History & Origin
The origin of the Shih Tzu dates back many centuries to ancient China and Tibet. It is thought that the breed developed by crossing miniature Chinese breeds with small Tibetan breeds – in particular, Lhasa Apsos with the Pekingese. The Shih Tzu was always a favorite of the Emperors of China. During the Tang Dynasty, a pair of these dogs were said to be given to the Chinese court by the king of Vigur. More were sent later by the people of the Ho Chou. In the mid-1600s, small dogs which resembled lions were brought from Tibet to China, and these dogs were used to develop the Shih Tzu breed we know today. The Shih Tzu was popular during the Ming Dynasty as well, favored by royalty and commoners alike.
The breed was favored by the Dowager Empress Cixi (T’zu His, 1861–1908). After her death, the palace kennels were dispersed and the dogs became rare. In 1912, once China became a republic, occasional Shih Tzus came to England and later to Norway and North America. The breed almost became extinct in 1949 due to the Communist takeover. Thankfully, several breed fanciers kept their dogs, and it is thought that only 7 dogs and 7 bitches are the foundation of all Shih Tzus today.
The Shih Tzu did not become well known to the western world until the 20th century, when it finally entered the show ring. The Peking Kennel Club was formed in 1934 and held its first international breed show that year. Lhasa Apsos and Lhasa Lion Dogs were entered and judged together, with clearly there being confusion between the two breeds. A standard for the Shih Tzu was developed by 1938, with the help of Madame de Breuil, a Russian refugee. This is reportedly the most poetic of all standards written for any breed. Here are some of its comments: “The head of a lion; the round face of an owl; the lustrous eyes of a dragon; the oval tongue of a peony petal; the mouth of a frog; teeth like grains of rice; ears like palm-leaves; the torso of a bear; the broad back of a tiger; the tail of a phoenix; the legs of an elephant; toes like a mountain range; a yellow coat like a camel; and the movement of a goldfish.”
In the early days of this breed, the golden yellow dogs were called Chin Chia Huang Pao; the yellow dogs with a white mane were called Chin Pan To Yueh (meaning “golden basin upholding the moon”), black and white dogs were called Wu Yun Kai Hsueh (meaning “black clouds over snow”), solid black dogs were called Yi Ting Mo (meaning “lump of ink”), and multicolored dogs were called Hua Tse (meaning “flowery child.”).
Breeding of Shih Tzus in England began in 1930, when several pairs of the breed were brought there from China. In particular, a black and white Shih Tzu named Lung Fu Ssu arrived in Ireland in 1930, and a black and white pair named Hibo and Shu Ssa came to England the same year. In 1932, one dog and two bitches were brought to Norway. When the Shih Tzus were shown against the Lhasa Apsos starting in 1933, it became clear that the two dogs were different breeds. The Shih Tzu Club of England was formed in 1935, and recognized that the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu were entirely separate breeds. The Lhasa Apso has a narrower skull and a longer muzzle, while the Shih Tzu has a rounder skull and a shorter muzzle.
American soldiers became fond of this breed during World War II and brought some back to the United States. Many more Shih Tzus were imported after this, once the American dog fancier population became enamored with them. The Shih Tzu was recognized in the Stud Book of the American Kennel Club in March of 1969. It began competing in the Toy Group in September of that same year.
The Shih Tzu has always been a companion dog, being extroverted, vivacious, confident and dignified. Its friendly, affectionate and trusting personality towards family and strangers alike is one of its most endearing qualities.
The average life span of the Shih Tzu is 11 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include the following:
- Cleft Palate
- Dental Problems: Diseases and disorders affecting the dog's mouth
- Eye Problems: Issues relating to the dog's vision and/or ability to see
- Hypothyroidism: a clinical syndrome caused by inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
- Invertebral Disk Disease: Neurological deficits caused by degeneration and displacement of the material inside an intervertebral disk
- Patellar Luxation: Patellar luxation, commonly known as a “slipped knee cap,” occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
- Renal Dysplasia
- Respiratory Problems: Lung and airway disorders affect the dog's respiratory system
- Von Willebrand Disease: the most common hereditary blood-clotting disorder in domestic dogs.