Training Your Shih Tzu: Best Tips, Common Mistakes, and More!

Written by Alanna Davis
Published: November 29, 2023
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Are you the proud owner of a spunky little shih tzu? This breed is famous for its curiosity and loving personality. However, when it comes to training them, the process can feel challenging and stressful. Don’t get discouraged, though. For many people, training a dog for the first time is a big learning curve and it can be a difficult task. Today, we discuss some tips that will help you train your shih tzu and explore some common mistakes owners make.

Shih Tzu: A Brief Introduction to the Breed

Lovely Female Shih Tzu dog on green background

Shih tzus usually live to be between ten and sixteen years old on average.

©Seba Tataru/

The shih tzu is an ancient breed that has a history that spans more than 1,000 years. These dogs were originally developed in modern-day Tibet, where the locals believed that the souls of deceased monks inhabited their bodies. As time went on, Tibetans began exporting the shih tzus to neighboring countries as presents. According to the American Kennel Club, “Tibet probably sent dogs to the Chinese royalty as gifts. The Chinese then bred them with Pekingese or Pugs to create the modern-day shih tzu.” Although the shih tzu has had periods of time in which they were in high demand, they weren’t always as popular as they are now. In fact, the shih tzu almost went extinct in the 1900s.

For centuries, this breed was favored by the upper class in China and was synonymous with wealth and power. Because of this, many of them were killed off during the Communist revolution. These killings left their species in shambles, and few survived the disaster. Luckily a woman named Lady Brownrigg saved a few shih tzus before fleeing back home to England. It was there that she began breeding them on her own and slowly restoring their numbers bit by bit. The name “shih tzu,” translates to “little lion,” which is an incredibly fitting name for such a resilient breed!

Shih Tzu Personality and Temperament

Cute shih tzu is sitting at the sofa

People like Bill Gates, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce have all owned shih tzus during their lifetime!

©Pattarit S/

Many pets reflect the personalities of their owners, and the shih tzu is no exception! The personalities of this breed can range from lively and energetic to lazy and cuddle-loving. Who your shih tzu grows up to be really depends on your schedule and lifestyle. Although all shih tzus will have their own personalities, there are some key characteristics that are found in most members of this breed. Loyal, loving, curious, gentle-natured, playful, and smart are all common traits of this beloved breed. These dogs get along very well with other animals and young children, which makes them excellent family dogs.

It is not uncommon to see a shih tzu with a stubborn streak. Despite their many good characteristics, shih tzus have a hard time understanding what it is that their owners want from them sometimes. This isn’t necessarily their fault, but just a miscommunication between you and your dog. Often, shih tzus want to do what feels good, which is typically playing, snuggling, or eating. Training can be boring and sometimes stressful, so giving them a little motivation will help them warm up to the task.

Are Shih Tzus Easy to Train?

Shih Tzu standing on an ice floe with icicles. Shih Tzu puppy, 9 months old

Shih tzus often find themselves as show dogs due to their gorgeous long fur and their high trainability.

©Tatiana Gasich/

Compared to other dog breeds, shih tzus are easier to train. If you work with your shih tzu, your shih tzu will work with you. When it comes to this breed, what you put in is what you get out. As we stated earlier, these dogs are reflections of their owners and easily adopt personality traits of those whom they’re close with. If you are patient, gentle, and loving during the training process, your dog will respond in kind. However, if you find yourself growing frustrated and getting agitated with your shih tzu, there’s no doubt that they’ll pick up on the tension as well. If this is the case, we recommend training classes for these situations. We’ll talk more about this later on.

Tips for Training Your Shih Tzu

A Cute Shih Tzu Puppy

Shih tzus blend in well in houses that have young children because of their gentle and sweet nature.

©Shari Cote/

Shih tzus love to play and bounce around all day long. The only thing they love more than this is pleasing their owners! Although these balls of energy may make it seem as though they’re distracted easily, they are very smart and absorb information like sponges. It’s best to start training your shih tzu immediately after bringing them home. Start with simple commands like sit, lay down, or stay. For shih tzus that have trouble focusing, try using a clicker or some treats to nudge them in the right direction. Although not all shih tzus are food motivated, some are, and this is a surefire way to maintain their attention on the lesson.

For individuals who don’t have the time to dedicate to training their shih tzus or those who feel that the task is a bit too overwhelming, training classes are an excellent option. Professional dog training classes are available nearly everywhere, and some cost as little as $30 per session. Typically, dogs will need between 30 and 40 classes to become fully trained, but some require more than this. It is important to start training as early as possible in your shih tzus life, so try to determine which option is better suited for your family before bringing them home. This will ensure a smooth transition.

Common Mistakes

brindle shih tzu

Whereas male shih tzus are very sociable, female shih tzus prefer to hang out with close family primarily.

©Sue Thatcher/

One of the most common mistakes pet owners make when trying to train their dogs is using negative reinforcement. Although we may project human understanding onto our animals at times, the truth is that most dogs don’t interpret our actions in the way we intend them. Yelling at or spanking your shih tzu will only result in more stubbornness or even worse, resentment towards you. This is dangerous and completely counterproductive, as the main goal of a training session is to use their willingness to please to extract the best results. Never discipline your shih tzu when they’re having trouble grasping a concept, instead, opt for a gentler approach.

It is also important to never punish your shih tzu by taking away their toys. These items serve as a form of enrichment, and in the case that your dog doesn’t have access to them, they may become destructive of property. Dogs don’t innately understand the difference between what items are meant for playing and what items aren’t, so taking them away will result in confusion. In addition, teaching your shih tzu too many things too fast may set them up for failure. It is important to ensure that they have a solid grip on the first set of commands you teach them before moving on to more complex ones. Each command will build on one another, so don’t try to rush this process.

Final Thoughts

In essence, shih tzus are highly intelligent dogs who want nothing more than to make their owners happy. Luckily, it’s easy to use these characteristics to your advantage during the training process! For those of you new to dog training, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come natural at first. Although it is a challenge initially, training a shih tzu gets easier with practice. Both of you will learn alongside one another, and this experience will bond you even closer. You should have no problem fully training your shih tzu as long as you remain consistent with your sessions.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Shari Cote/

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