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Are Shih Tzus Smarter Than the Average Dog? What You Need to Know

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Shih Tzu Showing Teeth

It doesn’t take much research or reading to stumble upon an article calling the Shih Tzu a “dumb” dog. While they certainly have a few traits that might make it seem that way, the truth is that it’s an unfair label.

Shih Tzus rank behind some dogs in some tests and above other dogs in other tests. In the end, it’s a complicated topic, so this guide will break down everything that you need to know about a Shih Tzu’s intelligence.

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Are Shih Tzus Smarter Than the Average Dog?

The answer to this depends on how you measure a dog’s intelligence. If you’re using Stanley Coren’s famous dog intelligence test¹, the Shih Tzu is among the least intelligent dogs in the world. However, this test is highly reliant on obedience training.

Since the Shih Tzu is extremely stubborn, this works against them. But if you’re measuring a Shih Tzu’s intelligence by the way that they can connect and understand people, they rank among the most emotionally intelligent dogs in the world.

Instead of focusing on how they stack up against other dogs overall, it’s better to look at the areas where they thrive and the areas where they struggle in order to get a better understanding of the Shih Tzu’s overall intelligence.

Shih Tzu sitting on the patio
Image Credit: Frauke Riether, Pixabay

Areas Where Shih Tzus Are Smart

Contrary to what you might hear, the Shih Tzu is quite smart. Here are three of their strong suits.

Understanding Human Emotion

Shih Tzus are extremely popular companion dogs. Part of the reason for this is their seemingly eerie ability to pick up on human emotions. Whether you’re excited, upset, nervous, or scared, a Shih Tzu can tell, and as a companion dog, they typically do a great job of responding appropriately.

shih tzu puppy sitting on a couch
Image Credit: Pattarit S, Shutterstock

Getting What They Want

Few dogs are quite as stubborn as the Shih Tzu. They use this stubbornness to get their owners to do what they want and to avoid doing the things that they don’t want to do.

The Shih Tzu calculates the energy that they put into their stubbornness, and that’s a clear-cut sign of intelligence!

Having Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog learning how to do something on their own, instead of you sitting down and trying to teach them something.

A Shih Tzu will usually do a great job of figuring out what they need and doing whatever it takes to get it. They’re smart — they just don’t always want to listen to you!

Shih Tzu puppy carrying blue ball by its mouth
Image Credit: Blanscape, Shutterstock

Areas Where Shih Tzus Are Not Smart

While the Shih Tzu’s reputation for being a “dumb” breed isn’t fair, there is a reason for it. There are a few areas where the Shih Tzu isn’t quite as sharp as other dogs.


This is what Coren used in his dog intelligence test, and the Shih Tzu didn’t do well. They scored near the bottom of the results, and it’s in large part due to their stubbornness.

The Shih Tzu does what they want, and it takes a great deal of convincing and patience to get them to do anything else.


While you probably can’t teach a Shih Tzu to do complicated tasks, it isn’t because they’re not smart enough — they simply don’t care enough to figure it out. It’s a fine distinction!

shih tzu
Image Credit: sylviesi, Pixabay

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The next time someone tries to tell you that a Shih Tzu is a dumb dog, you should probably take a little offense. They might not be the easiest to train and they don’t want to listen, but that just means they’re not obedient!

They show that they care in other ways, and they make phenomenal companion dogs. With a Shih Tzu, you’re getting less of an obedient servant and more of a loyal friend.

See also:

Featured Image Credit to: Marissa B., Shutterstock

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