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Dynasty Dogs: The Royal History of the Shih Tzu

close up of shih tzu

Did you know that your loyal little Shih Tzu has deep roots in royal Chinese history?

While many associate the breed with Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who ruled in China from 1861 through 1908 and considered the dogs sacred, Shih Tzu appear in tapestries dating as far back as 2000 years. While its origins are not fully clear, there is evidence that the breed—distinct from the Lhasa Apso, Pug, and Pekingese—was developed by Tibetan Monks who offered the temple dogs as gifts to the emperors of China.

Holy pets of the palace

Called Shih-tzu Kou in traditional Chinese, which literally means “Lion Dog,” the breed’s lion-like facial features were revered in Imperial courts because Buddha was said to have ridden to earth on the back of a lion.

During the Ming and Manchu Dynasties, the little lion dogs were bred and raised by palace eunuchs and were considered the exclusive property of the royal court. They were rarely seen outside the palaces and anyone caught owning one could be sentenced to death.

These thickly coated Shih Tzus were sometimes carried inside the robes of noble women and were even used as bed warmers and placed at the feet of the emperors and empresses to generate heat.

From China to the West

Dog historians believe that after Empress Tzu Hsi came to power in the 1860s, the Dalai Lama at the time presented her with a breeding pair of extraordinary Shih Tzus. These magnificent dogs were the foundation of her pure line.

Eventually, the dogs were given as gifts to English and Dutch nobility and by 1938 a standard was set for the breed. In the late 1930s, Shih Tzus finally arrived in America and rose to enormous popularity by the 1960s. Even half a world apart from the palaces of China, Shih Tzus are never far away from their royal bloodlines.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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