Shih Tzu as Royal Companions in Imperial Korea

As we delve into the rich history of Korea, we discover a unique and fascinating aspect of its culture: the role of Shih Tzu as royal companions in imperial Korea. These precious little dogs, known for their adorable appearance and friendly personalities, played a significant part in the lives of the royal elite. But what led to their prominence in the royal court, and what made them such beloved companions? In this article, we’ll explore the origin, history, and legacy of Shih Tzu in Korea, shedding light on their captivating significance and cultural impact. Get ready to embark on a journey through time and discover the remarkable world of the Shih Tzu as royal companions in imperial Korea.

Shih Tzu in the History of Korea

Shih Tzu In The History Of Korea
As we delve into the history of Korea, it’s impossible not to mention the significant role of Shih Tzu in the country’s past. These adorable little dogs have been treasured for centuries, with a rich history stretching back to ancient China and Tibet. Although the Shih Tzu breed has gained popularity around the world in recent years, its origins are steeped in legend and tradition. Let’s explore the fascinating background of Shih Tzu, from its inception in Tibet to its prominent role in Korean culture and history. (Internal link: /shih-tzu-ancient-china/)

Origin of Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu, also known as the Lion Dog, has a fascinating history dating back to ancient China. The breed was highly valued in Chinese culture and was considered a sacred animal. In fact, according to legend, Buddha had a small “lion dog” that he kept with him at all times.

It is believed that the Shih Tzu was developed by crossing the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese breeds. The breed was then brought to Tibet where they were raised by Tibetan monks who believed they possessed sacred qualities.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Shih Tzu was brought to China where they were bred selectively and became known as royal lap dogs. The breed gained popularity and was gifted to Chinese emperors as a sign of loyalty and respect.

In the early 1900s, the Shih Tzu was introduced to Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The breed quickly gained popularity and was sought after by the royal court to serve as loyal companions to the king and the royal family.

Today, the Shih Tzu remains a beloved breed around the world and is known for their charming temperament and adorable appearance. Their beauty and loyalty have also been celebrated in various art forms, including Japanese art and culture.

It’s interesting to note that the Shih Tzu’s popularity extends beyond Asia – the breed has become a beloved pet in the West, too. Want to know more about the Shih Tzu’s popularity in the West? Check out our article on Shih Tzu’s popularity in the West.

Early History in Korea

Shih Tzu is believed to have originated in Tibet, which was a part of China until the mid-20th century. The breed eventually made its way to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period, which lasted from 37 BCE to 668 CE. During this time, many small-sized dogs were brought to the region as gifts from China and other neighboring countries.

Early on, the Shih Tzu breed was highly valued by Korean royalty due to their beauty, intelligence, and affectionate nature. They were often presented as gifts to the royal family during important events, such as weddings and coronations. Some even served as political gifts between Korea and other neighboring states.

As they gained more popularity, the Shih Tzu breed was selectively bred for their unique appearance and personality. The dogs were often given names that reflected their pedigree and status, such as “Myeongju” and “Jubyungju”.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), it became prohibited to sell or trade Shih Tzu dogs outside the palace. This helped to establish the breed as a symbol of prosperity and high status. However, the prohibition also led to a decrease in the number of Shih Tzu outside of the palace and a decline in the breed’s overall popularity.

Despite these challenges, the Shih Tzu breed maintained its reputation as a royal companion throughout Korea’s history. Today, they remain a beloved breed around the world, cherished for their charming personalities and adorable looks.

Time PeriodDetails
Three Kingdoms period (37 BCE – 668 CE)Shih Tzu and other small-sized dogs were brought to Korea as diplomatic gifts.
Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897)Shih Tzu dogs were selectively bred and prohibited from being sold or traded outside of the palace. They were a symbol of prosperity and high status.

The early history of Shih Tzu in Korea is rich and complex, with a long-standing association between the breed and royalty. The breed’s popularity has waxed and waned over time, but its endearing qualities have ensured that it remains a beloved pet today.

Shih Tzu as Royal Companions

Shih Tzu As Royal Companions
Throughout history, Shih Tzu dogs have held a special place in the hearts of many people, particularly the royals. The Shih Tzu breed originated in Tibet and was brought to China in ancient times. Over the years, these dogs have been bred and trained for various purposes, including as royal companions. In Korea, the role of the Shih Tzu as royal companions was significant and purposeful. Let’s take a closer look at the history and importance of these adorable dogs in Korean royal households.

The breeding and nurturing of Shih Tzu is often associated with religious and cultural values. It was thought that their round face, big eyes, and long hair helped them appear like lions, a symbol of strength in Buddhist culture. According to the legend, Shih Tzu was born from the union of a lion and a monkey, which gave them their unique looks. This idea influenced the role of Shih Tzu as royal companions in Korean history.

Purpose and Significance

The purpose and significance of Shih Tzu as royal companions in imperial Korea was multifaceted. Firstly, they were considered a symbol of wealth and power, as only the elite class could afford to own and care for these lavish dogs. The Shih Tzu’s luxurious coats and tiny size made them stand out as an emblem of royalty in the royal courts. Additionally, they were credited for their therapeutic properties, as they were said to have a calming effect on their owners, which was especially appreciated by the royals who were often under stress.

Shih Tzu provided more practical benefits to their owners. They were trained to act as watchdogs, alerting the royal family to any intruders or threats. Their small size allowed them to sneak under tables and chairs, making them ideal for keeping an eye on the surroundings quietly. Shih Tzu were also trained as lap dogs, providing warmth and comfort to the royals during long hours of sitting in meetings or attending events.

The significance of Shih Tzu extends beyond their practicality, as they were considered sacred animals in some cultures. For instance, in Tibetan Buddhism, Shih Tzu were believed to be protectors of monasteries, and their image can often be seen in ancient paintings depicting Tibetan Buddhist scenes. Additionally, these tiny but mighty dogs made their way into Japanese art and culture, becoming a symbol of refinement and nobility in traditional Japanese paintings and literature.

The Shih Tzu’s significance as a royal companion is also reflected in the frequency with which they appeared in artwork during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. As symbols of wealth and power, they were depicted in royal portraits, tapestries, and other art forms.

The Shih Tzu’s purpose and significance as royal companions in imperial Korea cannot be overstated. These dogs were considered not only luxurious possessions but also practical guardians and valued companions. Their rich historical legacy continues to inspire admiration and fascination today, as evident by their popularity as pets around the world.

If you want to learn more about the influence of Shih Tzu in Tibetan Buddhism, check out our article on “The Significance of Shih Tzu in Tibetan Buddhism”. Or if you’re interested in how Shih Tzu influenced Japanese art and culture, our article on “The Legacy of Shih Tzu in Japanese Art and Culture” is a must-read.

Breeding and Training

Breeding and training play a crucial role in developing the best qualities of Shih Tzu that make them ideal companions for the royals. The breeding of Shih Tzu royal companions was done selectively with the aim of producing the best breeds with desirable traits.

The breeding process of Shih Tzu involved pairing the best and most compatible dogs with each other. The breeding pairs were selected based on their physical characteristics, such as their size, coat color, texture, and overall health. Breeders ensured that the selected pairs did not have any genetic defects or diseases that could be passed on to their offspring.

Once the breeding was done, the next step was training. Shih Tzu dogs were trained to be obedient and well-behaved, as they were expected to live in the palace with the royals. The training process focused on teaching the dogs basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. They were also trained to walk on a leash and respond to their name.

One of the training methods used was positive reinforcement, which involved rewarding the dog with treats and praise for good behavior. This method helped strengthen the bond between the dogs and their trainers, and it ensured that the dogs learned the desired behavior quickly.

Shih Tzu royal companions were also trained to be socialized with people and other animals. This was important, as they needed to be comfortable around the royals and their guests, as well as other animals that lived in the palace. The dogs were taken for walks around the palace to help them socialize and get used to different environments and situations.

The breeding and training of Shih Tzu royal companions played a critical role in their development as obedient, loyal, and well-behaved companions. This level of care and attention helped ensure that they could successfully fulfill their role as royal companions in the palace.

Selective pairing of the best and most compatible dogsTeaching basic commands
Focusing on physical characteristics, health, and freedom from genetic defectsPositive reinforcement training method
Ensuring the desired traits in offspring are presentSocializing with people and other animals

Life in the Palace

During the Joseon Dynasty, owning a Shih Tzu came with the privilege of being a royal companion. They were treated with the utmost care and attention. Let’s take a glance into the life of these furry royals in the palace.

Living Accommodations: Shih Tzu lived in luxurious living quarters, complete with soft bedding and traditional Korean furniture. They shared their living spaces with other palace animals such as cats, rabbits, and even peacocks. The palace officials took great care of the royal pets, ensuring their health and happiness.

Food and Nutrition: Often, palace chefs created special meals for the Shih Tzu, consisting of steamed rice, boiled meat, and other nutritious ingredients. They were also given access to fresh water daily. Additionally, the palace officials had a veterinarian regularly check on their health and provide medical treatment when needed.

Entertainment: The Shih Tzu received royal treatment beyond living and eating arrangements. They were pampered and played with by palace maids and officials. The Royal Court even devised a play called the Shih Tzu Dance, which consisted of palace officials dressed in Shih Tzu costumes, imitating the dogs’ movements and behavior.

Despite their royal treatment, the Shih Tzu were expected to perform certain duties, including acting as watchdogs and keeping the palace vermin-free. Their docile nature, combined with their small size, made them the perfect palace companions.

The decline of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910 led to a decline in the Shih Tzu’s popularity. However, in recent years, the breed has gained popularity as family pets in Korea and around the world. The Shih Tzu’s history as royal companions in Imperial Korea is a fascinating and cherished part of their legacy.

Living AccommodationsFood and NutritionEntertainment
Soft bedding and traditional Korean furnitureSpecial meals consisting of steamed rice, boiled meat, and other nutritious ingredients.Pampered and played with by palace maids and officials.
Shared living space with other palace animals like cats, rabbits, and even peacocks.Access to fresh water daily.The Shih Tzu Dance, which consisted of palace officials dressed in Shih Tzu costumes, imitating the dogs’ movements and behavior.
Pets were taken care of by palace officials to ensure their health and happiness.Regular veterinary check-ups and medical treatment were also provided.Expected to perform duties such as acting as watchdogs and keeping the palace vermin-free.

Decline and Revival

During the Japanese colonization of Korea in the early 1900s, the Shih Tzu breed experienced a decline in popularity. Many of them were killed or taken out of the country, leading to a lack of breeding opportunities. The change in political climate resulted in a decline in interest in royal luxuries such as having royal companion dogs on the premises.

However, after Korea regained independence in 1945, there was a revival of interest in Shih Tzu dogs as national treasures. In 1953, the South Korean government designated Shih Tzus as one of the 12 ancient Korean breeds, and efforts were made to revive the breed. Breeders sought to import Shih Tzus from China and Taiwan to diversify bloodlines and improve genetic health.

Today, Shih Tzus are considered one of the most beloved dog breeds in Korea, and their popularity has spread beyond the royal circle. They are cherished as family pets, and many Koreans take pride in their history as royal companions. Through the tireless efforts of breeders and enthusiasts, the Shih Tzu breed has been successfully revived in Korea and continues to thrive.

The table below summarizes the decline and revival of the Shih Tzu breed in Korea:

Early 1900sJapanese colonization leads to decline in popularity of Shih Tzu breed; many killed or taken out of country
1945-1953Independence from Japan leads to renewed interest in Shih Tzu dogs as national treasures
1953-PresentSouth Korean government designates Shih Tzus as ancient Korean breed; efforts made to revive the breed through diversifying bloodlines and improving genetic health

The Characteristics of Shih Tzu

The Characteristics Of Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu breed is known for its distinctive appearance and unique personality. Their regal appearance and gentle temperament have made them a popular breed around the world. In this section, we will explore the distinct characteristics that make Shih Tzu so beloved by their owners. From their physical appearance to their playful personalities, the Shih Tzu has many traits that set them apart from other dog breeds. So, let’s take a closer look at what makes these furry companions so special.

Physical Appearance

When it comes to the physical appearance of Shih Tzus, there are a few distinct features that set them apart from other dog breeds. Let’s take a closer look at their appearance using the following table:

Physical FeatureDescription
SizeShih Tzus are considered a small breed dog, typically weighing between 9-16 pounds and standing 8-11 inches tall at the shoulder.
CoatTheir coat is long, flowing, and silky to the touch. It typically comes in a variety of colors such as gold, white, black, and combinations of these colors. They require regular grooming to prevent matting and tangling.
FaceTheir face is a major distinguishing feature, with large expressive eyes and a short, flat nose. They also have long droopy ears that add to their overall charm.
BodyShih Tzus have a compact, sturdy body with a slightly curved back and a fluffy tail that curves over their back. They have straight legs with round paws and dense, muscular bodies.

Aside from these physical features, Shih Tzus are also known for their adorable expressions and perky personalities. They have a unique way of walking, almost prancing with an air of royalty.

Understanding the physical characteristics of Shih Tzus is important for anyone considering this breed as a pet. While they may be small in size, they have a big personality and require regular grooming and exercise to keep them happy and healthy.

Temperament and Personality

Shih Tzus are known for their distinct and lovable temperament. These small dogs have big personalities and are well-regarded for their affectionate and playful nature. They have an inherent desire to please their owners and are quick learners when it comes to training.


Despite their small size, Shih Tzus are brave and will not hesitate to protect their family if they feel that they are in danger. This quality also makes them excellent watchdogs. Their gentle nature, however, makes them more suited to being family pets.

Shih Tzus thrive on human interaction and are known for being attentive and loving companions. They have a reputation for being excellent with children and will often form strong bonds with them. These dogs are also highly adaptable and can be happy living in small apartments or large homes.

Shih Tzus have a warm and affectionate personality that endears them to many. They exhibit traits such as loyalty, playfulness and friendliness and will make excellent family pets for those who are willing to commit the time and effort required to care for them properly.

The Legacy of Shih Tzu in Korea

As we delve deeper into the history of Shih Tzu in Korea, it becomes clear that their significance goes beyond their role as royal companions. The legacy of these regal dogs can still be felt in Korean art, literature, and even in modern society. Let’s explore how the Shih Tzu breed has influenced Korean culture and continues to maintain its popularity today.

Art and Literature

Throughout history, the Shih Tzu has been a beloved subject in Korean art and literature, playing a significant role in the cultural heritage of Korea. Let’s take a closer look at how this royal breed has influenced and inspired art and literature in Korea.


In the Joseon Dynasty, many artists were commissioned to create depictions of the royal family and their Shih Tzu. These paintings, known as “Gungyeon,” were highly sought after by aristocrats and the royal family, who wanted to capture the beauty and elegance of their royal companions.

One of the most famous of these paintings is the “Portrait of Lady Hyegyeong and her Shih Tzu,” which depicts the queen with her beloved Shih Tzu by her side. The delicate features and regal expression of the Shih Tzu are masterfully captured, making this painting an iconic representation of the breed in Korean art.

Today, Shih Tzu continue to be a popular subject in Korean art, with many contemporary artists creating stunning paintings and sculptures of these beloved companions.


Shih Tzu have also played a significant role in Korean literature, appearing in many famous poems and fables. One of the most famous is the folk tale “Simcheongga,” which tells the story of a poor man and his blind daughter, who are saved by their loyal Shih Tzu.

The story has inspired many writers and artists, and continues to be a beloved part of Korean culture. Shih Tzu have also been the subject of many poems, with their adorable features and loyal nature making them a popular theme for Korean poets.

The Shih Tzu’s influence can be seen throughout Korean art and literature. These beloved companions have inspired artists and writers for centuries, and continue to hold a special place in the cultural heritage of Korea.

Popularity Today

In modern times, the popularity of Shih Tzu as pets has only continued to grow. Their cute and fluffy appearance combined with their affectionate and loyal nature make them great companions for individuals and families alike. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why Shih Tzu are so popular today:

Reasons for PopularityDescription
Adorable AppearanceThe long, silky coat, expressive face, and compact size of the Shih Tzu make them incredibly cute and visually appealing.
Easy to TrainDespite their sometimes stubborn nature, Shih Tzu are intelligent dogs that respond well to positive reinforcement training methods.
Affectionate PersonalityShih Tzu are known for their loving and playful nature, making them great pets for families with children or individuals seeking a loyal companion.
Low SheddingShih Tzu have a non-shedding coat, which makes them a good option for individuals with allergies and for those who don’t want dog hair all over their home.
AdaptabilityShih Tzu are adaptable to a range of living situations, from apartments to large homes, and they can adapt to different activity levels and lifestyles.

It’s clear that Shih Tzu are beloved by many today for a variety of reasons. Whether you’re looking for a cuddly lap dog or a playful companion for your family, these little royal companions have something to offer.


In conclusion, the Shih Tzu breed has a rich history and a significant legacy in Korea. They were first brought over from China and quickly gained popularity among Korean royalty due to their cute and charming appearance, loyal temperament, and supreme companionship.

As royal companions, Shih Tzus were not just mere pets but were considered members of the royal family. They were treated with utmost care and respect, receiving the best training, grooming, and diet. Their breeding was also carefully monitored and controlled to ensure that they maintained their distinctive characteristics.

Despite their decline in popularity during the modern era, Shih Tzus have made a revival in recent times. They are now cherished for their adorable looks and amiable disposition, making them popular as pets and show dogs.

Apart from their role as companions, Shih Tzus have also made their mark in Korean art and literature, appearing in various works of fiction as symbols of aristocracy, beauty, and elegance.

Overall, the Shih Tzu’s enduring legacy in Korea, both in terms of their role as royal companions and their cultural significance in art and literature, highlights the Korean people’s deep appreciation for their unique and charming breed. They truly are exceptional dogs, worthy of their royal heritage and a beloved part of Korea’s cultural heritage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzu originated in China and were brought to Korea during the Ming Dynasty.

Why were Shih Tzu bred as royal companions?

Shih Tzu were prized for their intelligence, loyalty, and affectionate nature, making them the perfect companions for the royal family.

What kind of training did Shih Tzu receive in the palace?

Shih Tzu were trained to perform tricks such as jumping through hoops, standing on their hind legs, and rolling over. They also received obedience training.

What led to the decline of the Shih Tzu breed in Korea?

The decline of the royal family’s power and influence in the late 19th and early 20th century led to a decrease in demand for Shih Tzu as royal companions.

How did Shih Tzu enjoy their lives in the palace?

Shih Tzu lived in luxury in the palace, receiving the best care and attention from their attendants. They were also allowed to accompany the royal family on outings and travels.

What does Shih Tzu’s physical appearance look like?

Shih Tzu have a distinctive lion-like appearance with long, flowing hair and a flat face. They are small in size and weigh between 9 and 16 pounds.

What is the temperament of Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzu are known for their friendly and outgoing personalities. They are also playful, affectionate, and eager to please their owners.

How have Shih Tzu impacted art and literature in Korea?

Shih Tzu have been featured in many traditional Korean paintings and literature, symbolizing royalty, loyalty, and nobility.

Are Shih Tzu still popular today in Korea?

Yes, Shih Tzu remain a popular breed in Korea and are beloved for their cute appearance and affectionate nature.

Can Shih Tzu live in small apartments?

Yes, Shih Tzu are well-suited for living in small apartments as they are small in size and don’t require a lot of exercise.


Matthew Farthing

Matthew Farthing

Сontributing author at DogCareHacks, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

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