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The Shih Tzu: Complete Dog Breed Information Guide - PawSafe

The Shih Tzu: Complete Dog Breed Information Guide

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

The Shih Tzu

Welcome to the delightful world of the Shih Tzu, a breed as regal as it is charming. Known as the “Lion Dog,” these dogs bring a playful personality wrapped in a flowing mane and have a history that echoes through the highlands of Tibet. This guide will explore everything from the Shih Tzu’s affectionate nature to their moderate grooming needs, making it essential reading for anyone considering this breed as a new family member.

Originally treasured as royal gifts for the Chinese court, the Shih Tzu has a rich heritage that began in Tibet alongside breeds like the Tibetan Spaniel and Lhasa Apso. By the early 1930s, they had charmed their way into England and by the late 1950s, into the hearts of dog lovers in the United States. Recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1966, the Shih Tzu’s popularity has only grown, thanks to their enduring appeal as companionable pets.

This article, supported by expert insights and in-depth Shih Tzu research, offers a comprehensive look at what it means to live with a Shih Tzu. From understanding their unique needs to appreciating their historical significance, we’ll help you decide if a Shih Tzu is the right addition to your family. Whether you’re drawn to their loyal companionship or their storied past, this guide will provide everything you need to know about these enchanting dogs.

Shih Tzu Keypoints

  1. Shih Tzus typically weigh between 9 to 16 pounds (4 to 7.25 kilograms) and stand about 9 to 10.5 inches (23 to 27 centimeters) tall at the shoulder.
  2. This breed can sport a long, luxurious coat that requires significant grooming or can be kept in a shorter “puppy cut” for easier maintenance.
  3. Often referred to as “teacup” due to their smaller size, Imperial Shih Tzus are not officially recognized as a separate breed but are generally lighter and smaller than the breed standard.
  4. Shih Tzus are known for their affectionate and friendly nature, making them excellent companions and family pets.
  5. They have low to moderate exercise requirements, making them ideal for apartment living or homes without a yard.
  6. Common health issues include respiratory problems due to their brachycephalic (flat-faced) nature, as well as eye issues and joint problems.
  7. With proper care, Shih Tzus typically enjoy a lifespan of about 10 to 16 years, providing long-term companionship.

Is a Shih Tzu Right for Me? Pros and Cons

Cute Shih Tzu bow in hair looking up at camera what the pros and cons of having a Shih Tzu Dog

Shih Tzus are excellent candidates for apartment living due to their small size and relatively low exercise needs. They thrive in cozy spaces where they can stay close to their owners. Their calm demeanor and quiet nature make them ideal companions for those with limited space. 

As one Shih Tzu owner, Jamie, shares, “My Shih Tzu, Lola, loves our small apartment. She’s happy as long as she’s by my side, and she doesn’t need a lot of room to feel content.”

Family Compatibility: Kids and Other Pets

Shih Tzus are known for their affectionate and friendly temperament, making them fantastic family pets. They generally do well with children, often forming strong bonds with younger family members. However, due to their small size, interactions with very young children should be supervised to prevent accidental injuries. 

As for other pets, Shih Tzus usually get along well with other animals, especially if they are raised together. An owner, Anita, remarks, “Our Shih Tzu, Max, is gentle with our kids and even gets along with our cat. He’s truly a part of the family.”

Pros and Cons of Having A Shih Tzu

Here’s a comprehensive table of the pros and cons of owning a Shih Tzu:

Low to Moderate Exercise Needs: Ideal for apartments and indoor living.High Maintenance Grooming: Requires regular grooming sessions.
Low Shedding: Sheds less than many other breeds, good for keeping the house clean.Not Good When Left Alone: Prone to separation anxiety if left alone for long periods.
Allergy Friendly: Less likely to trigger allergies (though no dog is truly hypoallergenic).Can Be Stinky: May develop odors without proper grooming, dental care, and if infections are present.
Highly Affectionate Lapdog: Loves cuddling and close contact with their owners.Dental Issues: Susceptible to dental problems which require regular care.
Great for Families: Friendly and adaptable with children and other pets.Potential for Health Issues: Like many purebreds, may have breed-specific health challenges.
Suitable for Older People or Those with Physical Disabilities: Their calm and manageable size makes them excellent companions.Can be Stubborn: Training can sometimes be a challenge due to their stubborn streak.

Caring for a Shih Tzu’s Coat & Grooming Needs

Shih Tzu dog being groomed how to take care of dog's coat

Shih Tzus are celebrated for their long, luxurious coats that require consistent care to maintain their splendor and health. Here’s a guide to essential grooming practices that will keep your Shih Tzu looking and feeling great.

Daily Brushing

Regular grooming sessions are not just about keeping your Shih Tzu’s coat looking good — they’re crucial to preventing matting and the stress or trauma that can come from trying to untangle a neglected coat. Start by brushing your dog daily to remove tangles and prevent mats from forming, especially around the ears, collar area, armpits, and tail.


Before bathing, thoroughly brush out any debris, knots, or tangles. This helps prevent knots from tightening when wet, which can cause discomfort.

Bathing Steps:

  1. Prep the Bath

    Lay a rubber mat in the tub to prevent slipping and protect the surface. Place all necessary supplies within reach — shampoo, conditioner, a sponge, and towels.

  2. Protect the Ears

    Put cotton balls in your Shih Tzu’s ears to prevent water from entering.

  3. Wet the Coat

    Use lukewarm water and a spray attachment or pitcher to thoroughly wet your dog’s coat down to the skin.

  4. Apply Shampoo

    Start at the head and work your way down. Use your fingers to lather and clean the coat, avoiding circular motions to prevent tangling.

  5. Rinse Thoroughly

    Ensure all shampoo is rinsed out to prevent irritation. Rinse twice if necessary.

  6. Condition

    Apply conditioner and rinse it out thoroughly unless it’s a leave-in type.

Drying and Hair Care

After bathing, wrap your Shih Tzu in a towel to absorb excess water. Use a hairdryer on a cool setting to dry the coat, directing the airflow in the direction of hair growth to avoid damage and breakage. For long-haired dogs, avoid rubbing with the towel to prevent tangles.

Professional Grooming

While at-home care is essential, professional grooming is recommended for trimming and maintaining the coat, especially for show dogs or those with particularly long hair. Professional groomers can also handle deeper cleaning of sensitive areas like the tail pocket and facial wrinkles.

Eye Care

Due to their protruding eyes, Shih Tzus are prone to issues like tear staining and eye infections. Daily cleaning of the eye area with a warm, damp cloth can help prevent buildup and check for any signs of infection or irritation.

Implementing a regular grooming routine not only keeps your Shih Tzu looking good but also ensures their comfort and health, helping to avoid future complications that can arise from neglect.

Training Your Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus may be small, but their personalities are anything but. Training these lively little dogs requires patience and consistency, particularly when it comes to managing their sometimes enthusiastic barking and ensuring they adhere to obedience skills.

Gentle and Positive Reinforcement

The key to successful training of a Shih Tzu lies in a gentle approach. Harsh methods can frighten and shut down these sensitive dogs. Instead, use positive reinforcement with plenty of praise and treats. This approach not only makes training sessions enjoyable but also motivates your Shih Tzu to learn eagerly. Remember, a happy dog is an attentive and responsive student.

Addressing Barking

Shih Tzus can be vocal, and while their barking might sometimes be endearing, it can also be excessive. Training your Shih Tzu to manage their barking begins with understanding the triggers. 

Are they barking at passersby, out of boredom, or because they’re anxious? Once you identify the cause, you can address it with specific training techniques like redirecting their attention or teaching them the “quiet” command in a firm yet calm voice.

Basic Commands

Training should start as soon as your puppy settles into their new home. Focus on essential commands such as “come,” “sit,” and “stay.”

 These not only enhance safety but also reinforce your role as the pack leader, establishing a bond and clear communication between you and your Shih Tzu. Consistency with these commands creates a framework for a well-behaved dog.

Leash Training

Introduce your Shih Tzu to a leash early, using positive reinforcement to make this a rewarding experience. Begin with short, enjoyable walks, gradually increasing in duration. Ensure the leash is comfortable and keep sessions playful and relaxed to associate leash time with positive outcomes.

Consistency and Patience

Consistent training sessions are crucial. Shih Tzus, with their somewhat stubborn streak, require regular reinforcement of rules and training.

 Make training sessions short, fun, and rewarding. If a session doesn’t go as planned, it’s okay — patience is key. Over time, your Shih Tzu will learn what is expected.


Do not overlook the importance of socializing your Shih Tzu. Exposure to different environments, people, and other animals is crucial. Socialization helps mitigate skittishness and aggression, making your Shih Tzu a well-rounded and sociable pet.

Training a Shih Tzu is about more than just teaching tricks; it’s about creating a harmonious relationship. With the right training techniques, you can ensure your Shih Tzu is not only well-behaved but also a joyful and integral part of your family.

Best Dog Food for Shih Tzus

Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining the health and vitality of your Shih Tzu. Given their specific dietary needs, choosing the right dog food is crucial. Here are recommendations for high-quality dog foods that ensure your Shih Tzu receives all the necessary nutrients for a long and healthy life.

Nutritional Requirements

Shih Tzus, like all dogs, thrive on a balanced diet rich in quality protein. Since they are a small breed, they require foods that support their energy levels without leading to weight gain. Look for dog foods that list high-quality meat proteins as the first ingredient. Suitable protein sources include chicken, lamb, fish, and beef.

Given their small size, Shih Tzus also benefit from small kibble sizes that are easier for them to chew and digest. Furthermore, because they are prone to dental issues, kibble designed to help reduce plaque and tartar can be particularly beneficial.

Recommended Dog Food Brands For Shih Tzus

Here are some of the best dog foods to feed your Shih Tzu:

Royal Canin Shih Tzu Adult

Specially formulated for Shih Tzus, this food includes omega-3 fatty acids to support skin health and an adapted protein content to maintain muscle tone.

Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws for Small Breeds

Ideal for maintaining a healthy weight, this food provides high-quality protein for lean muscles and contains antioxidants for a strong immune system.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Adult

This formula is made with real meat as the first ingredient and includes LifeSource Bits — a blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to support immune health.

Feeding Tips

  • Frequency – Feed your Shih Tzu small meals multiple times a day to maintain stable blood sugar levels, as they can be prone to hypoglycemia.
  • Avoid Human Food – Be cautious with human food treats, which can contain harmful additives. Opt for simple, minimally processed options when sharing human foods.
  • Treats – Treats should not exceed 10% of their daily caloric intake to avoid weight issues. Choose low-calorie treats and consider their total dietary intake to prevent overfeeding.

Special Considerations

Allergies and Sensitivities

Some Shih Tzus may develop allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients. If you notice signs of digestive upset or skin irritation, consult your veterinarian for a diet that suits your pet’s specific needs.

Age-Specific Nutrition

Puppies, adults, and senior Shih Tzus have different nutritional needs. Puppies require diets rich in protein and fat for growth, while seniors might need lower-calorie diets to prevent obesity as their activity level decreases.

Common Shih Tzu Health Problems

Shih Tzu dog health problems with pills and an injection

Shih Tzus are cherished for their affectionate nature and charming appearance. However, like all breeds, they are predisposed to certain health conditions. Understanding these can help you provide the best care for your pet. This section outlines common health issues in Shih Tzus, preventive measures to consider, and their average lifespan. For a deeper dive into breed-specific health concerns, refer to Dr. Alex Gough’s comprehensive guide.

Cardiovascular Problems 

Mitral valve disease is prevalent, with Shih Tzus showing higher odds of developing this condition compared to crossbreeds.

Dental Issue

 Shih Tzus are prone to dentigerous cysts and periodontal disease, often requiring specialized dental care to manage these conditions.

Dermatological Conditions

Conditions like demodicosis and Malassezia dermatitis are common, requiring regular skin care and monitoring.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Chronic hypertrophic pyloric gastropathy is notably prevalent in the breed, particularly affecting older males.

Musculoskeletal Problems

Shih Tzus are prone to patellar luxation and other joint issues due to their build. Chondrodysplasia is also a noted condition linked to their distinctive physique.

Neurological Issues

Conditions such as atlantoaxial subluxation and intervertebral disc disease are significant concerns for the breed.

Ocular Conditions

Shih Tzus frequently suffer from issues like corneal ulceration and cataracts due to their prominent eyes.

Urogenital Conditions

 Kidney disease and various types of urolithiasis (kidney stones) are prevalent in Shih Tzus, necessitating regular veterinary check-ups.

Reproductive Issues

Cryptorchidism and dystocia (difficulty giving birth) are common, with the breed often requiring veterinary intervention during breeding.

Preventive Measures

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for early detection and management of these conditions. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming can mitigate some health risks, especially those related to their skin and coat. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight is essential as obesity can exacerbate many health issues.


Shih Tzus have a relatively long lifespan for a dog, typically living up to 13.4 years. Proper care, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary visits can help ensure they live a full, healthy life.

Shih Tzu Costs: Understanding the Financial Commitment

Shih Tzu puppy for sale how much do Shih Tzu puppies cost

The cost of a Shih Tzu puppy can vary significantly based on factors like pedigree, breeder reputation, and geographical location. Typically, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to over $1,500 for a well-bred Shih Tzu from a reputable breeder. This price should include initial vaccinations, microchipping, and a health check from a veterinarian.

Ongoing Costs: Maintaining Your Shih Tzu

  1. Grooming – Shih Tzus require regular grooming due to their long, flowing coats. Professional grooming sessions can range from $40 to $75 and are recommended every 4-6 weeks. Alternatively, investing in grooming tools and learning to groom your dog at home can reduce these costs.
  2. Health Care – Routine veterinary care, including annual check-ups, vaccinations, and preventive medications, can average $200 to $400 per year. However, Shih Tzus are prone to certain health issues, so it’s wise to set aside a budget for potential emergency or specialty care, which can be significantly higher.
  3. Food – Depending on the quality of dog food you choose, expect to spend about $20 to $50 per month. High-quality food that meets their nutritional needs is crucial, especially for breeds like the Shih Tzu, which may have dietary sensitivities.
  4. Accessories and Supplies – Initial costs for beds, leashes, collars, toys, and other supplies can add up to $100 to $300. Ongoing costs will depend on replacing and updating these items as needed.
  5. Training and Socialization – Classes for puppies and ongoing training sessions to ensure good behavior and social skills can also add to the expenses. Group classes can range from $50 to $125 for a series, while private sessions can be significantly more.

Conclusion: The Joy of Owning a Shih Tzu

Owning a Shih Tzu can be a deeply rewarding experience. These affectionate companions fit well into various lifestyles, making them excellent family pets. While they do require considerable grooming and regular attention due to their long coat and health predispositions, the love and companionship they offer in return are immeasurable. 

With the right care, commitment, and lots of love, your Shih Tzu will provide years of joy and enrich your life in countless ways. If you’re ready for the commitment, a Shih Tzu can be a wonderful addition to your home, offering endless affection and charming companionship.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.