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Questions and answers about Shih Tzu temperament, personality, behavior, physical traits and characteristics, feeding, health care, buying, adoption, puppies and adult dogs.

Shih Tzu dog breed

Shih Tzu FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Shih Tzu Dogs

By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014



How big are Shih Tzus?

The traditional size for the Shih Tzu is 8-11 inches at the shoulder and 9-16 pounds, but some individuals are smaller, in the 5-9 pound range.

Have you heard these phrases: Imperial Shih Tzu? Teacup Shih Tzu? Tiny Toy Shih Tzu? Miniature Shih Tzu? Some breeders use these cutesy, made-up phrases as "marketing terms" for smaller Shih Tzu. That's all they are -- marketing terms. There is only one Shih Tzu breed, and whether an individual weighs 5 pounds or 15 pounds, he's still just a Shih Tzu. Some are simply smaller or larger than others. The larger individuals are sturdier and make safer pets for many families.




Where does the Shih Tzu come from, and why was the breed developed?

The Shih Tzu was developed in China (possibly Tibet), as a lapdog companion for Chinese royalty.




How is Shih Tzu pronounced, and what does it mean?

The Chinese pronunciation is roughly SHIRR dza, but the Western pronunciation is SHEET-sue. The name means Lion Dog and refers to the "regal look" of the breed.

The nickname Chrysanthemum Dog is sometimes applied to the breed, as well.




For more than one Shih Tzu, do you say Shih Tzus?

Officially, Shih Tzu is both singular and plural, just as deer or sheep can mean one individual or many.

Unofficially, many people do say Shih Tzu for one dog, and Shih Tzus for more than one.




What kind of temperament and personality does the Shih Tzu have?

I give you my honest opinions about Shih Tzu temperament and personality -- positives AND negatives -- in my dog breed review, Shih Tzu Temperament (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).




What colors do Shih Tzus come in?

Shih Tzus can be any color: solid, particolor, and blends. Usually they have a white blaze on their face.




Do Shih Tzus come in longhaired and shorthaired varieties?

No, their natural coat is always longhaired, silky, and dense, and it's a double coat (which means an outer coat, plus an insulating undercoat).

Many owners choose to minimize brushing and keep their Shih Tzu looking like a perpetual puppy (very cute!) by shearing (clipping) the coat short several times a year. You can do this yourself, or have a professional groomer do it.




How much grooming do Shih Tzus need?

If you keep the coat long, coat care is a major consideration, requiring daily brushing and combing to avoid mats and tangles, which can be quite painful, as they pull on your dog's skin whenever he moves. The worst places for mats and tangles are behind their ears, behind their front legs (in their "armpits"), and on their chest, stomach, and groin. Their legs and paws also need to be kept combed, and their tail. And you should clip their groin and anal area short so it stays clean and sanitary when your dog goes to the bathroom.




How much do Shih Tzus shed?

It depends on whether you keep their coat long or short. All Shih Tzus shed some hairs here and there throughout the year, with the bulk of their shedding occurring twice a year, for three weeks in the spring as their winter coat switches over to a cooler summer coat, and three weeks in the fall as their summer coat switches over to a thicker winter coat.

But....

  • If you keep the coat long, their shed hair gets caught in the long coat and only comes out when you brush them, instead of falling onto your floor and furniture.
  • Whereas if you clip the coat short, the hair can now fall out freely.

So shearing the coat means less brushing, but more obvious shedding, while keeping the coat long means more brushing, but "less" shedding.

Though often touted as "hypoallergenic" and "low-shedding", Shih Tzus are neither. However, some allergic people do okay with this breed as long as they keep the coat long enough to catch the shedding hairs, and commit to brushing.




Are there any health concerns with their short face, or their short-legged, long-backed build?

Yes. Some Shih Tzus are more "normal-looking" than others. More normal-looking Shih Tzus have a face (muzzle) that is a little longer, legs that are a little longer and straighter, a body that is a little shorter, and/or eyes that are smaller and less protruding.

Other Shih Tzus have a very squashed face, large protruding eyes, stubby bowed legs, and/or a very long body.

The more "normal-looking" a Shih Tzu is . . . the better.

The Shih Tzu can be a great little dog, but the reality is that his physical build is neither natural or healthy. The Shih Tzu, in fact, is afflicted with two skeletal deformities: chondrodysplasia and brachycephalic syndrome.


Chondrodysplasia
Dogs were never intended to have a long back and short legs, especially if the legs are bowed (like Queen Anne furniture legs). This build is caused by a genetic skeletal deformity called chondrodysplasia, which translates roughly to faulty cartilage.

When a puppy is developing in the womb, his skeleton is first formed in cartilage as a sort of model. As he continues to develop, the cartilage is supposed to be replaced by bone. But if, because of certain inherited genes, the cartilage doesn't get enough blood to transform properly into normal bone, the puppy will be born with incorrect proportions of cartilage and bone. The result is a large head and chest, short, thick, bowed front legs, and a longish back with calcified disks that lack elasticity and cushioning powers and are predisposed to coming loose and protruding into the spinal canal (intervertebral disk disease). Chondrodysplastic dogs are also more susceptible to joint problems, and later in life, arthritis.


Brachycephalic (BRAK-ah-sa-FAL-ik) syndrome
This tongue twisting word comes from the Greek roots brachy (meaning short) and cephalic (meaning head). A rounded head and shortened face are skeletal deformities that cause a variety of health problems.

  • All short-faced dogs have some trouble breathing. They snuffle and snort their way through life, with their breathing difficulties becoming worse when they're excited.
  • Their nostrils tend to be slim and pinched and may have soft cartilage that cause the nostrils to collapse when the dog tries to pull air in forcefully.
  • The trachea (windpipe) tends to be narrow, restricting air flow even more.
  • The soft palate (a flap of skin across the back of the throat that prevents food and water from entering the windpipe) is often fleshy and elongated and tends to fall loosely into the throat. This causes noisy breathing, gagging and hacking (as though the dog has mucous in his throat), and sometimes spitting up white froth.
  • The eye sockets are shallow, which means the eyes could actually pop out if the dog bangs his head while playing or even pulls too hard on the leash.
  • The prominent eyeball is susceptible to scratches and corneal ulcers.
  • If the eyelid can't reach out far enough to fully cover the protruding eyeball, the eye can dry out, leading to a serious disorder called, appropriately, dry eye.
  • The teeth are crowded together and tend to grow at odd angles, trapping food debris and leading to dental disease.
  • Their loose folds of facial skin are dark, warm, and moist -- perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. The result can be raw irritated skin and chronic bacterial infections called pyoderma (skin fold dermatitis).
  • Eating and drinking can cause problems because when they put their face into a bowl and try to coordinate swallowing and breathing, food particles and water can get pulled through their nose and into their windpipe, causing gagging, coughing, or spitting up.
  • On a more delicate note, breathing through the mouth means swallowing air, which often produces excessive gas.
  • Short-faced dogs frequently can't deliver their puppies because the puppies have such large rounded heads. C-sections under general anesthesia are typically required, and short-faced puppies are exceptionally fragile and have a higher mortality rate than puppies with normal heads.
  • Short-faced dogs are risky to anesthetize, requiring extra-special precautions for neutering, dental cleaning, and x-rays.

Brachycephalic syndrome isn't a disease that your Shih Tzu "might get." It's a syndrome that ALL short-faced dogs are born with. Their respiratory system is structurally compromised, and they all suffer some degree of associated health problems.



That's why, from a health perspective, the more normal-looking your Shih Tzu is . . . the better.


Some things you can do to help your Shih Tzu:

  • Keep him slim. Extra weight means that he has to breathe harder to carry it around.
  • Wash and dry his face after every meal or long drink of water.
  • In hot or humid weather, keep him in an air-conditioned home as much as possible.
  • When he goes outside in hot or humid weather, don't let him get over-excited or over-active. Short-faced dogs have a high risk of heatstroke because they can't pant vigorously enough to lower their body heat.
  • NEVER leave him alone in a car. Even if it doesn't seem particularly warm outside to you, and even with the windows rolled down part-way, heat and stuffiness can build up rapidly and a short-faced dog can die.
  • Teach him not to pull on the leash, or else walk him with a harness. A collar puts pressure on his windpipe. Make sure the harness is shaped so that it wraps around his CHEST, not around his throat. A Y-shaped harness is what you want, not a figure-8-shaped harness.
  • Keep him away from chemicals that could irritate his respiratory system. This means no smoking in the house and no chemical cleaning products (buy natural cleaners from the health food store). Keep him away from freshly-cut grass, and indoors as much as possible during pollen season.
  • Make sure your vet uses only the most modern anesthetics (such as isoflurane). Insist on having his heart and breathing monitored by special equipment whenever he must go under anesthesia. Many vets are NOT careful enough with short-faced breeds.



How long do Shih Tzus live, and what health problems do they have?

Typically 10-14 years, but they're not necessarily healthy throughout their long life! You should definitely read my full article, How Long Do Shih Tzu Live?




Do crossbred or mixed breed Shih Tzus make good pets?

They do make good pets, yes, with the most common cross being a Shih-Poo (Shih Tzu crossed with Poodle). But first you need to know what a purebred dog really is -- and what crossbred and mixed breed dogs really are. You might think you know, but I bet you'll be surprised by my articles: The Truth About Purebred Dogs, The Truth About Crossbred Dogs, and The Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs.




Can you help me decide whether the Shih Tzu is the best breed for me?

Yes, I offer personal consultations on choosing the best breed for your family and lifestyle. Learn more about my Dog Breed Consulting Service.




Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Shih Tzus have pros and cons, and female Shih Tzus have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs




If I just want a dog for a pet, not for showing or breeding, does it matter whether he has AKC registration papers?

First you need to know what registration papers really mean -- and don't mean. You might THINK you know -- but you might be wrong! Find out the truth about AKC Registered Puppies: Are AKC Papers Important?.




There's an adorable Shih Tzu puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No. There are no responsible Shih Tzu breeders who would ever place one of their Shih Tzu puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.




How do I find a good Shih Tzu breeder?

It's hard! The sad truth is that the vast majority of people offering Shih Tzu puppies for sale are unknowledgeable, irresponsible, completely clueless -- or all of the above. Visit Dog Breeders: How To Find a Good Breeder.




How do I pick the best Shih Tzu puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.




I'm interested in adopting a dog rather than buying from a dog breeder. How do I find Shih Tzu dogs for adoption?

You can find Shih Tzus available for adoption from dog rescue groups or from the animal shelter. Visit Adopting a Dog From Rescue and Adopting a Dog From The Animal Shelter.




I just got a new Shih Tzu. Which pages should I read first?

  • Shih Tzu Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Shih Tzu puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off RIGHT is essential!
  • Training Shih Tzus, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Shih Tzu puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.



What's a good training schedule for training Shih Tzu puppies? What things should I teach, and when?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Shih Tzus: Puppy Training Schedule.




How do I housebreak my Shih Tzu?

The key to housebreaking your Shih Tzu is confinement, confinement, confinement. Visit Housebreaking Your Puppy or Adult Dog.




My Shih Tzu has some behavior problems I'd like to solve.

Respect training solves behavior problems much better than obedience training. Visit Respect Training For Puppies and Adult Dogs.




What's the best dog food for Shih Tzus?

Homemade dog food. Visit The Best Dog Food For Your Dog. If you can't feed homemade dog food, there are only a few (very few!) commercial dog food brands I recommend. Visit The Second-Best Dog Food For Your Dog.




I have to take my Shih Tzu to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically -- but most vets are not telling you the truth about this! Don't let your vet give your Shih Tzu any more shots until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.




What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Shih Tzu, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.




My vet doesn't agree with some of the things you've written about health care.

My advice is based on the latest research by veterinary immunologists, and it's the same advice given by most licensed veterinarians who belong to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. If this advice sounds different from what your own veterinarian is telling you, it's a good bet that he or she does not belong to the AHVMA. Visit Think Your Veterinarian's Good? Here's How To Tell.




I have a question about Shih Tzus that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my books: