How Old is The Oldest Shih Tzu Ever?

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Published: September 28, 2022
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Key Points

  • The oldest known Shih Tzu was Smokey, who made it to the ripe old age of 23 years old.
  • According to the AKC, the average size of a healthy adult Shih Tzu is between 9 and 10.5 inches in height.
  • The average life expectancy for the Shih Tzu is between 10-18 years, but some of these pups have gone well past18 years.

Small in stature but huge in personality, the Shih Tzu sits at number 20 out of 201 on the American Kennel Club’s Breed Popularity Rating. With their adorable appearance and long silky fur, the Shih Tzu has captivated countless owners for over 1,000 years! 

Dogs that are categorized as Toy Breeds have a longer life expectancy than most larger dogs, and when properly cared for the Shih Tzu can live for over ten years. That has us pretty curious about how old the oldest Shih Tzu ever documented is!  

Shih Tzu Breed Traits and Characteristics

As a member of the Toy breed classification, the Shih Tzu is a little pup that makes a big impression. Though small in stature, this breed has the love and devotion of many owners with its beauty and its unique personality.

Shih Tzus have also become a popular crossbred with many breeders crossing them with a wide range of other toy breeds to create designer crossbreds. Unfortunately, given their small size and popularity, the Shih Tzu is a very common dog bred in puppy mills. If you decide to add one of these little charmers to your family, find a reputable breeder who will allow you to see the parents and how the puppies are raised.

Physical Appearance and Life Expectancy

According to the AKC, the average size of a healthy adult Shih Tzu is between 9 and 10.5 inches in height and may weigh between 9 and 16 pounds. They have a double coat that can grow past the dog’s feet, which is the breed standard. However, many owners choose to keep their Shih Tzu’s coat short, particularly in the warmer months. 

The Shih Tzu’s luxurious coat can be a wide variety of colors, and the breed standard also has a black mask of fur over the face, as well as tan or black markings throughout the coat. However, Shih Tzus may also be one solid color throughout as well!

The average life expectancy for the Shih Tzu is between 10-18 years, but some of these pups have gone well past18 years. This breed does need a lot of care, including daily grooming and vet checkups, to keep them healthy and strong. 

Shih Tzu Personality and Social Traits 

Shih Tzu has a lively and charming personality and is considered to be an excellent companion. This dog is highly affectionate and devoted to all members of its family, though it takes a bit for them to warm up to strangers and they can be protective of their home. The Shih Tzu breed is noted for being particularly fond of children, though it is important to teach young children to handle this small breed gently! 

This breed is also very social with other dogs, often able to hold its own with even the largest dog breeds. When properly raised alongside other dogs, they form strong bonds and view other dogs as family members. Though, it must be said that they do enjoy bossing other dogs around!

While Shih Tzu’s are often quite happy to curl up on your lap for hours, they require a moderate level of exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. They are highly adaptable to new environments and equally comfortable in large homes or small apartments. The Shih Tzu is considered fairly easy to train and is a moderate barker.  

The Long History of the “Little Lion”

The Shih Tzu breed is over 1,000 years old, originating in Imperial China where it was cultivated from Tibetan stock by order of the Chinese Emperor by Imperial breeders. Shih Tzu, which means “Little Lion”, is estimated to be the product of crossing the Lhasa Apso and Pekinese, though it’s been so long we can’t be sure! 

For hundreds of years, this dog lived in luxury, spoiled and pampered by emperors and their families. It is said that emperors would shower gifts on the breeder that could produce the most beautiful and affectionate dog. 

In the 1930s, the Shih Tzu was introduced to the rest of the world and was registered by the AKC Stud Book in 1969. They went on to become one of the most beloved breeds in the United States and the UK. Even Queen Elizabeth II fell in love with this Little Lion

When a breed has been around for over 1,000 years, it sparks a lot of curiosity. The Shih Tzu is a legendary breed with a long history, so it stands to reason that a few of these dogs must have reached a truly impressive age. How old is the oldest Shih Tzu ever documented? 

The Oldest Known Shih Tzu Ever: Smokey Of St. Petersburg

The oldest known Shih Tzu was Smokey, who made it to the ripe old age of 23 years old. Amazingly, Joe and Mary Slatton had no idea that Smokey was the oldest Shih Tzu until 2008 when NBC’s Today Show featured a 21-year-old dachshund dubbed the oldest living dog! 

Joe and Mary adopted Smokey in the year 2000, and while Joe was sure Smokey was older than the dachshund. Smokey’s earlier owner passed on Smokey’s health records to the Slattons, and Joe was able to confirm with the VCA St. Petersburg Animal Hospital that Smokey was born on January 18th, 1989. Joe called his local news station, and Smokey was confirmed to be the oldest Shih Tzu currently living at the time!

Sadly, Smokey passed away in 2009, but he enjoyed good health for his advanced age, enjoying a long walk followed by long rest breaks to recharge. According to Joe, one of Smokey’s favorite trips was to the Home Depot, and he was particularly fond of the appliance department!

Teddy The Independent: Heir to Smokey’s Throne

After Smokey, the oldest Shih Tzu was Teddy. Teddy lived to be 19 years old and lived in Phoenix, Arizona with his owners Dwain and Denise Lamon, who adopted him in the year 2000 as a puppy. Dwain was captivated by Teddy’s independence and picked him out from his littermates because he was more interested in trying to get out of the nursery pen than cuddling with his mother and littermates. 

Teddy continued to be both independent and active throughout his long life, enjoying long play sessions with his owners and still being in excellent health. When asked what the secret to Teddy’s long life was, Dwain offered excellent advice. He said that there was no secret and attributed the dog’s healthy life to regular vet checkups and always treating your dog like a family member and not just a pet.

Teddy passed away in December of 2019 of old age, surrounded by the love of his lifelong family the Lamons.  

From Stray to Stardom: Marnie the Instagram Influencer!

Before Marnie was adopted by her owner Shirley Braha, she was found living as a stray in Connecticut by animal control. She was taken to an animal shelter where the staff found she had significant health problems including visual impairment in her left eye, severe tooth damage, hearing loss, and mobility issues that caused her head to be permanently tilted left. 

Despite being warned that Marnie was already 10 years old and that her health problems were severe, Shirley fell in love with Marnie and adopted her. Somehow, Marnie beat the odds and lived with her for nearly eight years. Marnie may not have earned the title of the oldest Shih Tzu alive, but she came very close at 18 years old.

True rags to riches story, Marnie also became quite famous! At the time of her death in early 2020, Marnie had over 2 million followers on Instagram and her videos had thousands of likes. Marnie was an internet celebrity and even made some famous friends like Demi Lovato, Larry King, and Betty White!

Who Is the Oldest Shih Tzu Alive Today? 

With the recent passing of Teddy and Marnie, the world is still searching for the current oldest living Shih Tzu. If you believe your Shih Tzu may be next in line for Smokey’s throne, you will need to verify their age through the breeder, or animal hospital that has records of their birth or early treatment. This supplies a starting point to verify their age. 

Until then, we celebrate the very long lives of Smokey, Teddy, and Marnie. True to their ancient heritage, they perfectly stood for the devotion, love, and loyalty that made the Shih Tzu breed the lapdogs of Emperors! 

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The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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