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Shih Tzu


The Shih Tzu, also known as the Chinese Lion Dog, the Lhasa Lion Dog, the Chrysanthemum-Faced Dog or the Chrysanthemum Dog, is an ancient breed dating back to 600 A.D. "Shih Tzu" means "lion." These are docile, intelligent dogs. They have always been primarily companion dogs, and their happy dispositions reflect this today. The Shih Tzu was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969, as a member of the Toy Group.

The mature Shih Tzu should be 9 to 10½ inches at the withers, but not less than 8 or more than 11 inches. Adults of this breed typically weigh between 9 and 16 pounds. The most recognizable thing about the Shih Tzu is its appearance: it has a flowing double coat that falls to the ground, and a tail that folds up over the back. The hair on the top of its head is typically tied up with a ribbon or bow. All colors and markings are permitted in this breed.

History & Health

History & Origin

The origin of the Shih Tzu dates back many centuries to ancient China and Tibet. It is thought that the breed developed by crossing miniature Chinese breeds with small Tibetan breeds – in particular, Lhasa Apsos with the Pekingese. The Shih Tzu was always a favorite of the Emperors of China. During the Tang Dynasty, a pair of these dogs were said to be given to the Chinese court by the king of Vigur. More were sent later by the people of the Ho Chou. In the mid-1600s, small dogs which resembled lions were brought from Tibet to China, and these dogs were used to develop the Shih Tzu breed we know today. The Shih Tzu was popular during the Ming Dynasty as well, favored by royalty and commoners alike.

The breed was favored by the Dowager Empress Cixi (T'zu His, 1861–1908). After her death, the palace kennels were dispersed and the dogs became rare. In 1912, once China became a republic, occasional Shih Tzus came to England and later to Norway and North America. The breed almost became extinct in 1949 due to the Communist takeover. Thankfully, several breed fanciers kept their dogs, and it is thought that only 7 dogs and 7 bitches are the foundation of all Shih Tzus today.

The Shih Tzu did not become well known to the western world until the 20th century, when it finally entered the show ring. The Peking Kennel Club was formed in 1934 and held its first international breed show that year. Lhasa Apsos and Lhasa Lion Dogs were entered and judged together, with clearly there being confusion between the two breeds. A standard for the Shih Tzu was developed by 1938, with the help of Madame de Breuil, a Russian refugee. This is reportedly the most poetic of all standards written for any breed. Here are some of its comments: "The head of a lion; the round face of an owl; the lustrous eyes of a dragon; the oval tongue of a peony petal; the mouth of a frog; teeth like grains of rice; ears like palm-leaves; the torso of a bear; the broad back of a tiger; the tail of a phoenix; the legs of an elephant; toes like a mountain range; a yellow coat like a camel; and the movement of a goldfish."

In the early days of this breed, the golden yellow dogs were called Chin Chia Huang Pao; the yellow dogs with a white mane were called Chin Pan To Yueh (meaning "golden basin upholding the moon"), black and white dogs were called Wu Yun Kai Hsueh (meaning "black clouds over snow"), solid black dogs were called Yi Ting Mo (meaning "lump of ink"), and multicolored dogs were called Hua Tse (meaning "flowery child.").

Breeding of Shih Tzus in England began in 1930, when several pairs of the breed were brought there from China. In particular, a black and white Shih Tzu named Lung Fu Ssu arrived in Ireland in 1930, and a black and white pair named Hibo and Shu Ssa came to England the same year. In 1932, one dog and two bitches were brought to Norway. When the Shih Tzus were shown against the Lhasa Apsos starting in 1933, it became clear that the two dogs were different breeds. The Shih Tzu Club of England was formed in 1935, and recognized that the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu were entirely separate breeds. The Lhasa Apso has a narrower skull and a longer muzzle, while the Shih Tzu has a rounder skull and a shorter muzzle.

American soldiers became fond of this breed during World War II and brought some back to the United States. Many more Shih Tzus were imported after this, once the American dog fancier population became enamored with them. The Shih Tzu was recognized in the Stud Book of the American Kennel Club in March of 1969. It began competing in the Toy Group in September of that same year.

The Shih Tzu has always been a companion dog, being extroverted, vivacious, confident and dignified. Its friendly, affectionate and trusting personality towards family and strangers alike is one of its most endearing qualities.

Health Characteristics

The average life span of the Shih Tzu is 11 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include the following:

Cleft Palate
Dental Problems: Diseases and disorders affecting the dog's mouth
Eye Problems: Issues relating to the dog's vision and/or ability to see
Hypothyroidism: a clinical syndrome caused by inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
Invertebral Disk Disease: Neurological deficits caused by degeneration and displacement of the material inside an intervertebral disk

Temperament & Personality


The name Shih Tzu means "little lion," but these love bugs are anything but fierce and ferocious. This breed is one of the best all-around breeds: they can live in any sized home, get along well with other pets, are excellent for families, single people and make ideal companions for the elderly; they are generally well behaved, are fairly easy to train and are cute as little buttons with their unique underbite. Shih Tzu owners love this quote by American composer James Mumsford, which they think accurately depicts the Shih Tzu, "... a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit, a couple of ounces of domestic cat, one part court jester, a dash of ballerina, a pinch of old man, a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part baby seal, (and) a dash of teddy bear."
Activity Requirements

Shih Tzus are lap dogs and are by no means active, outdoorsy dogs. A simple walk around the block and some romping time in the yard or at the park are enough to meet their daily exercise requirements. They much prefer clowning around the house or curling up on a lap to a rigorous cardio workout. Their size makes them ideal for apartments and condominiums, but they can be just as happy in sprawling estates.

Shih Tzus can be a handful to train, but once they realize there are rewards involved, generally come around rather quickly. They can stubborn and won't do anything unless they know what's in it for them. Training should begin early, sessions should be kept short, and activities should be varied in order to keep the dog interested in what is going on. Lots of excited praise and treats can help motivate a Shih Tzu to learn new behavior.

Housebreaking a Shih Tzu can take six to eight months, or longer depending on the dog. Crate training can help speed the process, but some owners prefer the breeder housebreak the dog before bringing him home.
Behavioral Traits

Shih Tzus make excellent watchdogs. They are alert, vigilant and will reliably bark when someone approaches his house. If not properly trained, however, a Shih Tzu's barking can quickly get out of hand. Training must include lessons on obeying commands to cease barking.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Shih Tzu is a sturdy, lively, alert toy dog with long flowing double coat. Befitting his noble Chinese ancestry as a highly valued, prized companion and palace pet, the Shih Tzu is proud of bearing, has a distinctively arrogant carriage with head well up and tail curved over the back. Although there has always been considerable size variation, the Shih Tzu must be compact, solid, carrying good weight and substance.

Even though a toy dog, the Shih Tzu must be subject to the same requirements of soundness and structure prescribed for all breeds, and any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Shih Tzu as in any other breed, regardless of whether or not such faults are specifically mentioned in the standard.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Size - Ideally, height at withers is 9 to 10½ inches; but, not less than 8 inches nor more than 11 inches. Ideally, weight of mature dogs, 9 to 16 pounds. Proportion - Length between withers and root of tail is slightly longer than height at withers. The Shih Tzu must never be so high stationed as to appear leggy, nor so low stationed as to appear dumpy or squatty. Substance - Regardless of size, the Shih Tzu is always compact, solid and carries good weight and substance.

Head - Round, broad, wide between eyes, its size in balance with the overall size of dog being neither too large nor too small. Fault: Narrow head, close-set eyes. Expression - Warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly and trusting. An overall well-balanced and pleasant expression supersedes the importance of individual parts. Care should be taken to look and examine well beyond the hair to determine if what is seen is the actual head and expression rather than an image created by grooming technique. Eyes - Large, round, not prominent, placed well apart, looking straight ahead. Very dark. Lighter on liver pigmented dogs and blue pigmented dogs. Fault: Small, close-set or light eyes; excessive eye white. Ears - Large, set slightly below crown of skull; heavily coated. Skull - Domed. Stop - There is a definite stop. Muzzle - Square, short, unwrinkled, with good cushioning, set no lower than bottom eye rim; never downturned. Ideally, no longer than 1 inch from tip of nose to stop, although length may vary slightly in relation to overall size of dog. Front of muzzle should be flat; lower lip and chin not protruding and definitely never receding. Fault: Snipiness, lack of definite stop. Nose - Nostrils are broad, wide, and open. Pigmentation - Nose, lips, eye rims are black on all colors, except liver on liver pigmented dogs and blue on blue pigmented dogs. Fault: Pink on nose, lips, or eye rims. Bite - Undershot. Jaw is broad and wide. A missing tooth or slightly misaligned teeth should not be too severely penalized. Teeth and tongue should not show when mouth is closed. Fault: Overshot bite.

Neck, Topline, Body
Of utmost importance is an overall well-balanced dog with no exaggerated features. Neck - Well set-on flowing smoothly into shoulders; of sufficient length to permit natural high head carriage and in balance with height and length of dog. Topline - Level. Body -Short-coupled and sturdy with no waist or tuck-up. The Shih Tzu is slightly longer than tall. Fault: Legginess. Chest -Broad and deep with good spring-of-rib, however, not barrel-chested. Depth of ribcage should extend to just below elbow. Distance from elbow to withers is a little greater than from elbow to ground. Croup - Flat. Tail - Set on high, heavily plumed, carried in curve well over back. Too loose, too tight, too flat, or too low set a tail is undesirable and should be penalized to extent of deviation.

Shoulders - Well-angulated, well laid-back, well laid-in, fitting smoothly into body. Legs - Straight, well-boned, muscular, set well-apart and under chest, with elbows set close to body. Pasterns - Strong, perpendicular. Dewclaws - May be removed. Feet - Firm, well-padded, point straight ahead.

Angulation of hindquarters should be in balance with forequarters. Legs - Well-boned, muscular, and straight when viewed from rear with well-bent stifles, not close set but in line with forequarters. Hocks - Well let down, perpendicular. Fault: Hyperextension of hocks. Dewclaws - May be removed. Feet - Firm, well-padded, point straight ahead.

Coat - Luxurious, double-coated, dense, long, and flowing. Slight wave permissible. Hair on top of head is tied up. Fault: Sparse coat, single coat, curly coat. Trimming - Feet, bottom of coat, and anus may be done for neatness and to facilitate movement. Fault: Excessive trimming.

Color and Markings
All are permissible and to be considered equally.

The Shih Tzu moves straight and must be shown at its own natural speed, neither raced nor strung-up, to evaluate its smooth, flowing, effortless movement with good front reach and equally strong rear drive, level topline, naturally high head carriage, and tail carried in gentle curve over back.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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