The earliest “Lion Dog” in Tibet had long hair, were small in size and similar to the Maltese in type. As Tibet and China exchanged traditions and beliefs of culture and religion, the exchange of dogs became a two-way affair as well. The Chinese definitely interbred their small dogs, which were of many varieties, with the Tibetans with long hair, and the people of Tibet no doubt interbred their small dog with those from the Chinese people.

The outcome of this interbreeding eventually became the Shih Tzu. The Chinese called the Shih Tzu “Tibetan Lion Dog.” The Apso was also involved with the interbreeding practices. The Tibetans called the Apso, “ApsoSeng Kyi” or “Apso Lion Dog.”

The Chinese tried to retain the characteristics they admired, which was the unnaturally short face and broad head, the wide barrel-like chest and the low-to-the-ground look.

The Tibetans, however, could not hold these same characteristics because of the climate and environment of their land. Tibet is an area of high altitudes. The very short face with restricted nasal development (which incidentally gives many Shih Tzu lovers a great pain to deal with at times) and the heavy body and short legs of the Chinese Shih Tzu would be at a disadvantage in these conditions. They could not breathe and survive in the high altitudes of Tibet. The Lhasa Apso could survive in Tibet. The Tibetans produced a dog slightly modified from the Chinese dog of a similar ancestry which was the Lhasa Apso.

The Tibetan Terrier (also involved in the exchanges between Tibet and China) is probably closes to the basic canine with a long head, compact and natural in conformation. Then comes the Apso, which begins to show the influence of some of the Chinese type. This influence resulted in a smaller dog, shorter on leg than the terrier relative, shorter nose than the terrier, and the teeth and jaw formation revealed a shortening of the face. The eyes are more frontally placed.

The eyes of the Shih Tzu have always been one of its most valued signature characteristics. I have never met a Shih Tzu that did not have a warm expression that radiated through its eyes. Some Shih Tzu has this characteristic greater than others. They are almost human-like.

When comparing the Shih Tzu to the Apso, one can see the most distinct Chinese characteristics. I have had Shih Tzu that look as if you are absolutely looking right at a Chinese in person. I am amazed at how the Chinese accomplished this. It truly was a work of art, as they did not breed according to pedigree as we do. They bred according to a picture of their minds of what they wanted the Shih Tzu to look like. Most of the time, their goal was to create the Shih Tzu to resemble what they thought a Lion should look like, and they apparently also, created Shih Tzu to resemble themselves in the face.

Smallness must have been fashionable and something of a status symbol in both the Apso and the Shih Tzu as well as the Pekingese. The Pekingese were also involved in the interbreedings to reduce size.

It should be noted here, however, that this article addresses the history and development of the Shih Tzu breed. The American Shih Tzu Club’s Code of Ethics clearly states it is against their rules, ethics, standards to breed our present day Shih Tzu with any other breed. It must be understood that this article is not an endorsement of any kind of practice that is against the rules and regulations of The American Shih Tzu Club or the American Kennel Club. This is an article regarding the history and development of our Shih Tzu.

About the author:

Connie Limon is a Shih Tzu Breeder. She publishes a FREE weekly newsletter. A professional newsletter with a focus upon health and wellness for you and your pets. Discounts are offered to subscribers. Sign up at:

Written by: Connie Limon