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What Were Shih Tzus Bred For? Breed History Explained

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

shih tzu on wooden bench

The Shih Tzu is an adorable little dog that can be found in households throughout the world. With a luxuriously long coat, cute ears, and a dainty gait, it is hard to resist the companionship of a Shih Tzu, young or old. The name Shih Tzu means little lion in Mandarin. The name was likely given to this breed as a nod to the Tibetan Buddhist god of learning, as it’s said that the god traveled with a small dog that could turn into a real lion when necessary.1

The Shih Tzu is an old breed with a rich yet muddled background. We know that the Shih Tzu was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969, but what was this dog initially bred for?2  As a general answer, Shih Tzus were bred as company dogs for royalty! Let’s dive into the details below!

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The Shih Tzu Hails From China

Historical information and documented records point to the existence of Shih Tzus in China as early as 1,000 B.C. Documents show that countries such as Turkey and Greece offered toy dog breeds to the Tibetans and Chinese as gifts before 624 A.D., and those dogs are thought to be the descendants of the Shih Tzus. It is believed that they were developed in Tibet, and the Tibetan lamas wanted toy dogs that resembled little lions.

The Shih Tzu is known as being the oldest and smallest dog breed to have existed in Tibet. Imperial rulers bred Shih Tzus, called holy dogs, and would not initially sell or trade them to other countries. Finally, after the dogs were allowed to be traded to other countries, they became popular household dogs worldwide.

Shih Tzu walking outdoor
Image Credit: Rachel Nelson, Pixabay

Shih Tzus Were Bred for Royalty

Unlike other dog breeds, the Shih Tzu was not bred for hunting, showing, or competing. Instead, they were produced by and for Chinese royalty. They were assigned to posts at the temples, where they would “guard” against unwanted visitors and evil spirits. Royals in China would keep the dogs as companions and take them everywhere they went.

When China started trading with other countries, they first refused to trade their revered Shih Tzus. Eventually, the dogs became so popular that the general public in China started to raise them, at which point, China began trading them with other countries. Today, Shih Tzus compete in dog shows and competitions.

mother shih tzu feeding her puppies
Image Credit: Pedro Helder Pinheiro, Shutterstock

Why Are Shih Tzus Bred Today?

There is no other reason that Shih Tzus are bred today other than to satisfy the demand of pet owners. These dogs are fun-loving, family-oriented, intelligent, loyal, and curious, which makes them excellent family pets for households of all types. They are charming dogs that enjoy making new friends and playing with kids.

Their adventurous side demands daily walks and occasional adventures in the car and at the park. They have extremely long, luxurious hair that can be styled in various ways. Many owners even put bows in their Shih Tzu’s hair!

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

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The Shih Tzu is an ancient breed that was restricted to royals in China but is now popular worldwide. They’re remarkable pets and can adapt to living in small apartments or large houses. These gorgeous dogs require more grooming maintenance than many other dog breeds, but the efforts are well worth it.

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Featured Image Credit: No-longer-here, Pixabay

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Authored by

Rachael has been a freelance writer since 2000, in which time she has had an opportunity to research and write about many different topics while working to master the art of fusing high-quality content with effective content marketing strategies. She lives off the grid in Hawaii with her husband, her garden, and her rescue animals including 5 dogs, a cat, a goat, and dozens of chickens. She is an artist at heart and loves...Read more

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