What Were Shih Tzus Bred For?

What Were Shih Tzus Bred For?

Shih Tzus are one of the most sought after breeds in the United States and are one of the best companions and cuddle buddies for adults and kids. This very happy and playful breed is most comfortable in our home, but is this where they have always been?

Is there anything more to Shih Tzus than we know? Is there a reason why these cute little beings are more at home with us than anywhere else? 

Perhaps knowing a bit of your dog’s history will not only help you understand why they act the way they do but will also help you love them more. 

So, what were Shih Tzus originally bred for?

Shih Tzus were bred to be companions and pets to Chinese royalties and they have been lapdogs to kings, emperors, rulers, and noblemen for centuries. Shih Tzus are noble dogs and are noted to have been pets to the Ming Dynasty of China between the 14th and 17th centuries. 

Shih Tzus have a pretty interesting and noble history; perhaps the reason why they are so lovely and homely. From the laps of ancient royalties, they have made their way to the warm homes of ‘common’ owners who love them just the same.

Let us make a brief trip through history and find out just how the Shih Tzu breed came to be and how far they have come. 

Brief History of Shih Tzus 

The name Shih Tzu is of Chinese origin and it means ‘Little Lion’ probably due to their physical features that are very similar to a lion’s looks. Shih Tzus have been traced to Tibet and are said to have been around for about 1,000 years. 

Although Shih Tzus existed in China as far as 1000BC, they originated from Tibet and were sent to Chinese royalties as gifts. These royalties then crossbred the ancient Shih Tzus with Pugs or Pekingese to form the new Shih Tzu breeds we are now familiar with. 

Shih Tzus were revered in ancient times, especially among Buddhists due to a legend that says the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning traveled to earth on the back of a small lion dog that could transform into a full-sized lion. 

According to history, Shih Tzus were never allowed to be owned except by Chinese royalties and Tibet monks who kept these dogs in the holy palace. Anyone caught with a Shih Tzu outside of royalty risked a death sentence; this is how much of a big deal Shih Tzus were at the time. 

Shih Tzus moved into Europe for the first time in 1930 when Chinese royalties finally allowed them to be traded outside the country. Shih Tzus were given to English and Dutch royalties in 1938 as gifts. They arrived at America in the 1960s and became the very popular breed that we know them to be now.

Military personnel of the United States serving in Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s took some Shih Tzus back to the United States with them. This is how our very favorite pet found their way home to the United States. 

Reports have it that the death of the Dowager Empress Tzu His who ruled from 1861 through 1908 and was responsible for a world-renown breeding program, which leads to a very major setback and near extinction of the Shih Tzu breed alongside communist revolution at the time. 

The Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Pugs breeding program fell through after the Dowager’s death and Shih Tzu breeds became scarce around China. 

After the near-extinction of Shih Tzus, only 14 dogs from this breed were left after the first hand of the 20th century. It was from these 14 dogs that breeding and rebuilding the royal breed again. 

How Did Shih Tzus Get Their Name?

Shih Tzu (pronounced Shee Tzoo) is a Chinese name for lions. The name Shih Tzu is said to have been named after Xi Shi, who was regarded as one of the most beautiful women of ancient China. 

In modern Chinese language today, Shih Tzus are referred to as Xi Shi Dog

Shih Tzus were called the Chrysanthemum dogs in England in the 1930s and were often referred to the Tibetan or Chinese dogs based on their origins. 

Shih Tzu Dog Breed Profile

Shih Tzus are one of the most popular small dog breeds and are of the toy dog group. Shih Tzu puppies particularly look like toys and adult Shih Tzus are impressively sturdy regardless of their miniature stature. 

An average Shih Tzu is about 9 to 10.5 inches tall and weighs between 9 to 16 pounds. They have long double coats and are available in virtually every color you can think about, including white, black, blue, and gold. 

Shih Tzus have an average energy level and require about 20 minutes of exercise daily. Shih Tzus have an average lifespan of 11 to 16 years and they have an active life.  

Although the name Shih Tzu means little lion, Shih Tzus are not in the least bit fierce; they are cute, friendly, affectionate, and playful. Shih Tzus are bred solely as companions and they are the happiest lapdogs.

A Shih Tzu’s greatest joy is sitting at their owner’s feet, following you everywhere you go and playing until they have no more energy. 

DNA tests have shown that Shih Tzus are one of the oldest breeds ever and they have has a distinguished history spanning thousands of years. 

Shih Tzus are very sensitive to heat due to their short-faced nature. They should not be allowed outside during the heat because they are very sensitive and can suffer from heat exhaustion. 

Shih Tzus are also known for their agility and have participated in sports in recent times. They are as comfortable at sports as they are when snuggled up to your laps. 

How the Royal Breeding Affects Shih Tzus Today?

It is a well-known fact that Shih Tzus don’t look and act like other breeds out there. They are soft, playful, a bit lazy, and they have that ‘prince’ attitude that just doesn’t go away no matter how long they live for. 

Won’t it be interesting to find out just how much of their royal ancestry has come down the line with them and how many of their attitudes are as a result of their history? 


Shih Tzus can be very attention-seeking dogs; they want to be with you at all times, and they will spend all day on your laps if they can. But it is nothing strange as they have always been very close to their initial royal owners.

Some historians document that Shih Tzus were carried very close by their owners both for companionship and also to produce body heat. 

Shih Tzus can also be very dignified in their action, and they often display attitudes that some might interpret as proud or arrogant but they are actually not. Having been trained as royal pets, they were bound to have picked up dignified behavior and this is what comes to play now.

The dignified behavior of Shih Tzus can pose a problem when they are being trained because they can be stubborn and set in their ways sometimes.

But not to worry, once you are able to train them properly, all that is left of their natural arrogance is assertiveness, confidence, and great carriage that you would be proud of. 


Perhaps owing to their safe and pampered upbringing, Shih Tzus are very trusting pets and they are quick to make friends with other pets and strangers. Rather than worrying about them being harsh and unfriendly to strangers, you should actually be worried about them being too friendly.

A Shih Tzu’s extreme friendliness is probably one of the reasons why they can never make a good guard dog. They will actually welcome anyone and everyone who darkens your door because they just love people. 

However, in later years they grow into more mature self-controlled breeds and this is when you see the real royal behavior playing out. Your adult Shih Tzu will grow out of their overly friendly disposition and will find a place for themselves from where they observe visitors, strangers, and events unfolding around them.

Growing up on the laps of their owners has also been known to make some pets very clingy. Some Shih Tzus will actually suffer extreme separation anxiety if they are kept away from their owners for too long. 

Shih Tzus don’t do well to abandonment or neglect, so before you get a Sih Tzu to ensure that you are all in to give him the attention, love, and care that they very much desire.

Attention deprived Shih Tzu can become the very opposite of the cute loving pet that we know him to be. They could become unhappy, depressed, constantly anxious, and virtually unhappy if they don’t get enough attention from you.

Shih Tzus are often fearless and dauntless and sometimes they think they can do just anything. One of these things Shih Tzus believes they can do but cannot actually do is fly. 

It is common to find Shih Tzus trying to jump from one end of the room to the other or jump out of your hand to the floor. This can be dangerous for them and you have to protect them from their own Superman tendencies. 

From Royalties to Celebrities

The Shih Tzus royalty is something that is bound to stay the same even after lengths of time. From the laps of Chinese royalties, Shih Tzus have been pets of many famous personalities and continue to be loved by many rich and glamorous individuals world over. 

Shih Tzus have been favorites of celebrities like Geri Halliwell, Katherine Heigl, Andie MacDowell, Rebecca Mader, Nicole Richie, Susie Essman, Betty Buckley, Oleg Cassini, Phyllis Diller, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Bill Gates, and even Queen Elizabeth of England.

The list goes on and on, but this just goes to show how royal the Shih Tzu truly is. 

My Final Thoughts

Shih Tzus have been around for thousands of years and have made their way from royal temples to the laps of Chinese Emperors and finally to your warm home where they bring love and sunshine into you. 

Their desire for love, attention, and affection stems from the long pampered and sheltered they have had over the years and they are able to give back the same amount of love they get from you. 

Shih Tzus royal history and disposition are one more reason to love and be proud of them. 

John Carter

My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially dogs. I've got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.

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