Origins of Shih Tzu

Shih tzu origin seems to date back to IX century A.C.   In Asia Minor there were two types of Tibetan dog: one wolf type short-haired medium-size, and one much bigger long-haired that still exists, the Tibetan Mastiff. This was used for pastoral purposes. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly the true origin of the shih tzu, but considering other similar breeds of Chinese or Tibetan origin today, we can suppose they come from the same genetic block.  It’s difficult to think that there were separated breedings, while it’s probable there were separated developments of the same genetic block depending on where they were. Actual division is the result of the work of the official canine organization, and many similarities between shih tzu and his cousins as Lhasa apso, Tibetan terrier, Tibetan spaniel, Pekingese and Pug, are evident. Ancient manuscripts speak about Tibetan dogs exported in China, almost certainly they were Lhasa apso, which had to be males for tradition. So it’s possible, for the 

lack of females, they were mated with females of Pekingese. Another hypothesis argues that the breed was fixed in Tibet and then introduced in China, but it’s sure first importers and selectors of the breed didn’t find a fixed genetic heritage, in fact in the same litter there were typical subjects while other were very far from the standard. The Tibetan civilization has not texts that can testimony the presence of shih tzu in order to clarify his origins, and this causes the lack of knowledge of the breed. Personally I think that the shih tzu is only a modified Lhasa apso, by Chinese. We can divide shih tzu’s history in three times: Tibetan, Chinese and modern. In the Tibetan time, there were two varieties of shih tzu, one long-haired and high on legs, a bit similar to Tibetan terrier, while the other variety was short legged, with basically arched legs. Since they were very sensitive and clever, in Tibet they were bred as companion dogs or warning dogs, as they warned the owner for the minimum danger and they were a good support for the Tibetan Mastiff.  In the Chinese time, they were bred in the Imperial palace and having one as gift meant to be in the graces of the Emperor. Many frescoes of this time represent the Lion dog, with the particular drooping ears and the tail carried on the back. Shih tzu were called ‘ the pearls of the Emperor’, as well as pugs and pekingeses. In the Palace there were subjects of many colors but the favorite color of the Empress was the gold, the best to symbolize the Lion dog.  Testimonials came with the first imports in the 20s, by the travelers that went in Tibet. These sweet little dogs were called ‘apso’, term that contained many breeds with similar characteristics, long hair generally white with black, grey or sand spots, sometimes completely gold, black or dark grey. Mainly, there were two types: a molossoid dog, more similar to the modern shih tzu and one similar to the modern Lhasa apso. Actually these breeds don’t exist anymore in China, while in Tibet, especially in its capital Lhasa it is possible to buy subjects for export at low cost but not beautiful as Europeans. Tibetan population still has the tradition to give one of this dogs as gift is auspicious.