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Dogs, Uncategorized

The Shih Tsu – Tibet’s Gift to the World

Although the Shih Tzu is the youngest of the Tibetan breeds, it has become the most popular in many countries. In the United Kingdom the breed was long classified together with the Lhasa Apso, and the American Kennel Club did not recognize the Shih Tzu until 1969. While this breed is often confused with its big cousin, the Lhasa Apso, one distinguishing characteristic is the Shih Tzu’s denser, slightly wavy coat. This robust breed’s distinctive abundant long coat and proud carriage have really caught people’s imagination.

While their character offers plenty to delight their owners, the Shih Tzu’s most evocative feature is its head, which is tousled, with the hair falling in the dog’s eyes, an abundant moustache and beard, and hair on the muzzle growing upwards. These features give it a distinctly chrysanthemum-like effect. Character is as important as morphology in Shih Tzu breeding. Intelligent, active and lively, these little dogs are cheerful, good-natured companions that, nevertheless, like to retain a little bit of independence.

These small, shaggy-coated dogs were first brought out of the Tibetan mountains and into the royal court of China, as gifts, where they were prized as earthly representations of the sacred Buddhist lion. In fact, the name “Shih Tzu” means “lion” in Mandarin Chinese. Living in the palace among the other favored breeds, such as the Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Spaniel, and Pug, Shih Tzus were pampered by their own cadre of servants and slaves, and they were jealously guarded. With the fall of the Chinese empire, the royal dogs were killed or carried off by invaders and locals, which is how the Lion Dog breeds, including the Shih Tzu, came to the attention of the outside world. During the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, various dog-lovers visiting China adopted Shih Tzus and exported them to their home countries.

Today, the Shih Tzu is the cheerful companion of commoners and celebrities alike. Nicole Richie’s “Honeychild” sleeps on a replica of her owner’s bed, complete with designer linens. Honeychild has been known to visit her coiffeur to have colored hair extensions done to match Richie’s own locks. The Shih Tzu’s natural coat color can be any shade or combination of shades.

Not to be outdone, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell reportedly dotes on her “Harry,” taking him to film sets, photo shoots, restaurants, posh shops, and even to visit the British prime minister (where Harry showed his opinion of politics by messing on the rug). Harry has the honor of having his image stand beside Halliwell’s in the famed Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London.

The breed standard allows them to weigh between 9 and 16 pounds and does not recognize ultra-tiny variations sometimes touted as “Imperial” or “teacup” Shih Tzu. If you choose to own one of these miniature types, be aware that the smaller the size, the higher the likelihood of health problems.

The Shih Tzu’s double coat requires daily brushing and combing, and the long hair around the top of the head should be put up in a topknot to keep it out of the eyes in order to prevent eye ulcers. The hair around the eyes should also be kept clean and tangle-free. A full show coat requires extensive grooming, but pet Shih Tzus can be groomed in a puppy clip.

If you are thinking of adding a Shih Tzu to your household, consider having blood and urine tests done by a veterinarian, which will provide some information on the dog’s health. Many of these little dogs have a “dry eye” problem (their tears aren’t wet enough to properly lubricate the eye) and, in addition, since they’re brachycephalic (flat-faced) an eye can easily pop out if they run into something while playing. When buying a Shih Tzu, always ask to see health records and ask the breeder for a health guarantee to a reasonable age. Since their faces are flat, heat will bother them more than cold, so if it’s a hot day, don’t put your Shih Tzu outside to play or encourage him to exercise vigorously.

Like all dogs, Shih Tzus need gentle, positive obedience training, and they respond well to either lure training or clicker training. Although small, these dogs do require exercise and enjoy working with their humans, so owners should consider getting involved in a fun dog sport like rally obedience or canine musical freestyle.

Above all, however, the charming little dogs from the Far East are born to be loved and give love in return as the centerpiece of some lucky human’s life. Thank you, Tibet, for a lovely gift!

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