Help For Your Stubborn Shih Tzu

Stubborn Shih Tzu     by Janice Jones     |Published 04-09-2020

Are you living with a Stubborn Shih Tzu?  If so, you’re not alone.  Many people tell me that this stubborn attitude in their beloved Shih Tzu is one of the hardest behaviors to live with, let alone train around.  So, why do Shih Tzu dogs tend to be so stubborn?

Stubborn, as defined by Collier Dictionary is

"Someone who is stubborn or who behaves obstinately is determined to do what they want and is very unwilling to change their mind."

Shih Tzu standing in front of a fenceHelp for your stubborn Shih Tzu

Do you think of your dog as willful?  Obstinate?  Headstrong? 

These are all words that mean the same as stubborn and are used to describe human behavior.  But can dogs act in these ways?

Many Shih Tzu dog owners and even experts look at this breed as being stubborn with a “what’s in it for me attitude.”  Are they willful, or is something else going on?  Is this type of behavior an inborn or inherited trait, or is a learned behavior that we can train out?

Genetics Versus Environment


All dogs are born with a total of 78 chromosomes that house about 19,000 protein-coding genes.

Many of those genes are involved in determining traits such as eye or hair color, but some pass on behavioral characteristics. Scientists estimate that 20 to 60 percent of temperament is determined by genetics.  Is stubbornness a trait passed on through generations via the dog’s genes?

There’s evidence that stubbornness is indeed inherited, at least in people.  In a study done at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig found that one-third of all people have a mutated gene that makes them bull-headed. 

Can this research be generalized to dogs?  At the writing of this article, we can’t claim that research on the human genome can be transferred to the canine. Still, it is true that many studies have shown a substantial similarity among people and dogs as it relates to temperament traits.

So if your stubborn Shih Tzu's behavior is inborn, is there any hope?


Red and white Shih Tzu standing in the grassThere is evidence that personality traits are inherited. Does your stubborn Shih Tzu personality fall into that category?

There is evidence to support the notion that some personality traits, presumably stubbornness included, may be related to the environment.  In this case, I am referring to the human-dog bond.  In a study published in 2012, researchers asked pet owners to rate themselves on five major personality dimensions and corresponding personality traits of their dogs.  These included

  • Neuroticism (a tendency toward feelings like anxiety and fear,
  • Extroversion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness
  • Openness (level of creativity, curiosity, and being open to new ideas)

Not surprisingly, the pet parents responded that they share all five personality traits with their dogs.

Are we responsible for the stubbornness we see in our dogs? 

Ranker surveyed the 25 most stubborn dog breeds, though Shih Tzu dogs were not on the list.

Pugs and Pekingese dogs, two closely related breed were on their list.  These same dog breeds come up time and again on other websites as being the most stubborn dog breeds.  Perhaps they indeed are, but consider the possibility that one blogger merely is copying another blogger’s opinion.

Maybe, but there are also other factors at work.  Breed traits may also be part of the equation.  When looking back in time, back to antiquity, Pugs and Pekingese, two closely related breeds were most likely used in the making of the modern-day Shih Tzu and they are ranked as being stubborn.

What about Stubborn Shih Tzu?

Black Shih Tzu puppy looking at the cameraDo you have a stubborn Shih Tzu puppy?

Shih Tzu owners may use the term, “stubborn” when their dog won’t do something they ask. This can occur when the dog has done the same behavior before, such as coming when called or sitting on cue. But this time, the dog decides not to do what is expected of him. You might hear the terms,

“he knows better, he’s just stubborn, “

or “he acts like he has a mind of his own,” 

or, “he looks like he’s going to say, “what’s in it for me.”

Training and Motivation

Could it have anything to do about training or lack thereof?

The difference may simply be that the person is not providing any motivation for the dog to respond.  Or, the owner has not spent enough time training.

Dogs, like any other animal, respond to their environment in predictable ways.  If there is a strong motivation to do something, they will react.  Often, humans have a strong need for their dogs to respond in a specific way and expect that dogs will repeat a behavior that they have done in their past.  If a dog is willing to sit in one situation, then they should sit no matter what.

Sadly, this is wishful thinking. 

Take a human toddler, for example, and ask them to sit down and look at a book.  If they are so inclined, they will do so. If not, they won’t.

Are they stubborn?  Studies have shown that our dogs are roughly equally on the level of a human toddler when it comes to cognitive capabilities.

Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, found that dogs and 2-year-old children show similar patterns in social intelligence, much more so than human children and one of their closest relatives: chimpanzees.

So, what is going on in the heads of stubborn dogs?

Dog Trainer's Perspective on Stubborn Dogs

Some dog trainers will explain stubborn Shih Tzu behaviors as:

  • The dog doesn’t understand what you want him to do or hasn’t completely mastered the command you are using
  • The Dog disregards you because he is accustomed to being yelled at or talked at too much.
  • Maybe he is seeking your attention.
  • The dog is more motivated by something yet to be identified by the owner.

Many trainers view owners who complain that their dog is stubborn as just another dog that has not entirely been trained. 

According to Victoria Sidwell, “A dog that is coming off as stubborn is a dog that is either unmotivated or has no idea what is being asked.” 

There are many ways to interpret stubborn dogs.  Here are a few examples:

  • The dog is pulling on the leash even though he has learned to walk nicely on a leash.

Explanation:  He’s stubborn, or is he just excited and forgot his training

  • The dog won’t wait at the door when the company arrives, even though he’s good with the “wait” command at other times.

Explanation:  He’s excited and hasn’t learned how to wait when distractions are introduced.

  • He won’t come into the house when called to do so.

Explanation:  He hasn’t finished his business outside. He has no motivation to come in.

  • He won’t go to his place, even though he’s been taught the command.

Explanation:  Perhaps he hasn’t mastered this command with distractions in place.  Maybe he’s excited to see who came to the door.

In almost every case, trainers are convinced that dogs who would typically respond to a command or cue with a treat, then decide not to do so, just haven’t finished their training.

This type of training needs to be mastered not only in a quiet room with no distractions but also in an area where all kinds of distractions are possible.

How to Overcome Your Shih Tzu’s Stubbornness (Lack of Motivation, Lack of Training)

If you can reframe in your mind that you have control of your dog’s stubborn tendency, you can do something about it.

Lack of Motivation

A Shih Tzu is hiding under a tableSome stubborn Shih Tzu behavior may be caused by a lack of motivation

If you think your dog may be acting stubbornly due to a lack of motivation, there are several things you can do to motivate him or her to do what you ask.

Keep a treat bag handy and treat generously when your dog does what is expected.  No, you are not bribing your dog.  Bribing infers that you are trying to trick her into doing some she doesn’t want to do.

No one would go out to a job and work 40 hours per week if they didn’t expect to be compensated for their effort.

You are making your dog work, so she deserves some compensation.

Be Your Dog’s Biggest Cheerleader.  Some Shih Tzu dogs just aren’t motivated by food but would enjoy your praise and admiration. A happy smile, a big hug, some cuddle time, are what some Shih Tzu dogs crave. 

Toy Motivated Shih Tzu dogs love toys, whether soft and cuddly or hard and chewy, love their toys, and will work for getting access to their favorite toy.  The trick with this one is to keep the cherished toy and only offer it when your dog does what you expect.  Remove it after they lose interest in playing with it and keep it handy for the next time.

Lack of Training

A brindle Shih Tzu is lying on the carpetCould stubborn Shih Tzu behavior be the result of lack of training?

Most of us think that we’ve done an excellent job with training if we enroll our Shih Tzu in a training class and our dog graduates.  Few of us will go into the next level or continue training after the class ends.

It is usually in an intermediate training class where your dog is introduced to training with distractions.

By distractions, I mean anything that the dog can hear, smell, or see in the immediate vicinity.

For example, if your dog can sit on command while in a quiet room, can he do that outside while cars and people are passing? 

  • When friends are nearby and watching? 
  • When another dog is wandering around? 
  • When there are sounds such as car sounds, sirens, people talking?

Start by teaching or reteaching the skill you want your dog to master.  It will take many repetitions for him to learn the skill. 

Think of it this way:

You are learning a new language that you have never been introduced to before.  The teacher goes over the lesson one time, and you repeat the new words.

You go home and then return to class in a week without having practiced.  Can you repeat the first lesson flawlessly?  Likely not unless you have an ear for language. 

People need to practice a new skill many times before it becomes ingrained.  Do we expect our canines to better than we can?

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Final Words about Stubborn Shih Tzu Dogs

We may think we have a stubborn Shih Tzu and get frustrated with the seeming lack of response to our requests, but perhaps it more a matter of spending more time retraining and practicing.  Using motivation, such as treats and praise, will always speed up the process and develop an eager student and a strong bond.

Remember, training a Shih Tzu is not as difficult as it sounds.  They want to please us, and if we have developed a strong bond, they will do what it takes to make us happy.  Use short training sessions with lots of praise, toys, or treats.  Repeat often but rotate the type of skills you are teaching.

A 10-minute lesson on how to sit will bring tears to even the most motivated student.  They like challenges but also get bored quickly. Find a happy medium between reinforcing a skill and avoiding monotony. 

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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.