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Shih Tzu: Man’s best friend

The diminutive Shih Tzu, a blend of the Chinese Lhasa Apso and Pekinese dog breeds, has a history rich with royalty, tragedy, and loyalty. Varied forms of the breed have existed for centuries, but the Shih Tzu dog we know today owes its existence to Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi of Tibet.

The Shih Tzu originated as the pampered pet of Tibetan Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who bred the dogs prolifically between 1861, when she came into power, and 1908, when she died. Her successor disdained the little dogs and everything they represented. As a result, many dogs were killed after the Empress’s death. Surviving Shih Tzus belonged mostly to foreigners and members of Chinese nobility, who had received the dogs as gifts from the Empress.

Information about Shih Tzu survivors indicates that the dogs began to appear in England and Scandinavia during the late 1920s and early 1930s, spreading in later years to the United States and Canada. Some of the dogs immigrated to North America after World War II, when soldiers who had developed a fondness for their Shih Tzu pets brought the little dogs home with them after the war.

The Shih Tzu is a small, lightweight dog, weighing from nine to sixteen pounds. Its size makes it well suited as a lap dog and a pet for city dwellers. The dogs have been bred for centuries to provide human amusement and companionship. They are eager to please and thrive when they are the center of attention.

Sometimes called “Tibetan lion dog,” Shih Tzus were bred to resemble lions, with a flat face, prominent eyes, bowed front legs, and a fearsome facial expression. The breed is also known as the “chrysanthemum dog,” because their wrinkled fa?ade looks a bit like the chrysanthemum flower.

The Shih Tzu coat ranges in colors from solid black or gold to several multi-color combinations. The breed’s elegant appearance comes from its long, slightly wavy coat, which requires daily attention.

Although the history of the breed is ancient, the Shih Tzu breed is a relative newcomer to the world of dog shows, particularly in North America. The British Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1935, but the American Kennel Club waited until 1969 to officially acknowledge the dogs, placing them in the toy group with other diminutive long-haired dogs like the Maltese, the Pomeranian, and the Pekinese.

The Shih Tzu breed survived a dangerous period in the twentieth century to become the one of the twenty-first century’s most popular dog. The Shih Tzu is the ninth most popular registered breed in the American Kennel Club’s 2006 most popular breed list, and this little dog’s popularity continues to grow.

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