Shih Tzu History
The Lion Dog

Shih Tzu history is one that dates back thousands of years ago and this breed is one of the oldest of all dogs. The Shih Tzu has its origins in Tibet and China; however this is a long standing controversy. Some say the dog originated in China whereas others say it originated in Tibet. The popular belief is that the earliest form of Shih Tzu came from Tibet and was then introduced to China. However, due to breed changes throughout the centuries, the modern day Shih Tzu is best related to being Chinese.

The Shih Tzu breed, as we know it today, was developed in the 17th century by crossing the Lhasa Apso and Pekingese.

These dogs were highly favored by Chinese royalty and were kept on the palace grounds for many decades.

They were so prized that the Chinese refused to sell or trade these dogs until the 1930's.

The question becomes, why did the Chinese prize these dogs so much?

Chinese And Tibetan History Of The Shih Tzu

The word "Shih Tzu" means lion and this is exactly why the Chinese loved these dogs. Before Communism, when Buddhism was widespread, a lion was the spiritual and symbolic ideal for both the Chinese and Tibetans. Shih Tzu dogs were actually bred to resemble lions and were considered holy. Thus, they inherited the name, "lion dog".

There is a Shih Tzu history legend that surrounds the Shih Tzu which claims that these dogs were kept by Buddhist monks in temples for thousands of years. One of the Buddhists' spiritual figures, Manjusri, who was their god of learning, used to carry a small dog with him which he called the Lion Dog because it looked like a miniature lion. As the legend goes, this little dog would transform into a real life-sized lion and carry Manjusri on his back. Even though this is quite a stretch of the imagination, it is obvious that tales, such as this one, attributed to the popularity and fame of these dogs in China and Tibet.

In addition to their physical characteristics and religious undertones, these dogs were also highly prized for their affectionate and cheerful natures while also being excellent guard dogs. Even though they looked like royalty, they were wonderful companions and brought much joy to their owners.

The Empress That Started It All

The first person in recent, recorded Shih Tzu history to have started breeding the modern day Shih Tzu was the Dowager Empress T'zu Hsi, who ruled China in the mid-1800's. According to records, she bred these dogs to develop specific attributes and characteristics. In addition to breeding the Shih Tzu, she also bred Pekingese dogs and Pugs. However, after her death, her dogs were sold and bred throughout China and were also exported to the West.

Shih Tzu History - The Voyage To Westernization

Shih Tzu's were first introduced to England and Norway in 1930; however, they were first classified as being "Apsos" by the Kennel Club. It wasn't until 1935 that these dogs became known as Shih Tzu's and their breed was standardized by England's Shih Tzu Club. Then, after World War II, American soldiers found the Shih Tzu and returned with a few back to the United States. These dogs soon got a new "nickname" by westerners i.e., the Chrysanthemum dog. They were thusly named as their fur grew outwards on their faces which mimicked the petal growth of a Chrysanthemum flower.

These dogs grew in popularity and became officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1969 under the Toy dog category. The Shih Tzu is now widely recognized throughout the world and also includes recognition by the Federation Cynologique Internationale based in Thuin, Belgium.

The Shih Tzu Lady Breeders Of England

One of the most recognized persons for Shih Tzu breeding was Mrs. Gay Widdrington, who is seen as being the person most responsible for purifying the modern Shih Tzu and breeding out the majority of known health issues. She started this in 1939. Mrs. Widdrington achieved this purification by widening the pool of dogs for breeding by sourcing "pure" Shih Tzu's from Europe and Norway. This greatly reduced and eliminated a large number of hereditary problems associated with these animals and is responsible for the great health of the modern Shih Tzu. It should be noted that her efforts were not recognized by the Kennel Club.

Mrs. Widdrington's work was continued by another lady, Mrs. Freda Evans in 1952. Mrs. Evans attempted to remove and correct certain features of the Shih Tzu by cross breeding which was highly controversial. She crossed the Shih Tzu with Pekingese dogs which did help to improve pigmentation and create proportional facial features. Despite the controversy, these dogs were eventually, widely accepted as the current "pure breed" Shih Tzu standard.

Shih Tzu History Wrap Up

The Shih Tzu has a very long and rich history. Shih Tzu's are one of the oldest types of dogs. Dedicated breeders were hugely responsible for the popularity and spread of the breed, which has enabled us to have access to and enjoy this amazing animal today. In conclusion, Shih Tzu history is a fascinating topic especially to those of us that love the Shih Tzu.

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