American teacher and composer James Mumford described the Shih Tzu as “… a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit, a couple of ounces of domestic cat, one part court jester, a dash of ballerina, a pinch of old man, a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part baby seal, a dash of teddy bear, and, for the rest, dogs of Tibetan and Chinese origin.”
With a description like that, it’s no wonder the Shih Tzu is one of the most popular companion animals around. Add in the tenacity, dogged determination and loyalty of a terrier and you have the perfect designer dog for nearly any family. But there are a few things you need to know about these ancient Chinese dogs and about terriers in general before you decide to commit to one and make it a part of your family.
The Shih Tzu’s Regal Beginnings
The origins of the Shih Tzu breed have been speculated by historians and researchers for years. There is no doubt it is an ancient breed dating back to the time before the Common Era. But whether it was bred in Tibet and gifted to Chinese royalty by monks or bred by Chinese royals themselves is not known.
Some people think the name Shih Tzu is Mandarin for “lion,” but since I don’t speak Mandarin, I have no idea if that is true. The breed was probably named after Xi Shi, who was rumored to be one of the most beautiful women of ancient China. Beautiful dog … beautiful name.
Regardless of where the breed was developed — Tibet or China — it’s clear that the Shih Tzu was a treasured companion from the earliest times. There are references to the dogs from China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), in documents and art from 990 to 994 A.D., in the 13th century by Marco Polo and again during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Legend Has It
One legend says Buddha traveled with a little dog fitting the description of a Shih Tzu. One day, some thugs came upon the Buddha and decided to rob and murder him. The little dog changed into a ferocious lion, scared the robbers and saved Buddha’s life. The lion reverted back into Buddha’s fun-loving little companion, which Buddha picked up and kissed.
A Dog of the Earth
The word “terrier” means “of the earth.”
Terriers were bred to hunt vermin and other rodents that could be a danger to farmers’ crops and livestock. That meant the dogs would chase prey into their burrows and underground dens. Since the dogs wouldn’t leave the animal behind in its home without killing it, the owner would retrieve his dog from the hole by grasping its tail and dragging it out. That’s why such emphasis is placed on the strength of a terrier’s tail.
Just Want to Be With You
Shih Tzus were bred as companion animals, which means they are comfortable in your lap, but they can tend to be possessive of their humans. That loyalty, affection, and alertness can be just what you’re looking for. But start training and socializing early to make sure those positive traits don’t turn into something not so nice.
Terriers, on the other hand, were bred to hunt small animals and to work alone. They are happy dogs, but typically don’t imprint on their humans the same way some other breeds might. So early training and socialization will help terriers as well.
It’s Not 50/50
You might think the personality and characteristics of a “designer breed” between two “purebred” dogs would be a 50/50 mix of the two breeds. That’s not so. Every dog has its own personality, so get to know your own dog. Odds are you’ll see traits from both parents — and some that aren’t mentioned anywhere on the web or in dog behavior books.
In general, Shih Tzus are playful, stubborn, quiet, friendly and devoted. Terriers are brave, mischievous, independent, active and fearless. So you need to start training and socializing early.
That stubbornness and independence might mean your dog may not catch on (or may just ignore) attempts to teach it simple commands or even to house train. That playfulness and mischievousness may put other, smaller pets in your household in danger from being played with too aggressively or being actively hunted by a dog with a high prey drive. That fearlessness and devotion may bring out possessiveness in your dog that could mean picking a fight with the wrong (large) dog at the dog park.
As far as size goes, a Shih Tzu/terrier mix will tend to be on the small side — anywhere from 8 to 30 pounds. Since Shih Tzu/terrier mixes tend to be petite, they can get injured easily if they get caught underfoot.
Coat type can range from soft and silky to coarse and wiry. And color can span white to black and everything between. These little loads of love can live for 10 to 15 years; be prepared to be a pooch parent for a while.
And despite what some may say, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. When people say they are allergic to dogs, they typically have an allergic reaction to a protein found in the dog’s saliva, which also can seep through the dog’s skin onto its coat. Some dogs shed less than others, and some are bathed or groomed more often than others, which means their dander and hair don’t have as much of the protein available to trigger someone’s allergies. So, just like with temperament, those allergy triggers will be different for every animal. You’ll have to wait and see what you need to do with your dog to minimize your allergic reactions. Or be prepared for many trips to the groomer.
It might be a good idea to introduce your puppy to baths early on. And buy your own grooming kit so you can take care of simpler tasks — like toenail clipping and tooth-brushing — yourself. Spending time grooming, brushing, bathing and simply touching your puppy will be another way to socialize it and ensure those activities don’t become troublesome as the dog grows.
Stubborn or Not?
Both Shih Tzus and terriers can be stubborn, so training may be a problem — especially house training. That’s why crate training is so important. Don’t allow a puppy to roam around the house unsupervised. While in the house without supervision, a puppy should be in its crate. Then, as soon as it is let out, it should make a beeline for the door to get outside to do its business.
Obedience training will require patience and persistence. Reward training works best, and the terrier side of your dog should shine through as terriers tend to be more prey, food or toy driven. Try clicker training, and give your puppy an opportunity to solve problems — like how to get that treat out of the plastic ball. While your puppy is in its crate, give it a toy or puzzle that will keep it busy and built its confidence. For terriers, impulse control exercises (like waiting at the door) can be important and will teach your puppy the concept of delayed gratification.
Many communities offer puppy classes, which are great ways to introduce your pup to obedience commands as well as other dogs. The proper socialization of your puppy could prevent problems in the future with food aggression, possessiveness of toys and people and fear of strangers.
Children should also be supervised when playing with a puppy, primarily for the child’s protection. Puppy play is very different from child’s play and tiny puppy teeth can be sharp. Encourage children to be calm and gentle and to talk softly to the puppy. Fun experiences for the puppy with children will go a long way in predicting how an adult dog will treat children in the future.
The same goes for other pets in your home. Kittens, hamsters, birds, guinea pigs and the like can look like prey to a terrier. Your puppy should learn that those other family pets are off limits and should not be viewed as toys or food.
Apartment or not?
Don’t let the relatively small size of your Shih Tzu/terrier mix lull you into a false sense of inactivity. Your dog may be small, but it is full of energy and needs regular exercise.
Shih Tzus and terriers both thrive in apartments, condos, and houses. But remember to try to meet the innate needs of your pet.
Terriers are bred to chase and catch animals that make their homes under ground, which means you may notice a lot of digging — in your flower beds, your couch or the corner of the living room. A simple solution is to create a space where it is okay for your dog to feed its digging craving, like maybe in a sandbox. Puppies can also be escape artists so make sure you have secure fencing around your yard and keep them on a leash when you are outside your yard. Also, invest in a microchip. It’s easy for your veterinarian to administer and it’s the first thing your local dog warden will check for if your dog is found roaming the neighborhood. A few dollars could save you and your beloved puppy a lot of heartache.
Both terriers and Shih Tzus thrive in dog agility situations. Your local kennel club may have opportunities to take part in agility courses, fly ball and other events that your active and extremely athletic terrier mix would love. These pups also make great partners while you hike, jog or wander aimlessly through your neighborhood.
Your Shih Tzu mix just wants to be with you and will be entirely content to be by your side in whatever you choose to do. But no matter what, your small Shih Tzu/terrier mix should be considered a house dog. Don’t chain this lovable, loyal and little pooch outside. Give it the safe luxury of being inside a home — with you.
Where can I get one?
Typically Shih Tzu or terrier breeders don’t go out of their ways to create designer mixes. But sometimes it happens. Make sure you get your pup from a reputable operation and not a puppy mill. Good breeding is as much a science as an art. Responsible breeders work hard to produce healthy and well-adjusted puppies. Some people call larger Shih Tzus “imperial,” and smaller dogs “teacup.” These are terms used by breeders to market the pups they have for sale.
Please, don’t shop … adopt! Each year in the United States 3.9 million dogs enter shelters. Of those, 1.2 million are euthanized. When you adopt a Shih Tzu mix from a shelter, you are saving a life. You may wonder, after you get your new companion, just who rescued whom.
Health and Care
Terriers typically do not have many health issues. Shih Tzus, however, are susceptible to several, not the least of which involves their noses, which are short and scrunched in. This condition is called brachycephaly, and it makes dogs with this shape of face highly sensitive to heat. If your Shih Tzu/terrier mix has brachycephaly, it should stay indoors in an air-conditioned room on hot days so he doesn’t suffer from heat exhaustion.
Brachycephalic dogs may experience snuffles, a condition that happens when a puppy’s adult start to emerge. If, for some reason, the adult teeth don’t push the baby teeth out of the way, all those teeth are in one very small mouth with not a lot of room. The gums may swell, and puppies may snort, snuffle, snore, or wheeze.
Other issues, which are rare but should be considered are:
- Problems with allergies and teeth.
- Hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip socket that can cause pain and lameness.
- Dislocation of the knee cap
- Kidney, bladder, liver, thyroid, back, and eye irritations
- Ear infections
- Umbilical hernias, which may close up as the dog grows or may need surgery to repair.
- Obesity. Make sure to feed your dog at fixed times. Dry food should be plenty. Make sure to check the bag to figure out the right amount of food to give and the number of times a day to feed your dog.
New puppies should have regular veterinary check-ups and should be up-to-date on all vaccinations.
Designer Dog Names
Many combinations of Shih Tzu/terrier mixes have been identified. Here’s what you get when you mix a Shih Tzu with a:
- Rat Terrier = Ratshi
- Scottish Terrier = Sco-Shi
- Silky Terrier = Silky Tzu
- Schipperke = Skip-Shzu
- Smooth Fox Terrier = Smooth Fo-Tzu
- Toy Fox Terrier = Fo-Tzu or a Toy Fo-Tzu
- Mini Fox Terrier = Mini Fo-Tzu
- West Highland White Terrier = Weshi
- Yorkshire Terrier = Shorkie
- Jack Russell Terrier = Jack-Tzu
- Boston Terrier = BoShih
- Bulldog = Bully-Tzu
- Cairn Terrier = Care-Tzu
Whether it’s a Care-Tzu, a Shorkie, a Weshi, a Jack-Tzu, or any other combination, you’ll end up with a dog that is as comfortable snuggling with you on the couch as sniffing every inch of your local dog park.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Shih Tzu/terrier mixes can make excellent family pets. They are loyal, loving companions full of energy that will keep their humans entertained and on their toes. They may take a bit more effort than some other breeds, but the result will be well worth the extra work.