The Shih Tzu is a friendly, happy, and outgoing companion dog. The breed has a long history and can trace its roots back to Tibet and China.
The Shih Tzu we see today was originally bred in China during the 17th Century and descends from a mix between the Pekingese and Lhasa Apso breeds. In Mandarin Chinese, the name Shih Tzu translates as “little lion” or “lion dog.” Shih Tzus were popular within the Chinese Royal court.
The breed remained largely unknown to the West until the 20th Century when the first Shih Tzus arrived in Europe. In 1933, the breed was first shown in England alongside the Lhasa Apso breed.
Shih Tzus nearly became extinct in China 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 Tzus that now exist.
The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969.
Shih Tzu Temperament and Characteristics
Shih Tzus are an affectionate, lively, and sweet-natured companion breed. They love to be petted and pampered and are happiest when spending time with their family and giving (and receiving) lots of attention.
As small dogs, they’re capable of living in a variety of different homes, from small apartments to larger houses. They don’t mind where they live as long as they’re with their owner. Like other companion breeds, they can develop separation anxiety and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time.
They make great family pets and are loyal and affectionate toward their owners. They’re good with children in general, though they’re perhaps a bit better suited to older children. Regardless of age, it’s important to introduce pets and children in a positive way so they can interact safely.
Shih Tzus aren’t always an easy breed to train. It can take some time, and plenty of patience to socialize and potty train them. Because they’re companion dogs, training should always involve lots of praise and rewards.
When it comes to exercise, Shih Tzus aren’t an overly active breed. But like all dogs, they do need some form of exercise. 20 to 30 minutes of play and exercise each day should be enough. Shih Tzus aren’t always thrilled to go on long walks; after 30 minutes, you may find that they’ve had enough and want to go home or at least do something else.
Shih Tzus are a flat-faced breed, and dogs with this feature are known as “brachycephalic.” Shih Tzus and other flat-faced breeds are known to be loud snorers and can sometimes have problems managing their own body temperature, which leads to heavy panting.
Shih Tzu Coats and Colors
Shih Tzus’ glossy double coats make them instantly recognizable. Their coats come in a variety of colors. The most common breed standard colors include:
Black and White
Brindle and White
Gold and White
Gold Brindle and White
Gray and White
Grooming a Shih Tzu
Owning a Shih Tzu can involve a great deal of grooming, so be prepared!
The coat and undercoat require a lot of daily grooming just to keep them in good condition. Their hair grows quite quickly, and they’ll need regular haircuts. Keeping their coats trimmed and relatively short makes them much easier to maintain and groom.
This short style is known as the “puppy cut” and is a popular choice for Shih Tzu owners. There is also the “teddy bear,” which is similar to the “puppy cut” but accompanied by a rounder face.
You may want to take your Shih Tzu to the groomer instead of handling grooming at home. How often you do so will depend on the length of their coat. As a general rule, you should be taking them to a groomer once every four to six weeks — but it will ultimately depend on your particular circumstances and the needs of your particular dog.
When it comes to grooming, there are lots of different cuts and styles to choose from, depending on how long or short you want your Shih Tzu’s coat to be. A groomer can suggest some ideas for a style that suits both you and your pup.
Pet Insurance for Shih Tzus
Shih Tzus are cheaper than many other breeds to insure. In fact, Shih Tzus are one of the cheapest types of purebred dogs to insure in the US. In 2022, the average ManyPets premium for Shih Tzus was $31 per month. That's less than the average 2022 premium across all dog breeds and ages, which was $37 per month.
This low cost says a lot about just how healthy Shih Tzus tend to be since breeds that are more prone to health conditions tend to cost more to insure.
(Keep in mind, these are just averages based on data from all customer premiums. Your pet's age and location will heavily affect your monthly price, and your pet's premium may differ from the average — get a quote here!)
Just remember: It’s a good idea to purchase dog insurance when your Shih Tzu is still young. That way, you're far less likely to encounter any pre-existing condition exclusions, and your dog will still be covered if conditions develop later in their life.
Shih Tzu Health Conditions
Despite the breed’s relatively low insurance costs, Shih Tzus do suffer from a few common health conditions. In 2022, the average claim ManyPets received for Shih Tzus was $381 — but we received Shih Tzu claims that ran as high as about $5,700. Here are some common Shih Tzu health conditions you should be aware of:
Corneal Ulcers and Eye Injuries
It’s common for Shih Tzus to develop eye problems. Many brachycephalic breeds are prone to corneal ulcers and eye injuries. Their eyes can easily be scratched and injured by dirt and debris. If you notice your Shih Tzu is squinting or their eyes look red and are tearing up, this is a common sign they’re suffering from this condition.
Corneal ulcers and injuries can easily be treated with medication, but if left unchecked, they can lead to more serious eye problems and even blindness.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Shih Tzus can have sensitive tummies and sometimes suffer from vomiting and diarrhea (which often occur simultaneously). In 2022, ManyPets received Shih Tzu claims for vomiting and diarrhea (occurring together) that ran as high as about $650.
Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea can signal even more severe stomach problems. In 2022, we received Shih Tzu claims for gastroenteritis that ran as high as about $3,000. Make sure you're not overfeeding your Shih Tzu and that you're giving them food on a regular schedule — that is, at roughly the same times every day.
Gait Abnormality (Lameness)
Shih Tzus can also suffer from mobility issues. Conditions such as luxating patella and hip and elbow dysplasia can often lead to lameness. In 2022, ManyPets received Shih Tzu claims for lameness that ran as high as about $1,000.
Luxating patella is a condition where the kneecap (patella) slips in and out of the groove it’s meant to sit in. When the patella dislocates out of this groove, it can stop the knee from extending properly. You’ll find that many small breeds suffer from this condition. Surgery for luxating patella can be expensive, costing anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 per knee.
Hip and elbow dysplasia occur when the ball and socket in the joint don’t fit or develop properly. They rub and grind instead of sliding smoothly, and the joint starts to deteriorate and lose function. The equivalent condition in the elbow is called elbow dysplasia.
Surgery for hip or elbow dysplasia can regularly cost over $3,500 for each hip or elbow that's operated on.
Making a lot of noise while breathing, even when resting
Difficulty with sleeping (often snoring while sleeping)
BOAS is linked to the brachycephalic head shape and normally affects other flat-faced breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and British Bulldogs. Treating the condition often requires costly surgery that can run anywhere from $500 to $1500.
If you're buying a Shih Tzu puppy, you should ask the breeder if the parents have been health tested. A reputable breeder will be able to provide you with health screening results and advice about your pup and its parents. That way, you’ll be aware of any conditions that may affect their health.
Shih Tzu popularity
Frequently asked questions about Shih Tzus
How many puppies can Shih Tzus have at a time?
On average, Shi Tzu litters will consist of about three to four puppies.
Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?
Shih Tzus shed very little and are as hypoallergenic as any dog can be. No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic.
"Hypoallergenic" refers to those dog breeds with low-shedding coats which produce less dander. Dander is material shed from the body of animals with fur. The allergens found in dander can cause allergic reactions in people with allergies.
Do all Shih Tzus bark a lot?
Shih Tzus have a reputation for barking a lot. Although they’re considered a companion breed, they were also bred to alert their owners to any visitors, and this natural instinct remains.
The amount of barking will depend on their individual personalities and training. In most cases barking is not random, but triggered by a particular situation.
Common barking triggers include other dogs and visitors at the door. If barking becomes excessive, you can introduce training methods to help your Shih Tzu stop barking when it isn’t necessary.