What Does Shih Tzu mean?

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As one of the more interesting and exotic dog breeds out there, many of us wonder what exactly does Shih Tzu mean?

Falling in love with a Shih Tzu is easy, as they are beyond cute, super funny, and are the true definition of the term “puppy dog eyes.” These little pups are fascinating creatures, and you may want to know more about their background and where they got that very cool name.

Shih Tzu (sheed-zoo) means “Little Lion” in Chinese. Having been around for more than 1,000 years, these dogs were given this name because they were associated with the Tibetan Buddist God of Learning and because they have a distinct look that resembles a lion.

As dog owners, we like to know about our four-legged family members as much as we can. Knowing what they like to eat, how much exercise they need, and what characteristics are common to them all help us decide if they will be a good fit for our family. Knowing more about their ancestry and the meaning behind their name is also a nice way to understand and feel connected with them.

I’ve never owned a Shih Tzu, but my sister has two, Belle and Lucy. Even though they are widely popular with pet owners, Shih Tzu’s are a breed of their own and are worth learning more about, especially if you’re going to spend any time around them.

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‍What (Exactly) Does Shih Tzu Mean?

The Shih Tzu is often thought to have originated in China, though it actually hails from Tibet. These dogs were widely popular in Eastern cultures and are revered in Buddhism, as they are believed to have been blessed by Buddha himself. These small-sized dogs were rumored to have accompanied Budda as he rode to earth on a lion.

1. Buddha and the Little Lion Dog

Legends vary from place to place and can change over time, but the main theory behind the Shih Tzu’s name is that Buddha himself gave the name to this round-faced pup because he saved Buddha’s life from a gang of robbers by turning himself into a dangerous lion and scaring them away.

As the little dog returned to his normal form, the Buddha thanked him, blessed him for his courage, and named him “Shih Tzu” or Little Lion. The name stuck.

In Buddhism, lions are considered very sacred and are highly thought of for their strength, stamina, and courage. Having a name associated with this animal is a true testament to how strong these dogs are thought to be, despite their small stature.

2. The Lion Look

Shih Tzus do have a very distinct look that does resemble a lion. These breeds don’t have fur, but instead, have hair, and it can grow quite long, causing it to look like a lion’s mane. If left uncut, their hair will grow into their eyes and cover a large portion of their eyes and faces.

Shih Tzu’s may be small in size, but they are broad-shouldered and stocky, giving them a lion-type look. Being only 10” high at their shoulders, they are low to the ground, reminding their owners of a cat’s crouch. A healthy Shih Tzu in the prime of its life will be muscular underneath all that hair. Many Shih Tzu’s have won agility competitions, making them not only glamorous-looking but athletic as well, like the King of Beasts.

For such a sweet-looking fella the Shih Tzu is also aptly named the Little Lion because of its personality. Though these dogs are small in stature, there’s nothing small about their personality! Shih Tzus like to be the center of attention and reign over their home.

Though they can tolerate children and other animals if they are introduced when the Shih Tzu is young, these snub-nose pups can get jealous easily and don’t like competition. They can also be aggressive, like their namesake, if they feel it’s necessary.

Keeping Your Shih Tzu Healthy

If you have, or are thinking of getting a Shih Tzu, there are certain things you need to know about this unique breed in order to keep them healthy. As I mentioned, they are unique dogs and have their own set of possible health problems if not cared for properly.


With all those long locks, Shih Tzus need a lot of attention when it comes to grooming. If you plan to leave their hair long, you will have to be ready to brush and care for it at least every few days.

Unless they are show dogs, most Shih Tzu owners keep their pups' hair cut quite short. This, too, will take attention and constant upkeep, as their manes grow quickly and will become matted if not cared for often.

Whether you keep their coat short or long, always make sure to bathe your buddy in a shampoo formulated for dogs. Even though Shih Tzus have human-type hair, their skin won’t tolerate the ingredients in shampoos that aren’t made for dogs.


All dog breeds will benefit from a healthy, well-balanced diet, but for the Shih Tzu, what they eat is directly linked to who they are. Shih Tzu’s are strong breeds with good bloodlines, but they can end up having health issues if their food is not high-quality and high in protein.

Shih Tzus are prone to allergies as well. This can cause them to have skin issues, and respiratory problems and affect their overall mood. Being mindful of your Shih Tzu’s dog food ingredients will go a long way toward staving off any allergic reactions and complications later.

Vet Care

And finally, having regular vet visits as scheduled will give your little lion dog a leg up it deserves. Veterinarians know their breeds, and with a unique pooch like the Shih Tzu, it’s even more important that you and your furbaby have an established relationship with a vet you trust. They can keep you up to date on new research about your breed and will already know your Shih Tzu if any problems ever do arise.