The Shih Tzu: Imperial and Mythical Mini-Dogs

Already in the Zhou Dynasty more than 1000 years ago, the Shih Tzu dogs of the Tibetan monasteries were given away to high-ranking rulers and emperors. The small dogs look back on a long history and were almost extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the mini dogs with the cute hairstyle are popular family and companion dogs around the world – here you can find out everything about keeping them.

Identifying Features of the Shih Tzu: Friendly Face with a Long Mane

The Shih Tzu is one of the smallest dog breeds in the world – an optimal height at the withers of 20 to 28 cm is specified for males and females. With a body weight of 4.5 to 8 kilos, they are more strongly built than other miniature dogs such as the Russkiy Toy or the Bolonka Zwetna.

How can the Shih Tzu be distinguished from other dogs?

  • At first glance, the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso look very similar. However, the Shih Tzu is smaller and slightly more powerful, while the Apso is more elongated and lean.
  • Because of their long and fine hair, Maltese can only be distinguished from Shih Tzus in direct comparison. With a height at the withers of between 23 and 25 cm, Maltese are usually even smaller and also narrower and lighter than Tibetan dogs.
  • Havanese have denser fur than their Asian relatives. The Shih Tzu’s top coat is also a bit silkier in comparison.
  • The Bolonka Zwetna is slightly larger than the Shih Tzu and wears its silky top coat in a wavy manner.
  • The short snout of the Pekingese is framed with small wrinkles. They wear a black mask on their face and have shorter hair than Shih Tzus. They are also smaller in direct comparison, even if the fur is often fluffy and does not hang down like the Shih Tzu.
  • Tibetan Terriers are direct ancestors of Shih Tzus. Their fur is less fine and they are significantly larger. They also wear a medium-length mustache.
  • The Tibetan Spaniel has a similar physique to the Shih Tzu, but its coat is only long feathered on the tail and neck. The facial features and the ears are more clearly recognizable.

Identifying features of the Shih Tzu at a glance

  • The head is round and the large saucer eyes are relatively far apart. No white skin is visible and the iris in most dogs is so darkly colored that it is almost indistinguishable from the pupil. The long and thin floppy ears are hairy and not recognizable.
  • Long facial hair grows radiating in all directions around the short and square snout. The British breed standard therefore draws a comparison to chrysanthemum flowers.
  • The front and hind legs are short and straight, the bone structure is quite stocky for such a small dog. The Shih Tzu carries its tail happily curled up. The shape is hardly recognizable because of the long outer hair on the tail, back and hind legs.
  • Its fur consists of two layers of fine, long hair. The undercoat is not woolly, and the top coat hangs down smoothly all over the body. All color variations are approved for breeding. Gold, red, or black Shih Tzus with white markings are popular, although white can predominate. Sand-colored tan markings also occur in some breeding lines.

The Imperial History of the Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu is one of the archaic “lion dogs” from the monasteries of Tibet. The breed is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world – as early as the 7th century, Tibetan monks kept these dogs as gifts to Chinese emperors as special treasures. In monasteries and palaces, the small dogs moved relatively freely and served as watchdogs, barking loudly to warn of intruders at night.

The dogs of the rich and powerful

Until the end of Imperial rule in China, Shih Tzus could only be found in Imperial palaces and monasteries. The upper class took great care to ensure that no dogs found their way among the common people or to foreign traders. Only in the first half of the 20th century did the first purebred Shih Tzus appear in the western world, while breeding in Tibet and China came to a complete standstill. According to various sources, the current breed population goes back to only 14 individuals.

Relationship to other dog breeds

Shih Tzus, like Lhasa Apsos and Tibetan Spaniels, lived in Tibetan monasteries for centuries. The Lhasa Apso, the Tibetan Spaniel and the Tibetan Terrier are believed to be the direct ancestors of the small lion dogs. They are not directly related to Maltese and Havanese, these have evolved independently of the Tibetan companion dogs. The relationship with the modern pug, which originally also comes from China, is surprising.

How Does a Shih Tzu Think? Small Dogs with a Strong Will

On the one hand, Shih Tzus are intelligent and independent, but on the other hand, they often seek closeness to humans. They have a good memory for their friends and personal enemies – if they don’t like people or dogs, they’ll bark at the sight of their enemies. As signaling watchdogs, they sometimes bark indoors for no apparent reason – good socialization is of the utmost importance for these alert dogs to develop into well-balanced companions.

Not just a lap dog – the Shih Tzu in action

The cuddly Shih Tzu is a suitable family pet for rural and urban owners. It adapts to its environment and can also get along in tight spaces. Nevertheless, the urge to move of the small power packs should not be underestimated. Small laps through the home garden are not enough even for small dogs. If more than two people live in the house or if you have frequent visitors, set up a safe retreat for your dog in the house. Dogs naturally perceive caves and niches as safe places and, much like cats, squirm when stressed.

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