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American vs European Shih Tzu — What’s The Difference (With Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

American vs European Shih Tzu featured

The Shih Tzu is a popular small dog breed. It is known for being friendly and loving, lively, and intelligent. Of the various types of Shih Tzus, the American and European are two of the most popular.

Although the American Shih Tzu is generally more popular in the U.S., the European is preferred in other countries and is considered to be the more polite, friendlier, and more intelligent of these two similar breeds. The American Shih Tzu, on the other hand, is a little larger and more muscular. The fact that the European Shih Tzu bonds closely with its human also means that it might not be ideal for families with young children. Both are popular dog breeds, but there are differences between the two, which may make one a better choice for you and your family.

Read on to learn more about the American and European Shih Tzu and to see which is better suited to your conditions.

Divider 5Visual Differences

American & European Shih Tzu side by side
Image Credit: (Left) Rachel Nelson, Pixabay; (Right) Tatiana Gasich, Shutterstock

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At a Glance

Amarican Shih Tzu
  • Average height (adult): 10–11 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 14–26 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–14 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate/Easy
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Usually
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal
European Shih Tzu
  • Average height (adult): 7–11 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 10–26 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–16 years
  • Exercise: 1 hour a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Usually
  • Trainability: Intelligent, eager to please

divider 10American Shih Tzu Overview

shih tzu with cone paws
Image Credit: Ihar Halavach, Shutterstock

The Shih Tzu breed dates back 2,000 to 3,000 years when it was bred as a companion dog for Chinese nobility. The dog was brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants during World War II and became very popular by the 1960s.

It was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1946. On arrival in the U.S., the dog was bred with larger breeds, and this led to the American Shih Tzu being taller than the Imperial or European Shih Tzu, which remains closer to the original Imperial breed.

Personality / Character

The American Shih Tzu is a reasonably intelligent dog and is more independent than the European. As such, it tends to do better than the European when it is left alone. For example, when its owner goes out to work.

Its size and build mean that it is better suited as a watchdog than the smaller European breed. It is friendly and will usually get along with all family members and can also get along with dogs and other animals.

The American Shih Tzu is a little more independent than the European, which not only means that it can be left for longer periods without the worry of separation anxiety, but it also means that the American does better in families with small children.

Health & Care

Although the American Shih Tzu is bigger than its European counterpart, it still suffers breathing difficulties associated with its brachycephalic skull and facial structure. As such, owners should avoid excessive exercise and try not to exercise their dogs in extreme temperatures or other extreme conditions.

Unlike the European Shih Tzu, the American typically has a short coat that is easier to maintain, although some grooming will still be required.


The American Shih Tzu is more popular in the U.S. than the European, which means it is easier to find breeders of dogs of all classes and qualities. There is some debate as to whether it is considered ethical to breed brachycephalic dogs because it means knowingly breeding animals with genetic defects, but it is legal and there are many happy owners of happy Shih Tzus that certainly condone it.

black and white shih tzu dog with its tongue out
Image Credit: Edson Torres, Unsplash

Suitable for:

The American Shih Tzu is a friendly, loving dog that will usually get along with all family members and can be left alone for some time without getting too anxious. It is a good choice for families with small children.

divider 9European Shih Tzu Overview

Image Credit: Alexas Fotos, Pexels

The European Shih Tzu is closer to the Imperial Shih Tzu, which is considered the original breed. It is a little larger than the Imperial, however. When compared to the American Shih Tzu, it is noticeably smaller, tends to have a longer coat, and although it is considered a little more intelligent and polite, it can form a very close bond with one human at the detriment of its relationship with others.

Personality / Character

The European Shih Tzu is closer to the original breed in most ways. This includes its temperament. The European is a lap dog and it craves the attention and companionship of whoever it considers being its main human.

This means that it can get jealous of small children, and it may not get along with other family members. It also means that the European Shih Tzu is more prone to suffering separation anxiety, so it might not be the best choice for families with small children or those that leave the house all day long.

Health & Care

Shih Tzus are brachycephalic, which means that they have a shorter skull than what would be typical for dogs of their size. This can cause problems with breathing and may lead to further complications. The European Shih Tzu has a longer coat, which may be long or short, and this does require regular maintenance and grooming, especially compared to the hairless American variant.

owner giving a treat to shih tzu dog outdoors
Image Credit: Tanya Dol, Shutterstock


The European Shih Tzu is not as popular in the U.S. as the American Shih Tzu. This means that it can be more difficult to find breeders and you may have to pay more to find a reputable breeder with high-quality pups.

Suitable for:

The European Shih Tzu is especially suited to living with a single person or an older couple because it can suffer anxiety if left alone for too long and can also get jealous of the attention paid to young children.

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

The Shih Tzu is a small dog breed that originates in China, where it was bred as a companion for wealthy Chinese nobility. Its popularity has spread throughout the world, resulting in breeds that are slightly different from one another emerging in different countries or areas.

The Imperial Shih Tzu is considered closest to the original breed and is typically only found in China and other Asian countries: it is not recognized by a lot of kennel clubs. The European Shih Tzu is a little taller than the Imperial but retains many of the same characteristics and traits. The American Shih Tzu is larger still, has a coat that is easier to manage, and is also slightly more independent.

If you are looking for a Shih Tzu, consider how long you will leave the dog alone each day, how much exercise you can provide, and also whether you have small children at home. If you do go out to work or you have small children, the American breed might be the better option. If you want a companion that will sit on your lap all day and evening, the European is the one for you.

Featured Image Credit: Left-American Shih Tzu(Angel Sallade, Shutterstock); Right-European Shih Tzu (Olexandr Taranukhin, Shutterstock)

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