How much cuter could you get than a dog that looks like a little fluffy lion? These curious canines have an interesting history leading up to their huge boost in popularity over recent decades.
From humble beginnings in the desert to regal advances into royal courts and eventual domestication by the average homeowner, they have an interesting story to tell!
Although there are plenty of interesting facts about dogs in general, here are some fascinating fun facts about shih tzus.
27 Fun Facts About Shih Tzus
Here’re some of the best things to know about Shih Tzus.
1. Their Name Has a Regal Meaning
The name “Shih Tzu” is derived from the regal Chinese term “Shizi Gou”, which means “lion sun dog”. They’re often called “little lion” as a result. They were likely named this because of their appearance and association with the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning, who traveled with a little lion dog according to legend.
2. They Have a Flowery Nickname
“Chrysanthemum Dog” is another popular nickname for them, originating from the way their fur curls upwards and away from their nose like the flower. Every Shih Tzu owner knows the struggle of keeping that fast-growing fur from covering their dog’s eyes and inhibiting sight.
3. Their General Appearance
Shih Tzus are a toy companion breed with a long silky coat. They’re averagely about 9 -10 inches tall and 9 -16 pounds in weight. Their ears droop and their muzzle is short. They also have a pronounced underbite, which is part of their breed standard.
4. They Came From Tibet
No, they’re not Chinese. It’s believed the breed was developed on the Tibetan Plateau by the monks that lived there. They would offer these lion dogs as gifts to Chinese Emperors, and they quickly became famous in the Chinese court and were considered palace pets.
5. Owning One Might’ve Given You a Death Sentence
During the Chinese Manchu and Ming Dynasties, only those living in the Imperial Palace could legally own a Shih Tzu. If a commoner were caught with one, they would most likely be sentenced to death.
6. They’re the Official Dog of the Ming Dynasty
They may have been popular in China for centuries, but they were the dog of choice in the Ming Dynasty from 1368 -1644 A.D. For most of these years, Shi Tzus were the preferred royal house dogs. Read here for more interesting facts related to China.
7. They Were Only Deemed a Pure Breed Fairly Recently
It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that Shih Tzus were considered purebred, when the Dalai Lama presented two purely bred dogs to Empress Tzu Hsi.
8. They Were Almost Wiped Out
Tzu Hsi was the Chinese Dowager Empress, and she played a large role in breeding Shih Tzus. The “Tzu” in their name is actually in honor of her dedication to the breed. She supervised a major breeding programme for them while she lived, but when she died in 1908 the programme died with her. The number of Shih Tzu’s dwindled severely in the early 20th century as a result.
9. The Breed Was Saved by 14 Dogs
After the first half of the 20th century, only 14 purebred Shih Tzus remained — seven males and seven females. They were used to rebuild the breed, and every purebred Shi Tzu alive today can be traced back to these 14 dogs.
10. They’re Recognized by the AKC
Both the American Kennel Club and United Kingdom Kennel Club recognize the Shih Tzu, and breed standards have been set in place since 1938. These standards include the head being large and round with a high-set face, while the neck and body should not be exaggerated. Of course, the underbite must be present.
11. Shih Tzus Got to America With Soldiers
Once the Chinese emperors had enough dogs from the monks to breed with, they began to give them as gifts to nobility in England. During the 1940s and 1950s, American soldiers that were stationed in England began to bring Shih Tzus home to the US, and their popularity there blossomed.
12. A Coat of Many Colors
Their fur grows fast, silky, and long, and it doesn’t shed. It’s typically white with brown or gray patches. Although, it is possible to get solid white, black, gold, liver, silver, blue, red, or brown. Color combinations like liver and white, brindle, and even tri-color are beautiful as well.
13. Celebs Love Them
Nicole Richie loved to show off Honeychild, and Jane Seymour adores Suki. Even “Queen B” a.k.a. Beyoncé has an adorable white and gray Shih Tzu called Munchie. Naturally, the Dalai Lama has one too, and even Queen Elizabeth had a Shih Tzu named Choo Choo, despite her predilection for corgi’s.
14. Grooming Them is an Expensive Chore
With a coat that grows so fast, these sweet furballs need constant grooming. Daily brushing is required to keep their fur from tangling and matting, and many owners like to get them a short “puppy cut” from the groomers. Some prefer the “teddy bear cut”, which is a puppy cut with a fuller round cut on the face.
15. They Have Great Temperaments
Though personality can vary, there are some common traits that define Shih Tzus. These lion dogs are generally affectionate and loyal companions, outgoing and alert. They love people, but they can be stubborn, so training them can be tricky. The earlier you start teaching them, though, the better.
16. Their Health Concerns
Health issues always come up with purebreds. Shih Tzus are prone to hypothyroidism, which tends to hit around middle age. They can also inherit intervertebral disk disease and respiratory problems due to the shape of their faces. Eye and ear infections, anemia, and heat stroke are other common problems.
17. They’re One of the Oldest Breeds
Though they were only officially recognized recently as a pure breed, they go back about 2,000 years. Chinese paintings that date back to 500 C.E. depict images of dogs believed to be the ancestors of Shih Tzus. Documents even exist that describe them being gifts from the Byzantine Empire to China.
18. Tibetan Monks Considered Them Sacred
They were named “lion dog” after all, and lions hold a symbolic space in the hearts of Buddhists. They considered Shih Tzus holy. These dogs would work beside the monks as guards or alarm clocks and even participated in spinning the prayer wheels during daily rituals.
19. Their Evolution Began 10,000 Years Ago
The Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog was a wild and mostly untamed breed of dog, and is the earliest ancestor of Tibetan dogs, including Shih Tzus. After a while, a new breed called the Small Soft-Coated Drop-Eared Hunting Dog evolved from the Gobi, which then evolved into the Kitchen Midden Dog. Through selective breeding, the Shih Tzu was developed from there, as were the Pug and Pekingese.
20. Shih Tzu’s Are Popular Show Dogs
Previously they could compete on appearance alone, with an emphasis on the coat being presented naturally, although aesthetic trimming was allowed. Now they can compete in sports competitions including the Rally and Agility sections. Turns out these loyal dogs aren’t just for show after all.
21. They Have Two Coats
Besides their long silky outer coat, Shi Tzus also have a short inner coat that keeps them warm. This is why they can easily suffer from heatstroke in warmer countries. It is good to note though that some inner coats can be thinner than standard or missing altogether due to poor breeding practices.
22. They’re Hypoallergenic
Well, pretty close to it, anyway. Due to pet dander, no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, but there are breeds like Shih Tzus that have less chance of sparking allergy. Their lack of shedding plus the hair-like quality of their coat as opposed to a fur-like quality aids in this.
23. Best Theory on How a Shih Tzu was Bred
No one knows exactly how the Tibetan monks developed this particular dog formula to resemble a little lion. The prevailing theory is that Shih Tzus are some type of cross between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso.
24. They Were Used as a Heat Aid in the Imperial Courts
They were supremely pampered in the houses of the royals, but they also had a purpose. With their warm double coats, they were trained to lie on cold toes, carried about by noble women in their robes as hot water bottles, and used to warm the beds of royalty. What a life!
25. Breed Standard is Different Around the World
The Kennel Clubs in the United States and United Kingdom might agree on most things about this dog, but American Shih Tzus tend to have larger eyes and rounder heads. Therefore their breed standards definitions differ slightly.
26. The Oldest Shih Tzu Was 23
The standard lifespan for a Shih Tzu can be anywhere between 10 – 16 years depending on any congenital diseases they may or may not have. One of these dogs living in Florida named “Smokey” made it to 23 years old though.
27. They’re Film Stars
Shih Tzus have appeared on the big screen a couple of times. The first time was in 2000 in a mockumentary called “Best in Show”, and the second was in “Seven Psychopaths” in 2012. The latest was “The Secret Life of Pets 2” (2019) which featured an animated Shih Tzu named Daisy.