The Story Of The Shih Tzu

The Story Of The Shih Tzu

By Connie Limon

Far away in Tibet, a country with a recorded history going back almost 1,500 years is where our Shih Tzu began. The country was noted for its devotion to Buddhism.

Some of the tallest mountains in the world edge the country of Tibet. Winters in Tibet are severe with temperatures to 14 degrees F in December. The winds in Tibet are strong and biting with hard frosts. Snowfall is light. In the summer, daylight temperatures reach a maximum of 75 degrees F with a sharp drop in temperature at night. Throughout most of the year there is sunshine and the air is dry and pure.

The people of this remote and rather mysterious land of Tibet were like so many other cultures in our world. They kept dogs in a domestic environment. There were large dogs used for guarding and small, shaggy dogs used as companions and as watch-dogs to alert the larger dogs. These small dogs were the ancestors of our Shih Tzu. The history of the Shih Tzu, however, is steeped in myth and legends, which makes it difficult to sort the true facts of our Shih Tzu.

One tale in particular, which I find interesting, is that of the small Lion Dogs were trained to turn the prayer wheels as part of the daily ritual in the monasteries. There was a belief that those monks whose life had been less than exemplary, would in accordance with the Buddhist theory of reincarnation, be reborn as one of the temple dogs.

Buddhism in Tibet recognized a large number of divine beings. Each being symbolized an aspect of life. One was Buddha Manjusri, the God of Learning. The God of Learning was said to travel with a small Lion Dog (ancestor to our Shih Tzu) that could turn into a full-sized lion and carry him vast distances on his back.

Oddly enough, there were no actual lions in Tibet, only artistic works of the animal, which were often somewhat fantastical. We cannot be sure whether the Lion Dogs were bred to resemble the drawings and statues of the symbolic lions or if the artists created their ‘lions’ in the likeness of the little dogs (ancestors to our Shih Tzu).

The snow lion was called Gang Seng and was considered to be so powerful that he could cause seven dragons to fall out of the sky with one roar. The symbolic lion was believed to have the ability to walk in the clouds. He could also speak with the voice of truth and fearlessness.

Tibet was a difficult place to get to. China was a neighbor to Tibet. Gifts from Tibet to China were sent as tribute to the Chinese emperors, among which were Tibetan Lion Dogs (ancestor to our Shih Tzu).

These little dogs traveled with the caravans on long journeys from one country to the other. A small army of eunuchs took care of the little dogs. The little Tibetan Lion Dogs (ancestors to our Shih Tzu) adapted well as they have continued to do wherever they have gone to live through the centuries.

In China, everything must have been very different from Tibet. The summers in Peking were warm and humid with a lot of rain. The winters were very cold, somewhat like Tibet, with temperatures as low as 0 degrees F in January. It is recorded that the little Tibetan Lion Dogs settled in and became great favorites of the Manchu emperors.

Most likely they were interbred with the short-faced Chinese breeds – the Chinese Pug and the Pekinese, which is probably what gives the Shih Tzu the characteristics that differentiate them from the Tibetan Lion Dogs that later became the Lhasa Apsos.

Connie Limon is a Shih Tzu breeder. She publishes a FREE weekly newsletter with a focus upon health and wellness for you and your pets. Designer dog clothes are offered on the website. Discounts are offered to subscribers. Sign up at:

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