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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 a beloved breed in East Asia. Here are some interesting facts about the Shih Tzu.

The Breed Is More Than 1,000 Years Old

Documentation of the Shih Tzu dog breed 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 1000 B.C. These short and stout dogs were likely the ancestors of the Shih Tzu.

Shih Tzu Originally 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 likely sent dogs to the Chinese royalty as gifts. The Chinese then bred them with Pekingese or Pugs to create the modern-day Shih Tzu.

Shih Tzu in the grass.
©Train arrival -

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. According to legend, they traveled with a small lion dog that could transform into a full-sized lion.

They’re Also Called “Chrysanthemum-Faced Dogs”

Shih Tzu are known as “chrysanthemum-faced dogs” because the hair on their faces grows in every direction. Owners who keep their Shih Tzu clipped short know all too well that not much time goes by before their hair grows up from their snout and in front of their eyes.

Shih Tzu Were Nearly Wiped Out

When China underwent its Communist Revolution, the Shih Tzu breed all but disappeared. Many of them were killed because of their association with wealth. Another contributing factor was the 1908 death of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who supervised a world-renowned 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.

Two Shih Tzu with pet clips together in the grass.
©Alex -

A Small Number of Dogs Saved the Breed

The breed’s numbers dwindled 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) used to rebuild the breed.

Military Personnel Brought Shih Tzu to the U.S.

After Shih Tzu were imported to England from China, the English exported them to other European countries. American soldiers stationed in these countries took Shih Tzu back to the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s.

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 Farrell, Bill Gates, and even Queen Elizabeth II.

Stephaniellen Photography © American Kennel Club

They’re Athletic, Too

Given their long, flowing coats, 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 their breed to win both a champion title and an agility title.

Their Coat Comes in Many Colors

Comprised of two distinct layers, the Shih Tzu coat comes in many colors. Not all coats are the same, so it can take some trial and error to perfect a grooming routine. Many Shih Tzu coats can also change when the dog is around 10 to 12 months old.

Related article: Lhasa Apso Versus Shih Tzu: How to Tell the Difference
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