The Shih Tzu (pronounced sheed zoo) is one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States. But way before they were popular in America, they were beloved in East Asia. Here are some interesting facts about the Shih Tzu:
1. The Breed Is More Than 1,000 Years Old
Documentation of the Shih Tzu goes back at least 1,000 years. The breed's ancestry goes back even further than that. Records show that short, square, "under the table" dogs existed in China as early as 1,000 B.C. These short and stout pooches were likely the ancestors of the Shih Tzu.
2. They Came From Tibet
People commonly associate the Shih Tzu with China, but they actually came from China's western neighbor, Tibet, which was a sovereign nation until the 1950s. Tibet probably sent dogs to the Chinese royalty as gifts. The Chinese then bred them with Pekingese or Pugs to create the modern day Shih Tzu.
3. Their Name Means "Little Lion"
The Mandarin phrase "Shih Tzu" translates to little lion. The Shih Tzu was likely given this name because of its association with the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning, who, according to legend, traveled with a small lion dog that could transform into a full-sized lion.
4. They Are Also Called "Chrysanthemum-Faced Dogs"
Shih Tzu are called "chrysanthemum-faced dogs" because the hair on their faces grows in every direction. Shih Tzu owners who keep their dogs clipped short know all too well that not much time goes by before a Shih Tzu's hair grows up from her snout and in front of her eyes.
5. They Were Wiped Out During the Communist Revolution
When China underwent its Communist Revolution, the Shih Tzu breed all but disappeared. This may not have actually been caused by communism; a contributing factor was the 1908 death of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who supervised a world-renown breeding program of Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Pugs. When she died, the breeding program fell apart, and it became nearly impossible to get a Shih Tzu.
6. 14 Dogs Saved the Breed
Because their numbers dwindled down to almost nothing during the first half of the 20th century, every Shih Tzu alive today can be traced to one of 14 dogs — seven males and seven females — that were used to rebuild the breed.
7. Military Personnel Brought Them to the U.S.
After Shih Tzu were imported to England from China, the English exported them to other countries in Europe. American soldiers stationed in European countries took Shih Tzu back to the United States with them in the late 1940s and 1950s.
8. Many Celebrities Have Owned Shih Tzu
Since the Shih Tzu is one of the most popular dog breeds, it's no surprise that many stars have owned them. Celebrity owners of Shih Tzu include Nicole Richie, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Colin Farell, Bill Gates, and even Queen Elizabeth II.
9. Shih Tzu Are Glamorous . . . and Athletic
Given the long flowing coats of Shih Tzu show dogs, we tend to think of this breed as more glamorous than sporty. But underneath that gorgeous coat is a muscular body that can perform well in agility. Many Shih Tzu have won agility competitions. In 2014, a Shih Tzu became the first of his breed to win both a champion title and an agility title.
For more on the Shih Tzu, check out our video below!