Pet owners

Shih-Tzu Temperament Guide: Everything You Need to Know

    Is it really that important to know the Shih Tzu’s temperament before becoming a pet parent?


    Temperament is a key component when determining whether a Shih Tzu is right for your household. Though the "cuteness factor" may sway you, it's important that you can provide the care and the environment healthiest for your Shih Tzu.

    So, what do you need to know before you add a Shih Tzu to your family? This article will answer your questions about

    • the history of the Shih Tzu breed,
    • the most common temperament and personality traits,
    • the management of your Shih Tzu’s physical needs,
    • and the compatibility between a Shih Tzu’s temperament and your family.

    Before the Shih Tzu's adorable face wins you over completely, let's dive into the "need to know" information.

    What is the history of Shih Tzus?

    The Shih Tzu, also known as the “Lion Dog,” has a long history. This popular breed was first documented around 1,000 years ago. However, experts are unsure when the lineage began (though they think it’s much earlier).

    Although the Shih Tzu’s breed is quite ancient, much is unknown about the breed. However, experts believe Tibet was the original home of the Shih Tzus. Tibetan monks were said to have used the “lion dogs” as watchdogs.

    Monks occasionally gifted these small dogs to Chinese emperors, which led to the breed's movement to China. Eventually, the Shih Tzus were seen with royalty and aristocrats all across Asia. Since the popular dog breed was considered unique and primarily a pet for the wealthy, experts believe that once trade began between China and the West, China refused to sell or trade these beloved animals.

    At one point, the Dowager Empress Cixi of China had a kennel that included Shih Tzus along with two other breeds. But after her death in 1908, the kennels were scattered, and the breeding requirements became lax.

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    With the decline of a strict breeding program, the coveted nature of the Shih Tzu shifted. Individuals bred the dogs but few exhibited in public. It was not until a pair of Shih Tzus made it to England in the 1930s that the breed made a rebound. When the Communist Party took over China, the breed there became extinct. As a result, current Shih Tzus come from the breeding of 14 dogs in England between 1932 and 1959. The Kennel Club officially recognized them in England in 1946.

    It was also around this time when military personnel brought Shih Tzus into the United States. Breeding programs began, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed in 1969.

    Regardless of where you find Shih Tzus - in royal quarters or in apartments -their temperament was (and is) adored as a companion animal by the masses.

    What exactly does "temperament" mean?

    Typically, we think of a dog's temperament as consisting only of its personality. Though personality is one aspect of temperament, there's an essential distinction between the two. 

    A dog's temperament is innate or something they're born with. It isn't something that's learned or created by an environment. Instead, genetics determine their temperament.

    Personality, on the other hand, is a mixture of the dog's temperament along with nurturing factors such as environment and training.

    Can a prediction of a dog's temperament be 100% accurate?

    Simply stated: no, it is not.

    When it comes to personality and temperament, no two individuals are the same, which is true even for entire breeds of animals. It can be very tempting to assume a pet’s personality based on its breed — after all, some breeds are associated with specific behaviors. However, recent studies reveal that breed is only 9% of what determines a dog’s behavior

    There's no one-size-fits-all description for any given breed, so the question remains: can we categorize a whole breed into one temperament? Again, the answer is no. We must look at each dog individually.

    However, researching a breed's temperament and personality is a good place to begin when deciding to add a pet to your family and home.

    So let’s dive into the possible temperament and personality of the Shih Tzu, so you can see if this breed is right for your family and living situation.

    And, if you decide to bring home a Shih Tzu after this article, PetScreening can help you keep all of your pup’s important information in one place with a digital pet profile that simplifies trips to the vet and groomers, finding pet-inclusive places to rent, and more.

    Individuality aside, what can I expect of a Shih Tzu’s temperament?

    Below are some commonly asked questions about Shih Tzus and their temperament. 

    Is the Shih Tzu a high-maintenance dog?

    Well, that answer depends on your idea of "high maintenance."

    When thinking about the amount of time and effort needed to care for your Shih Tzu, it's important to consider their basic needs for a happy and healthy life.

    Shih Tzus are generally considered to be low-maintenance dogs due to their loyalty and eagerness to please their loved ones. Shih Tzus are incredibly affectionate and loving; they thrive on human attention. You'll often find your Shih Tzu wanting to cuddle up on your lap for hours on end. In this sense, a large requirement is love and attention from their pet parent. If you have the time and love to provide for your Shih Tzu, the maintenance requirements will feel quite low.

    One thing to keep in mind with Shih Tzus, though, is their grooming needs. They have long, silky coats that require regular brushing (daily or at least a few times a week), and their coats need to be trimmed to keep them looking their best. Additionally, a Shih Tzu will need regular baths to keep their coats clean and free of tangles.

    On the other hand, Shih Tzu's shedding is minimal, which may make up for the time it takes to groom them.

    Regardless, when determining the maintenance level of Shih Tzus, grooming is an important part of keeping them healthy and happy.

    Do Shih Tzus tolerate being alone?

    Shih Tzus are companion dogs and don't like to be alone for extended times.

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    While they can tolerate short periods alone, they don't do well when left unsupervised for long amounts of time and can suffer from separation anxiety. Shih Tzus are very social animals and need companionship to thrive.

    Of course, you're also a social and productive member of society, and while your Shih Tzu's companionship needs are important, you'll need to leave them alone to go to work, school, or simply lead a typical life.

    Training your Shih Tzu to tolerate time alone is key. One method is to set up a routine that includes attention and play time before leaving your home. And, of course, make sure that they have plenty of food, water, and toys to keep them content and occupied while you’re away.

    Do Shih Tzus bark a lot?

    Contrary to popular belief, Shih Tzus are known for being relatively quiet compared to other breeds. This fact makes them a great choice for apartment living or other situations where excessive barking can be an issue. In fact, some owners report that their Shih Tzu rarely barks at all.

    Typically, Shih Tzus will bark when triggered by a doorbell, a visitor, or something seen outside (like another dog or a bird). Remember, Shih Tzus are social watchdogs, so this is expected.

    They can also be trained to exhibit some self-control over their barking, limiting some of the noise, though.

    Are Shih Tzus typically easy to train?

    Shih Tzus are intelligent and eager to please, which factors into their trainability. They respond well to positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods. Ultimately, most Shih Tzus want to learn new tricks.

    However, as with any individual personality, there'll be some difficulties throughout the training process. The key is maintaining rituals for your Shih Tzu along with a dose of patience since aggressive or impatient human attitudes can result in unruly Shih Tzu behaviors. Obedience classes and "clicker training" are options suggested by many Shih Tzu owners.

    Much like training your Shih Tzu to tolerate being alone and to exhibit self-control over barking, consistency and praise are essential. Consider checking out these tips for training from the American Kennel Club.

    How do physical needs factor into a Shih Tzu's temperament?

    Since Shih Tzu personality and temperament work in tandem, you’ll want to consider how you’ll maintain your Shih Tzu's exercise, dietary, and climate needs to keep your “lion dog” happy.

    What kind of exercise does a Shih Tzu need?

    Shih Tzus have a moderate energy level, meaning they need regular exercise to stay healthy. 

    The activity level of a Shih Tzu is relative to its size — larger dogs have more energy and require more exercise compared to smaller ones. A good starting point for a Shih Tzu is a daily walk outside (around 30 minutes) or multiple shorter walks. Your Shih Tzu will also enjoy indoor playtime with interactive toys to increase mental stimulation.

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    Short walks, long walks, playing with balls, and swimming are suggested exercises to help your Shih Tzu stay active. Other types of activities that can benefit them include agility training, hide and seek via activity toys, and mental stimulation via puzzle toys or games.

    Just be sure that you don't push their exercise routine too hard. Hip dysplasia is a common issue for the breed, which can come from genetics as well as from too much exercise. Their long coats can also lead to overheating.

    Do Shih Tzus have specific (and pricey) dietary needs?

    A Shih Tzu's dietary and nutritional needs will include quality dry food, which gives them all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and proteins they need to stay healthy.

    Shih Tzus often have sensitive stomachs. Other common Shih Tzu health issues, such as dental health issues, food and skin allergies, and hypoglycemia, may require additional dietary considerations. As a result, the cost of buying high-quality food specifically tailored for Shih Tzu's health needs can be more expensive than standard dry dog foods.

    Additionally, regular visits to the vet may also increase the overall expense of meeting their nutritional demands. But, spending more on high-quality food may essentially save money on other health conditions and veterinarian costs.

    Do Shih Tzus prefer a specific climate?

    Shih Tzus are adaptable to a variety of climate zones, but hot weather isn't ideal. Even though they’re small, they have a double coat which helps them to remain warm during the winter months. This heavy coat means that hot weather can cause discomfort for these canine companions. Like many other small and toy breeds, it's best to keep Shih Tzus in moderate climates as hot weather can increase their risk for heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses.

    If the temperature starts to rise, it's best to keep your Shih Tzu comfortable with the following:

    • a doggie cooling pad and a shady spot when outside
    • air conditioning or fans when inside
    • plenty of water that’s easily accessible for your pet

    Cool climates, on the other hand, may feel more natural to the breed. However, winter temperatures shouldn't be too chilly either — freezing temperatures could detract from their double coat's natural insulation. Temperate climates are ideal.

    Will a Shih Tzu get along well with my children and other pets?

    Now that you know the needs of your Shih Tzu, it's important to make sure that your new pet feels safe and comfortable in your household.

    Are Shih Tzus good with children (and vice versa)?

    Shih Tzus make a great addition to any family. Many pet parents choose them for their playful and affectionate demeanor as well as their small size, making them perfect for cuddling up with family members of all ages.

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    Not only do they get along well with adults, but they’re also good with children. Their playful energy level, eagerness to please, and quick ability to adapt to family dynamics make them ideal pets for households with kids. 

    Like all pets, though, the level of comfort displayed by a Shih Tzu around young children can vary from one pup to another. It's helpful to teach small children how to properly interact with the dog, as Shih Tzus can be quite sensitive and need gentle handling.

    Having your child help with the basic training process of your Shih Tzu will be helpful for both your pet and your child. You can use the time to teach both how you’d like your household to function.

    Do Shih Tzus get easily jealous of other humans and pets?

    Due to their loyal and attentive nature, many pet parents wonder if their Shih Tzu might become jealous. This question especially comes up when they consider the attention, care, or affection given to other people or pets in the household.

    Fortunately, they aren’t generally prone to fits of jealousy. That doesn't mean, however, that they can't get a bit possessive at times. Newcomers in the household should build trust gradually to avoid any issues later down the line.

    It pays off to be aware of your Shih Tzu's feelings and demonstrate extra love and understanding to ensure a pleasant experience for everyone involved.

    What is the life expectancy of a Shih Tzu?

    Typically, Shih Tzus have a lifespan of about 10–15 years if properly cared for and given the necessary veterinarian care to attend to any health concerns.

    In general, they’re considered a healthy breed of dog, typically with fewer issues compared to other breeds. However, like all canines, regular veterinarian check-ups and a healthy diet are important for any Shih Tzu to help them reach maximum life expectancy.

    Determining if a Shih Tzu is right for you

    Choosing to add a pet, whether it’s your first or fifth, to your family isn't a decision to take lightly.

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    The cuteness factor shouldn't be the driving force of this decision. 

    Instead, it's vital to consider the pet's needs and your family's ability to meet those needs within your current lifestyle.

    Apartment living can be a cozy, happy space for your Shih Tzu with the proper amount of exercise and play accommodations. Single-family homes can bring joy and involvement to both the pet and the family, and multi-generational homes can provide a whole new layer of companionship and comfort.

    Ultimately, understanding the Shih Tzu’s temperament will help you make an informed decision about whether this breed is right for you.

    If you want more resources to research your potential pet's needs, check out's blog today!