Shih Tzu Temperament & Personality

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Shih Tzus are highly affectionate dogs known for their playfulness and their adaptability to apartment living. They’re small in size, they’re less likely to wander, they’re much less vocal, and they don’t need that much exercise compared to many other dog breeds. They’re basically everything that you want in an apartment dog and so much more.

Shih Tzus are an ancient dog breed, bred originally for companionship. Many noble families in China during the Ming and Manchu Dynasties used to own Shih Tzus, and these dogs even lived in Chinese royal courts under the care of palace eunuchs. At some point, they were even considered exclusive to the palaces, and those who owned Shih Tzus out of the palaces could face death as a consequence.

Now, Shih Tzus are treasured family members of more than just a few noble families – they’re some of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Trained Shih Tzus even compete in dog agility, obedience, and rally sports!

Shih Tzus are surprisingly funny in the sweetest ways. If you’re looking to adopt, foster, or rescue a Shih Tzu, know that they’re a breed that will always want cuddles, love, attention, and affection. But don’t worry – they definitely know how to return the favor!


Shih Tzu Characteristics

Here are some FAQs when it comes to dog breed characteristics to help you see if Shih Tzus fit your lifestyle:


Can they live in apartments? Yes
Can they be taken care of by first-time dog owners? Yes
Are they sensitive to cold weather? Somewhat
Are they sensitive to hot weather? Definitely yes
Can they be left on their own? Somewhat

Shih Tzus are amazing pets for first-time dog owners. These dogs aren’t overly-sensitive and they don’t need to be around dogs and people all the time. They  do appreciate the presence of other pets and people though. They also adapt very well to living in small spaces like apartments. Their long, double coats and their brachycephalic heads make them quite prone to overheating.


Are they friendly towards kids? Yes
Are they friendly towards other dogs? Yes
Are they friendly towards strangers? Definitely yes
Are they playful? Yes

This is a really friendly and playful dog breed as they tolerate children, other dogs, and strangers really well. A child engaged in rough play with a Shih Tzu is more likely to cause the dog harm than the other way around. Kids should be taught not to play too rough with any dog breed though, and it’s always advisable to keep an eye on kids while they’re playing with dogs.


Are they intelligent? Yes
Are they easy to train? Somewhat
Do they nip, chew, or play-bite? Yes
Do they bark or howl? Somewhat
Are they territorial? Yes

Male and female Shih Tzus can both be territorial. They can be protective of their home and their family. They’re very intelligent dogs, though this doesn’t always mean that they’re easy to train. They tend to be mouthy especially as puppies, and they never lose their playfulness and mouthiness even as they age. They’re great watchdogs too as they’re likely to alert their owners of other people’s presence through barks and howls.

Grooming and Physical Needs

Do they need regular grooming? Yes
Do they shed? Not really
Do they drool? Not really
Do they need regular exercise? Not really
Do they have high energy levels? Not really
Do they gain weight easily? Yes

 It takes a lot of work to groom a Shih Tzu. They don’t really shed their long, double coats much, but owners will definitely need to put in some work when it comes to baths, brushes, and even professional grooming. They don’t have the highest energy levels and are pretty content with routine exercises like short walks and a game of catch, so they’re perfect for owners who don’t have much time every day for running and other exercises.

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Shih Tzu Size (Male & Female)

Shih Tzus are considered toy dogs, but they’re quite solid for their size. They are compact dogs that should neither be too tall or too short, nor too heavy or too light.


Shih Tzu Height (Male & Female)

At the withers, both male and female Shih Tzus shouldn’t be less than 8 inches and more than 11 inches. The ideal height at withers is between 9 inches to 10.5 inches.


Shih Tzu Weight (Male & Female)

The ideal weight of mature Shih Tzus should be no less than 9 pounds and no more than 16 pounds.


Shih Tzu Life Span (Male & Female)

The lifespan of male and female Shih Tzus is about 10 to 16 years.


Shih Tzu Personality

Shih Tzu means “little lion” but there’s nothing wild about this dog breed. They were bred to be companion dogs, and that’s what most Shih Tzus want to be. They just want to be cuddled and showered with love, and in return cuddle and shower their owners with love too. They’re the ultimate lapdogs who will sit on your lap as soon as they get the chance and stay there for as long as you would allow them.

Shih Tzus are very wary of strangers at first and will bark at the presence of a new person coming into a room. A minute or two of getting used to, however, and Shih Tzus can be really friendly towards strangers too. They’re trusting dogs and, unfortunately, this sometimes means that they are easy to steal.

The happy and lively temperament of the Shih Tzu matches its sweet and innocent-looking face. Their big puppy eyes and their curious look on their faces make them so adorable. The sweetness doesn’t end with their looks though. Most Shih Tzus are very sweet towards people and other pets, and they don’t discriminate! They can get along well with other dogs, cats, and other pet species.

Shih Tzus of all ages love to play. They don’t have high energy levels, but their excitement can be very contagious. Some might think that they’re just cuddly lapdogs, but simply find them something that they can get excited about and you’ll see a whole different side to the Shih Tzu that highlights their playfulness even as adults.

Apart from the occasional barks and howls at strangers and other unfamiliar sights and scents, Shih Tzus shouldn’t be too noisy. This is one reason that they’re perfect for apartment living. However, you can’t say for sure if a pup would grow noisy or not as they’re individuals too. Irresponsible and careless breeding may sometimes result in noisy dogs, but sometimes lack of socialization skills is to blame.

Shih Tzus are quite easy to take care of and novice owners won’t find it hard to take care of one. A rehomed, rescued, fostered, or adopted Shih Tzu may even be easier to take care of as they may already be house-trained; because as long as this dog breed feels love, they’ll give it right back. They’re always ever so happy to interact with familiar people, but if someone new will love and take care of them, they’d welcome anything and anyone with open arms.

Fun fact: Hollywood celebs Nicole Richie, Geri Halliwell, Mariah Carey, Colin Farell, and Beyonce own Shih Tzus. Bill Gates and Queen Elizabeth each own one as well!

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Shih Tzu Exercise

Shih Tzus don’t require much exercise. They’d be happy to just go on a short walk outside, but running around the house for a few minutes can just as easily tire them out. This is all so understandable though, as Shih Tzus were bred to be lapdogs for the noble families.

Going for a short walk, 15 to 20 minutes would suffice. Indoor games are also a great way to keep them occupied. They’re not active dogs, but they’re not couch potatoes either. As they age, they have the tendency to gain weight, making daily exercises and playtimes more important.


Shih Tzu Training

Shih Tzus are smart dogs, but they can be very inconsistent and this means that they’re not very easy to train. House training is especially difficult, because while Shih Tzus definitely want to make their owners happy, they unfortunately have small bladders and many of them are prone to stress and anxiety. Here are some house training tips to help you out:

  • Take the dog outside after eating, napping, or playing. They’re most likely to relieve themselves after these activities.
  • If the dog accidentally pees or poops inside the house, take them outside so they can learn to associate these things with going outside. Thoroughly clean the area where they urinated or soiled to discourage them from repeating the same mistakes.
  • When they do a good job, don’t forget to show them affection and give them some treats immediately to help them realize the connection.
  • Never shout at a Shih Tzu when these accidents happen because while this can increase their anxiety, they’re still going to consider this as attention and they want all the attention that they can get. Just simply take them outside.

For socialization training, owners can start as early as eight weeks depending on the pup. Shih Tzus are naturally social dogs, so socialization training isn’t too difficult. Socialization training on adult Shih Tzus, however, must be done slow and steady.

Shih Tzus were bred as companion dogs, but they’re agile dogs that perform well in agility competitions. In 2014, a Shih Tzu even won both the agility and the champion titles! It’s definitely not impossible to train a Shih Tzu.


Shih Tzu History

The history of the Shih Tzu goes back at least a thousand years. Similar–looking breeds have even been found in paintings dating 2,000 years back. There are two theories as to where the breed came from: Tibet or China. Either way, Shih Tzus became popular as Chinese palace eunuchs took care of them for the noble families. A Chinese empress even made torturing Shih Tzus punishable by death.

For hundreds of years during the Ming and Manchu dynasties, Shih Tzus warmed the beds of Chinese empresses and emperors. They sat on their laps and they were a specialized and highly-pampered breed. There was even a time when breeders were rewarded handsomely by the palace for producing the sweetest and happiest pups. They were also very rare as they resided only inside Chinese palaces, and the world wasn’t made aware of their existence until the 20th century.

The Shih Tzus we know were almost driven into the brink of extinction. Luckily, General Douglas and Lady Brownrigg brought some Shih Tzus to England with the intention of breeding them.

The first breeding pair of Shih Tzus ever recorded outside of China was brought to England in 1928. After about five years, another Shih Tzu was brought from China to Ireland. Eventually, the three Shih Tzus were made to breed. Now, all modern Shih Tzus can be traced back to all 14 dogs bred in the 1930s.

Shih Tzus were introduced to the US mainly by returning soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. By 1960, there were already three Shih Tzu clubs in the US. By 1969, the AKC recognized the breed and added it to its growing list. More than 70 years later, the Shih Tzu remains a well-loved dog breed in the US. It was ranked the 20th most popular dog breed in 2019.


Shih Tzu Health Problems  

Shih Tzus are generally healthy dogs without many predispositions to serious health conditions, but they are prone to some health issues nonetheless. Here are some of them:

  • Eye problems – The bigger and the more the eyes bulge, the more prone the dog is to eye injuries and other eye problems. Dry eye, inflamed corneas, corneal ulcers, blindness, and abnormal eyelash growth are some of the more common eye conditions.
  • Dental problems – Shih Tzus have a natural under-bite, and this sometimes results in misaligned and missing teeth. Retained baby teeth and bad breath are common too.
  • Reverse sneezing – This isn’t a serious condition, but many Shih Tzus are prone to experiencing this because of overexcited eating. Their windpipes close so they wheeze and get anxious. Calm them down and force them to breathe through the mouth.
  • Digestive problems – Food allergies can cause an upset stomach. Eating way too fast (which is normal for Shih Tzus) can also cause digestive problems.


How to Care for a Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus can live anywhere as long as it’s not too hot or too cold. Their brachycephalic heads make them susceptible to overheating, so they should never be left outside for too long. Fans and air-conditioned rooms are their best friends.

Carry your Shih Tzus carefully so they don’t jump off. Many Shih Tzus also have the tendency to jump from high places, which could be dangerous as they’re small, solid, and front-heavy dogs.

Always keep them on a leash when you’re running or walking outside. They’re curiously friendly dogs and may run up to strangers (who may not be fond of dogs altogether) or kids (who may easily get scared).


Nutrition and Feeding for Shih Tzu

Feeding a Shih Tzu is very much like feeding any other dog, so owners should always consider their activity levels, size, age, and metabolism. Typically, though, adult Shih Tzus can eat around half a cup to a cup of dry food rationed 2 to 3 times a day. An overweight dog is susceptible to many health conditions, so try to work out a good balance between their food and their weight gain to help keep them healthy.


Coat Color and Grooming

The AKC considers all Shih Tzu colors equal, and there are so many different colors for the Shih Tzu: black, white, blue, silver, brindle, gold, liver, red, and many other color combinations.

The long, dense, and flowing coat of the Shih Tzu is the AKC standard, but many Shih Tzu owners choose to get year-round body clips for their pets, and this is absolutely fine. The breed, as mentioned, is prone to overheating, so keeping their hair short is doing them a favor. Shih Tzus are also called chrysanthemum dogs because of how the hair on their face grows. This is quite apparent in short-clipped Shih Tzus that are just starting to grow their hair back.

Owners can of course keep their dog’s hair long and flowing, but they also have to make sure to keep their pets in cool rooms so they can breathe easily and not overheat. The long, double coats need daily brushing, but you can get away with less frequent brushing with a short-clipped Shih-Tzu. This prevents their hair from matting and getting tangled.

Their fluffy hair can get dirty really easily, and Shih Tzus need daily cleaning, especially around their faces. They can be bathed as often as once a week. If you choose to keep their hair long, prepare for grooming once every 1 and ½ months or so.


Children and Other Pets

Shih Tzus get along really well with children and other pets. The other pets don’t even need to be Shih Tzus or other dog breeds – they can be cats and any other pet. They’re peaceful companions so it’s not difficult to introduce Shih Tzus to homes with already existing pets.

The Shih Tzu’s tendency to jump means that a child shouldn’t carry them around.  Owners need to teach children not to play too rough with Shih Tzus and take extra care about the dog’s eyes too. Shih Tzus tolerate rough play quite well. As mentioned, a child playing with a Shih Tzu poses more risk to the dog than to the child, but they still shouldn’t be left alone and unattended to prevent any untoward incidents.


Rescue Groups

However sweet and loving these Shih Tzus are, many of them still end up needing to be rescued, rehomed, fostered, and adopted. It’s definitely a great first step and indication that you’re reading this guide to better take care of your future pet. So, if you’re looking to add a Shih Tzu to your loving home, here are some rescue groups where you can adopt or foster some Shih Tzus:

There’s more than one way to help a Shih Tzu in need. Many Shih Tzu shelters accept volunteer work and donations so they can take better care of the pets that are currently in rescue and others who might need rescuing in the future. Ideally, though, you can find pups, adult, and elderly Shih Tzus to foster and eventually adopt. Shih Tzus are grateful dogs. They won’t wallow in pain from losing their former owners if somebody new can just pay attention and take care of them.


Breed Organizations

Joining breed organizations can help you take better care of your pets. Though they’re definitely not required for pet owners, breed organizations can help you find like-minded people to help you train your dog, bring them up right, and just learn more about them. They can help you improve your skills at grooming and handling too.


More about This Breed

As an aspiring Shih Tzu owner, you might also want to check out other articles:

  • Training a Shih Tzu to walk on-leash
  • How to house train your Shih Tzu
  • Teaching your Shih Tzu tricks
  • How to take care of a Shih Tzu pup
  • Enjoyable indoor games for your Shih Tzu

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