Shih Tzu

The name “Shih Tzu” can be translated as Lion Dog. These pretty little dogs are so named because they look very much like the lion that is often depicted in traditional Chinese art.

The breed history is vague, but theories suggest that these dogs originated from crossing a Pekingese with a Lhasa Apso in the 17th century.  In the 1920’s, a pair of Shih Tzu were taken to England, where they were responsible for establishing the breed in the United Kingdom. The first of the breed to reach America originated from these English breeders, and the Shih Tzu was eventually recognized by the AKC in 1969.

The Shih Tzu is often used in the creation of designer dogs, so named because their parent breeds are carefully chosen to “design” offspring that have the best characteristics of both breeds. One example is the Shih-poo, a cross between a Shih Tzu and a Toy Poodle. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a designer puppy will be healthier than their parents; after all it is just as possible that they could be born with the worst characteristics of both parents!

Appearance

The Shih Tzu is one of the most beautiful animals in the dog world. They carry their head high, and their tail arched over their back, giving them a regal and dignified air. They have a double coat, with long dense fur that flows down both sides of the dog to  reach the ground. The long hair on their face gives the impression of a mustache and beard. Their soft dark eyes gaze at you from beneath long flowing hair on their head, which is often held up in a topknot so they can see. Their tail also has a long plumage, and it is carried curled elegantly over the top of their back.

These little dogs are available in a wide variety of colors – gold, red and white seem to be most popular, but their fur can also be black, silver or a combination of any of these colors and white.

They are not a big dog, being only 10 inches (26cm tall), and they only weigh up to 16lbs or 7kg. This makes it easy for them to fit on your lap.

Temperament

The Shih Tzu is a trusting and affectionate dog, and is always happy to make a new friend. They get on well with people of all ages and are usually reliable with other pets. They are smart dogs, and are quick to learn.

One thing that all Shih Tzu’s owners must be aware of is that in spite of their size and endearing appearance, they are still dogs, and need to be treated as dogs. This means that they must be taught where they fit into the family “pack”, and that they are not in charge. It’s easy to give in to those big brown eyes, but this can lead to your Shih Tzu becoming bossy, disobedient and just plain difficult to live with. If you can be a fair leader for your dog, they will be much happier, and so will you.

Health

There are few  health problems in the Shih Tzu. They can suffer from a portosystemic shunt, which is an abnormal blood vessel which prevents blood flowing through the liver.  This means that toxins, particularly ammonia, aren’t removed from the blood. The result is symptoms that can include depression, vomiting, tremors and seizures. It may be possible to surgically tie off these blood vessels, but if not, treatment involves medication and dietary management.

They can develop luxating patellas, or slipped kneecaps, which results in a characteristic skipping gait. This can be treated with surgery. If it isn’t corrected, then it can lead to arthritis in the knee joint later in life.

Eye problems are an issue in the breed, often due to the combination of excessive hair and prominent eyeballs. These little dogs can suffer from keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye. This frequently leads to secondary infection and ulceration of the cornea. They may also have cataracts which will affect their vision, and glaucoma which is an increase in pressure inside the eye. Untreated, this too will cause blindness.

Maintenance

The Shih Tzu aren’t demanding when it comes to exercise. Regular playtime will often be all they need. However, nobody enjoys looking at the same view all the time, and your dog is no exception. Take your Shih Tzu walking every day so they can enjoy the sights and smells of their neighborhood.

It takes time and effort to keep the luxurious coat of the Shih Tzu in tip top condition. They must be brushed every day to remove tangles and knots, and their eyes should be wiped clean regularly with a moist cotton pad. Bathing is done when necessary. A dog that lives mostly indoors may not get very dirty, and won’t need frequent washing.  you want to keep your dog in full coat, you can trim the hair around their feet and around their bottom to help keep them clean. However, many people choose to clip their Shih Tzu into a short puppy clip, which is much easier to care for.

Conclusion

The Shih Tzu is a great companion for most people. They are intelligent, playful and affectionate, and a pleasure to have around. They are particularly well suited to living in apartments, because they don’t need a lot of space.

Whether you are a senior citizen, or a family with children, you’ll have a lot of fun with your dog. Just make sure you are prepared to look after their coat, or to invest in regular visits to the grooming parlor. The Shih Tzu is a relatively long lived breed, and will share your life for up to 16 years.

Shih Tzu
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