptible to developing skin allergies which commonly affect their feet, folds in the skin, eyes, stomach, and ears. Symptoms such as scratching or biting the skin, redness, loss of hair, or licking usually show up between the ages of one and three. Your vet may prescribe medication to alleviate the problem.
“Shih Tzus can be prone to certain health conditions, such as eye problems, skin allergies, and breathing issues,” says Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS.
“To reduce the risk of these health conditions, it's important for owners to keep up with regular vet visits and to provide a quality diet for their Shih Tzu. Additionally, ensure they’re getting enough exercise, as this helps to keep the dog at a healthy weight.”
Shih Tzu colours and variants
Colours and breed variants
There are three main types of Shih Tzu:
European Shih Tzu — A purebred Shih Tzu originally recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 1946. European Shih Tzus have round heads with large eyes and a wide stance. Their front legs bend back slightly.
American Shih Tzu — Another purebred, recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1969. American Shih Tzus look similar to their European counterparts, but their heads are square-shaped and they have a narrower frame.
Imperial Shih Tzu — These Shih Tzus are not purebred and are typically slightly smaller than American or European Shih Tzus.
Teacup Shih Tzu — There are no significant differences between Imperial and Teacup Shih Tzus other than their size: Teacup Shih Tzus are a lot smaller. The word “teacup” simply refers to their size, rather than any uniquely bred traits.
Caring for Shih Tzus
Shih Tzus don’t need as much exercise compared to larger dogs, which makes them ideal for owners with less active lifestyles or who may have challenges with their mobility. 2-3 short walks a day lasting between 15-20 minutes each will be ideal.
While Shih Tzus can cope with longer walks too, it’s not recommended to take them out for more than 30 minutes at once. They’re also not well equipped to run with you, reaching top running speeds of just 6 miles per hour.
Shih Tzu puppies have a high metabolism, so you’ll need to feed them quality food in small portions frequently throughout the day.
It’s essential to get the balance of nutrients right for your Shih Tzu as they grow. Speaking to a vet for feeding advice can help you develop a plan for balanced meals that leads to a happy, healthy dog.
Shih Tzus need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep per day, though they’ll split this between several daytime naps and a longer stint at night. Adult Shih Tzus can sleep a full eight hours a night — just remember to let them out just before bed so their small bladders don’t wake them.
“Shih Tzus can live long, fulfilling lives if they’re cared for properly from an early age,” says Dr Kirsten Ronngren. “Puppies, in particular, need a precise balance of nutrition and exercise to ensure they grow into healthy adults.”
“If in doubt, always speak with a vet or certified veterinary nutritionist about how you should feed or exercise your Shih Tzu; qualified professionals can help shape your daily routine so your pet gets everything they need.”
Shih Tzu temperament
How good are Shih Tzus with kids?
Adult Shih Tzus are typically very good with kids, even younger children as they’re both playful and affectionate.
However, they don’t tolerate rough play well, so adults should supervise Shih Tzus around children who tend to be exuberant. Shih Tzus can become easily frustrated and may bark or growl if they feel they’re being roughly handled, which is a handy warning sign that they need some downtime.
How affectionate are Shih Tzus?
Shih Tzus are incredibly affectionate; they were actually bred for that purpose. They make excellent companions and love being in their family’s company. They’ll also be friendly towards strangers, which is ideal for families who regularly host guests.
Remember, Shih Tzus still appreciate slow and calm introductions to new people, but if you respect their space, they can make friends quickly!
How territorial are Shih Tzus?
Both male and female Shih Tzus can be highly territorial dogs. They’re protective of their home and family, which can sometimes result in excessive barking and high sensitivity to passersby.
Though the barking can be grating, the good news is that Shih Tzus aren’t usually defensive once someone enters their home, and will often settle down with your friends quickly.
How friendly are Shih Tzus with other dogs?
Shih Tzus generally get on well with other dogs. They’re normally amicable and inquisitive towards other dogs.
However, Shih Tzus can be quite nervous, especially as many dogs are a lot bigger than them. If another dog attacks a Shih Tzu, they can be wary for years afterwards and may become extremely guarded towards dogs they don’t know. For the good of their psychological health, it’s important that you socialise your Shih Tzu only with dogs you know and trust.
How much will Shih Tzus tolerate other pets?
While Shih Tzus have been known to get on with other pets like cats, they’re quite independent creatures, so their like (or dislike) of other pets will vary.
How much attention do Shih Tzus need?
Shih Tzus are highly sociable and can feel lonely if left by themselves, which is why some recommend getting Shih Tzus in pairs.
They shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time; they may start to whine for their owners or exhibit destructive behaviours due to stress. For this reason, Shih Tzus do better in homes where their owners will be home for the majority of the day.
Shih Tzu coat and grooming
Shih Tzus have a double coat, which means it's made up of two distinct layers: a soft, feathery undercoat, and a longer, finer top coat.
Shih Tzus shed very little compared to other breeds with double coats: you won’t see more than occasional hair on your carpet.
One exception to this rule is when your Shih Tzu reaches about 10 months old, when they shed their puppy coat to make way for their adult coat. You might also find they shed a bit more after they’ve been brushed, but only because brushing dislodges loose hairs trapped between the coats.
How often do I need to groom a Shih Tzu?
You should brush your Shih Tzu every day if you can, or at least every two or three days. Because they have thick double coats, dirt and grit can get caught in their fur, or it can get tangled if left to grow long.
Shih Tzu fur can grow long enough to impede their vision, so you should schedule regular appointments with a groomer.
Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?
While Shih Tzus shed very little, which can be great for people with allergies, they’re not completely hypoallergenic because they still produce dander. Dander is the tiny dead skin cells that get caught in fur and can trigger reactions in people with allergies.
Shih Tzu bark sound
Shih Tzus are very vocal dogs and can bark whenever they want to communicate with you. That could be anything from asking you to play with them to alerting you to a threat (often a stranger walking by the front door). They may even bark as a warning to let you know that they want to be left alone.
Shih Tzus may also communicate with high-pitched whining if they’re upset or growling if they’re annoyed. Because they’re so expressive, you’ll quickly learn what the different types of sounds mean.
Because they have thick, curly coats, you should aim to bathe your Shih Tzu every three weeks or so to keep them clean. This helps prevent bad smells and keeps your Shih Tzu’s hair and skin healthy too.
When is a Shih Tzu fully grown?
Shih Tzus reach their adult size by about 10 months, which is standard amongst most toy breeds. They usually take a few more months to reach full maturity. You can tell if a Shih Tzu is fully grown when they appear slightly longer than they are tall. Their tails will curve over their back as well.