The Shih Tzu is a small but solid dog, with a short muzzle, large eyes, a plumed tail curving over its back and a long, flowing coat. Its good looks, coupled with a sweet and happy nature, make the Shih Tzu an excellent pet but with certain considerations.
Basic Needs and Grooming
Provide for the Shih Tzu's basic needs. Most of these are the same as for any other dog: a high-quality diet, access to fresh water at all times, regular health care, exercise, training, attention—but certain characteristics of the breed call for a bit of special care. For example, because of the Shih Tzu's long fringed ears and beard, many owners prefer to give their Tzus dry kibble rather than moist food. You might also consider using a hanging bottle instead of a bowl for his water to further keep his face clean and dry.
Accustom a Shih Tzu to being groomed at an early age or as soon as possible. The Shih Tzu is a walking abundance of hair, so it's essential he learn to accept a grooming routine. Pay special attention to the Tzu's face. Clean the corners of his eyes with a damp washcloth or piece of cotton and comb his face and topknot daily to keep his facial fur tidy and odor-free. And don't forget to maintain the hair in particular areas: the hair on his belly, around his behind and between the pads of his feet requires frequent trimming. Hair even grows inside the Shih Tzu's ears and must be plucked regularly.
Bathe a Shih Tzu routinely. A weekly bath is ideal, followed by a careful blow-dry on a low setting afterward. Remember to remove any tangles and mats before bathing a Shih Tzu. Once wet, a tangle or mat will set and be extremely difficult to remove.
Consider the option of clipping. Many Shih Tzu owners choose to have a groomer regularly clip the coat into a shorter, more manageable style. While this does reduce the time you'll spend grooming the dog, daily face and eye maintenance, as well as the weekly bath, are still necessary.
Training and Health
Teach a Shih Tzu the basic commands, including "Come," "Sit" and "Stay." Not only does spending time training the dog strengthen and deepen the bond between him and you, but such basics might even save his life one day.
Know and adhere to rule number one when training a Shih Tzu: Make it enjoyable. He's a dog bred for no job but to love you, so you'll need to make him think that what you're asking of him is worth his while—either because it's just so much fun or because he gets a reward (or even better, from his perspective, both). Throw out the idea of approaching training as if you were a drill sergeant. Instead, work together as a team, make it an enjoyable cooperative effort. Think of yourself not as a trainer, but a mentor. Use rewards and affection instead of punishment and you'll be amazed at how willing a Shih Tzu is to please (or at least get his reward).
Know and adhere to rule number two when training a Shih Tzu: Be consistent. If you give in to his charms and only occasionally expect him to do as you ask, he'll do just that. Set boundaries and stick to them—not with force, but with gentle guidance. Calmly and gently redirect unacceptable behavior to acceptable behavior—and when he cooperates, reward the heck out of him.
Be mindful of a Shih Tzu's eyes. The breed has very large eyes, and with no muzzle to act as a buffer between those eyes and the world, they can very easily be injured. Should you notice excessive tearing or redness, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at an eye, bring him to the vet immediately. If the vet determines the tzu has a corneal abrasion, or scratch, she will prescribe broad-spectrum topical antibiotic drops or ointment to prevent infection and avoid complications.
Keep the Shih Tzu as an indoor pet. Due to his diminutive size, profuse coat, short muzzle and history as a sociable companion, a healthy and happy Shih Tzu is an indoor Shih Tzu, surrounded by his family and safe from the elements.
- American Kennel Club: Get to Know the Shih Tzu
- American Shih Tzu Club: Congratulations on Your New Shih Tzu [PDF]
- American Shih Tzu Club: Grooming the Companion Dog
- American Shih Tzu Club: Am I the Breed for You?
- American Shih Tzu Club: Attention Seeking Behavior
- WebMD: Corneal Injuries and Problems in Dogs
- A wire brush with flexible pins works well on most Shih Tzu coats.
- To prevent damage from static electricity, avoid brushing a completely dry coat. Instead, fill a spray bottle with water and a capful of cream rinse or coat conditioner and lightly dampen the coat beforehand.
Based in Southern California, Lynette Arceneaux has worked as a writer and editor since 1995. Her works have appeared in anthologies, such as "From the Trenches" and "Black Box," in the magazine "Neo-opsis," and on numerous websites. Arceneaux, who holds a Master of Arts degree, currently focuses on the topics of health and wellness, lifestyle, family and pets.