Dynasty Dogs: The Royal History of the Shih Tzu

Did you know that your loyal little Shih Tzu has deep roots in royal Chinese history?

While many associate the breed with Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who ruled in China from 1861 through 1908 and considered the dogs sacred, Shih Tzu appear in tapestries dating as far back as 2000 years. While its origins are not fully clear, there is evidence that the breed—distinct from the Lhasa Apso, Pug, and Pekingese—was developed by Tibetan Monks who offered the temple dogs as gifts to the emperors of China.

Holy pets of the palace

Called Shih-tzu Kou in traditional Chinese, which literally means “Lion Dog,” the breed’s lion-like facial features were revered in Imperial courts because Buddha was said to have ridden to earth on the back of a lion.

During the Ming and Manchu Dynasties, the little lion dogs were bred and raised by palace eunuchs and were considered the exclusive property of the royal court. They were rarely seen outside the palaces and anyone caught owning one could be sentenced to death.

These thickly coated Shih Tzus were sometimes carried inside the robes of noble women and were even used as bed warmers and placed at the feet of the emperors and empresses to generate heat.

From China to the West

Dog historians believe that after Empress Tzu Hsi came to power in the 1860s, the Dalai Lama at the time presented her with a breeding pair of extraordinary Shih Tzus. These magnificent dogs were the foundation of her pure line.

Eventually, the dogs were given as gifts to English and Dutch nobility and by 1938 a standard was set for the breed. In the late 1930s, Shih Tzus finally arrived in America and rose to enormous popularity by the 1960s. Even half a world apart from the palaces of China, Shih Tzus are never far away from their royal bloodlines.

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