The Evolution of the Shih Tzu Breed

There’s something special about the Shih Tzu breed that captures the hearts of many dog lovers worldwide. From their regal appearance to their endearing personalities, it’s no wonder that they have been a popular companion pet for centuries. But have you ever wondered about the origins of this breed? How did they come to be the beloved dogs we know today? In this article, we explore the fascinating history of the Shih Tzu – from their ancestral roots in ancient China to their modern-day roles as adorable pets. Sit back, relax, and let’s discover the journey of the Shih Tzu breed together.

Origins of the Shih Tzu Breed

Origins Of The Shih Tzu Breed
The Shih Tzu breed is one of the most beloved dog breeds in the world, but its origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery. The history of the Shih Tzu is intertwined with ancient Chinese history, Buddhism, and the royal courts of Imperial China. According to ancient Chinese history, the Shih Tzu was known as the “lion dog,” and was believed to have been bred by Tibetan monks. Another theory suggests that the breed arose through cross-breeding between Pekingese and Lhasa Apso. However, one thing is certain: the Shih Tzu has a rich and fascinating history that spans thousands of years.

1.1. Imperial China and the Lion Dog

The Shih Tzu breed has a rich and fascinating history that can be traced back to ancient China. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), small companion dogs known as “Lion Dogs” or “Little Lion Dogs” were popular among the Chinese aristocracy. They were believed to be guardians of the home and were often depicted in sculptures and paintings alongside their royal owners.

According to legend, the Lion Dogs were created when the Buddha traveled to Earth with a small dog that he transformed into a lion to scare away evil spirits.

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the Lion Dogs were crossbred with small Tibetan dogs, resulting in the shaggy-coated, flat-faced dogs that we recognize today as Shih Tzus.

These new and improved Lion Dogs were highly prized and kept as lap dogs by Chinese royalty. According to royal records, the Shih Tzu was a favorite of the Chinese empress dowager Cixi, who had over 50 of the dogs in her palace.

In addition to their role as companions, Shih Tzus were also believed to have spiritual significance. They were often used in religious ceremonies and were thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

The Shih Tzu’s association with Buddhism is reflected in their name, which means “lion” in Chinese. The lion was a sacred animal in Buddhism and was often used as a symbol of Buddha’s teachings.

As you can see, the Shih Tzu has a long and storied history that stretches back centuries. It is a breed that has been beloved by royalty and commoners alike, and continues to be one of the most popular companion dogs in the world today.

1.2. Development of the Shih Tzu

The development of the Shih Tzu breed is steeped in mystery and legend. However, it is believed that the breed was developed in the region that is now modern-day China.

According to some scholars, Shih Tzus were initially bred by Tibetan Buddhists. These Buddhists would give away a pair of sacred temple dogs known as “Lion Dogs” to Chinese emperors as a gesture of goodwill.

Over time, the Lion Dogs were crossed with small native Chinese dogs, such as the Pekingese, to create the Shih Tzu breed we know today. These dogs were prized for their loyalty and beauty, and they were often kept as lapdogs by Chinese royalty.

Despite their regal origins, the breed was almost lost during the Chinese Revolution in the early 20th century. Many Shih Tzus were killed during the fighting, and the breed’s numbers dropped dramatically.

However, a few dedicated breeders managed to keep the Shih Tzu alive. They continued to breed the dogs, refining their appearance and temperament over time.

Today, modern Shih Tzus show many of the same traits as their ancestors. They are still prized for their loyalty and beauty, and they continue to be popular as companion pets all over the world.

It’s fascinating to think about how the Shih Tzu has evolved over thousands of years, and how this tiny dog has managed to survive and thrive despite all of the challenges it has faced. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Shih Tzu, be sure to check out our article on the Buddhist origins of the breed.

1.3. Breed Recognition and Standardization

During the early 20th century, the Shih Tzu breed began to gain recognition and standardization. In 1934, the Chrysanthemum Dog Club was formed in England to promote the breed and improve its standards. The club eventually established the first British Shih Tzu breed standard in 1949, which was recognized by the Kennel Club of England.

Shortly after, the breed was brought to the United States by military personnel returning from Asia. The first Shih Tzu registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) was “Genghis Khan,” imported from China in 1952. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1969, and today the Shih Tzu remains a popular breed in the United States and around the world.

The breed standard for Shih Tzu has evolved over time and varies slightly between countries. According to the AKC, the Shih Tzu should weigh between 9 and 16 pounds and stand no more than 10.5 inches tall. The breed has a distinctive lion-like appearance, with a luxurious double coat that can come in a variety of colors.

To be considered a true Shih Tzu, the breed must adhere to strict physical standards and characteristics such as head shape, body proportions, and tail length. Breeders must carefully select which dogs to breed in order to maintain these standards and avoid genetic problems.

Breed recognition and standardization have helped to ensure that the Shih Tzu remains a beloved and recognizable breed with a rich history and unique appearance.

The Shih Tzu in the 20th Century

The Shih Tzu In The 20Th Century
As the world entered the 20th century, the Shih Tzu breed was already well-established in its native China. However, the tumultuous events of the following decades would greatly impact the breed’s popularity and trajectory. Despite facing numerous challenges, the charming and beloved Shih Tzu continued to capture the hearts of owners around the world. Let’s take a closer look at the Shih Tzu’s journey through the 20th century and the role it played in the world of dogs.

2.1. Popularity and Decline

During the 20th century, the popularity of the Shih Tzu breed rose and fell dramatically. In the 1930s, the breed was highly sought after among the wealthy in China and was often given as imperial gifts. However, during the Chinese Revolution in 1949, many Shih Tzus were lost or killed and the breed’s population declined sharply.

In the 1950s and 1960s, several dedicated breeders in England and the United States worked to revive the breed and establish breed standards. Their efforts were successful, and by the 1970s, the Shih Tzu was a popular companion pet in many parts of the world.

However, this newfound popularity also led to some challenges for the breed. Some breeders focused on producing Shih Tzus with extremely short muzzles and domed foreheads, which led to breathing problems and other health issues. Additionally, the breed’s popularity also led to overbreeding and the proliferation of puppy mills.

In the early 2000s, the American Kennel Club conducted a survey of breed health, which found that the Shih Tzu was among the breeds most likely to develop health problems. Despite this, the breed remains popular today and is still beloved by many as a friendly and affectionate companion pet.

To summarize, the Shih Tzu’s popularity has risen and fallen throughout history, but it remains a beloved breed today. However, this popularity has also led to challenges and controversies around health issues and overbreeding. As responsible pet owners, it is important to be aware of these issues and take steps to ensure the health and well-being of our furry friends.

DecadePopularity LevelMain Challenges
1930sHighNone recorded
1940sLowBreed population declined due to the Chinese Revolution
1950s and 1960sRevivedEfforts to establish breed standards and revive the breed were successful
1970sHighBreed became a popular companion pet in many parts of the world
1980sMediumSome breeders produced Shih Tzus with extreme features that caused health problems
1990sLowDecreased popularity due to concerns about health issues
2000s-presentSteadyContinued concerns about health issues and overbreeding

2.2. Introduction to the Western World

As European and American diplomats made their way to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they began to bring back with them exotic treasures from the exotic land. The Shih Tzu, with its luxurious coat and charming personality, was one such treasure. The breed quickly gained popularity among the Western elite and was often presented as gifts between high-ranking officials.

The first Shih Tzu to set foot in the United States was a gift to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The furry little pup, named “Tiny,” won the hearts of the American people and brought attention to the breed. Soon, breeders began importing more Shih Tzus from China and breeding them in the United States.

As the breed became more well-known in the Western world, it also underwent some changes to suit Western tastes. Breeders began breeding for smaller size and a more “doll-like” appearance, with a flatter face and larger eyes. This led to controversy among some breed enthusiasts, who argued that the changes were detrimental to the breed’s health.

Despite the controversy, the Shih Tzu became increasingly popular in the United States and Europe throughout the 20th century. In 1969, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed, and it has since become a beloved companion pet for millions of families.

Today, the Shih Tzu is still recognized as an important part of Chinese culture and history, but it has also become a beloved breed around the world. Its playful personality and adorable appearance make it a favorite among young and old alike, and its adaptability to apartment living makes it a great choice for urban dwellers.

2.3. Modern-Day Challenges and Controversies

In modern times, the Shih Tzu breed has faced several challenges and controversies. Here are some of the key issues:

  • Health Problems: Like many purebred dogs, Shih Tzus are prone to certain health problems. These include kidney problems, eye issues (such as cataracts), and respiratory problems (due to their flat faces).
  • Overbreeding and Inbreeding: Unfortunately, some breeders focus more on profit than the wellbeing of the dogs. This has led to overbreeding and inbreeding, which can result in health issues and genetic abnormalities.
  • Breeding Restrictions: Some countries have placed restrictions on breeding certain dog breeds, including the Shih Tzu. This is due to concerns about overbreeding and inbreeding.
  • Controversies over Grooming: The long, flowing coat of the Shih Tzu is one of their distinctive features. However, some people argue that the grooming practices required to maintain this coat are inhumane (such as shaving their coat too closely or using harmful chemicals).
  • Controversies over Show Standards: The breed standard for the Shih Tzu focuses heavily on appearance, emphasizing features like the length and texture of their coat. Some critics argue that this emphasis on looks can lead to health problems or prioritize aesthetics over temperament and personality.

Despite these challenges and controversies, the Shih Tzu remains a beloved breed for many people. It’s important for potential owners to do their research and choose a reputable breeder who prioritizes the health and wellbeing of their dogs. Additionally, responsible pet ownership and regular veterinary check-ups can help ensure a long and happy life for these furry companions.

Shih Tzus as Companion Pets

When it comes to beloved companion pets, the Shih Tzu breed undeniably holds a special place in many pet owners’ hearts. With their charming personalities, affectionate nature, and signature flowing fur, it’s no wonder that Shih Tzus have captured the attention of people worldwide. In this section, we’ll explore what makes these pups such wonderful companions, from their unique traits and qualities to their specialized care and health concerns. So, grab a cozy blanket and get ready to fall even more in love with the delightful breed that is the Shih Tzu.

3.1. Traits and Qualities

Shih Tzus are well-known for their lovely temperament and calm nature, which makes them excellent companion pets. Let’s take a closer look at their unique traits and qualities that make them such wonderful pets:

Cute AppearanceTheir large eyes, small button nose, and soft coat of fur make them an adorable and sought-after breed.
IntelligentShih Tzus are known to be intelligent dogs that are capable of learning tricks and commands. They can be trained to do many things, such as fetching, rolling over, and even using the bathroom outside.
AffectionateShih Tzus are extremely affectionate and love to be around their owners. They will often follow their owners around the house and want to be included in whatever they are doing.
GentleShih Tzus have a gentle and sweet nature that makes them great with children and other pets. They are not aggressive and do not have a tendency to bite or bark excessively.
CalmShih Tzus are known for their calm and relaxed nature. They do not require a lot of exercise and are content to just lounge around the house with their owners.

These qualities make the Shih Tzu an excellent choice for those who are looking for a loyal and low-maintenance companion pet. Their calm nature and gentle disposition make them a great choice for families with children, and their intelligence and affectionate nature make them wonderful pets for people of all ages. Additionally, their cute and cuddly appearance only adds to their charm and appeal.

3.2. Care and Maintenance

Taking care of a Shih Tzu may seem like an easy task, but owners need to be ready to give their furry companions the time and attention they require. Here are some essential tips for Shih Tzu care and maintenance:

  • Grooming: Shih Tzus are known for their long and luscious hair, which requires frequent brushing and grooming. Owners should brush their Shih Tzu’s hair at least once a day to prevent matting and tangling. Regular trips to the groomer for haircuts and nail trimmings are also necessary.
  • Exercise: Despite their small size, Shih Tzus need daily exercise to stay healthy and happy. A short walk or playtime in the backyard is enough to keep them active and stimulated. It is important to note that Shih Tzus are prone to overheating, so owners should avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day and make sure they have access to plenty of water.
  • Diet: A balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for Shih Tzu health. Owners should feed their Shih Tzus high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their age, size, and activity level. It is also recommended to avoid feeding them human food or table scraps, which can cause digestive issues and obesity.
  • Hygiene: Shih Tzus are prone to eye and ear infections, so owners need to regularly clean their pet’s ears and wipe the area around their eyes. Proper dental care is also essential, and owners should brush their Shih Tzu’s teeth regularly or provide them with dental chews to prevent dental problems.
  • Socialization: Shih Tzus are social animals and need regular interaction with their owners and other dogs to prevent anxiety and depression. Owners should make sure to spend quality time with their pets and expose them to various social situations, such as visits to the dog park or playdates with other dogs.

By following these tips for Shih Tzu care and maintenance, owners can ensure that their furry companions live long, healthy, and happy lives.

3.3. Health Concerns and Lifespan

As with all breeds, Shih Tzus are prone to certain health concerns. However, with proper care and preventative measures, these issues can be managed effectively. Here are some of the most common health concerns associated with Shih Tzus:

  • Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS): This condition is caused by the breed’s flat faces and can lead to breathing difficulties, snoring, and other respiratory issues.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a genetic disorder that can cause gradual blindness in dogs. Fortunately, many responsible breeders do genetic testing to prevent breeding affected dogs.
  • Patellar Luxation: This is a common problem among small breeds, where the kneecap dislocates and causes lameness or difficulty walking.
  • Renal Dysplasia: This is a genetic disorder that can lead to kidney failure in dogs. Regular visits to the vet, proper nutrition and a lifestyle that avoids pesticides and other harmful chemicals, can keep this disease from being activated or amplified.
  • Dental Issues: Shih Tzus are vulnerable to dental problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and even tooth loss. Regular dental care, including brushing and professional cleanings, can help prevent these issues and maintain good oral health.

In terms of lifespan, Shih Tzus are generally long-lived dogs. Their average lifespan is around 13-16 years, but with excellent care, some individuals have been known to live into their early 20s. Proper care and maintenance, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and routine visits to the vet are all important factors in helping your Shih Tzu live a long, healthy life.

3.4. Recent Trends and Innovations

In recent years, there have been some fascinating trends and innovations related to Shih Tzu dogs. One of the most exciting developments is the emergence of new grooming techniques and styles. Shih Tzus are known for their long, luxurious coats, which require regular maintenance. However, pet owners now have more options than ever before when it comes to grooming their furry friends.


Grooming TrendsDescription
Asian Fusion StyleA blend of traditional Asian grooming techniques with modern western styles
Express GroomingA faster and more affordable way to groom Shih Tzus that focuses on essential grooming needs
Colorful Dye JobsUsing non-toxic dyes to add vibrant colors to Shih Tzu’s fur, such as pink, blue, or purple
Natural CoatsEmbracing a natural coat without extensive trimming or shaping, highlighting the dog’s original appearance.

Another exciting trend is the growing popularity of Shih Tzu meetups and social groups. These are events where Shih Tzu owners and enthusiasts can gather to share their experiences, trade grooming tips, and enjoy the company of other devoted pet lovers. Many of these meetups also raise money for animal welfare organizations or other charitable causes.

One innovation that has had a significant impact on the way Shih Tzus are cared for is the development of specialized dog food. These foods are formulated to meet the dietary needs of Shih Tzus, who can be prone to certain health issues. For example, some dog foods focus on maintaining healthy skin and coat, while others aim to support digestive health or joint function.

Finally, advancements in technology have made it easier than ever for Shih Tzu owners to care for their pets. There are now apps and online communities dedicated to sharing information and providing access to resources related to Shih Tzu care. These resources can help pet owners find the right vet, learn about different health concerns that their furry friend may face, or simply connect with fellow dog lovers.

These trends and innovations are helping to promote the health and happiness of Shih Tzus, as well as the people who love and care for them. Whether it’s a stylish new haircut, a fun social event, specialized dietary needs, or technological advancements, Shih Tzus are benefiting from a wide range of exciting innovations.


After delving into the rich history and evolution of the Shih Tzu breed, it’s evident that these small dogs have long been cherished companions to humans. From their origins as lap dogs for Chinese aristocracy and royalty to their global popularity as household pets, Shih Tzus have made an indisputable mark on the world.

However, despite their adorable appearance and lovable personalities, it’s important to remember that Shih Tzus, like all dogs, require proper care and attention. Regular grooming and healthcare are crucial for maintaining their health and ensuring that they can live long, happy lives.

Additionally, while the breed standards for Shih Tzus have been established for many years, recent trends and innovations have emerged in everything from their grooming styles to their diet and exercise routines. As with any breed, it’s important for Shih Tzu owners to stay informed about the latest developments in their care and to adapt accordingly.

Ultimately, as beloved companions to millions of people around the world, Shih Tzus occupy a special place in our hearts and homes. With their affectionate personalities and loyal devotion, it’s easy to see why they’re recognized as one of the most beloved and popular small dog breeds. As we continue to share our lives with our furry friends, it’s important to remember the rich history and legacy that we’re building together.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the history behind the name “Shih Tzu?”

The name “Shih Tzu” translates to “lion dog” in English, reflecting the breed’s royal associations and lion-like appearance.

2. How did the Shih Tzu become so popular as a companion pet?

The Shih Tzu’s popularity as a companion pet is due to their loyal, affectionate nature and their small size, which makes them suitable for apartment living.

3. What are some common health issues that can affect Shih Tzus?

Shih Tzus are prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, kidney problems, and respiratory issues.

4. How should I groom my Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzus require regular grooming to keep their long, silky coats looking healthy. This includes brushing their coat daily, bathing them every few weeks, and trimming their hair and nails as needed.

5. How long do Shih Tzus typically live?

Shih Tzus typically have a lifespan of around 10-16 years, depending on their health and lifestyle.

6. Are Shih Tzus good with children?

Shih Tzus can make great family pets and are generally good with children, but it’s important to supervise young children around small dogs to prevent any accidental injuries.

7. Do Shih Tzus have any special dietary requirements?

Shih Tzus have a small appetite and can be prone to weight gain, so it’s important to feed them a high-quality, balanced diet in appropriate portions.

8. Can Shih Tzus be trained to do tricks?

Shih Tzus are intelligent dogs and can be trained to do tricks, but it’s important to use positive reinforcement training methods and be patient and consistent with your training.

9. Are there any breed-specific rescue organizations for Shih Tzus?

Yes, there are several breed-specific rescue organizations and adoption agencies that focus on Shih Tzus, such as the Shih Tzu Rescue of Minnesota and the National Shih Tzu Rescue.

10. Can Shih Tzus be left alone for long periods of time?

Shih Tzus are social dogs and may become anxious or destructive if left alone for long periods of time. It’s important to provide them with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, and to avoid leaving them alone for more than a few hours at a time.


Matthew Farthing

Matthew Farthing

Сontributing author at DoggoLab, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

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