Shih Tzu Coat Colors: A Comprehensive Guide to Color and Genetics

by Janice A. Jones   |  Updated 01-04-2024

The rainbow of Shih Tzu Coat Colors is a fascination for most Shih Tzu owners, and once buyers realize they have so many choices, that fascination often leads to an obsession. Some breeders will specialize on certain colors while others try to create a wide variety of colors.  

"All Shih Tzu Coat Colors are permissible," states the breed standard by the American Kennel Club.

The Kennel Club in the UK, agrees.

"All colours permissible, white blaze on forehead and white tip to tail highly desirable in parti-colours."

In Canada, The Canadian Kennel Club states:

"All colours are acceptable, but black noses, lips and eye rims are a must."

According to the FCC (Fédération Cynologique Internationale)

"Colour: All colours permissible, white blaze on forehead and white

tip to tail highly desirable in parti-colours."

White Shih Tzu PuppyWhite
Black Shih Tzu PuppyBlack
Red Shih Tzu PuppyRed

So, if every color is permissible, what colors are really available? 

When a person first looks or think about a Shih Tzu dog or puppy, they see the gorgeous coats of many colors characteristic of Shih Tzu Show Dogs. 

Unlike some breeds that are typically one color or a variety of a few colors, the Shih Tzu come in an amazing array of rich colors. 

But with such a rich variety of Shih Tzu Colors, color combinations and markings comes a great deal of confusion. To make it even more confusing, a Shih Tzu's colors can change over time.

In this article about colors of Shih Tzu dogs, I will try to explain the many variations of colors that are present in the breed today and help you decide on your perfect Shih Tzu color.

BUT, please note that the color of the Shih Tzu does not make the dog!  When purchasing a dog, look for health, personality and temperament.

Shih Tzu puppies can be born with a solid color hair, a combination of two colors, or a mixture of three colors. 

To complicate matters worse, Shih Tzu dogs can be registered with the American Kennel Club, (AKC) based on the pigment of their skin rather than the color of their coat!  

Can the “experts” make it any more complicated?  Well, the short answer is yes and no. Understanding what is considered a specific color can be even more difficult if you’re as nearsighted as me, so how does one determine the color of a Shih Tzu dog?

If a puppy is going to be registered with the American Kennel Club, the breeder has a choice of eight solid colors, seven varieties of two color combinations, four combinations of three or more colors and a variety of different types of markings that occur with the combinations listed above.  

A Word about "Official" and "Unofficial" Colors

As you search for a specific color you are going to encounter breeders that have many different names for colors that are not recognized by major kennel clubs.

Whether breeders use these colors as a way to describe the color in layman's terms or to justify highly inflated prices for unusual colors is still a debate in my mind.  If you see colors such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Lavender
  • Isabella

These are not standard colors.  All of these colors would be labeled liver if your puppy was registered with the AKC.

Let us start with the solid colors. There can be eight solid colors from which to choose:

Shih Tzu Coat Colors:  The Solids

Black Shih TzuSolid Black Shih Tzu: This was MeiLing
Black Shih Tzu PuppyThis solid black Shih Tzu puppy is also considered to be a Prapso

Black is the most dominant color and a true black Shih Tzu will have no other hair color. 

Even if there is a small trace of another color, the dog will then be considered to have a combination of two colors.  All Shih Tzu dogs that have black hair will also have black noses.  You will never see a Shih Tzu that is all black with a brown nose. 

It does not exist.  I've seen rumors circulating on the internet that Shih Tzu dogs that are black do not occur and that the puppy must be a hybrid.  That is not true.  There are completely black puppies just very rare.

A White coat is similar to black in that it only has one color with no traces of any other colors. The nose is black unless the dog is considered to be liver and then the dog will have a brown nose and be liver color.

The American Kennel Club makes it a bit difficult for breeders whose puppies and dogs are not a pure white but rather more cream than a white.  There is no option to describe a Shih Tzu as cream, so white is usually notated on the official paperwork.

This puppy started life almost white and then turned silver by one year old.
These two white Shih Tzu are Princess Leia and Obi Wan Tzu-nobi

A silver color coat tends to look white with a deep shine resembling silver.  It is not grey, but rather a shiny, silky color.  The dog will have black lips, pads, eye rims and a black nose.

Red is a solid color that looks deep, dark, orange.  The dog's nose and other points (eye rims, pads, lips and nose) will be black.

Gold solid resembles a tan-yellow, but there are a wide range of shades from a light tan to a deep gold.

Gold (red) Shih Tzu with a Black MaskLilah is a solid gold with a black mask
Gold Shih Tzu with black maskHanna is Lilah's mom and looks almost identical.

Even though the two Gold Shih Tzu dogs above are daughter and mom, you can see the difference in the color shades with Lilah (left) looking more reddish.

Brindle is really a combination with one color and a streaking of another color running throughout such as a gold-black brindle.  Toby, below is an example of a red- brindle Shih Tzu coat color. Brindle is really not a color but a pattern that consists of stripes of golds, tans, browns, grays or blacks.  

Brindle coats all look different because in some dogs, the stripes are thicker or wider whereas in some coats the stripes appear to be very narrow.

If the brindle includes liver or blue, the dog will be considered liver or blue.  A true brindle designation will have black points meaning black eye rims, mouth, and paw pads.

What appears to be a brindle coat when the puppy is very young can turn into something else as he matures.

The picture below of Toby is when he was about one-year-old.  He had a beautiful red brindle coat.  The picture of him at six years old looks very different.  He is still brindle but has lost much of the red and the brindling is less obvious.

Brindling occurs as a complex reaction to several genes found at different locations (loci) on the gene.

Gold Brindle Puppy
Brindle Shih TzuRed Brindle Shih Tzu, Tobu at one-year-old.
Toby has a fading gene that causes his rich red brindle coloring to fade over time.Red brindle Shih Tzu Toby is now showing a faded brindle coat at six years of age.


Here are three different liver colored dogs but look different because they are called liver due to the brown pigment on their nose , eye rims, foot pads.

Liver Shih Tzu Puppy
Light colored puppy that is liver
Liver colored adult Shih TzuThis is Bebe, a retired mama at Miracle Shih Tzu. She is liver.

Liver is confusing because it is the color of the points (the dog’s nose, eye rims, pads, and lips and not the actual coat color.  Only when the points are a brown or liver color will the dog be labeled “liver.” 

Liver colored dogs lack the black pigmentation of the skin.  Their noses, pads on their feet and lips will be brown, but their hair may have other coloring, from very light to deep chocolate and everything in between. 

Livers can range from light red, orange, and cream coloration to deep chocolate.  So, you could have a white-liver, a cream colored-liver, a red-liver, or a chocolate liver. 

Some Shih Tzu dogs may also have green eyes with this coloring, but not always. 

The liver color comes from a recessive gene and for it to show up in a puppy, both mother and father must carry the gene.

This lovely red Shih Tzu puppy would see, "liver and white," on his official AKC registration paperwork.This lovely red Shih Tzu puppy would see, "liver and white," on his official AKC registration paperwork.

Taco here from Dogwood Country Shih Tzu,  has a stunning red color with just a bit of white on his chest.  But look at his nose.  Unlike the Red and White Shih Tzu above, little Taco's nose is brown. 

Technically, the American Kennel Club will describe him as a liver, even though he has that distinct red color that often looks more orange than red.

Bebe, Young and Old

Bebe as a puppyThis little gal that you may have seen on this website is Bebe as a baby.
Bebe as an adultThis is Bebe as an adult. Her "chocolate" or brown coloring as faded.

Gus's Amazing Color Change

Cathy Morning, from Bloomer, WI USA writes

Gus was a solid dark brown.  At one his back turned what I am told a mocha.  His face, legs and  feet are brown.

Gus with a deep chocolate colored hair coatGus with a deep chocolate-colored hair coat
Gus after his hair lightenedGus Now


Blue Colored Shih TzuBlue Shih Tzu: Notice the Bluish colored nose, eye rims and mouth

Blue is another confusing color.  A true blue Shih Tzu will have a blue nose, but can have other colors of hair.  The color looks more charcoal and is often difficult to see except in natural light. Sunlight is the best way to observe this rare color.

So, if you are contemplating the purchase of a true blue colored Shih Tzu, it is best to visit the breeder personally rather than depend on a photo on the Internet.

Blue is considered to be a dilute from a genetics point of view.  A dilution occurs when the pigment (either black or brown) has been affected by an additional dilution gene.  When this occurs pigment is clumped differently and distributed irregularly. 

If the pigment is black, then the dilution will result in the blue color.  If the pigment is brown, the color that is produced is a silvery color called isabella or lilac.  You will hear Shih Tzu breeders call this color, "lavender."  AKC recognizes the blue but does not list the isabella or lavender  color as part of their standard.

This dilution gene only affects the pigment of the nose, eye rims and other points.  It has no effect on the coat color.  

Shih Tzu Coat Colors: 
Two Color combination

There are seven varieties of colors that contain two combinations, a white with another color:

  •    Black and White
  •    Blue and White
  •    Silver and White
  •    Red and White
  •    Gold and White
  •    Brindle and White
  •    Liver and White

Another Shih Tzu Coat Colors combination of two colors includes dogs with red and gold coloration but this combination does not appear on the official AKC Registration paperwork, even though it exists. 

When there are two combinations, the color patterns can have endless possibilities.  No two Shih Tzu with two colors will ever look alike.  Symmetry in color combinations is highly desirable, but not necessary. 

Liver and White Shih Tzu

Liver and White Shih TzuLiver and White Shih Tzu
Liver and White Shih Tzu puppy
Tiny liver and white Shih TzuThis is our retired sire, Ketchikan

Red and White Shih Tzu

Here is a red and white Shih Tzu.  The red looks orange to the eye but should not be confused with the lighter colored golds. 

Red and White Shih TzuRed and White Shih Tzu
This is one of our former mamas and her pups.

Black and White Shih Tzu

Black and White Shih TzuBlack and White Shih Tzu
Black and white puppySome black and white puppies are born with pink noses and then the black pigment begins to form over a few weeks.
Black and white puppiesTwo black and white siblings at 8 weeks of age.

Blue and White

Blue female Shih Tzu mama with four neonates.This former mama (Lucy) who is blue with her four puppies, two who are blue and white.
This is a Blue and White Shih Tzu puppy, the daughter of the dog pictured above.

A designation of black and white includes all dogs with black and white markings.  A term that you may see come up from time to time is piebald.

The white that appears on a black and white dog is determined by the gene on the S locus.  White spotting or white areas are basically the same and can occur on any color including black.  The white hair occurs when the skin cells cannot produce any pigment resulting in a pinkish skin and white hair. The nails and paw pads may also become white or pick where there is not pigment produced.

Some of the more interesting patterns we see in Shih Tzu dogs occur in the black and white ones.  See patterns below.

Lilibeth, from Midland TX writes

She is still a puppy so I haven’t noticed a change in her coat yet, but I’m sure I will, her dads coat turned into more of a silver and white coat, and he had way more black on him, her mom however is black and white and although the white spread far out, the black stayed pretty black. I’m excited to see what she looks like as she grows.

Shih Tzu Coat Colors:  3 Color Combinations

Three color Shih Tzu coat combination with Dobie markingsThree color combination with Dobie Markings

Shih Tzu dogs can also have a combination of three colors.  The most common combinations of these include:

  •     Silver, Gold and White
  •     Silver, Black and White
  •     Black, Gold and White
  •     Black, Silver and Gold

Black, Gold White

By: Claudia, From Sto. Dgo. Dom. Republic writes,

When I first met her (8 weeks) she had 3 colors, black, white and gold). Her groomer never shaved her coat until 14 months. She is now 16 months and her coat is now a Beautiful pattern of colors. I'm enjoying the journey and love her no matter what.

Bella Before Her Haircut
Bella with Long Hair
Bella with a trim
Bella with short hair

Unique Markings

In addition to the Shih Tzu coat colors, and combinations, certain markings on the fur can occur. Each has its own terminology. 

Black Mask

Gold with Black Mask Shih TzuBlack Mask

You might think of the Lone Ranger or Batman, but the mask on a Shih Tzu is quite different. Sometimes a dog will have a black coloring of hair on his muzzle which may extend towards his eyes and on his ears and even up towards his forehead. 

This is called a black mask. The rest of the hair can be another color such as gold or red. 

Dobie Markings

A very rare colored marking called Dobie markings occurs when a puppy is born with tan markings on an otherwise black or very dark coat. This would be in addition to the normal Shih Tzu Coat Colors mentioned above.

These markings can be found above the eyes, on the jowls, on the lower legs, and under the tail. This is considered very rare and breeders will often sell these pups at a premium. 

They are called "dobie" markings because they resemble the coloration seen on the Doberman Pinscher.  These colors and marking are relatively rare since they come from recessive genes, meaning that both parents of a puppy must “carry” that recessive gene for the puppy to have that color or marking and not all puppies from those parents will show the dobie marking.

Black Tips

Another interesting occurrence in hair color is black tips. When the puppy is born, the coat is one color such as red or gold with black tips at the ends of the hair shaft. 

This occurs over the body and should not be confused by the black that some Shih Tzu dogs have on their ears.  This black tipping disappears entirely after the puppy's first hair cut, but is very striking and beautiful when the dog is young or if the dog remains in full coat.

Claire from Oviedo, Florida (USA) Writes about her Lola who was gold and white with black ear tips at 16 weeks:

I don't have a picture of her as a puppy that's good enough to post but her gold has darken to a greyish tan. After her first grooming the black ear tips were gone and I was sure the groomer was giving me someone else's dog. This is her at 7 years old. At 9 years old she seems to be getting lighter on her saddle and ears!

Color changes seen in the Shih Tzu breed.  Gold and white at this stage
Color changes in same dog.  Now the gold is more of a tanish grey.
Color changes in the Shih Tzu.  Now the color is getting lighter

Shih Tzu Coat Colors:  The Perils of Time and How Colors Change

One of the fascinating traits of the Shih Tzu breed is the possible change in coat color as they mature. This metamorphosis is primarily attributed to the breed's unique gene structure, which causes a progressive graying or lightening of the coat as the pup ages. The changes might happen during their first year, but sometimes continue until they're around two years old.

Puppies born in black and white might retain their black markings, but oftentimes, the black gently fades into a silver or gray. Dark brown (also known as chocolate or liver colored) puppies can retain their coat color, or it may lighten to a creamy beige. The "red" Shih Tzu (a deep golden color) might get lighter, but rarely turn completely blonde. The best way to know if your puppy will change is to ask the breeder.

Shih Tzu puppies that are born a solid color, especially black, are the ones that most often keep their color throughout their lives. Meanwhile, gold and light colored ones are often likely to lighten as they age. It's also common for a Shih Tzu to have a glorious, multi-colored coat as a puppy, only to transition to a completely different hue when mature.

Sometimes a Shih Tzu may develop "ticking," which are small spots of color on a white area of the coat, and these generally start to appear around the 1-year mark.

It's important to know that these color changes are entirely normal and don't signify any health issues. However, sudden or extreme changes in an adult Shih Tzu's coat color can signal health issues and should be checked by a veterinarian.

Learn more about Shih Tzu Changes in Coat Colors

More Genetic Factors that Contribute to Coat Color

Fading: If a Shih Tzu carries the "G" gene, his coat will fade as he gets older. You will notice fading in puppies as young as a month old. Sometimes puppies look like they are almost black at birth but by the time they get their taste of dog food for the first time, their coat has changed.  Fading will continue until the dog reaches his first birthday.

Graying: If a dog carries the Chinchilla gene (CH series) he is likely to change colors as well, but not in the same way as fading. Instead, the dog's coat will turn a rich, silver color. Someone once asked me if my dog was aging prematurely at two.  No, its just that gene at work!

8 Week Old Puppy

Here is Ricky at 8 weeks old. He has black tips but its difficult to see in this photograph.
His coloring is very dark, almost brindle in color with a black mask.

Six week old Gold Shih TzuEight-Week-Old-Shih-Tzu

Adult Dog

Here is Ricky again all grown up.  Same dog, but his color is completely different. He has retained his black mask, but all black tipping goes away with the first haircut.

Adult Gold Shih TzuAdult Shih Tzu

More Interesting Shih Tzu Coat Colors and Patterns

You will hear all sorts of terms used to try and describe the may ways that colors fall on the coat.  Here are just a few:

Blaze:  refers to a strip of white hair right up the center of the face, between the eyes

Flare:  this occurs when the  blaze (above) widens as it approaches the top of the skull.

Collar or shawl: As the name suggests, it is the marking around the neck which is usually white. 

Saddle:  A large  patch of color, often white, over the back where a saddle would go if it were a horse.

Tuxedo:  This is an interesting design where a white patch of hair can be found on the chest of an otherwise solid colored dog.  The color is often on the chin and sometimes on the feet.  When you put it all together, it resembles a Tuxedo!

Does Shih Tzu Coat Color Affect Health?

I have been asked this question many times, especially those that were considering a white Shih Tzu dog.

Research on health issues specifically related to different coat colors in the Shih Tzu breed are limited and inconclusive. However, some research regarding dog breeds more generally suggest a possible link between certain colors, pigments, and health issues, but it is far from universally adopted or agreed upon.

For example, there is a belief among some breeders that dogs with dilute colors (like blue or fawn, which is a dilution of the black color) may be prone to a skin condition know as Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA). This is a genetic disorder that can cause hair loss and recurrent skin inflammation. It mostly occurs in dogs with the diluted pigment (blue, gray, etc.) in their coats, hence the name. 

I wondered about this with a dog, Lucy I had purchased from a breeder in Ohio, who was all blue and ended up becoming bald.  As a breeder, I was very worried and got her tested for anything that might be causing her to lose her hair, including thyroid hormone.  All tests came back negative.  Still, I worried that perhaps she should not contribute to the gene pool, so I decided to spay her and rehome her.  She found a wonderful home in Cleveland, Ohio.  Later, I learned that she regrew all of her hair and had a very thick, lovely coat.  Was it CDA?  Was it the stress of pregnancy and lactation?  

Another topic that comes up sometimes is the association between white or lighter-colored dogs and deafness. Some studies have suggested that breeds with white or merle coat colors have a higher incidence of deafness (Strain GM, 2004. However, it is important to note that the study includes specific breeds and may not be universally applicable across all dog breeds.

It should be noted that Shih Tzu dogs can and do become deaf.  As of this writing, I live with a dog, Cooper, who is deaf, but he is tricolored, black, white and brown.  

It is crucial that breeders and potential owners understand that the color of a Shih Tzu's coat should not be the determining factor in predicting health risks. Regular vet check-ups and care from a responsible breeder play a vital role in ensuring the dog's health more than any potential coat color related risks. Always consult with your vet regarding any health issues with your Shih Tzu.

The Genetics Behind All These Colors

The genetics of Shih Tzu coat color involve complex interactions between various genes, each with their own dominant or recessive alleles. Essentially, each dog carries two versions of each gene (alleles), receiving one from each parent. The particular combination of these genes ultimately determines the dog’s coat color.

One of the most fundamental genes related to dog coat color is the B gene. The dominant version of this gene, B, results in a black pigmented coat, while the recessive form, b, results in brown, or liver colored coat (since liver coats are due to the recessive allele, both parents must carry the b allele for a pup to be liver colored).

The E gene is another critical one, responsible for the production of eumelanin, the pigment that leads to black or brown coloration. The dominant allele E allows the production of eumelanin, while the recessive allele e restricts it, leading to a red or gold coat color.

Another important gene is the A series that determines the agouti patterns (sable, tricolor, etc.). This gene causes bands of color on each individual hair. For instance, the ay allele is responsible for the gold coat and is dominant over at (black and tan) and aw (wolf sable) alleles.

It is important to note that the color seen is also influenced by other genes, which can modify the dog's coat color, such as the D series (D locus affects the dilution of eumelanin and phaeomelanin pigments, leading to blue and Isabella coats), or the M gene, which if present, causes a merle coat.

The interaction of all these genes results in the wide variety of coat colors we see among Shih Tzus. The genetics of coat color is an incredibly complex part of breed science, with the astounding variety and breathtaking beauty of the Shih Tzu coat being a testament to this complexity.

The presence of specific genes can also lead to markings or patterns on Shih Tzus. One such representative is the white spotting (S) gene, affecting the distribution of white areas on the coat.

The gene for brindle (Kbr) results in black stripes on a red or gold base, while the piebald gene (sp) can lead to large white areas on the dog's coat. Both liver (bb) and blue (dd) colors are due to recessive genes affecting the pigmentation.

In terms of fading or greying over time, that too is thought to be controlled by a specific set of genes.

You see, genes can manifest in combinations, and dominance or recessiveness can determine which traits will exhibit. It's important to understand that these are just the fundamentals and the science behind dog genetics is complex and still being researched for complete understanding.

Choosing A Shih Tzu Coat Color

So how does one choose a color?  It is really all about personal preferences.  A light colored coat will require more bathing and grooming. A white coloration on the face, around the muzzle or under the eyes can stain easily and will require frequent washing.  You will likely be dealing with tear staining.

Products that eliminate tear stains may be necessary in these light colored Shih Tzu.  Chocolates are “hot” now and rare colors are more expensive.  Colors are beautiful, but hair and point colors are only “skin deep.”  The true  personality and amazing characteristics of the breed goes deep and comes in any color!  Different Shih Tzu coat colors are fascinating for current and future owners.  If you are curious about how colors change over time, don't forget to visit  our page on Shih Tzu coat color changes.

Did You Know...

Many people choose a name based on their Shih Tzu Coat Color.  For example, check out our Shih Tzu Names Pages to learn more.  

If you found this topic about Shih Tzu coat colors interesting, you might like to check these out too.

Tell Us About Your Shih Tzu's Coat Colors

What Color is Your Tzu, Now and as a Puppy? Have something to Say?

Have something to say about Shih Tzu Coat Colors? Tell us about your dog's coat, color, texture? Did your Tzu's coat colors change over time? Were you surprised? What is about your Tzu's coat that you love? What is it that you would change if that were even possible? Don't forget to add some pictures. After all, a picture is worth a 1000 words.

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I bought Lacey at 9 weeks,as I loved the deep colour chocolate brown, but at 5 months, she started changing, and now at 8 months she as grey streaks ,running …

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.