- HistoryThe Shih Tzu Puppies origins are ancient, and steeped in mystery and controversy. A recent study revealed that the Shih Tzu is one of the 14 oldest dog breeds, and dog bones found in China have proven that dogs were present there as early as 8,000 B.C.
Some believe the breed was developed by Tibetan Monks and given as gifts to Chinese royalty. It is also speculated that the Shih Tzu was developed in China by crossing other breeds with the Lhasa Apso or Pekingnese. Regardless of where the breed was developed–Tibet or China–it’s clear that the Shih Tzu was a treasured companion from the earliest times. Paintings, art, and writings from the China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) portray small dogs similar to the Shih Tzu. References to the dogs appear again from 990 to 994 A.D. in documents, a few paintings, and carvings.
- In the 13th century, Marco Polo reported that the Mongolian Emperor Kubla Khan kept small “lion” dogs with trained hunting lions–not as prey, but to keep the lions calm. Some believe these dogs were the Shih Tzu.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese royal families kept Shih Tzu-type dogs, and the “little lion dogs” or “chrysanthemum-faced” dogs were mentioned in several documents from that period. They were reportedly small, intelligent, docile dogs that strongly resembled lions.
There isn’t much mention of the dogs in documents from the 1700s to the early 1900s, but many pieces of art from that period depict small, shaggy, happy dogs.
In 1861, the Shih Tzu became popular in the Imperial Court after a royal concubine became the Empress of China. One of Empress T’zu Hsi’s first royal edicts was that anyone caught torturing palace dogs would be put to death. Empress T’zu Hsi had a great love for animals and carried out extensive breeding programs under the direct care of palace eunuchs.
During Empress T’zu Hsi’s reign, the Dalai Lama gave her a pair of magnificent Shih Tzus, reportedly the source of the imperial palace’s little lion dogs. It’s said that the Shih Tzus had their own palace and were trained to sit up and wave their front paws when the Empress visited.
After her death in 1908, many royal families competed to produce dogs of the finest coats and colors. Because of the competition, breeding practices were kept secret. Poor-quality dogs were sold in the marketplace, and good-quality dogs were often smuggled out of the palaces and given as gifts to foreign visitors or Chinese noblemen.
In 1928, the first Shih Tzus, a male and female pair, were brought to England from Peking by Lady Brownrigg, the wife of the quartermaster general of the north China command. In 1933, a Mrs. Hutchins brought a Shih Tzu from China to Ireland; this dog was eventually bred to Lady Brownrigg’s. These three dogs formed the foundation of Lady Brownrigg’s kennel.
Maureen Murdock and Philip Price, her nephew, were the first to import and breed Shih Tzus in the United States. There were three Shih Tzu clubs by 1960: the American Shih Tzu Association in Florida, the Texas Shih Tzu Society, and the Shih Tzu Club of America. In 1963, the Shih Tzu Club of America and the Texas Shih Tzu Society merged to form the American Shih Tzu Club. In 1969, the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the Toy Group.
- SizeMales and females alike stand at nine to ten and a half inches tall and weigh nine to 16 pounds.
- PersonalityAll dog breeds have a purpose. Historically, the purpose of the Shih Tzu was to be a companion–and that’s just what they want to be. They simply desire to be with you. So don’t expect them to hunt, guard, or retrieve; that’s not their style.
Affection is their dominant characteristic, and your lap is their favorite destination. They’re happiest when they’re with their family, giving and receiving attention.
That said, the Shih Tzu is not a total couch potato. They’re alert and lively and may bark at newcomers to their home. Don’t worry, though; they’ll make friends with your guests the minute they walk inside.
- HealthShih Tzus are generally healthy, but like all breeds of dogs, they’re prone to certain conditions and diseases:
- Allergies are a common ailment in dogs. There are three main types: food allergies, which are treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet; contact allergies, which are caused by a reaction to a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, or other chemicals; and inhalant allergies, which are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, or mildew. Treatment may include dietary restrictions, medications, and environmental changes.
- Canine hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip socket that can cause pain and lameness.
- Patellar luxation, which means dislocation (luxation) of the kneecap (patella). The knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling.
- Juvenile renal dysplasia (JRD) is a genetic defect of the kidneys seen in young dogs. The dog is excessively thirsty and urinates frequently. They lose weight, vomits, and lack vigor. Currently, there is only one definitive test for the disease that can be performed on breeding dogs–a wide-wedge biopsy of the kidney, which is very invasive and carries a lot of risk. There have been swab tests developed by geneticists, but, to this date, none of them appear to be 100 percent reliable.
- Bladder stones and bladder infections can be caused by many factors, such as excessive protein, magnesium, and phosphorus in the diet, or long periods of time between urination. Bladder infections can be caused by bacterial or viral infections. If your Shih Tzu needs to urinate frequently, has bloody urine, seems to have difficulty urinating, or suffers a loss of appetite, take them to the vet for a checkup.
- Eye problems are not uncommon among Shih Tzus because their large eyes bulge. Disorders include keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea that can lead to a corneal ulcer and blindness; proptosis, when the eyeball is dislodged from the eye socket and the eyelids clamp behind the eyeball; distichiasis, an abnormal growth of eyelashes on the margin of the eye, resulting in the eyelashes rubbing against the eye; ectopia cilia, a condition similar to distichiasis; progressive retinal atrophy, a degenerative disease of the retinal visual cells that progresses to blindness; and dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a dryness of the cornea and the conjunctiva. Contact your vet right away if you notice any redness, irritation, or excessive tearing.
- Ear infections strike the Shih Tzu because their drop ears create a dark, warm ear canal–a perfect environment for infection. Check and clean the ears weekly to avoid problems.
- Retained baby teeth and tooth and gum problems are not unusual because the Shih Tzu’s baby teeth may remain intact when the permanent teeth emerge. Sometimes it is necessary for the veterinarian to extract the baby teeth. Because of the Shih Tzu’s undershot jaw, they also can have missing or misaligned teeth. It’s important to brush puppy teeth regularly and report dental problems, such as bad breath and loose teeth, to your veterinarian.
- Umbilical hernias are common among Shih Tzus. Quite often, these are caused by delayed closure of the abdominal midline. If the hernia is small, it may close as the puppy matures. Sometimes surgery is necessary to correct it, usually while the puppy is being spayed or neutered.
- A portosystemic liver shunt is a congenital abnormality in which blood vessels allow blood to bypass the liver. As a result, the blood is not cleansed by the liver as it should be. Surgery is usually the best treatment.
- Snuffles may plague the Shih Tzu because teething tends to be difficult. At about four months, the gums swell; since the gums are directly under those pushed-in noses, there isn’t a lot of room. Puppies may snort, snuffle, snore loudly, or wheeze during this time, and may even have a clear nasal drainage.
- Reverse sneezing occurs when the dog is overly excited, gulps their food too fast, or allergens are present. Nasal secretions drop onto the soft palate, causing it to close over the windpipe. The dog makes a wheezing sound and may become alarmed. Talk soothingly to them and try to get them to relax to shorten the episode. Some say that pinching the nostrils closed so the dog is forced to breathe through their mouth is the quickest way to stop the reverse sneezing.