10 Things You Should Know About the Shih Tzu

There’s no doubt that the Shih Tzu is an adorable dog, with its long coat and recognizable top knot.  But in spite of (or possibly because of) its cuteness, Shih Tzu can be high maintenance dogs when it comes to cost and grooming.  Here are ten things you should know before you commit to becoming a Shih Tzu parent.

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Shih Tzu with topknot and red bow and tie


You Probably Aren’t Pronouncing It Correctly

Shih Tzu, pronounced SHEED-zoo, is both the singular and plural form of the breed name.  Shih Tzu translates to “lion”, and in traditional Chinese, these pups are called Shih-tzu Kou, which translates to “lion dog”.

The Shih Tzu’s Origin Remains A Mystery

The Shih Tzu is a very old breed and has been documented for over 2,000 years.  There are many stories surrounding the origin of the Shih Tzu, but the most commonly accepted history tells that the Shih Tzu originated in Tibet and was later gifted to Chinese royalty.  Once in China, Shih Tzu were likely bred with Pekingese, developing the short snouts that the breed is known for today.

The Shih Tzu made its way to Europe in the early 1930s, and it was formally recognized in Britain in 1946.   The Shih Tzu was introduced in America in the late 1940s, where breeding programs were established and Shih Tzu were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969.  Today, the Shih Tzu ranks among the top 20 most popular dog breeds in the world.

Breed Standards

Shih Tzu belong to the toy group of dogs, and the official AKC breed standard for Shih Tzu is between 9 and 10.5 inches tall and 9-16 pounds.  While not recognized as a separate breed by any formal organization, the phrase “imperial Shih Tzu” is commonly used to refer to a Shih Tzu that has been bred to be even smaller in size than the usual 9 inch and 9 pound minimums. Other common names for these tiny dogs include “miniature Shih Tzu” and “teacup Shih Tzu”.  Shih Tzu come in many different color combinations.

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Small black and white Shih Tzu in its owner’s purse

Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy of the Shih Tzu is between 10 and 16 years.

Shih Tzu Require Regular Grooming

One of the defining features of the Shih Tzu is its long, beautiful coat.  Because the hair grows long, shedding is not a huge concern and the breed is considered “hypoallergenic”. However, when the hair does shed, it is often caught in the dog’s other hair, where mats can form easily.  For this reason, it is very important to find a good brush and comb for your Shih Tzu and use them multiple times per week to prevent matting and have your Shih Tzu groomed regularly.

Your Shih Tzu should be introduced to grooming at an early age, around 8 weeks old.  Although the long coat is practically a trademark of the breed, many owners opt for a puppy cut, a shorter, one length all over haircut, to help keep their pet’s coat clean and tangle free.

Sometimes Shih Tzu are called “chrysanthemum-faced dogs” because of the round shape their hair grows in on their faces.  There are many options for cutting your Shih Tzu’s facial hair, including pulling it up in a top knot, cutting it in a round “teddy bear face”, or even something unusual like a mohawk.

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Oscar the Shih Tzu sports a faux hawk

Shih Tzu Make Great Lap Dogs

Typically the Shih Tzu is a playful, friendly dog that gets along well with children, other dogs, and other pets in general.  Having been bred for the specific purpose of being a lap dog, the Shih Tzu makes a great companion pet. This breed is not very vocal and usually adjusts well to apartment living.

Training May Be A Challenge

Shih Tzu are intelligent dogs, but often have a stubborn streak, meaning house breaking and other forms of training can be a challenge.  For best results, training should begin at an early age.

Exercise Needs

Shih Tzu do not have particularly high needs when it comes to exercise, but all dogs need some form of exercise regularly.  These pups will enjoy and benefit from short walks and other energy expending games.

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Shih Tzu enjoys a walk with its owners.

Common Health Concerns

The Shih Tzu is a relatively healthy breed but can be prone to such health issues as dental problems, luxating patellas, eye problems, and hip dysplasia, among others.  Shih Tzu are also brachycephalic, putting them at risk for brachycephalic airway syndrome.  For the best chances of a healthy pup, potential owners should research and buy from a reputable breeder who can supply health certificates.


You can expect to pay an average of around $1,000 for a Shih Tzu puppy.  Prices can be lower or much higher, depending on where you live. When deciding whether a Shih Tzu is right for your budget, you should also consider their grooming costs as well as typical veterinarian and pet supply costs.

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Gray and white Shih Tzu enjoys a nap.

Key Takeaways About the Shih Tzu

  • Shih Tzu make great lap dogs, and are well-suited for apartment living and as companions for both elderly owners and families with kids or other pets.
  • Shih Tzu can be expensive and require regular grooming, both at home and professionally.
  • Shih Tzu can take a while to learn manners and house training so owners should have lots of patience and time to devote to their training.
  • There are some common health concerns for Shih Tzu so finding a reputable breeder is important.

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