Skip to main content

Your guide to raising a happy, healthy Shih Tzu dog – find out if this is the perfect breed for you

Shih Tzu dogs: Learn about their physical and social characteristics and more

Shih Tzu dogs are as cute as can be — physically and socially. The small, happy pups are loved for their friendly, affectionate personalities. If you’re looking for a small breed pup that’s an adaptable dog, it’s worth looking into booking a meet-and-greet with a Shih Tzu.

Still, it’s important to go in with eyes wide open. These small pups have a knack for charming nearly everyone in the room, but they’re not the best breed for every home. Doing your homework and researching several breeds will help you find the best fit for your household. Though every Shih Tzu is unique, consider this guide a good place to start your research.

Holding a Shih Tzu puppy
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The history of the Shih Tzu dog

The Shih Tzu may be a cute and tiny furball without the same proud stance as a Lab or Great Dane. However, these lovable little ones have a rich — and royal — history that dates back centuries. The Lhasa apso is likely the Shih Tzu dog’s ancestor. The first Shih Tzu was probably born in the Imperial Palace, and many of their descendants sat atop emperors’ laps. In fact, emperors loved the Shih Tzu so much that they kept them under wraps until the 1930s, when they were imported to Europe for the first time.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Shih Tzu as a toy breed in 1969.

A couple holding a Shih Tzu dog
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A guide to keeping your Shih Tzu happy

Are Shih Tzus good family pets? How long do they live? How big do they get? Researching potential pets can get overwhelming. Allow us to help.

Physical characteristics of Shih Tzus

Purebred Shih Tzus have similar physical traits in accordance with breed standards, including:

Height: 9 to 10.5 inches

Weight: 9 to 16 pounds

Coat: Long double coats that can come in numerous colors, including black, white, and brindle

Common health conditions

Shih Tzus have one of the longer life spans for dogs and typically live between 10 and 18 years. If you’re looking for a long-time best friend, a Shih Tzu makes an excellent choice. Still, like all pets, these dogs can have health issues. Some common health conditions of Shih Tzus include:

  • Heart disease
  • Patellar luxation (a knee problem that’s often inherited)
  • Breathing issues
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Cataracts
  • Dry eye
  • Renal dysplasia (typically inherited and the result of kidneys that don’t develop properly)

Your Shih Tzu’s veterinarian can help you stay on top of potential health issues. There are some ways you can keep your pup healthy, including:

  • Attending regular checkups, typically once or twice per year, for generally healthy Shih Tzu dogs and potentially more for those with chronic health conditions
  • Keeping your Shih Tzu up to date on vaccines and administering monthly preventatives, like flea and tick heartworm (control the controllable)
  • Ensuring your Shih Tzu eats a high-quality diet of mostly dog food with the AAFCO seal
  • Limiting treats to 10% of your dog’s daily intake
  • Getting out for plenty of walks — as a smaller breed, the Shih Tzu doesn’t need hours of exercise, but two daily walks and play sessions will help keep your Shih Tzu healthy and happy
  • Trimming nails
  • Brushing fur and checking for fleas and ticks
  • Bathing regularly with dog shampoo
  • Teeth brushing on a regular and frequent schedule to prevent gum disease and tooth decay

Social characteristics of the Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu dogs are some of the friendliest fur babies you’ll ever meet. They’re known for being highly affectionate, great with other animals like dogs and cats, and a good first pet for a small child. You’ll still want to monitor interactions between your pets and introduce them slowly. You’ll also want to keep an eye on small children and pets. Shih Tzus are small dogs, and a wobbly toddler can appear intimidating or catch them off guard. With time and patience, you can teach both your small child and Shih Tzu to play nice and watch a lifelong friendship develop.

Shih Tzus love their humans so much that they also make pretty good watchdogs. Expect them to serve as doorbells when strangers or the Amazon Prime delivery person come to your door. That said, they’ll typically warm up to guests.

The Shih Tzu is fairly playful with moderate energy, so they don’t require constant attention. Still, they adore their humans, so they do best in a home that can provide them with the frequent snuggles they crave. This toy breed is adaptable and eager to please, making them one of the easier dogs to train. Though the Shih Tzu tends to have a friendly demeanor, all dogs benefit from training.

A black and white Shih Tzu wearing a red bow and tie sticks out their tongue
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Final thoughts on Shih Tzus

Remember, all pets are different, including dogs of the same breed. Shih Tzus are generally friendly, loving dogs that do well with other pets and small children. However, some Shih Tzu dogs may not fit this bill. A reputable breeder or rescue or shelter staff can help you learn more about the individual pet you’re interested in making your forever friend. You can also schedule interactions between pets to ensure it’s a good match.

Regardless of which pet you choose, being aware of common health issues, scheduling regular vet checkups, and training from a young age can help them become the best version of themselves. Your vet can provide resources on health and training and be an overall sounding board during your pet parenting journey.

Editors' Recommendations

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on and In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
Are Himalayan dog chews safe for your pet? Know this before you buy
Himalayan dog chews are still trendy, but are they safe for your pup?
A close-up shot of a pug standing in the grass with a bone-shaped treat in his mouth

What do blueberries, kale, and broccoli all have in common? In addition to being delicious, all three are superfoods, labeled by the health food world. Unfortunately, there's no federally regulated definition for the term, but Harvard scientists claim food that "offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value" can be labeled superfoods. 

Just like you might add chia seeds to your granola or spirulina powder to your smoothies for additional vitamins and minerals, you also want to make sure your dog's food and treats pack a beneficial wallop. Made famous on Shark Tank, Himalayan dog chews have become one of the most hotly debated treats in the pet food game, which begs the question, "Are Himalayan dog chews as healthy as some people think?"

Read more
Does your dog drink a lot of water? Here’s when you should be concerned
Is your dog thirstier than usual? This could be the reason why
A pug drinking water from a sink faucet

Ensuring your furry best friend gets plenty of water is one of the most important parts of being a pet parent. But how much water should your dog drink on a daily basis? Veterinarians claim the general rule of thumb is a simple equation: The majority of dogs require around 1/2 to 1 ounce (about 1/8 of a cup) of water per pound of body weight each day. Don't want to reach for your measuring cup? Make sure your pup has round-the-clock access to clean water, and everything should be fine.

That being said, if your dog empties their water bowl several times a day, or you notice their intake has increased drastically, you should probably keep a close eye on things. If your dog drinks a lot of water, you may be wondering, "Why is my dog always thirsty?" We'll share how to monitor your pup's water intake, the most common reasons your dog may be thirsty, and when you should speak with your vet.

Read more
Is your puppy breathing fast while sleeping? Here’s when you should worry and how to help your dog
When to call a vet because your pup is breathing fast while sleeping
A Jack Russell terrier lies in bed between the feet of his owner

It’s hard not to love watching your puppy sleep. In fact, they might somehow manage to get cuter as they snooze. They look so content and peaceful, especially if they're snuggled up to you. Though experts frequently recommend giving your pet their own sleep space, like a crate, it’s ultimately up to you. Regardless of where and when your puppy is sleeping, you want them to be comfortable and safe. If you notice your puppy breathing fast while sleeping, you may get worried. Should you be? It depends.
Here’s what experts want you to know about labored breathing during sleep and when to call a vet.

Different puppy sleeping patterns
Before we get into breathing patterns, it could help to have some knowledge of puppy sleeping patterns. They're similar to ours, though puppies cycle through them more quickly than humans. A puppy may experience 20 sleep cycles nightly. Humans typically go through about four or five cycles. These are the phases.

Read more