Shih Tzus were the favored pets of ancient Chinese emperors. These “lion dogs” haven’t forgotten their august lineage, but don’t let their proud bearing fool you; Shih Tzu dogs are absolute lovebugs who excel at charming the pants off anyone they meet.
When it comes to the Shih Tzu personality, the phrase “good things come in small packages” is entirely fitting. These little dogs possess huge hearts and will immediately befriend anyone who walks through the door; guard dogs they are not. The Shih Tzu swagger is also a real thing, and their healthy self-esteem can be unintentionally comical, as they often forget their size and assume they are the alpha of every room.
Originally bred as companion dogs, most Shih Tzus love nothing more than to cuddle in your lap and binge-watch your favorite show with you. Their small size and low exercise needs make the Shih Tzu breed an excellent option for apartment dwellers—though Shih Tzus can certainly feel comfortable in larger homes.
An immediate friend to anyone they meet, Shih Tzus are famous for their affable personality, making them a great choice for families with children and other pets.
Finally, Shih Tzus are famous for their long, silky fur. Yes, their luxurious coat does take extra work, but the results are well worth the effort. The Shih Tzu dog breed is a perennial competitor at the top dog shows. While you may have no interest in entering your Shih Tzu into the local dog show circuit, these small, loving and endlessly adorable dogs will certainly win your heart.
Measured from the floor to the top of their shoulders when standing or sitting
Their average adult weight
The average number of years they live
Common fur colors
Black, blue, brindle, gold, liver, red, silver or any of those colors and white
Their AKC classification based on heritage, traits, form and function
BEHAVIOR WITH KIDS
Diet and nutrition
The Shih Tzu breed appreciates a life of leisure. While the perfect day for other dog breeds may involve chasing a tennis ball or diving into a lake, a Shih Tzu prefers to lounge on a comfy couch. For this reason, some of these little lions have a propensity to become overweight or obese.
Take care to avoid overfeeding your pet. Their small size and easy-going lifestyle mean Shih Tzus don’t need as many calories as many pet parents assume.
When shopping for the right dog food for your Shih Tzu, look for wet and dry food formulated for small dogs. You’ll also want to make sure the food is aligned to your dog’s life stage, whether they are a puppy, an adult or a senior dog. Some foods are designed for all life stages. Look for foods that are marketed as “complete and balanced,” which means they contain all the nutrients your dog needs to thrive.
Some Shih Tzu pet parents prefer to make their own dog food. This is perfectly fine, especially if you have a picky eater on your hands. Just make sure to review your homemade food with your dog’s vet to ensure it meets all your pet’s nutritional needs. Many times, it is important to add a doggie multivitamin to homemade diets to ensure your dog gets all the vitamins and minerals they need.
Be careful when feeding treats to your Shih Tzu. Treats should represent no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. High-calorie treats can add up fast for small dogs. Keep treat calories low by using kibble-based treats or even giving your pup baby carrots or diced cucumbers.
Here are some of the top Shih Tzu dog foods from Petco:
Give your Shih Tzu the amazing life they deserve with these useful supplies:
Training a Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus are intelligent as well as stubborn, which can make training this breed an interesting adventure. Overall, however, Shih Tzu dogs are relatively easy to train, especially for a toy dog breed. They can even be trained to perform in agility competitions, so don’t let your pup pretend otherwise.
Pet parents looking to train their little lions should begin socializing their dogs early. Shih Tzus love to love, so positive reinforcement always works best while training. Pet parents should start slow and use treats, praise and pets to reinforce good behaviors. Dogs don’t respond well to negative stimuli, so resist the urge to yell or threaten your Shih Tzu.
One of the biggest challenges in training Shih Tzus is that they know exactly how cute they are and will often try to charm pet parents into allowing bad behavior. Be consistent during training. Your dog will likely try to test your boundaries. Don’t give in to those huge, sparkling eyes.
When housetraining a Shih Tzu, crate training can be a big help. Consider placing your dog in a crate after meals and an initial potty break for 20 to 30 minutes. As soon as you let them out, bring them outside or to a puppy pad. When they do their business, give them praise and treats. You can also teach your Shih Tzu to ring a bell hanging on your door to alert you when they want to go outside.
Need help training your Shih Tzu dog? Check out our Shih Tzu Training Guide. Petco offers in-person private training and group classes, as well as online dog training from certified trainers.
Common Shih Tzu health issues
Overall, the Shih Tzu breed tends to be healthy and robust, which is why they can have such a long life span. However, as with other purebreds, Shih Tzus are susceptible to certain health conditions.
One of the most common health issues seen in Shih Tzus is eye disease. small dogs possess large eyes set in shallow sockets, which can lead to conditions like retinal atrophy, cataracts, eye inflammation and more.
Arthritis and Hip Dysplasia
Oftentimes, Shih Tzus don’t realize how small they truly are, which can lead them to jump off high surfaces. Over time, rough landings may make certain dogs more prone to hip dysplasia or arthritis in old age.
The iconic smooshed faces that endear Shih Tzus to so many pet parents also mean this breed is more prone to respiratory problems due to their short nose and face, known as brachycephalic. This means they can have conformational issues with their respiratory system putting them at high risk for overheating and respiratory distress, especially on hot or humid days. During hot days, make sure your dog has plenty of water and limit activities and time outside to prevent heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke.
Petco offers a wide range of medications, vitamins and supplements to help you keep your dog healthy, as well as vaccination clinics and full-service vet hospitals. Here are a few popular at-home solutions to consider.
Grooming your Shih Tzu
Though the Shih Tzu dog breed is famous for its long and beautiful tresses, grooming doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as it may seem. Many pet parents prefer to keep their Shih Tzus trimmed to make the maintenance process easier. Despite having a double coat, Shih Tzus are not heavy shedders, which can make them a desirable choice for pet parents who prefer less fur on the furniture. Shih Tzus also take to grooming well when trained from an early age. In fact, many of them enjoy the attention.
Pet parents with the time and motivation can get creative with giving their dog a unique look. All that long hair offers a lot to work with, so it’s not surprising that Shih Tzu haircuts come in many unique styles. At the end of the day, however, regular grooming, including teeth-cleaning and nail clipping, is a must to keep your little dog healthy.
Brushing a Shih Tzu is an adventure that really boils down to how much time the pet parent has, the family’s lifestyle and their commitment to their Shih Tzu’s coat. Pet parents may determine that keeping their dog’s coat shorter requires less brushing at home but more frequent visits to their pet stylist. Pet parents who love the look of competition Shih Tzus can choose the “full coat,” meaning they let their dog’s fur grow to its full potential. Full coat Shih Tzus must be brushed and combed daily and set up on a schedule with their pet stylist to help maintain and trim their long locks. You will also need to make sure to keep your dog’s fur out of their eyes to avoid eye irritation. Some pet parents trim the fur on the top of the head, while others put the fur in a glorious top knot. If you choose a ponytail on top of head, make sure the band is not pulled too tight, which can irritate their skin.
Bathe your Shih Tzu dog at least once a month, or more often if they are in full coat or get dirty when they go outside. If they have a full coat or a longer trim, they must be brushed and checked with a comb prior to bathing, which will help prevent matting. Be careful to keep shampoo out of their large eyes. Make sure not to get water into their nose canal; use a washcloth to clean this area. Always use shampoo designed for dogs, not humans, and if your Shih Tzu is in longer coat, a conditioner is a must to help keep their coat soft, mat-free and healthy; make sure to use puppy shampoo for your younger dogs. After drying your dog with a towel, comb out their fur before using a blow dryer if their coat is on the longer side. You can use either a hairdryer designed for dogs or a human hairdryer set on low to avoid burning your dog’s sensitive skin.
Indoor dogs don’t wear their nails down naturally like dogs who regularly play and/or walk outdoors. Trim or grind your Shih Tzu’s nails every 7 to 10 days. The best way to get your dog used to regular nail care is to start at an early age. For dogs who just need the points taken off their nails, a nail grinder works great, and most dogs do not mind a nail grinder.
With their notable underbite and often crowded teeth, the Shih Tzu dog breed is susceptible to a variety of dental conditions. That is why it is even more important to have a daily dental routine that includes brushing your dog’s teeth—twice a day is even better! Use a finger toothbrush to get at those small teeth, and make sure to use dog-appropriate toothpaste. Again, you will want to train your dog to accept dental care as early as possible.
While not a substitute for brushing, dental treats can help protect your dog’s dental health. Many of these treat's help reduce plaque and tartar buildup as well as freshen your dog’s breath. Make sure to break larger treats into chunks that are appropriately sized for your Shih Tzu. Also, do not forget that dental treats are still treats, and treats should only represent 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Take a look at the many dental treats Petco offers.
Shih Tzus make for great professional grooming clients. Their fur grows continuously, so they need to be groomed on a regular basis. Pet parents who prefer longer styles will appreciate all the added care and attention a professional groomer can give. Best of all, professional groomers can really show off their styling talent with a range of Shih Tzu haircuts. If you want your little pup to look like the superstar they know they are, a professional groomer can give your dog an unforgettable look. Take a look at our guide on 7 Questions to Ask Before Your Pet's First Groom at a Salon to determine if a stylist is the right fit for your pup.
Some regular Labrador Retriever grooming tasks can be time-consuming for pet parents to perform at home. At Petco, our stylists can quickly and deftly trim and buff nails, brush your Shih Tzu's teeth or clean their ears while you shop for essentials like food and toys. Pups with specific health conditions like gland or skin issues can also benefit from Petco's Shih Tzu grooming services, like gland expression and skin hydration packages. Plus, many of these services include a 7-Point Pet Care Check* that screens for any glaring health concerns. Visit our grooming page to find a complete list of our services.
Note that the 7-point Pet Care Check is NOT a substitute for regular examinations and care from a licensed veterinarian. If your stylist finds any concerns, they will refer you to your veterinarian.
Adopting a Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus may just be one of the best-kept secrets of the canine world, mainly because they can fit into nearly any home environment. From studio apartments to palatial estates, Shih Tzus will feel right at home. They don’t require much exercise, so an expansive backyard isn’t required. Additionally, Shih Tzu dogs can easily slide right into most family configurations. They adore children and usually play well with other animals. They’re also just as happy living with a single human—as long as they get plenty of lap time and attention.
Shih Tzu colors can vary greatly, making each dog as unique as their personality. A Shih Tzu’s weight and size make them easy to transport so they can accompany you on trips and outings, though they prefer living the high life over going on strenuous adventures, like long hikes.
Thinking of adopting a Shih Tzu? Keep in mind that a Shih Tzu’s life span can run up to 18 years, which is relatively long in the dog world. Bringing a Shih Tzu home means making a long-term commitment. It also means a single dog can be a part of your family for nearly a generation.
Finally, while the Shih Tzu dog breed is generally healthy, individuals are susceptible to a number of health issues. When starting your search for a Shih Tzu puppy, look for a responsible and reputable breeder. It’s a good idea to work with a breeder who has performed genetic testing on their dogs. If possible, ask to meet both parents, see the environment, get to know the dog’s personality and ask about health issues in their lineage.
Another great option to bring home a new family member is to look for a reputable Shih Tzu rescue in your area. Most rescues will cover the cost of shots, deworming and microchipping.