The Shih Tzu Dog:  Temperament & Personality

Shih Tzu Temperament

The Shih Tzu Dog    by Janice Jones     |Last updated  10-22-2022

The Shih Tzu dog is first and foremost a companion animal.  Other than, to alert the habitats of ancient palaces in China to intruders, they have always had one job to do:  Be a loyal, loving companion.

Let's face it, they were not meant to chase prey, they were never developed to herd sheep, they don't make great search and rescue dogs though they may disagree with me.

You won't see them at airports sniffing out drugs or running the Iditarod in Alaska.  But if you asked them to do any of those jobs, they would probably at least try.  No, they leave all that "work" to other breeds.

Their sole purpose in life is to love you.

Therefore, with that in mind, our job as a good Shih Tzu breeder is to produce healthy, happy, long-lived dogs with great temperaments.  But, what exactly is a great temperament for a Shih Tzu?

In this article, I will attempt to describe a typical Shih Tzu Dog temperament.  However, I can assure you that living with many Shih Tzu day in and day out, no two are alike.  Each has its own unique personality, just as humans do.  I have some that only want to sleep on your lap, others like to "go to ground" as if they were practicing for the next Earth Dog Trials, and others that are obsessed with playing fetch.  I even had a dog that thinks he needs the herd the goats that live next door.

Nature vs. Nurture

Black and white Shih Tzu puppy, age 2 weeks

There is no longer a debate in the scientific community concerning whether an individual is the product of nature or nurture and this holds true for canines as well as humans. 

Many temperament traits are the result of genetics and some of the characteristics we see in the breed are a result of early socialization and later treatment by owners.

These dogs, even though proud in appearance are really very friendly and charming.  They love to be by the side of a human if not on the lap of the beloved owner.

Shih Tzu dogs are called “little lion dogs” because they are proud and brave, with a big personality that makes up for its small size. 

Watch Dog:  Yes         
Guard Dog:  No

Black shih tzu puppy resting his head on a skein of yarn

They have a keen sense of hearing.  This allows them to alert you whenever they hear something unique.  Each Shih Tzu dog has his or her own unique bark. 

This breed does bark when they hear something, but are not a yappy breed.  Once they know that all is well, they will settle down to their normal quiet self. 

This ability makes them good watchdogs, but don’t expect them to be anything but their lovable charming self to human intruders.  On the other hand, they may protect you to the ends of the earth if another dog comes on your property, especially a large dog. 

Their Arrogant Side?

tiny liver colored shih tzu puppy

Many argue that the Shih Tzu Dog has an arrogant side to their personality.  I think this label was attached to the breed because of three characteristics:

First, their overall appearance is reminiscent of his royal background.

Secondly, they have a rather charming stance that suggests a self-assured personality.

Finally, the way they walk or gait radiates nothing but confidence.  There is nothing so charming as to watch the gait of a Shih Tzu especially those with long flowing hair. 

Shih Tzu Dog:  Agility and Energy Level

White Shih Tzu dog running in a field of grass

He may not have what it takes to herd sheep, or sniff out drugs, but the Shih Tzu does have an athletic side to him, even though it is short-lived.  Many have done well in agility trials.

Most Shih Tzu love to run from time to time, leap and jump.  They will enjoy a walk if it is not too long and the weather is pleasant.  Their energy levels are relatively short-lived, exerting much energy for a very short period, and then collapsing on the floor or a comfortable pillow for a long nap.

This trait makes them ideal for seniors and busy families who may not have the time to devote to appeasing the high-energy demands of some breeds.

Exercise Requirements

Janice is walking a few of her Shih Tzu dogs

Shih Tzu dogs can get most of their exercise requirements by following you around the house.  They do enjoy a good walk, or should I say stroll.  Because the Shih Tzu dog is considered to be a brachycephalic breed, they can get winded and do not do well on long hikes.

Puppies are more active than older dogs, but not all older Shih Tzu are couch potatoes.  This seems to be an individual thing.  Generally this breed is perfect for seniors and those that prefer a slower type of life style, but can also adapt well to the demands of an active family

They get plenty of exercise through play, either with you or another dog.  Some enjoy a game of fetch, although I have had to teach some how to play this.  They have a very low prey drive so running after prey or in this case a ball does not occur to them. 

Good Family Dog

A black Shih  Tzu dog is sitting in Halloween scene next to a cat

Most love their human family but some individuals will pick a special person within the family in which to bond.  The majority of them just seem to love any human they see and will bond with young children and senior adults very quickly.

They also adjust well to new homes if they must change living arrangements, and become attached to their new owners in a very short period.

Some toy dogs do not make excellent pets for children due to their small size.  Shih Tzu dogs are the exception.  While still small, they are compact and sturdy.  Their size ranges from 9 t0 16 pounds, although some can be smaller and you might see these smaller dogs labeled as Imperials or Chinese Imperials.

Smart but Stubborn

A liver colored Shih Tzu male is sitting on a porch chair

They are very smart, but stubborn and seem to take on the attitude, “what’s in it for me.”  This little stubborn streak makes training sometimes difficult especially for those dogs that don’t find treats or toys especially appealing or motivating.

This stubbornness is likely due to their independent nature.  By independent, I don't mean alone or preferring to be by themselves.  The opposite is true and some will refer to them as Velcro dogs because they don't want to leave your side.  Rather, their independence stems from their desire to think things through for themselves.  If you've ever lived with one of these dogs, you can just see the pause that they show when deciding what to do.  As a hypothetical question, you might ask your Tzu, "Do you want to play with the ball?"  He may respond by stopping to look at the ball and then decide if that is what he wants to do.

Housebreaking is usually the most difficult with this breed.  Most want to please their owners and developing a strong bond with your Shih Tzu will increase the likelihood that they will cooperate with you most of the time.

The key to training success with this breed is finding the perfect reward to use.  Some will appreciate praise and cuddles, but tiny tasty treats work well with most dogs.  Short training sessions are also advised, as this breed is not known for long attention spans.

Male or Female?

Two white Shih Tzu dogs are cuddling on the stairs

In this breed, there is little difference in the personality or temperament of males and females.  Both are lovable, devoted to their owner, with equal energy levels. 

Both genders get along well with other dogs, especially other Shih Tzu and most are fairly good with the introduction of a young puppy to the family.

If considering the addition of a second Shih Tzu, most people generally go with one of each gender as they tend to get along better that way.  But that is not always the case. 

Mothers and Daughters do fine together and litter mates do great together.  Depending on the temperament of the dogs, two females can do fine as long as both accept the humans in the family as the alpha dog. 

More fights break out between two female dogs or two male dogs.  In my experience, two males might fight, but the fights between the girls are much more dangerous.  Rarely do you see a female start a fight with a male.

Is the Shih Tzu Right For You?

If you are still not convinced, check out our page and do some soul searching.  For more information on deciding whether the breed is for you, check out:

Shih Tzu Breed Selector Quiz

All Miracle Shih Tzu Puppies come with the American Kennel Club registration, shots, wormings, and microchipped.

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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.