Much conjecture surrounds the origin of the Shih Tzu, with some attributing its early existence to the mountains of Tibet where it was supposedly bred by Tibetan Lamas, and others suggesting it emerged in China in 800 BC. Wherever it developed originally, that the Shih Tzu became highly favoured in the imperial courts of China cannot be disputed. The Shih Tzu adopted its name here, being named the 'lion dog' after its distinctive appearance and structure. The Shih Tzu was primarily utilised as a watch dog and companion to the Chinese royals, and was often gifted to distinguished guests and visiting aristocrats; it was thanks to this that the Shih Tzu was not made extinct following the end of China's imperial rule. First imported to England in the 1930s, and recognised officially by the American Kennel Club in 1969.
Often mistaken for the Lhaso Apso, a likely forebear of the breed, the Shih Tzu is the smallest of the Tibetan breeds and boasts a distinctive structure. Part of the Kennel Club's 'utility' breed group, the Shih Tzu shares its classification with the non-sporting Bulldog, Akita, Poodle and Dalmatian. Further, the Shih Tzu has short legs, a rectangular body with a straight topline, large, pendant ears, a broad head with wide-set eyes, and a profuse double coat. The coat itself is typically smooth in texture and straight, and requires regular grooming to retain its appearance and manageability. Any colour is permissible, although variations of gold, brown, cream, red and blue are most common. The Shih Tzu is often described as having a proud or arrogant expression and countenance.
While most small breeds are prone to displaying negative behaviours such as stubbornness, disobedience and aggression - behaviours that are often put down to 'Small Dog Syndrome,' these can easily be avoided by socialising your dog from puppyhood, showing firm leadership and consistently training your dog in obedience and manners. When trained, the Shih Tzu has the potential to be a spirited, energetic and affectionate companion dog, devoted to its master and family. On average, an adult Shih Tzu will weigh 4-7 kg, with a life expectancy 15 years, although it is not uncommon for this breed to live into its 20s.
Various health conditions are identified in the Shih Tzu breed. These range from mild allergies and eye disorders, to more serious cases of respiratory problems and kidney failure. Problems with the cleft palate are prevalent in the breed, something which can be treated with corrective surgery.