Dogs, the amazing species that they are, have been developed for herding livestock, guarding our properties and working alongside us. Modern organizations decry breeding dogs just for pets, yet there are breeds that were developed with their sole function for being as pets. The ShihTzu is one of these breeds. Pronounced “shidzoo” this is a breed that is noted for a beautiful, long, elegant coat.
Chinese documentation from 1000 B.C. showed a small “under the table” dog. Thought to trace to the Tibet region, dogs resembling small lions were treasured. The ShihTzu has been preserved as a small pet dog, although it has as a breed undergone some changes.
Dogs were given among royalty as gifts and it is thought that one of these gifts involved small Tibetan Lion Dogs. The ShihTzu breed was kept as a house pet for most of the Ming Dynasty.
In 1861 the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi came into power, and developed a small shaggy dog solely as pampered pets. While workers did the actual hands on care and breeding, the Empress oversaw that pedigrees and descriptions were kept. She preferred parti-colored dogs with particular facial and body markings, although also prized solid colored dogs. She knew breeding dogs, color genetics and mating. She seldom let any dogs leave the Palace. Visitors were interested, but she valued her dogs and although later would occasionally give gifts, those gifts didn’t include her dogs.
Following her death in 1908 many of the dogs died in fires, or the caretakers were dismissed and perhaps took special dogs with them. It is thought the breed became extinct except for fourteen dogs that had been sent out of the area.
As with some other breeds, American military brought some of the first Shih Tzu to the U.S. in the 1940s and ’50s. Because they were bred as pets for centuries, they became very popular as show dogs as well as pets and in 1969 was formerly recognized by the American Kennel Club.
With a regal presence, tail curved over the back and a background of pet utility there is some variation in sizes. By the standard they are ideally 9-10 1/2 inches but should not be less than 8 or more than 11. Ideal adult weight is 9-16 pounds. Balance is an important factor but they should be compact and solid. For those interested in the breed as a show dog the written standard can be found at http://www.akc.org/breeds/shih_tzu/ – of course pets need not follow this standard.
Owners say the individual dogs that make the breed special. They’re sweet, “hugable” dogs and equally described as having ego, a stubborn attitude of pride. The good temperment comes from years of being selected as pampered pets, a role that they still are excellent at today.
Small dogs mean smaller litters, with three to five pups said to be typical. As with all breeds, there are some health issues to consider. Some issues with umbilical hernias have been reported with advice to have hips and eyes cleared from genetic abnormalities. Juvenile renal dysplasia is a concern. Their facial structure means taking extra care when bathing and be on the watch for breathing troubles in general.
“Dry eye” is a problem with ShihTzu – a disorder which the eyes don’t provide natural tears, it’s exhibited in dogs with dull or dry blinking eyes. Some are subject to eye infections or corneal ulcers. It may lead to further infection and, although relatively minor, should receive attention as serious problems may result if it is left untreated.
Anyone considering this breed, for show or for pet, should get used to grooming and lots of it. Banding the hair on top of the head is typical for show but something often done for pets also. Prepare for regular baths, blow drying and carefully using shampoo and conditioner to maintain the beautiful coat the breed is known for. This coat is the first thing the judge sees so needs to be outstanding. For pet dogs they need not be kept in show condition, but still require thorough daily brushing to keep mats from tarnishing the coat.
Some owners represent adopting good bathing techniques to keep skin problems at bay, although others suggest skin and hair issues are genetic. A mild, tearless baby shampoo is recommended but also noted sometimes it’s harder to rinse out completely, and leftover shampoo can cause problems on its own. Shampoo formulated for long haired breeds of dogs rinses out better. Use warm water and a sink or basin rather than a bathtub will keep the dog more confined.
Thoroughly wet the dog and pour the shampoo down the back. Gently work the shampoo into the coat, squeezing rather than rubbing it in. Scrubbing like a short coated dog is nearly guaranteed to result in a wet, tangled mess of a ShihTzu. Shampoo the legs and chest, rinsing thoroughly after the dog is washed. Be sure to rinse between the toes and keep shampoo from collecting in the folds of skin where it can become an irritant.
Dirty dogs may need this repeated until they are clean again. Secure the dog on a counter and use a good hair dryer to gently brush and blow dry the hair, which insures the coat is dry. This prevents dampness next to the skin and helps cut down on problems resulting from moisture trapped against the skin by the undercoat.
Proper grooming is a big part of the care of this breed. A committment to maintaining them on a daily basis is important to keep.
Daily exercise and play is needed, although they aren’t as high energy as some breeds they need to be kept in proper condition and not allowed to get too fat. Daily laying your hands on your pet also allows you to feel their condition – the disadvantage to long haired dogs is you often can’t SEE them losing weight until it’s very bad. Feeling means you can note if there is weight loss or gain, often an indication of illness if nothing has changed.
From a training standpoint owners describe them as stubborn but trainable, with one saying they’re actually quite smart and clever. They are bred as lap dogs so that and their size makes them good for older owners. Some can be barky but that is an individual trait and depends on the dog and training.
Frank Sinatra, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Yul Brynner and Beyonce Kowles are listed as some of the more famous owners in the breed. The Shih Tzu has become more popular as time goes on – in 2006 and 2007 was ranked the 9th most popular AKC breed. According to AKC statistics in Salt Lake City, Utah they are second only to the Labrador as the favorite breed. They’re the fifth most popular breed in St. Louis, fourth in Washington D.C. and rank in the top ten in several other cities in the U.S.
If you are prepared for the dedication of grooming and the challenge of training the ShihTzu may well be the dog for you. They can be a good dog for more sedentary owners that aren’t interested in the high energy level other breeds exhibit. What could be better than a pet bred for centuries to be a pampered pet?