Shih Tzu History And It's Interesting Origins

Shih Tzu History And It’s Interesting Origins

Shih Tzu History And It’s Interesting Origins

If you are planning to adopt a Shih Tzu puppy with its long flowing coat, adorable eyes and charming personality; you may be interested in learning about the breeds long line of history dating back to ancient times.

You might be surprised that this “royal” breed has gone through a variety of highs and lows throughout its history. The lucky 7 pairs of the “old” line from China that spread to various parts of the world were the foundation of the modern-day Shih Tzu.

Remember that this breed was raised solely to be a companion. It is a highly affectionate and outgoing dog that will follow you around wherever you go.

In recent years, the Shih Tzu has been moving away from solely being a “lap dog” companion/housepet and you will now see them taking part in dog sports, rally, obedience and agility competitions.


The Shih Tzu is a small yet sturdy dog with a round head, black nose, and long Shih Tzu Historyflowing mustache and coat. The hair above its nose grows upward which provides the breed its distinctive “chrysanthemum” face.

Shih Tzu which is pronounced as “sheed-zoo” or “sheet-su” or “sher-zer” among the Chinese weighs between 9-16 pounds. It stands between 8-11 inches with an unexpectedly solid build for dogs of their size.

The round, wide-set eyes are large tend to be mostly dark colored, but lighter on the liver and blue coloured dogs. The Shih Tzu has a short, square muzzle. The heavy underbite is the unique characteristic of the breed.

It has pendant ears that are abundantly covered in hair which blend into its body. The high-set tail curls over the back that is thick with fur. The dense, long coat covering the entire body can come in a wide array of colours.

Close Look at Shih Tzu History

For centuries, dogs of varying sizes, colors and shapes were bred in China including the Shih Tzu. Based on the findings in old records and Chinese paintings, there is enough proof from unearthed bones of dogs  to suggest the presence of Shih Tzu dogs as early as 8,000 B.C. 

With the antique facts and standard records, it shows that the propagation of dogs in China is the potential ancestors of the modern-day Shih Tzu.


The origin of the Shih Tzu dates back several centuries to ancient China and Tibet. It is believed that the breed developed after cross-breeding miniature Chinese breeds with the small Tibetan breeds, specifically Lhasa Apso with the Pekingese.

The Shih Tzu has always been the favorite among the Chinese emperors. It was during the Tang dynasty where a pair of these dogs were given to the Chinese court. More of these dogs were sent by the people of the Ho Chou.

During the middle 1600s, the miniature dogs…which strikingly resemble lions…were taken from Tibet to China and they were utilized to develop the Shih Tzu breed we know in the present day. The Shih Tzu was quite popular during the Ming Dynasty favored by both royalty and commoners.

Sacred Companions of the Palace

Shih Tzu HistoryThe breed which was called Shih Tzu Kou in traditional Chinese literally means “Lion Dog”. The name was given due to the lion-like features of the breed which was esteemed in the Imperial courts because the Buddha was believed to have traveled to earth on the back of a lion.

There are various legends involving the breed. In one popular story, Buddha traveled along with a small dog that fits the description of a Shih Tzu. As the story progresses, several robbers attempted to rob and murder Buddha. 

The small dog then transformed into a fierce lion that scared the robbers away, thus saving Buddha’s life. 

After scaring the thieves away the lion turned back into the small, adorable dog. Buddha then picked up and kissed the dog on the head…leaving a white mark that many Shih Tzu have to this day. 

Many also believe that the Fu Dogs or guardians of the Buddhist temples are representations of the Shih Tzu.

During the Manchu and Ming dynasties, the small “lion dogs” were bred and nurtured by the eunuchs in the palace and were the sole property of the royal court. The dogs were seldom seen outside the palaces and you could face the death penalty if your were caught owning one.

The Shih Tzu were oftentimes carried within the robes of noble women and even used as bed warmers and positioned at the feet of the emperors and empresses for heat.

Shih Tzu Throughout the Years

According to historians, when Empress Tzu Hsi gained control in the 1860’s, the Shih Tzu HistoryDalai Lama bestowed her with a pair of astonishing Shih Tzus. These dogs served as the foundation of the breed’s pure line.

After the death of Empress Tzu Hsi, the palace kennels were distributed to various royal families and the dogs started to become scarce. These royal families competed to produce dogs that had the finest coats and colors.

Due to the competition, the breeding practices were done secretly. The poor-quality dogs were sold off in the public markets while the high-quality ones were often smuggled out of the palaces and presented as gifts to Chinese noblemen or foreign visitors.

Over time, the dogs were given as presents to Dutch and English aristocracy and by 1938 a standard was established for the breed.

In the latter period of the 1930’s the breed arrived in America and eventually became popular by the 1960’s.

The breed almost faced extinction in 1949 due to the Communist takeover of China. Luckily several fanciers of the breed kept their dogs and it is believed that only seven surviving pairs are the foundation of the Shih Tzu we know and love today.

It was only in the 20th century that the breed was recognized in the western world when it finally entered the show ring.

In 1930, the reproduction of the breed started in England when several pairs were brought from China. Once the breed was displayed along with the Lhasa Apso in 1933 during a show, it was clearly evident that the two were dissimilar dog breeds.

In 1934, the Peking Kennel Club was established and held its first international breed show. 

The Shih Tzu Club of England was established in 1935 and formally announced that the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso were entirely distinct breeds.

A difference between the two breeds is that the Lhasa Apso has a narrower skull with a lengthier muzzle while the Shih Tzu has a rounded skull with a shorter muzzle.

The benchmark for the Shih Tzu was developed by 1938.

During World War II, the development of the breed was disrupted in England but it was able to survive and later thrived in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The American soldiers favored the breed during the war and transported some back to the United States. More dogs were introduced after this.

In 1969, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed. In the same year, the breed competed in the toy group category. At the present time, the Shih Tzu is well-known for its gentle, loyal, cheerful disposition. The breed is included in the top breeds registered by the AKC and has held that distinction steadily for up to a decade.

What You Need to Know About the Breed

Shih Tzu HistoryBy simply looking at a Shih Tzu, it is apparent that the breed requires more care than other dog breeds, especially if you decide to keep its hair long. As part of its grooming, a Shih Tzu requires daily brushing and regular hair trimming to avoid mats and tangles.

On the good side, the breed sheds minimal dander, making it the ideal choice for individuals with allergies.

During the initial days of the breed, there were a variety of colors such as the golden yellow variants, yellow variants with a whitish mane, black/white, solid black and the multicolored dogs.

Although Shih Tzu are good family dogs, they may not be suitable around very young children. The dog should not be handled in a rough manner or awkwardly and has the tendency to become irritable should their patience wear out.

During drinking, carefully monitor the Shih Tzu. Since their noses are positioned centrally, water can easily block their breathing. Instead of water bowls, it is recommended to use water bottles to make drinking less messy.

A healthy Shih Tzu has a lifespan of up to 15 years. Some of the common health issues that might arise as your dog grows older include hip dysplasia, kidney and ear infections and eye problems.

It is important to check the eyes and ears on a regular basis to maintain cleanliness as well as inspecting them to detect any possible issues.

Even though they are ideal for apartments, they cannot tolerate warm climates which is why there is always a need to provide a cool environment.

Although they do not require a lot of activity…like some other active dog breeds…a daily walk is recommended. Although simply allowing your dog to follow you around the house can often be enough exercise.


The Shih Tzu has always been a companion dog throughout the years starting from it’s inception in ancient China.

It’s known for its vivacious, extroverted and confident demeanor.

With its friendly, trusting and affectionate personality towards both family and strangers, it is one of the most sought after breed of dog.

We hope you find this information helpful. We’d love to hear your tips and experiences with your Shih Tzu Dog. Let us know in the comments below.

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