Ever the charmer, a Shih Tzu puppy can be challenging to train. These loveable con artists live up to their name, meaning “Lion Dog.” Shih Tzu respond best to training methods based on praise and rewards.
For advice on training and expected milestones, we talked to Nancy Broz, owner of Jen-Mai Shih Tzu with over forty years of experience breeding and raising Shih Tzu. Broz is a member of the American Shih Tzu Club with champion lines pedigrees on all her puppies.
Key Milestones: 3-12 weeks
Shih Tzu remain in the breeder’s care until they are twelve weeks old.
At three weeks, puppies need to get accustomed to different sounds, starting with classical music. Next, they transition to cartoons which feature most of the sounds they hear as adults.
Friendly and outgoing, Shih Tzu know no strangers and “tend to adore one person in the home,” says Broz. Handling is key to raising a well-adjusted dog. Five-week-old puppies should feel comfortable around children, adults, and bigger dogs.
2. Puppy Proofing
“Get prepared as you would for a baby,” says Broz. “Get down on the floor and look around. Anything six inches off the ground is fair game. Teething starts early and everything goes into their mouth.”
To address unwanted chewing, “distraction is the best method,” explains Broz. “Remove what they’re focused on and give them something they’re allowed to chew.”
Key Milestones: 3-5 months
Training and grooming go hand in hand.
“Shih Tzu do what they want but they respond well to ritual,” says Broz. She recommends putting your puppy on a consistent schedule for eating, sleeping, and playing.
Take your puppy out when they first wake up. Start with one command at a time, avoiding harsh correction. When your puppy misbehaves, ignore them until the behavior stops. Reinforce desired behaviors with praise or treats.
Puppies under six pounds have less control of their bodies and learn to climb stairs more quickly than going downstairs. “Some puppies are fearless while others tend to be skittish,” explains Broz. Install gates or playpens until your puppy can navigate stairs safely.
Shih Tzu have a long, double coat that requires grooming every 8-10 weeks. If you plan to groom at home, “cutting their coat short is easier to maintain,” says Broz.
Alternatively, if you invest in a professional groomer, your puppy may need a few visits to feel comfortable. Groomers require that vaccines are up to date including Bordetella which can be administered at 12-16 weeks.
Puppies can develop a corneal ulcer from rubbing their face on the carpet. Broz recommends regular eye cleaning and having your veterinarian check for dry eye at least once a year.
If you have more than one pet, make sure they’re not licking each other’s ears. “If water remains in the ear, it can cause a yeast infection,” explains Broz. “Don’t use a Q-tip. Clean what you can see using a cloth.”
5. Puppy Classes
Puppies can begin obedience classes as early as 8 weeks if the puppies in attendance have the same vaccinations. “Because bigger dogs can be intimidating, find a class with dogs that are all the same size, not necessarily the same age,” says Broz.
Key Milestones: 6-8 months
Proper nutrition and exercise can keep puppies from becoming overweight.
6. Food Transition
Around seven months, it’s time to switch from puppy food to a diet formulated for adult dogs. “Dry kibble is best and you can add salmon oil to keep their coat shiny,” says Broz. “Avoid canned food because it sticks to their teeth and creates tartar and plaque.”
7. Walking on a Leash
“Make their first walking session fun,” says Broz. “If your puppy has a negative experience, it will carry through to other walks.”
If you have more than one dog, they may need separate walks, especially if the older dog isn’t a fan of walking. “Your puppy will go into monkey see, monkey do mode,” says Broz.
Your puppy should feel comfortable in a crate or a safety harness when they’re in a car. “The first car ride should not be to the vet,” says Broz.
Key Milestones: 8-9 months
Adolescence is a critical time for reinforcing training.
8. Adult Teeth
Adult teeth come in around 8-9 months. Some puppies retain their baby teeth, leading to overcrowding. Broz recommends regular brushing along with a professional cleaning at 2 years old to determine if teeth are missing or need to be removed.
At 7-8 months, Shih Tzu go through a period of adolescence, lasting about two months. Puppies can become moody and stubborn, forgetting all their prior training.
“Your puppy may not act like themselves and this is temporary,” explains Broz. “They’re not toys you play with and put back on the shelf. People need to be prepared because adolescence is when rehoming is most likely to occur.”
Fortunately, through patience and positive reinforcement, Shih Tzu can grow into delightful companions. Instill confidence in your puppy by being firm and consistent. “And a little bribery doesn’t hurt,” adds Broz.