The History of Shih Tzu and Their Popularity in the West

As dog lovers, we have all heard about the Shih Tzu breed, known for their adorable appearance and gentle personality. But have you ever wondered about the origins of this breed and how it became so popular in the West? The story behind their journey to becoming a beloved household name is a fascinating one. From their imperial roots in China to their recognition by the American Kennel Club, the Shih Tzu’s history is a testament to their enduring charm and appeal. Join us on a journey to discover the rise of the Shih Tzu as a beloved pet in the West.

Origins of Shih Tzu

Origins Of Shih Tzu
The history of the Shih Tzu breed can be traced back to ancient times, where they were highly valued for their appearance and companionship. Their origins are shrouded in mystery and myths, but one thing is sure: they have a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries and multiple cultures. The Shih Tzu’s story begins in the Far East, where they were revered by the upper class and noblemen. This breed has been associated with different regions, including ancient China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan. However, the most popular version of the Shih Tzu’s origin is linked to royal imperial China. To learn more about the early beginnings of these adorable lap dogs, let’s explore how they became an iconic breed of various countries in Asia. Don’t miss the opportunity to discover how the Shih Tzu influenced and interacted with ancient cultures and societies such as Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese art and culture, and Korean imperial politics. Click on internal html link to learn more about the origins of Shih Tzu.

Imperial China

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in Imperial China, the Shih Tzu was developed as a companion dog for Chinese royals. These small dogs were kept inside the royal palaces and were not seen outside of the palace walls. They were treasured as loyal companions and were believed to bring good luck. In fact, during the Ming Dynasty, it was believed that the Shih Tzu had the power to ward off evil spirits.

The Shih Tzu was prized by emperors and other members of the royal family. They were often given as gifts to foreign dignitaries and other important people. The Shih Tzu was also popular among Buddhist monks because they were seen as resembling the lion, which was an important symbol in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Shih Tzu’s popularity continued to grow in Imperial China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China in the late 19th century, was particularly fond of the breed. She kept more than 50 Shih Tzu dogs and was known for dressing them in elaborate costumes.

As a result of their association with the royal court, the Shih Tzu became a highly regarded breed of dog in China. They were virtually unknown outside of the royal court and were rarely seen by foreigners.

Table: Shih Tzu in Imperial China

Time PeriodSignificance
Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD)The Shih Tzu was developed as a companion dog for Chinese royals.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)The Shih Tzu was believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)The Empress Dowager Cixi kept more than 50 Shih Tzu dogs and was known for dressing them in elaborate costumes.

To learn more about the history of the Shih Tzu in ancient China, refer to our article on Shih Tzu in Ancient China.

Exportation to Other Countries

As the name suggests, the origins of the Shih Tzu breed can be traced back to China. However, it was not long before the breed’s popularity began to spread beyond the borders of China.

Here are some interesting facts about Shih Tzu’s exportation to other countries:

  • Shih Tzu’s were brought to Japan as royal gifts, and were often featured in Japanese art and culture. Their long, flowing hair and regal appearances made them particularly popular among royalty.
  • In Korea, Shih Tzu’s were also considered a royal breed, and were often kept as palace pets. They were treasured for their companionship and their ability to fend off evil spirits, and were often given as gifts to foreign dignitaries.
  • The Shih Tzu’s popularity in the West began to grow in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when American soldiers stationed in Asia during World War II brought them back to the United States as souvenirs. Once people in the West saw the adorable little dogs, they began to fall in love with them as well.
  • Today, the popularity of the Shih Tzu continues to grow worldwide. Although they are no longer considered royal dogs, they are still beloved by many for their affectionate personalities and adorable looks.

It’s fascinating to think about how this breed, which has roots in Tibetan Buddhism, has become such a beloved and internationally recognized breed. It’s no wonder that so many people continue to be drawn to the charms of the Shih Tzu.

Introduction to the West

The introduction of the Shih Tzu breed to the West is a fascinating tale of trade, diplomacy, and the love of dogs. The breed, originally from China, was first introduced to the West in the early 20th century. Here are some of the key details of how the Shih Tzu became a beloved breed in Western countries.

First Appearance at a Dog Show
The first recorded appearance of a Shih Tzu in the West was at a dog show in London in 1931. This breed caught the attention of many dog lovers because of its regal appearance and unique features.

Role in Diplomatic Relations
The Shih Tzu also played a role in international diplomacy, as the breed was gifted to foreign diplomats by the Chinese government. This helped to spread awareness of the breed beyond China’s borders.

Interest from British Soldiers
After World War II, British soldiers stationed in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia developed an interest in the Shih Tzu. They brought the breed back with them to the UK, where it gained more popularity.

Exposure in Hollywood
In the 1960s, Hollywood celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor were known to own Shih Tzus. This exposure helped to increase interest in the breed even further.

Explosion of Popularity in the 1980s
In the 1980s, the Shih Tzu experienced an explosion of popularity in the United States. This breed quickly became a favorite among families thanks to their small size and loving temperament. The American Kennel Club also recognized the breed in 1969.

The introduction of the Shih Tzu in the West is a story that spans several decades and involves many different cultures and countries. It’s a tribute to the breed’s charm and personality that it has become such a beloved companion to so many people around the world.

Early Popularity in the West

Early Popularity In The West
As the demand for exotic pets grew in the 20th century, the prospect of owning a Shih Tzu became increasingly appealing to dog lovers in the West. This breed’s charming and affectionate personality, coupled with their distinct physical features, quickly captured the hearts of many. But where did this fascination with Shih Tzu come from? Let’s delve into the history of the breed’s early popularity in the West. From its appearances in pop culture to its recognition by the AKC and establishment of clubs and associations, the Shih Tzu made its mark on Western society.

Appearance in Pop Culture

During the 20th century, Shih Tzu gained immense popularity in the West thanks to their appearances in the pop culture of the time. Here are some of the notable appearances that brought them to the fore:

  • The 1952 movie ‘Forbidden Journey’ featured a lead character who was traveling with his Shih Tzu. This role played a big part in introducing the breed to the American public for the first time.
  • Shih Tzu made a cameo appearance in the 1961 hit movie ‘101 Dalmatians’, which gave further exposure to the breed.
  • Another significant moment came in the 1960s when Shih Tzu started appearing frequently in TV commercials, becoming a symbol of glamour and sophistication.
  • The breed also had a significant influence in the world of fashion. In Japan, for example, the artist Yoshitomo Nara created a series of artworks depicting Shih Tzu in various poses.
  • These adorable dogs have been featured in various famous paintings throughout history. In Korea, Shih Tzu was regarded as a valuable possession and was frequently depicted in many artworks.
  • The Tibetan Buddhists also held Shih Tzu in high regard, associating them with the lion that symbolizes spiritual strength.

All these appearances in pop culture helped to cement Shih Tzu’s position as a beloved breed in the Western world. It also helped lay the foundation for the breed to become one of the top-ranking dog breeds worldwide in terms of popularity.

Recognition by the AKC

The American Kennel Club, or AKC, is the largest organization in the United States that registers purebred dogs. Recognition by the AKC is a significant milestone for any breed. In the case of Shih Tzu, this recognition came in 1969.

The Shih Tzu was originally classified as an “Apsos” breed by the AKC, which included the Lhasa Apso and the Tibetan Terrier. However, due to efforts by the Shih Tzu Club of America, the AKC recognized the breed as a distinct and separate breed.

With AKC recognition, Shih Tzu breeders had access to AKC shows and events, which helped improve the overall quality of the breed. Today, the Shih Tzu is a popular breed in AKC events, competing in the Toy Group category.

Interestingly, the AKC recognition of the Shih Tzu also contributed to the breed’s popularity among pet owners. As a well-respected organization, the AKC’s recognition of the Shih Tzu served as a validation of the breed’s qualities and characteristics.

The recognition by the AKC also introduced the breed to a wider audience, which helped fuel the Shih Tzu’s growing popularity in the United States. With its distinctive appearance and charming personality, the Shih Tzu quickly became a favorite among pet owners.

It is worth noting that the AKC’s recognition of the Shih Tzu was not the first instance of the breed being recognized for its qualities. As mentioned earlier, the breed has a long and storied history that can be traced back to imperial China. It was also popular in Korea, where it was favored by the royal court, and in Japan, where it was a key influence in art and culture.

The AKC’s recognition of the Shih Tzu was a significant moment in the breed’s history, helping to improve its overall quality and fuel its growing popularity as a pet.

Shih Tzu Clubs and Associations

Shih Tzu Clubs and Associations played an important role in shaping and promoting the breed in the West. These clubs were established to provide a platform for breeders and owners to exchange information, discuss breeding strategies and promote responsible ownership. The American Shih Tzu Association (ASTA) was founded in 1963 and is known to be the oldest Shih Tzu club in the United States. The club has been instrumental in the recognition and acceptance of Shih Tzus by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Similarly, The Shih Tzu Club was established in the United Kingdom in 1935 by a group of enthusiasts who shared a passion for this breed. The club has been actively involved in organizing shows and events, promoting responsible breeding practices and providing support to Shih Tzu owners. The club’s efforts have been recognized by reputable organizations, and it is one of the few breed clubs that has been awarded the status of a Championship Show.

In addition to these clubs, many local and regional organizations focusing on Shih Tzus were established in various countries around the world. These clubs maintain directories of reputable breeders and provide health resources and training advice. They also host shows and events, offer rescue and adoption services, and engage in charitable activities to support animal welfare.

The popularity of Shih Tzus has spread far and wide, reaching countries where the breed was previously unknown. Thanks to the efforts of clubs and associations, the breed has gained recognition and affection from people of different backgrounds and cultures. Shih Tzus have been featured in art, movies, and literature in many countries, including Japan and Korea, where they hold a special place in the hearts of people. If you want to learn more about the history of Shih Tzus and their ties to Asian culture, check out our articles on Shih Tzu and Tibetan Buddhism, Shih Tzu in Japanese Art and Culture, and Shih Tzu in Royal and Imperial Korea.

Growing Popularity as Pets

As the years went on, the Shih Tzu’s popularity as pets continued to grow, thanks in part to their adorable appearance and lovable personalities. Owners began to share their love for their furry companions, and soon the breed was highly sought after by those looking for a playful and affectionate furry friend.

One of the main factors that contributed to the Shih Tzu’s growing popularity was their adaptable nature. They are able to adjust to a variety of living situations, whether it be in a small apartment or a large house with ample yard space. Additionally, their low exercise needs and low-shedding coat made them an ideal choice for those with busy lifestyles.

Another reason for the Shih Tzu’s growing popularity as pets was their reputation for being good with children. Many families were drawn to the breed because of their gentle nature and playful personalities, which made them ideal playmates for children.

In fact, the Shih Tzu became so popular as a family pet that they were often referred to as “the ultimate lap dog.” Their small size and loving temperament made them the perfect choice for those looking for a furry companion to snuggle up with on the couch.

As the demand for Shih Tzus grew, breeders began to take notice and started to produce more of these adorable pups. This led to an increase in availability and a decrease in price, making the breed more accessible to those who were interested in adding a Shih Tzu to their family.

The growing popularity of the Shih Tzu as pets can be attributed to their lovable personalities, adaptable nature, and reputation as a great family pet. These factors, combined with their cute and cuddly appearance, have made them one of the most beloved breeds in the world.

Factors that Contributed to Growing Popularity
Adaptable nature
Low exercise needs
Low-shedding coat
Good with children
Reputation as “the ultimate lap dog”

Modern Popularity in the West

In today’s world, the popularity of Shih Tzu has reached astonishing heights, making them one of the most beloved dog breeds among pet owners. This increasing trend is not only limited to the West but also spreading worldwide. The reasons for this surge in popularity are multifaceted and complex, with many factors contributing to their success. Let’s delve deeper into how the breed has evolved and maintained its popularity despite the influx of new dog breeds in recent years.

Continued Growth as Popular Pets

The Shih Tzu’s popularity as a pet has continued to grow over the years, thanks to its adorable appearance, loyal nature, and playful personality. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Shih Tzu is currently the 20th most popular dog breed in the United States.

One reason for their continued popularity is their adaptability to different living situations. Shih Tzus are equally comfortable in apartments or larger homes, making them a popular choice for city dwellers.

Another factor contributing to their popularity is their long lifespan. Shih Tzus can live up to 16 years or more, making them a long-term companion for families and individuals alike.

Increase in Demand

According to the American Pet Products Association, the demand for pets has been steadily growing over the years, with an estimated 67% of American households owning a pet. Shih Tzus are among the most sought-after dog breeds, with many breeders and pet stores experiencing an increase in demand for this breed.

Health Concerns

Like all breeds, Shih Tzus are susceptible to certain health problems, such as respiratory issues and eye problems. However, with proper care and regular medical check-ups, most of these concerns can be prevented or treated.

To ensure the health of their beloved pets, many Shih Tzu owners opt to purchase pet insurance or set aside a budget for medical expenses. This may also contribute to the breed’s continued popularity, as pet owners become more invested in their pets’ wellbeing.

Steady Demand Despite High Cost

Despite their relatively high cost compared to other breeds, Shih Tzus continue to be a popular choice for pet owners. According to the AKC, the average cost of a Shih Tzu puppy can range from $500 to $2,000, depending on the breeder and location.

This high cost may be due in part to the breed’s popularity and its history as a royal lapdog in China, but the steady demand for these beloved pets shows that for many, the cost is well worth it.

The Shih Tzu’s continued growth as popular pets can be attributed to their lovable personality, adaptability, and long lifespan. As the demand for pets continues to rise, it’s safe to say that the Shih Tzu breed will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of pet owners.

Factors Contributing to Shih Tzu’s Continued Popularity
Adaptability to different living situations
Long lifespan
Increase in demand for pets in general
Investment in pet’s health, including pet insurance and regular medical check-ups
Lovable personality and playful nature
Despite high cost, steady demand for the breed

Shih Tzu in Social Media and the Internet

Social media has played a huge role in the continued popularity of the Shih Tzu breed in the West. With the rise of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, cute and adorable animals have become sensations, and Shih Tzus are no exception.

One of the most popular Shih Tzu social media stars is Manny the Frenchie, who has over a million followers on Instagram. Manny often collaborates with other famous dogs, such as Tuna the Chiweenie and Doug the Pug, to provide his fans with even more adorable content.

In addition to individual accounts, there are also Shih Tzu fan pages and groups on Facebook. These pages and groups allow fans of the breed to connect with each other and share photos, stories, and advice.

The Internet has also made it easier for people to learn about the breed and find reputable breeders. Websites such as the American Shih Tzu Club provide information on the breed’s history, temperament, and care needs. There are also online forums where Shih Tzu owners can ask questions and get advice from other experienced owners and breeders.

Finally, the popularity of Shih Tzus on social media has also led to an increase in merchandise featuring the breed. From T-shirts and mugs to phone cases and stickers, there is no shortage of Shih Tzu-themed products for fans to show their love for the breed.

The internet and social media have allowed the Shih Tzu to gain even more popularity in the West, and it’s no surprise given how cute and lovable they are.

Celebrity Endorsements

One of the biggest reasons for the continued popularity of Shih Tzu in the West is their endorsements by celebrities. These small dogs have been embraced by some of the biggest names in entertainment, and their appearances in popular media have only further cemented their place in the public eye.

Daisy, the Shih Tzu of Jessica Alba:
Jessica Alba, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, has been spotted with her beloved Shih Tzu, Daisy, on numerous occasions. The petite pooch is a constant companion to the actress and has been photographed on red carpets and out and about with her owner. Daisy even has her own Instagram account with over 78,000 followers!

Ellen DeGeneres and her Shih Tzus:
Ellen DeGeneres is another celebrity who adores Shih Tzu. She has had several of them as pets over the years, and has even named a few of her television show characters after them. Her current Shih Tzu, Wally, has become somewhat of a social media sensation thanks to his appearance on her Instagram account, where he’s often seen hanging out with Ellen and her wife, Portia de Rossi.

Beyoncé’s Fluffy:
Beyoncé, one of the world’s most famous and influential performers, also has a Shih Tzu named Fluffy. While the pup is not as publicized as some of the other celebrity Shih Tzus, he’s still a beloved member of the family and has been photographed with Beyoncé on several occasions.

Mariah Carey’s The Good Reverend Pow Jackson:
Mariah Carey is known for her love of pets, and her Shih Tzu, The Good Reverend Pow Jackson, is no exception. The pup has his own Instagram account that has amassed over 5,000 followers, and often appears in photos with Carey and her children.

Ryan Gosling and his Shih Tzu:
Even Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling has been bitten by the Shih Tzu bug. While he’s not as vocal about his love for the breed as some other celebrities, he has been spotted walking his little fluff ball around town.

It’s clear that celebrity endorsements have helped keep the Shih Tzu breed relevant in the eyes of the public. With their cute and cuddly appearance and endearing personalities, it’s no wonder that so many famous faces have fallen for these beloved dogs.


In conclusion, the beloved Shih Tzu breed has a rich and fascinating history. From their origins as royal lap dogs in Imperial China to their current status as popular pets in the Western world, Shih Tzus have captured the hearts of people everywhere.

Their long and flowing coats, sweet personalities, and playful nature make them irresistible to many. Throughout history, the breed has remained a symbol of beauty, grace, and loyalty.

Despite their popularity, it’s important to remember that owning a Shih Tzu requires a commitment to their care and wellbeing. Proper grooming, exercise, and nutrition are essential to keeping them happy and healthy.

As with any breed, it’s important to source your Shih Tzu from a reputable breeder or adoption agency, and to educate yourself on the specific needs of this breed.

Overall, the continued popularity of Shih Tzus in the West is a testament to their enduring charm and the joy they bring to their owners’ lives. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer to the breed, there’s no denying the irresistible appeal of the Shih Tzu.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning of Shih Tzu?

The term “Shih Tzu” comes from the Chinese phrase “lion dog.”

What were Shih Tzu originally bred for?

Shih Tzu were originally bred as companion dogs for the Chinese imperial family.

What is the lifespan of a Shih Tzu?

The lifespan of a Shih Tzu is typically around 10-16 years.

Are Shih Tzu hypoallergenic?

While no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, Shih Tzu have hair instead of fur, which can make them a good option for people with allergies.

Do Shih Tzu require a lot of grooming?

Yes, Shih Tzu require regular grooming to maintain their long, silky coats.

Are Shih Tzu good with children?

Yes, Shih Tzu are generally good with children, but as with any dog, children should always be supervised when interacting with them.

Do Shih Tzu make good apartment pets?

Yes, Shih Tzu can make good apartment pets as long as they get regular exercise.

What health issues are common in Shih Tzu?

Some health issues that are common in Shih Tzu include respiratory problems, eye problems, and joint issues.

Are Shih Tzu easy to train?

Shih Tzu can be a bit stubborn, but they can be trained with patience and positive reinforcement.

How much exercise do Shih Tzu need?

Shih Tzu don’t need a lot of exercise, but they do need daily walks and playtime.


Britta Thygesen

Britta Thygesen

A passionate dog owner and a full-time certified dog trainer. Aspires to make Doggolab a go-to place for all the doggo info. Shares personal experience and professional knowledge.

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