Recent DNA analysis confirms that the ancestors of today’s Shi Tzu breed are among the most ancient dog breeds. Skeletal remains from human settlements have been dated ten thousand years ago in Tibet. Several Chinese and Tibetan breeds evolved from the Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog, a scavenger.
There are several theories about the origin of the modern breed. One suggests that it is a cross between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso and another that they were introduced to China from Tibet in either the Tang Dynasty, (618-907 AD) or the Qing Dynasty, (mid 18th century). The first of the breed to be introduced in Europe was in 1930 and were classified by the Kennel Club as “Apsos”. The first European standard was written in England in 1935 by the Shih Tzu Club and the dogs were reclassified as Shih Tzu. The breed spread across Europe and later, America.
Shih Tzu are small dogs, classified in the toy catergory. They have a short muzzle, large deep dark eyes and a soft silky long, double coat. They stand around 26 centimetres at the withers and have an ideal weight of 4.5 to 7.3 kilograms. Hanging ears are covered with long fur and a furry tail curls over the back. The coat may be of any colour, but white on the forehead and the tip of the tail is common. Shih Tzu are considered have a hypoallergenic coat making them an ideal dog for allergy sufferers. The Shih Tzu is slightly longer than tall. Their underbite is a very noticeable feature which is required by the breed standard. Shih Tzu have an average lifespan of 12 years.
Traditionally, the silky glossy coat is grown long and reaching the floor. It requires daily brushing to avoid tangles and to be kept clean. This breed has fast growing hair and needs very regular grooming, which can be costly. Shih Tzu kept as pets are often given a ‘puppy clip’, which means the coat is clipped short, to simplify grooming. For showing, the coat must be left in its natural state, however, it can be trimmed around the feet and the anus for neatness.
The modern breed has developed several health issues. The most prevalent is breathing problems due to their short muzzle. Shih Tzu are very sensitive to high temperatures.
These dogs are playful, affectionate, and clever. Because of their long coat and puppy dog face, they are favourites of people who like to preen and pamper the animal, and doll or dress it up. It is however a dog with dog instincts, not a doll. When this breed is pampered without the guidance of a firm pack leader, it becomes the pack leader and suffers separation anxiety and exhibits behavioural problems such as being snappy, growling and even biting. Those owners who provide rules, boundaries and are consistent, will have a well behaved dog.
It may be difficult to housebreak and requires patience to learn. They are fine as an indoor dog as long as they get plenty of exercise and play.