Are Shih Tzu Easy To Potty Train?

Shih tzu generally want to please their masters but they do occasionally have that stubborn moment when they want to do their own thing and nothing else, which can make them difficult to potty train. However, you can turn that around and with some persistence and patience on your part. You can make the answer to the question “Are shih tzu easy to potty train?” a resounding “Yes!”.

The Sooner The Better – potty train from three months if you can

As with any training, potty training is best taught from the earliest opportunity when the shih tzu is a puppy, from the age of around three months. If you have adopted an older dog that doesn’t know where to relieve himself you can still apply the same techniques set out in this article but it’s going to be a lot more difficult and you’re going to need a lot more persistence, understanding and patience. With such dedication you will win through in the end. Contrary to the old adage you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Are shih tzu easy to potty train?

The first step in potty training is to designate an area for your shih tzu to do his business. This can be a sheltered spot in your backyard or front garden, ideally protected from precipitation by a roof overhang or dense tree so that you can still go there with your pup in foul weather. If your house doesn’t have an outside area then pick an appropriate spot outdoors that is close by, won’t annoy anyone and you can clean up any mess easily. If you live on the upper floors of a high rise it’s going to be too late by the time you get outside in which case I recommend using a commercially available dog litter tray and placing it on your balcony or in your bathroom should you not have a balcony. If you have a male shih tzu the type of litter tray with the small, vertical post in the centre is best.

The tray may also be employed by those owners that will be out at work or school all day and there is no-one else available to take the puppy to his designated spot during the day. The tray, in this case, should used in conjunction with “open crate training”. This is a subject on its own and will be discussed in my next post. Please bookmark this blog so that you don’t miss it.

Go, Go, Go! – Quite Literally!

Once you have established where the designated “go to” area is, it’s time to start the potty training in earnest. Whilst in toilet training, have your puppy wear his harness and have his leash at hand so that you are ready for emergency action. If you spot the signs that he needs to go or is about to go you can quickly clip on the leash and take him to the designated area.

Walk your puppy on the leash to the designated toilet area and give, in a clear authoritative voice, an appropriate command such as “go toilet” or “go potty”. Whatever phrase you use it has to be a specific toilet command that can’t be confused or used for anything else. For example, if you used the phrase “let it go” you could have a puddle on the floor the next time you try to get your slipper back.

After you’ve issued the toilet command wait and see if your shih tzu does his business. If he does, give him a reward. This can be a small treat or some lavish praise. If your puppy doesn’t do anything, don’t worry and don’t take any action. Just go back to where you were and try again ten to fifteen minutes later. Give the command again and when he does eventually do his business in the correct place you must administer his reward immediately. Any delay and he won’t associate the reward with going to the toilet in that place and with the command. This is important, you need your puppy to think good things are going to happen if he responds to your commands. In a few months when doing his business in the right places becomes habit, you can gradually tone down the rewards until completely stopping them.

Shih tzu have small enough bladders as it is, so it follows that the bladder of the puppy is going to be even smaller and not capable of holding on to much urine. For that reason you really have to take your puppy to the designated spot every two hours. You need to say the command every time and reward a successful discharge every time. Consistency is key! With day to day repetition of this training it won’t take long for your puppy to associate your command with going to the toilet.

After a few visits your puppy will be attracted to your designated area just by the smell of urine and feces. Dogs instinctively like to urinate on previously soiled spots. Although the shih tzu’s short snout makes their sense of smell weaker than that of a longer snouted dog and, even if you clean the area or tray, they will still pick up the odour.

There will inevitably be some accidents, especially during the night when you’re not going to want to get up every two hours to take your shih tzu puppy out. If you catch him in the act, issue no punishment other than a resounding “no!” and clap your hands sharply. Then pick him up, grab his leash and take him out to the designated spot to finish. (You did have his harness on, didn’t you?) If there is only evidence of his mishap after the fact, issue no reprimand or punishment at all. He will become confused as he will not know what he is being reprimanded for.

Because your shih tzu will be attracted by the smell to defecate in the same spot again, all incidents of indoor mishaps must be thoroughly cleaned up using a cleaning product specific formulated for cleaning up after pets. When the area is dry, spray it with an odour neutralizing product. Follow all of this advice and the accidents will become less and less as the training goes on.

Shih tzu puppy looking for the designated area

Keeping Regular

While continuing the training you can also take your puppy for walks, ideally twice a day. See my post “How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu?” for further discussion. As you walk, use your chosen toilet command in appropriate places, such as the grass at the base of an established tree. Of course, reward him as usual if he responds to your command. So in addition to poop scoop bags, always take a small bag of treats on the walk with you, at least until he is fully house trained.

Try and keep the two walks at regular times of the day, every day. Ideally, take your shih tzu out first thing in the morning so that he learns he will be able to discharge his overnight build up of urine at that time. The second walk should ideally be ten to fifteen minutes after his evening feed. A shih tzu is usually ready to defecate around half an hour after eating. It will also help with the potty training if you keep meal times to the same time every day. Regular meal times = regular potty times.

Some people, including experts, will tell you not to allow your puppy access to water at night. This is a definite no no!  You must allow your shih tzu access to water at all times . Depriving your puppy of water can lead to dehydration and heatstroke, both potentially fatal conditions in the extreme.

As your puppy gets older, so his bladder capacity and strength will increase allowing you to increase the time interval between visits to the designated area. When he reaches 12 months he should be able to go through the night without needing a potty break. At 14 months he will be a fully grown adult and under normal conditions able to hold back his bodily functions for his twice daily walks.

Shih tzu puppy too tired for potty training

So, Are Shih Tzu Easy To Potty Train?

Okay, I’ll be honest with you, putting in the effort and patience on your part can be a little testing at times. Your shih tzu’s characteristic stubbornness can be a little testing at times. But keep your mind set on the task in front of you, follow all of the guidelines set out above, and you will find that he will eventually take to potty training with ease. All of a sudden he’ll “get it”.

I wish you success with your shih tzu’s potty training. If you have any questions or comments please use the box below or send a message using our contact us form.

Should I Get A Shih Tzu? – the bare facts you must consider

So, you’re thinking of buying or adopting a shih tzu but you’re unsure if you’re going to make the right decision. Is a shih tzu the right addition to join your household? 

Should I get a shih tzu?
Image courtesy of Cynoclub | Dreamstime ID 51270072

Shih tzu are wonderful, loyal and friendly companion dogs that will love you from the bottom of their hearts if you treat them right. They can be stubborn and independent thinking at times, sometimes suffering from “selective deafness” when you give a command they don’t want to comply with but generally all they want to do is please you and to be with you.

But before I help you to provide your own answer to the question, “Should I get a shih tzu?”, I urge you to think it over thoroughly before committing yourself to the acquisition of such a fine animal.

The most important thing to consider is that bringing a shih tzu home will bring demands upon you twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for hopefully the next fifteen years or more.

Think carefully about it, it’s a life changing commitment for you and your family, particularly if you’ve never had a dog as part of the family before. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be the proud owner of a shih tzu, believe me it’s well worth the effort, but it’s only right for the shih tzu and you that you are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.

Registration and Vaccinations – the essential first steps

In some countries you may need to register your new shih tzu under a licensing system which will almost certainly involve having a microchip painlessly inserted into the loose skin at the back of his neck and a recording of his DNA profile. Usually this registration will not be granted unless your puppy or dog has had the necessary vaccinations.

Even if you don’t have to register your shih tzu it is still a good idea to insert the microchip just in case he one day becomes lost or stolen. The microchip would then allow you, the owner, to be reunited with your dog.

Even if you don’t have to register your shih tzu, vaccinations are still a must to prevent him catching fatal diseases and passing them on.

The obvious one is the rabies vaccination, usually a legal requirement in most countries, which is given at age three months here in Gibraltar, the UK and the EU though this may be later in other countries. Check with your local veterinarian. The rabies vaccination must then be boosted, for legal reasons, every one year although the original vaccination would last for three years.

As well as rabies the other absolutely essential vaccination, though not necessarily a legal requirement, is the combination jab against parvovirus, parainfluenza, hepatitis and distemper. This all-in-one vaccination is usually given in three rounds between age six weeks to age four months. Not only are these jabs essential for a shih tzu’s well-being but also for permission to travel, placing in kennels, joining training classes and similar. This vaccine will need boosting every three years or so.

No puppy can be allowed outdoors until these core vaccines have been given.

Apart from these two essential vaccines there may be one or two localized vaccines that your chosen shih tzu may need. For example, here in Gibraltar and southern Spain vaccination against leishmania, a disease transmitted by a mosquito known as “sand fly”, is necessary for dogs. If you live somewhere where there are a lot of ticks then vaccination against Lyme disease should be considered. If you live where there are wild animals around then it’s leptospirosis to guard against. If your potential shih tzu is attending classes or staying in kennels a vaccination against kennel cough, more formally known as bordetella, is advisable.

These are just a few examples of the vaccinations that may be necessary in certain circumstances. You will have to consult your veterinarian to discuss which your shih tzu needs should you decide to have one.

Going On Vacation – how your holiday choices may change

Shih tzu enjoying being on vacation.
Image courtesy of Chaoss | Dreamstime ID 55658263

Owning a shih tzu means planning your vacations very carefully. While you are gone you will either have to put him or her in kennels, have a dog sitter come to your home or take him on vacation with you. 

Let me tell you, and I speak from personal experience here, that it is heartbreaking for both you and your dog when you part at the kennels. On top of this, he will be pining for you all of the time you are gone.

If you choose to leave your shih tzu at home with a dog sitter popping in to feed him and take him for walks, this can be a professional or a family member, neighbour or friend. Whoever you choose, it must be someone your shih tzu trusts and you trust to administer doggy care to the same standard as you.

If you take him with you, you will need to go camping or book dog friendly accommodation which narrows your choice considerably. Going to another country involves a lot of organization, a pet passport proving the necessary vaccinations have been administered  and, in some countries, may even require a period of quarantine. If your trip involves crossing the sea you may need to take a ferry instead of flying.

Shih Tzu Potty Training – time consuming but necessary

If the shih tzu you are considering acquiring is a puppy then you will need to take him outside for him to do his “business” every two hours or so to minimize the inevitable incidents of indoor soiling before your puppy is potty trained. Shih tzu have small bladders anyway and that of a puppy is even smaller so cannot hold much liquid and therefore he has to discharge often. As the puppy matures the frequency of having to go outside for a pee diminishes.

Shih tzu are notoriously difficult to potty train. My next post will be everything you need to know about potty training a shih tzu. Bookmark my homepage so you don’t miss it.

Taking a Shih Tzu For a Walk – twice a day is the right way

Once a shih tzu puppy reaches fourteen months he has reached adulthood, his bladder will be stronger and he will only need walking then twice a day. A shih tzu doesn’t need much exercise but in an ideal world you need to take your shih tzu for a walk of at least twenty minutes duration every morning and the same every evening, every single day. That’s a massive time commitment that will make you miss out on a lot of events and opportunities. On the plus side, you will be getting some healthy extra exercise that you may not have got otherwise.

For further and more detailed information relating to when you should walk a shih tzu and for how long, please see my post “How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu?“.

Coping With Separation Anxiety – a common problem with stay-at-home shih tzu

Shih tzu that are left alone in the home all day, every day while their owner is at work or school are prone to suffer from separation anxiety.

A shih tzu with separation anxiety becomes extremely distressed when his owner leaves the house, leaving him all alone. When he knows his owner is going to leave he will make an awful fuss, jumping up, barking and whimpering, even trying whatever he can  to stop the owner from leaving. Then for around the first forty minutes after the owner has left there will probably be a period of incessant barking and whimpering plus perhaps some destruction of furniture and clothing, maybe even some defecation, this even if he is house trained. Then when the owner comes home he, the owner will be subjected to the same fuss that was made when he left.

Owners not being able to cope with separation anxiety is the most common reason why a dog will end up being abandoned or passed on to a rescue centre or sanctuary. Forewarned is forearmed and if you know before you become a shih tzu owner how to prevent separation anxiety or at least to minimise the symptoms, then hopefully you will be more than able to cope with it. My post “Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety” explains the symptoms, bad behaviour and what you can do to alleviate the situation.

Medical Conditions That May Develop 

Shih tzu getting a checkup from the vet.
Image courtesy of Eduardo Gonzalez Diaz | Dreamstime ID 96625441

Most shih tzu are healthy specimens and I sincerely hope that if you do go ahead and enjoy the delights of owning a shih tzu that yours turns out to be a healthy dog, that you have many years of happiness together and that he never suffers from any of the conditions below.

You need to bear in mind, however, that the shih tzu is susceptible to the same health problems as any breed of small dog with an unnaturally short snout and unnaturally short legs.

You should never use a collar on a shih tzu as the windpipe, or trachea, is made of cartilage and is easily flattened by the pressure. This leads to difficulty in breathing and in severe cases may need surgery. Breathing problems can also be caused by a shih tzu being born with narrow nasal passages. Again, surgery can fix severe cases.

Shih tzu are at risk of heatstroke in extremely hot conditions. Because of the way their respiratory systems are designed they cannot pant fast enough to keep their body temperature normal. In these conditions it’s best to cut their hair short, keep them in an air conditioned room or at least in cool shade and give them iced water to drink plus ice cubes to chew on.

You will need to watch out for eye diseases; at the first sign of inflammation, redness or abnormalities, consult your veterinarian immediately. It may be nothing but swift action could save your dog’s sight. 

Mainly because shih tzu have short legs and a proportionally large back, there can be problems with hip joints, knee joints and even the possibility of a slipped disc. Most of these conditions can be treated, the most severe by surgery.

Shih tzu have comparably very long and narrow ear canals which are covered by furry ear flaps. This creates a warm and moist environment that bacteria thrive in and make painful infection likely. For this reason a shih tzu’s ears need cleaning on a regular basis.

Shih tzu can develop very itchy allergies that manifest as skin rashes and as a waxy substance inside the ear. Their paws and snouts may discolour due to scooping out this wax followed by licking the paw. These allergies can be treated by experimention in change of diet or products such as shampoo, for example, or by medication.

Hypothyroidism is another condition that can affect shih tzu. The thyroid does not function correctly in a shih tzu affected by this illness resulting in varying appetite, weight gain, excessive urination, fatigue and hair loss. Hypothyroidism can be treated with medication. It needs to be diagnosed early otherwise the patient can fall into a coma.

Another condition that can send a shih tzu into a coma if not diagnosed and treated early enough is Addison’s disease, a deficiency of the adrenal glands that inhibits  hormone production. This condition is hereditary, so as long as you get your shih tzu from a reputable source you should never encounter this disease. Bruno was diagnosed with Addison’s disease after falling into a coma and almost dying when a puppy. Since then he has lived a happy life thanks to his twice a day medication. He is one laid back shih tzu!

If you’re speculating about choosing a female shih tzu she will need to be spayed either at an early age, around age six months, this is before she comes on heat for the first time, or, if she is going to be used for breeding, as soon as she has ended her breeding duties. Shih tzu come on heat usually twice a year from age seven months. During these times there will be a small discharge of blood that you might like to contain in a doggy diaper.

All of these conditions and more I will be going into in greater detail in future posts. So if you do become a proud shih tzu owner, do please bookmark this site and come back again. 

Although the chances of a shih tzu developing anything nasty are slight, treatment for most of the above conditions can turn out to be very expensive and it only makes sense to take out pet insurance to dampen the shock of any sudden, unexpected strains on your finances.

Grooming -it’s not just about making your shih tzu look pretty 

Shih tzu having his beard trimmed.
Image courtesy of Pavel Siamionau | Dreamstime ID 30102033

Many people, including some “experts” are under the misconception that shih tzu are hypoallergenic. Fact: they’re not! You generally don’t see any shed hair from a shih tzu on your carpet or furniture as they have a double coat. When they shed hair it tends to get caught between the two layers.

This is evident when you brush a shih tzu, the loose hairs will attach themselves to the brush. If you keep a shih tzu’s hair long like the show dogs you would have to brush him every day to avoid his hair becoming a tangled mess.

I, personally, prefer to take my two to the groomers every four to six weeks to maintain a short hairstyle. This not only prevents problems with matting but helps to keep them cool in the hot Gibraltar climate.

I also ask the groomer to pluck the hairs from inside their ears and cut the hair from between their toes. This is for hygienic purposes as these are areas prone to infection. The groomer will also wash the dogs and cut their toenails, the latter being necessary every four weeks or so.

There is some routine grooming, apart from the regular brushing, that you will need to do at home. One bath a week with a dog friendly shampoo should be sufficient unless the shih tzu has been rolling around in dirt or worse. Of course, then he would need a bath as soon as possible.

A shih tzu’s ears should be cleaned out weekly with special dog ear cleaning fluid and sterile cotton wool. Every time he eats or drinks you need to wipe his face with a clean, damp cloth. This is to prevent a build up of food particles and spilled drink water in the creases, another bacterial breeding ground.

In the near future I will be writing about all aspects of grooming in greater detail. Be sure to bookmark this site for all things shih tzu.

I hope you now have the answer for “Should I get a shih tzu?”

If you have read all of this post you will now be aware of the commitment, both financially and in time, that you will have to make if you want a shih tzu in your home. You will know the way you will have to change your daily routine and be aware of what could, however unlikely, affect your chosen shih tzu during his life.

I sincerely hope that after considering the points covered that you go ahead and get your shih tzu and you have a warm, happy, loving relationship together. The companionship and affection you get back from your chosen one is well worth the time, money and effort invested a million times over!

If you have any questions that you would like to ask regarding shih tzu dogs or you have any comments about this post or this website, please use the space below or use our contact us form.


Why Is My Shih Tzu So Aggressive?

You wouldn’t think that a cute little dog such as a shih tzu could have an aggressive side to its character and for most of the time you would be right. There is, however, a small percentage that do develop an aggressive streak, the severity of which can vary. If you do have an aggressive shih tzu it is essential that you take action to correct this bad behaviour before his aggression causes injury to himself, other dogs or people. It is important not to make the mistake of thinking everything will be okay if you just carry on and work around his aggression.

Charlie being cute, any aggression trained out of him at the puppy stage.

Then, why is my shih tzu so aggressive?

Shih tzu aggression can manifest itself from several causes, which I will go into in a moment but the honest answer to “Why is my shih tzu so aggressive?” is, despite the immediate reason for the anger, in most cases, albeit in all probability inadvertently, it is you, the owner, or the previous owners if you have a rescue or adopted shih tzu, who shoulders the burden of blame.

“How can this be?”, I hear you ask. Well, quite frankly, by loving your baby a little too much. If you act on your instinct and cuddle and pet your shih tzu when he has behaved inappropriately you are in fact, in his mind, endorsing his behaviour to the extent that he will think this is the right way to behave. The situation is worsened if you then also allow his good behaviour to pass by unrewarded. This needs to be turned on its head, you need to think like a dog, ignore your shih tzu when he behaves badly and make a fuss over him when he behaves well.

The leader of the pack

Which brings us on to the most common cause of shih tzu aggression – small dog syndrome, a condition brought about if the owner of a shih tzu, or any of the small breed dogs, gives in to his dog’s demands all of the time. This pandering gives the dog delusions of grandeur and he thinks he is leader of the pack, the pack being all of the humans in the home including his owner.

While your shih tzu is under the spell of small dog syndrome he may react with aggression to any attempt, however benignly intended, to approach him or try and handle him or, worse still try to grab his toy or food, all of which he will see as an attempt to usurp his assumed position of pack leader. This aggression can be anything from a growl to a nip to a ferocious bite drawing blood.

Why Is My Shih Tzu So Aggressive?
Courtesy of Isselee Dreamstime ID:14762428

Small dog syndrome needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand. All human members of the household and any visitors need to assert themselves as higher ranking pack members above that of the shih tzu. You as the owner have to demonstrate to your shih tzu that it is you that is pack leader and not he; your shih tzu must accept this.

A shih tzu will only become even more aggressive if you try to punish him by shouting at him or hitting him; this is not the correct course of action, it will just teach him that aggression is the right way. Any misbehaving such as aggressive barking, jumping at or on people or climbing up on any furniture needs to be punished in a calm and collected manner with a period of isolation, if possible, in a separate room or gated off area where the shih tzu can see that he is being ignored. After a few minutes or when he calms down he should be let back into the mainstream. This process has to be repeated every time aggressive behaviour is demonstrated. Eventually he will learn that his aggressive ways and misapprehensions are not getting him what he wants and as long as his good behaviour is consistently rewarded he will choose the more tranquil and friendly way of existence.

Perhaps your shih tzu’s aggression is not the result of small dog syndrome. It could be due to other causes.

Too much surplus energy 

Aggression can come out from the frustration and boredom of not having enough exercise. All of his pent up energy has to be released somehow. If this is true for your shih tzu then the obvious answer is to take him out more. A young shih tzu needs at least two walks a day of a minimum length of twenty minutes, preferably one walk early in the morning and the other just before dusk. See my post “How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu” for more detailed information.

Problem puppy mouthing 

When your shih tzu is at the puppy stage he has an instinct to play with his litter siblings by holding mouthing and nipping contests, nature’s way of preparing him for possible real future conflicts. When he is taken away from his litter then you become his sparring partner. If this mouthing and nipping continues into adulthood, at around fourteen months, this behaviour can escalate into full scale biting that is severe enough to draw blood.

The remedy for this behaviour, you will be glad to know, is quite simple. It doesn’t involve shouting commands at your dog or holding his muzzle closed as suggested by some trainers but is much more effective. This method goes along with what I have said earlier about not treating aggression with aggression and ignoring bad behaviour. For this to work your shih tzu must be wearing his harness with lead attached. When he begins to mouth you, turn your back on him and step on his lead so that he cannot move and remains isolated behind you. After a couple of minutes or so when he has calmed down, let him go. If he starts mouthing again, repeat the process. Pretty soon he’ll realize that his mouthing behaviour will only end up with him being on his own, something no shih tzu wants to be, and he’ll stop doing it. Make his good behaviour a pleasurable experience for him by rewarding him with petting, stroking and cuddling, perhaps a treat as well. It will remain in his mind: “mouthing = bad times, behaving = good times”.

This method can also be employed to treat small dog syndrome instead of placing him in isolation. As with all training, this method is easier to administer at the puppy stage but can also be drummed into older dogs with a little more persistence on your part.

Possessive aggression 

Your shih tzu may be aggressive because he is possessive over his territory, toys, bedding, food or all of these. Possessive aggression is easily rectified at feeding time.

Place his empty feeding bowl in front of your shih tzu and then put in a by hand a few morsels of his favourite food, making sure your clenched hand is in front of his nose before releasing the payload. As he finishes the first handful food, place in the bowl a second handful, pushing your shih tzu out of the way if necessary. When he is used to you doing this, add the next handful while there are still one or two morsels left in the dish, again pushing him out of the way if necessary. Then progress to actually taking out those one or two morsels as you add the contents of your hand. These actions will convince your shih tzu that you and your hand can be trusted near his bowl and that you are always going to give him more than you take away. He will no longer growl or snap at you when you approach him or his food bowl. He should now trust you near his possessions but if he still doesn’t you can use a similar strategy to put this right.

It is important to address shih tzu aggression.
Courtesy of Swapan Banik Dreamstime ID: 115899360

Aggression in rescue shih tzu 

If you have a rescue shih tzu he may show aggression out of fear caused by a past where he was abused or had a traumatic experience. Dogs with such a history can, in certain situations, feel trapped or cornered which causes them to panic and lash out in an attempt to escape. Whatever happened in the past is etched into their minds so severely that the only thing the owners can do themselves is to avoid the situations that trigger the aggressive behaviour. To actually make any headway into reducing the aggression displayed by such dogs is to enlist the help of a dog behavioural specialist. When consulting such a specialist it helps to provide as much information about the dog’s past as you can.

Shih tzu aggression from medical conditions 

If your shih tzu has no history of aggression but has now suddenly started becoming irritable and aggressive then this could be due to an underlying health problem that is causing pain and distress, in which case you will need to consult with your veterinary surgeon. Older dogs may become aggressive due to the distress caused by losing their hearing or vision; all you can do is to help them through this trauma with love and care the best you can.

The bottom line on shih tzu aggression 

To sum up, if your shih tzu is showing aggressive traits you need to do something about it as soon as possible preferably while he is still a puppy; if he is older you will have to work harder. Failure to take action could have serious consequences. Decide what is causing the aggression and apply the appropriate remedial action. With persistence and application you can both beat the problem.

Please leave a comment or use our contact us form if you have any shih tzu related questions. Goodbye until next time and I wish your shih tzu and you a long and happy life together.

Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety – how to cope


What is Separation Anxiety?

Previously known as “owner absent behaviour”, separation anxiety is the intense fear, panic and distress shih tzu (or any other breed of dog) may experience when their owner or owners leave them alone in the house for any length of time from a few minutes to several hours.

Up to 14% of dogs in total are thought to have suffered from separation anxiety but for the smaller breeds this percentage rises somewhat. Shih tzu in particular were bred as companion dogs and as such are in need of constant attention, which means the chances are high that you will have to deal with shih tzu separation anxiety at some stage, most likely when as a puppy.

Shih tzu separation anxiety
ID 130503011 © | Dreamstime.com

Our domesticated dogs are descended from wild dogs that lived in packs with a social hierarchy that helped ensure their survival. Nowadays our pet shih tzu still instinctively think of themselves as part of a pack with us, the owners, as the leaders. They depend upon social interactions with us to feel comfortable, happy and relaxed. When we suddenly go out and leave them on their own, without any idea of if we will be returning or not, it’s no wonder when anxiety sets in.

Consequences of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

While you are absent your stressed out shih tzu may indulge in certain undesirable behaviours such as incessant loud barking and whining, chewing things like furniture legs, shoes and his own tail or paws and urinating or defecating in inappropriate places in the home. None of this is done out of malice, they are not acts of revenge on you for leaving him alone, it is just simply because he is distressed and doesn’t know what to do.

This condition does need addressing, however, as any dog that is scared and under stress, no matter how well trained otherwise, can suddenly channel these feelings into aggression causing damage to property or, worse still, harm himself or others. For these reasons you need to train your shih tzu to behave properly with you and while you are gone.

But fear not, there is no need for you to become anxious over your shih tzu’s separation anxiety. With the proper training this fear and distress when you leave can be overcome eventually, no matter how severe.

Diagnosis of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

When you first notice you shih tzu puppy or dog behaving unusually and inappropriately and you suspect separation anxiety disorder is present, you will need to eliminate all other possibilities first to ensure that it is, in fact, separation anxiety and not something else.

For example, if your shih tzu is house trained and he suddenly starts peeing around the house, then it is not likely to be separation anxiety but a medical condition such as a urinary infection. Or he could be relieving himself because he hasn’t been taken out for hours and he just can’t hold on anymore. If in doubt, consult your vet.

Or, again if he hasn’t been taken out for a walk for some time, he could just be chewing cushions and shoes or running around the house, accidentally knocking things over in the process, while he works off the excess energy he has from the lack of exercise.

If  he starts barking suddenly, it could be that he has been startled by a loud noise or a stranger passing close by.

Some puppies and dogs actually learn to simulate separation anxiety in order to manipulate a reaction from you and gain your undivided attention. It is important that you learn the difference between this behaviour and true separation anxiety.

Symptoms of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

If your shih tzu exhibits any of the behaviour such as that listed above only sporadically then he probably doesn’t have separation anxiety. However, if he is misbehaving in your absence on a constant day-to-day basis and he makes an exaggerated fuss every time you leave from and return to the home, then separation anxiety is the likely diagnosis.

Typically, when your separation anxiety affected shih tzu knows you’re going to leave him alone, he’ll go into a panic and make a big fuss, probably follow you from room to room possibly whimpering or whining or trembling and he may even try anything he can to prevent you from leaving, such as sitting on your shoes to prevent you from putting them on or lying in front of the door in an attempt to stop you from opening it. In extreme cases he may become more aggressive and actually do something like clamp his teeth on your trouser leg and try to pull you back.

After you have left, usually for the first twenty to forty minutes, there will be a period of inappropriate behaviour which could take several forms. There could be a bout of incessant, loud barking; there could be a destructive session which may include the of chewing objects such as furniture legs, cushions or shoes, or it may include urinating and defecating around the home in inappropriate places, even if he is house trained. He may lose his appetite and not eat his food. Some self-harm may occur in the form of chewing his own paws or risking injury by spinning and chasing his own tail. He may try and escape by scratching and chewing at doors, walls and windows. Your shih tzu may perform any of these actions just because he is scared and distressed over the fact that you are gone and doesn’t know if you are coming back.

When you return home your dog will be very pleased to see you and will make a fuss over you for some time. A well-balanced, happy shih tzu will greet you for a period of around a few seconds up to a minute but a separation anxiety affected dog will continue with his over-enthusiastic welcome for much longer before calming down somewhat.

Causes of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

Shih tzu separation anxiety can develop early especially in puppies that are taken away from their mothers and litter siblings at too early an age. This is especially true of puppies not sourced from a reputable breeder. The puppy is taken away from his mother and familiar surroundings before he is fully weaned and then kept in a box or a cage for perhaps several weeks until sold. Lack of socialization and lack of adequate exercise causes much distress. Then, when sold, the puppy has to go through another upheaval when he is taken to his new home and new family. It’s no wonder then, that once he is settled in and familiar with his new owners and new surroundings, that he becomes anxious and scared that he is going to lose it all again.

Even puppies from reputable breeders can be susceptible to separation anxiety if left alone for hours a day at too early an age. Ideally a puppy should be at least eight months old before being left alone. In the real world, people have to go to work and to school, they have to go shopping and run errands and they have no choice but to leave their shih tzu puppies alone for periods of time. The chances of the possible onset of separation anxiety in these circumstances can be minimised by some preparation work and training. For more information on puppies, see the “Prevention of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety” section below.

Bruno showing no signs of separation anxiety.
Bruno on the bed, definitely not stressed!

We, the owners, can at times be apportioned some of the blame for developing separation anxiety in susceptive dogs. Your shih tzu, being one of the more intelligent breeds, will monitor all of your actions and learn the routine you undergo whilst preparing to leave the home. So, when he sees you put your shoes on or put your coat on or pick up your keys he will start getting excited and anxious. Similarly, when you return, your shih tzu with separation anxiety will be overcome with emotion and excitement on seeing you again.

It is natural to us humans to think that by following our instincts and joining in with all of the fuss and commotion in these situations that we are comforting our dogs and calming them down. In fact, if we do that we are doing totally the opposite. We are teaching our dogs that at our departure and arrival times working ourselves up into a distressed and anxious state is the correct way to behave. Continuing in this manner at departure and arrival times will make this behaviour even more intense. This problem needs to be addressed.

Another factor that can contribute to separation anxiety is exercise, or rather, the lack of exercise. If, before you leave the home, your shih tzu has not been out for a brisk walk of at least twenty minutes then he is going to be full of pent up energy that he is going to work off inside the home.

Though not an actual cause of separation anxiety, your shih tzu’s sense of time and how long you have been away can exacerbate their distress at your absence.  Of course, dogs don’t understand hours, minutes and seconds but they can sense how far through the day we are from the position of the sun and certain noises they hear at certain times of day. Your shih tzu can also sense how long you have been away from the diminishing strength of your scent around the home. Although a shih tzu’s sense of smell is far inferior to that of, for example, a bloodhound, it is still good enough to detect the length of your absence and add to the intensity of his separation anxiety should he be suffering from it.

If you happen to have a rescue shih tzu, dogs that have come from shelters are even more prone to suffer from the discomfort of separation anxiety. Not only have they been through the separation issues a puppy has to go through but they have also been parted from the leader of the pack, that is their previous owner. Apart from this they may be grieving if their previous owner has passed away or they have may been abused and abandoned or their previous owners may have given them up simply because they could not cope with the demands of looking after a dog. Whatever happened in a rescue shih tzu’s past, it all contributes to separation anxiety that is likely to lead to behavioural problems. You may never be able to completely correct these problems in a rescue shih tzu but you can work to lessen their impact.

Treatment of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

As I said previously in this post, you need first to diagnose that it is separation anxiety that your shih tzu is suffering from and not some other medical condition. Again, if in doubt, consult your vet. Your vet may even recommend some training exercises for you and your dog to complete, either at home or in classes; in extreme cases he may even refer you to a behavioural specialist or even prescribe an antidepressant such as fluoxetine to get your shih tzu through the worst of his separation anxiety. If he is prescribed such medicine it will only be for a temporary period until traditional training methods begin to alleviate the condition. If you don’t like the thought of giving your dog such drugs there are calming pheromone releasing diffusers available specially made for destressing dogs. These are also available in the form of a wearable jacket.

There are things you can do at home to reverse the symptoms of separation anxiety and perhaps, after time, eradicate them altogether. This involves training your shih tzu to cope with your absence and certain psychological strategies to help him be comfortable with being home alone.

The first thing to know about treating shih tzu separation anxiety is NEVER to punish your dog for his actions. Remember, a dog always wants to please the leader of the pack, you, the owner and any inappropriate behaviour is acted out of panic and distress and not because your shih tzu wants revenge or to display any malice towards you.

For the sake of discussion, we can split the separation anxiety day into three sections. When you depart for work or school, the time your shih tzu is home alone and the event of your arrival back home. I’ll deal with departure first.

So, your shih tzu picks up the signs that you are about to leave and starts making a fuss and you know from earlier in this post that the worst thing you can do is make a fuss back. You should just ignore him and leave without even saying “goodbye” and conquer the urge to pick him up and give him a cuddle before you go.  If you need to show affection to you your shih tzu make sure you do this no closer than twenty minutes before you leave.

There are things you can do to reduce the amount of fuss he makes when you leave. A good thing to do is to observe which are the signs of you leaving it is that he picks up on. Whether it’s putting on your shoes or your coat, picking up your keys, any combination of these or something else, if you start performing these actions several times during the day without leaving the house then your dog will become more comfortable when you do this and not associate these actions with your departure.

As well as this, you can train your shih tzu to sit calmly as you leave. Say the command “sit”, pass your arm over his head and gently push his bottom down to the sit position, When he does assume the sitting position give him a reward. I suggest you make the reward one of those rubber toys that you can stuff full of treats or part of his daily food that he has to work out how to remove from the toy. This will not only make him start to associate your departure with a pleasurable experience in place of a stressful one, but it will also keep him occupied beyond that crucial first forty minutes after you have gone. Repeat this routine every time you depart and eventually he will sit calmly on command.

A good thing to do at least an hour before you leave if you can make the time is to take your shih tzu for a brisk walk of at least twenty minutes duration. This action will use up any excess energy your shih tzu may have and make him more prone to have a nice, peaceful sleep in that crucial first forty minutes after you have left. Not only that, he will have had the opportunity to pee and poo making it much less likely that there will be any “accidents” around the house for you to find when you come back later. If you really don’t have or cannot make the time to walk your shih tzu before you leave for the day then consider the services of a professional dog-walker to take him out while you are away. Of course, this would need to be somebody you trust with your dog and your dog trusts, otherwise the anxiety will become worse for both of you.

While you are gone, your shih tzu should have a corner or section of a room to be his own. A part of the home that is his to relax in, whether you are there or not. This area may include a window but this depends upon your dog. Some dogs find relief from boredom and mental stimulation by sitting and watching the world go by through the window while others may bark and scratch at the window for most of the day in a vain attempt to be reunited with their owner. You may have to experiment to find out if your shih tzu is happier with a window or without one.

This sectioned off territory for your shih tzu can be enclosed with baby gates if you don’t want him wandering around the rest of the house while you are gone, alternatively you could use a large, child’s playpen but whatever you choose the area needs to be furnished with certain basic requirements. This is much better and much more humane than, as some owners do, keeping your dog locked in a crate alone all of the day. Yes, some dogs do take to being a crate quite well and there’s nothing wrong with that – just as long as they are free to come and go from the crate. Confining a dog to a crate that doesn’t want to be confined to a crate will only serve to dramatically increase the panic, stress and anxiety levels.

Shih tzu feeling at home in an open crate.
ID 17446633 © Willeecole | Dreamstime.com

The main thing your shih tzu must have in his area is a soft, comfortable and warm bed, preferably of the type that has raised sides; some experts think that this type of bed offers a dog a greater sense of security and lessens the stress factor. A fleece blanket for the bed would be a positive addition. If you were to place a sock or a t-shirt or other article of clothing that you have recently worn in the bed your scent will comfort your shih tzu while you are gone.

As your shih tzu may be confined to this area there also needs to be adequate water and food to last at least until you come home, perhaps a little more in case you are unexpectedly late. This water and food, especially the water, needs to be in stable, spill-proof bowls or in dispensers. If my two boys are anything to go by, shih tzu are not greedy dogs and only eat what they need, so there is no need to worry about them over-eating.

Of course, if they are going to eat and drink, they are going to need somewhere to pee and poo, so place some newspaper or a puppy training pad within the enclosure but away from the bed and eating areas.

To prevent boredom, your shih tzu needs to have something to occupy his mind while he is alone. To this end a basket full of his favourite, most colourful toys, particularly ones that he can interact with, should also placed inside his area. One such toy could be the aforementioned rubber one that holds those hard-to-get-at treats. Another good toy to add to the basket would be one of those available that is fitted with a device that simulates a heartbeat; these toys have been found to be very effective at comforting dogs with separation anxiety.

You may also like to experiment with leaving on the television or radio tuned to a station that broadcasts programs with tones that your dog will find soothing; avoid programs that have loud music or people shouting aggressively. There are also CDs available especially recorded to play sounds aimed at calming dogs. Leaving a light on during dark hours may also help.

Arriving back home requires from you the same self-discipline that was necessary when you left. That is, when your shih tzu, who may have been scratching at the inside of the front door and barking on sensing your approach, begins to jump up excitedly at you when you open the door and enter the home that you, at first, completely ignore him. Any response to his overzealous welcome will reinforce his pack mentality tuned-in brain that this is the correct behaviour for whenever you walk back in through the front door. By ignoring him for the first few minutes he will eventually realise that staying calm is the correct behaviour when you come home.

Give it a few minutes, go through whatever routine you would normally do when you come home after a day at work, take your coat off, take your shoes off, put your slippers on, make a cup of tea or whatever it is you do. Then sit down and call over your shih tzu; now is the time that you can greet each other in a more sedate atmosphere and it won’t seem to him like such a big event to become stressed over. This arrival routine repeated every time you return home will eventually play a huge role in diminishing your shih tzu’s separation anxiety.

Lastly with regards to treatment, some people think that the introduction of a second dog into the household will alleviate the loneliness and reduce the separation anxiety endured by the original dog. This is probably NOT going to work as the original dog is not going to view the second dog lower down in the pack order as a replacement for the leader of the pack, the owner. I know in a previous post I mentioned that I had bought Charlie successfully to keep Bruno company while I am out but Bruno, thankfully, wasn’t suffering from separation anxiety.

Shih tzu separation anxiety therapy
ID 71382198 © Photosbaf | Dreamstime.com

Prevention of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

It is possible to nip any leanings towards separation anxiety in the bud at the puppy stage but it does need A LOT of  time commitment  and patience from you, the owner.

As explained earlier in this article, your new shih tzu puppy will have already undergone at least one major trauma being separated from his mother and litter siblings. To avoid further stress and the possible development of separation anxiety your puppy needs to be trained from the moment he joins your household.

First of all, you have to avoid the overwhelming temptation to cuddle and pet your puppy at the times they are excited such as when you are leaving a room. You must only cuddle and pet them on your terms.

Set up a section of the room to become your puppy’s safe and secure area as depicted in the “Treatment of Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety” section above. The colourful, interactive toys you place in his area will help develop his mental skills, confidence and self-control which will all come in useful when he is finally ready to be home alone.

The training begins by getting your puppy used to you leaving the room without him getting excited. Start by leaving the room for just a few minutes. Before you leave the room, go through giving out your departure signs as previously discussed in this article. As you leave the room teach your puppy to “sit” and “stay” on command. This could take some time but when he eventually understands and complies with your commands, give him a reward of a treat or a toy; it’s important to vary the reward. When you come back into the room ignore any excited behaviour and command your puppy to sit again. When he does, reward him again.

You will  need to repeat these actions many times, gradually increasing the time interval that you are away from the room. Leave enough time between leaving exercises for your shih tzu to calm down. When you are up to around twenty minutes away from the room you can think about leaving through the back door if you have one and then progressing to the front door. Of course, once you can leave through the front door, as long as you are back in the time frame, you can pop down the shop for a pint of milk or whatever you need. You need to be back within the time frame because of what I said previously in this post about your scent becoming weaker the longer you are away.

As the time you are away increases you can cut down the repeats to just a few per day. Ideally, try to synchronise these exercises with the times you would leave anyway. You will need to build up the time you are away to around an hour and a half to two hours before you can safely leave your shih tzu alone for a typical eight hour working day. Up until then, for the entire time that you are patiently persisting with this training, if you have to leave the room for longer than the time interval stage you have progressed to, you will need to take your shih tzu with you to avoid any chance of separation anxiety setting in.

During the period of this training your shih tzu puppy will also need to be socialized to ensure he develops a stable mind and is comfortable with life. So, with this in mind, when you are house training him and taking him for, ideally, his twice daily walks, take him somewhere where there are plenty of other people and people walking dogs. With care, and I would keep him on a training leash and harness for this so that you can pull him away if necessary, allow him to socialize with other clean and friendly looking dogs. If you cannot do this, or in addition to this, take him to training classes where there will be other dogs under control for him to socialize with.

Final Words on Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety

Whilst shih tzu separation anxiety is a problem that needs to be dealt with it isn’t the end of the world. Follow our guidelines and you will go a long way to preventing, diminishing or even eradicating the fear and distress your shih tzu goes through while you are away. If you are still anxious to know what he gets up to when you’re not there, there are some great, webcams on the market now that are specially designed so that you can remotely interact with your dog.

If you do have a shih tzu with separation anxiety, I wish you both all the best for a calmer future. Please leave a comment or contact us.

Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms – how to spot them

Shih Tzu being the intelligent, loving and loyal companion dogs that they are can be prone to periods of fear and anxiety in certain situations. These can take several different forms and can be for a variety of reasons. Usually it’s nothing for you to get stressed over, most shih tzu anxiety problems can be overcome with a little training or, in more intense cases, more training over time, either at home or at specialist classes.

After observing the symptoms of possible anxiety in your shih tzu the first action you must take is to ascertain whether it is, in fact, anxiety or if it is another medical condition. For instance, if your dog suddenly starts peeing indoors it may not be anxiety, it is more likely to be a urinary infection or something similar; if he is now licking or chewing a paw regularly whereas he hadn’t done this previously, then, perhaps it may be an abscess rather than anxiety causing him to do this. To be sure that your shih tzu is suffering from anxiety and not something else it is best to be on the safe side and consult with your vet.

Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms

So, here are some of the more common symptoms that your shih tzu may be displaying if they are suffering from fear and anxiety. The more of these symptoms you can observe in your dog, the more likely he has anxiety disorders.

  • If your shih tzu does not need to go out for a toilet break or is not in any obvious pain and is constantly whining or whimpering, then there is probably something stressing him out. If the source of his distress is something he cannot escape from, say the sound of thunder or fireworks, he may either be pacing up and down or cowering and hiding under some furniture.
  • A frightened and distressed shih tzu may show his anxious state by posturing. In comfortable circumstances a relaxed and happy shih tzu will hold his tail up above his bottom. The frightened or distressed shih tzu will have his tail down between his legs and also his ears flattened pointing toward the back of his head.
  • It may be that he is feeling cold but if he isn’t and your shih tzu is shivering or trembling then this could also indicate that he is feeling frightened and distressed, especially if he is showing any of the other anxiety symptoms.
  • A dog’s fear can easily turn to aggression and for that reason all of these symptoms need to be addressed. Be especially aware though, if your shih tzu is displaying whale eye. This is when your dog’s eyes are bulging with the whites, or sclera, showing. In this state your shih tzu will be feeling so threatened that he is ready to fight his way out of a corner; he may also display whale eye if he has found some food, perhaps some that he shouldn’t have, and he thinks you are going to take it away from him. His eyes will be focused on the object of his fear and aggression and he may also be displaying other shih tzu anxiety symptoms such as neck hair raised, trembling and growling.
  • As a companion dog and instinctively a pack animal a shih tzu does not like to be left alone, not even for a minute. If not prepared and trained to cope with being alone your shih tzu will become anxious when you go off to work or school or whatever. This condition is known as “separation anxiety” or, less commonly, “owner absent misbehaviour”. Separation anxiety, affecting up to 14% of all dogs, is a whole topic on its own which I talk about here. However, as this is the Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms page it would be wrong of me not to list the symptoms here. Your shih tzu probably has separation anxiety if he follows you around from room to room just before you leave and is over affectionate upon your return. In addition, while you are gone he may bark incessantly, chew inappropriate items such as furniture, cushions or footwear up to the point of destruction, urinate  or defecate in inappropriate places inside the home and try to escape by scratching at doors and windows or digging in the backyard. He may suffer one or any number of these symptoms.
  • Other symptoms of anxiety worth noting are excessive self-grooming, slow motion lip-licking, panting, drooling and yawning. These symptoms on their own do not indicate anxiety but when seen with any of the others previously mentioned then they help to confirm the diagnosis.

What Makes a Shih Tzu Anxious?

Separation Anxiety

I’ve already touched on the main cause of anxiety which is the fear of being alone or separation anxiety that affects up to 14 in every 100 dogs. As I said I cover this here in my next post as I have so much information to pass on to you that it merits its own section. I will just say for now that this condition and other anxiety issues can be prevented or minimised if you can start training and conditioning your dog whilst still a puppy of two to three months. More of this in a minute.

Noise Anxiety

Noise, especially sudden, loud noises such as thunder, fireworks and bursting balloons can cause anxious reactions and panic in shih tzu.

Travel Anxiety

Some dogs hate to be put in the car and carted around from place to place. Whether its being moved from the comfort of their own space, the actual motion or being shut in the back section of the vehicle they don’t like, the travel anxious shih tzu will put up a struggle from the moment you pick up your vehicle keys.

Confinement Anxiety

This condition causes stress and fear in dogs that are confined to spaces not much bigger than they are. It doesn’t affect all dogs, in fact some thrive on having their main living space within the confines of a crate. For others, though, claustrophobic surroundings will send them into an anxious and stressful state.

Phobias

Just as some of us humans can develop irrational fears over things such as spiders, balloons and clowns, so can our shih tzu develop such fears only it is more likely to be for such random things, for example, as infant children, people wearing hats or the washing machine.

Why Do Some Shih Tzu Have These Anxieties?

A Shih Tzu Puppy Looking Anxious

Most of the time it is because of what happens to a dog when he is a puppy. Typically he gets taken away from his mother and litter siblings at a very early age, weeks rather than months, kept in a box until sold then taken to strange surroundings that are to be his new home, then left alone all day while his new owners go to work or school.

This lack of social interaction denies the puppy access to the skills it needs to learn to get through life in a human world. Particularly between the ages of two months to eight months when the natural instinct of the puppy is to be wary of new faces and places he needs to be put on a program of socialization where he is introduced to different people and different situations. This needs to be done in a calm and non-aggressive way, perhaps taking him for walks along totally new routes where there a plenty of people and other dog walkers.

Anxiety complexes can also at times be attributed to genetics and temperament. Although the shih tzu is generally a happy-go-lucky, friendly breed that will always offer you companionship and show you love and affection if you treat them right, they do have an independent and sometimes stubborn side to their character which can lead to them developing a phobia to, for example, young children and other dogs that they may see as a threat to their place in the pack.

For this reason, a shih tzu should be socialized with new children on a gradual basis and ALWAYS under supervision. Even the slightest sign of aggression from the shih tzu should be punished with a period of isolation in another room. Even now, when I know that Bruno and Charlie have accepted my grandchildren as part of the pack, I will not leave them alone with them. If I have to leave the room I will always isolate them with the use of a baby gate. (Bruno and Charlie that is, not the grandchildren!)

Rescue shih tzu, which will usually be past the puppy stage, may, and probably will have developed anxiety simply because of the trauma they have suffered by being abandoned or abused by their previous owner. It can take a long time before they fully trust you but if you persist with a socialization program they will eventually become more calm and relaxed. The same applies if you have an older shih tzu with an anxiety problem.

Sometimes anxiety can be brought on by a medical condition or illness and in older shih tzu by an age related degeneration of the brain. In these cases, since you will have to consult a vet anyway, you can only act on the advice given to you by the vet. For example, when Bruno was a puppy he had to be rushed to the emergency vet as he had lapsed into a coma. He was subsequently diagnosed to be suffering from Addison’s Disease, a hormone deficiency of the kidneys that can also affect humans. He has been on medication twice a day ever since to reduce the risk of further, life-threatening seizures.

Treatment of Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms

Treatment will depend upon the type, cause and severity of the anxiety your shih tzu is suffering from. Usually the rule is to punish bad behaviour by either ignoring your dog or isolating him in another room on his own for a few minutes and rewarding good behaviour with treats and toys. This will gradually condition him to behave appropriately.

In the case of separation anxiety, the worst thing you can do is to make a fuss over your shih tzu whenever you leave home or when you return. Though it may go against your instincts, you must ignore him at these times to convince him that your coming and going is no big deal. Your dog thinks you are leader of the pack, so if you stay calm he will eventually understand there is nothing to make a fuss about and stay calm too.  I delve deeper into this in this post.

With other disorders and phobias either try and avoid the situations that initiate the anxiety attacks or start a program of aversion therapy where you expose your pet to a little at a time of what makes him apprehensive. If opting for the latter, it must be done persistently and often, gradually increasing the exposure until he remains calm and comfortable with the cause all of the time.

With more severe cases of anxiety and bad or aggressive behaviour it’s best to keep a log of your dog’s actions and presenting this to your vet. Give him as much information as you can.

If you know his breeding history and the characteristics of his parents that will help. If he is a rescue dog, give as much information about his past as you can find out.

After examining your dog to make sure the correct diagnosis is anxiety and not an underlying medical condition then he may prescribe a routine of remedial treatment and exercises. In really extreme cases he may also prescribe some medicine (particularly for travel anxiety) to help things along initially or even refer you to a dog behavioural specialist.
I hope this post is useful in resolving your shih tzu’s anxiety problems. Please do act if your shih tzu does have anxiety problems as one day he may react to his fears aggressively if he feels he is trapped into a corner. If you have any thoughts or questions on this subject please make a comment or use our “contact us” form. Don’t forget to read here for a deeper look into separation anxiety. Hope to see you then.

How To Train a Shih Tzu Puppy Not To Bark

Before we go into how to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark let us consider why your puppy is barking in the first place. If we can understand the cause of the barking we may be able to take preventative or remedial action and perhaps not have to indulge in any training at all.

  • Shih tzu puppies develop their ability to bark at around eight weeks old. This is also the age many puppies are being introduced to their new home and these new, unfamiliar surroundings may lead to feelings of insecurity.
    • In this case try to reassure the little one with cuddles and comforting words. Granted, he won’t understand what you are saying but it is the soothing tone of your voice that will have a reassuring effect.
  • If your puppy is left alone for any length of time, say, for example while you are at work, his barking may be because he is suffering from separation anxiety.
    • Just before you leave your puppy alone try providing him with something to stimulate his mind for the first hour or two that you’re gone. This may be something like  a rubber toy stuffed with treats that he has to work out how to remove from the toy himself.
    • If cost isn’t a factor, have a dog sitter or dog walker call in to break up the time he’s left alone.
    • In our own personal case, my wife and I were worried about the amount of time we sometimes had to leave Bruno alone. That’s when we decided to get our second shih tzu, Charlie. At first Bruno was a little unsure of his new companion but they soon became inseparable.
How to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark
  • Barking may also be caused by excessive pent up energy due to a lack of exercise, walking and stimulating activity.
    • Try to take your puppy outdoors more often, preferably somewhere safe where he can have a little runaround. For his safety and your peace of mind I recommend you keep him on the leash for this.
    • If you can’t get out, try playing some stimulating games indoors with him. Try hiding his favourite toy for him to sniff out or perhaps bounce a soft rubber ball for him to jump up and catch or chase.
  • If you have already house trained your puppy he may be barking because he needs to answer a call of nature.
  • Again, try to take him outside more. See my post “How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu” for more information.
  • If you just can’t get outside try allocating a space, maybe in the bathroom or perhaps on the balcony, where you can put down a puppy training pad for him to do his business on. You will probably have to show him where this is the first few times until he gets used to it being there.
  • He may just be barking to gain your attention. Be careful with this one. If you give him what he wants when he barks he will think he can get you to do what he wants every time. The bouts of barking will increase rather than stop.
    • This is known as “small dog syndrome”. Your dog is instinctively a pack animal and until you show him otherwise he thinks he is leader of the pack. Giving in to his barking will only reinforce this belief.
    • In this situation it may be better to employ one of the training methods set out below to control the barking rather than give in to his demands.

How to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark

As with all shih tzu puppy training, start as early as possible, the same day you bring him home for the first time if you can. Remember that consistency is the key to achieving the required results from training. In the case of barking, for instance, if you aren’t consistent with your stop barking commands and use them every time your puppy barks then the poor thing will become confused and won’t know whether he’s supposed to be barking or not.

Training is more effective when your puppy is calm so avoid training during times when he is stressed or excited such as when you’ve just got home work or you’ve just brought home the shopping. During the text I often refer to giving your puppy a treat; bear in mind that giving a treat every time as a reward may not work. You may have to alternate rewards between treats, favourite toy, petting and praising.

Before training your puppy not to bark you need to decide whether or not you want him to bark in certain circumstances, say, when a stranger is trying to access your home, or whether you don’t want him to bark at all.

Never shout at your puppy while he is barking as he will just think that you are barking along with him.


Shih tzu barking
ID 81651387 © Daniel Malinowski | Dreamstime.com

How to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark – method 1

This first method gives you control over commanding your puppy to bark or not to bark.

  • Enlisting the help of a willing volunteer who your puppy isn’t familiar with will enable you to carry out this particular method more efficiently.
  • Have your volunteer go outside your front door and knock or ring the bell to start your puppy barking.
  • When your shih tzu barks give the command “speak”. You can use an alternative word if you wish but whichever one you choose you must be consistent and use the same one each time.
  • Repeat the knock on the door followed by the speak command action several times.
    • The aim is to train your puppy to bark just on the speak command.
  • So, try using the speak command without the knock on the door.
    • If your puppy barks, reward him with a treat.
    • If he doesn’t bark, repeat the whole process again and again until he does.
    • He will get there eventually!
  • Once your puppy has mastered the speak command it’s time to teach him the “quiet” command to stop him barking.
  • Have your volunteer knock on the door again to start your puppy off barking again.
  • Give him (your puppy, not the volunteer) another treat when he stops barking on the quiet command.
  • You may need at first to gently hold his muzzle closed get across the message that you want him to stay quiet.
  • Or, another trick would be to have prepared a spray bottle filled with plain water. As you issue the quiet command spray a little water on his nose.
    • The water spray method works for other behavioural problems, too.
  • Persist with the training and before you know it you will have an obedient shih tzu puppy who will bark only on the speak command and will stop barking on the quiet command.

How to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark – method 2

  • This method is solely concerned with stopping your puppy barking and is arguably the easiest to implement.
    • It also helps to rid your puppy of small dog syndrome.
  • Again, have a volunteer knock on the door or ring the doorbell, anything that will start your puppy off barking.
  • Make sure as the barking starts to turn your back to the offender.
  • Keep on ignoring your puppy until he stops barking.
    • When he does stop, give him a treat.
  • Repeat this training several times.
    • Eventually your puppy will realize that his barking will not gain your attention and hopefully he won’t do it anymore.

How to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark – method 3

  • This is another method solely concerned with stopping your puppy from barking.
  • Again, as in the previous methods, you need somebody to knock on the door to start your puppy off barking.
  • Give your puppy the quiet command and at the same time hold his mouth closed by the muzzle.
    • Don’t hold his muzzle for more than a few seconds.
  • When you release him and he doesn’t bark, give him a treat and plenty of praise.
  • After repeating this a few times
    eventually you will not need to hold his muzzle anymore as he will stop barking on just the quiet command.
    • When this happens make sure you give him an extra special treat and really pile on the praise.

So, these have been my best solutions for how to train a shih tzu puppy not to bark for both quick fix and long term situations. I hope that you have found them useful for trying out with your own shih tzu puppy and that they work for you. If, in the unlikely event that they don’t then you may like to consider the services of a professional trainer. You can either take your puppy to formal classes or there are trainers that make home visits. These days there are also some excellent online dog training courses.

Once again I hope that you have enjoyed this post. Please make a comment or use our contact us form. See you in the next post.

How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu?


Shih tzu, being the small, short legged breed that they are, do not need nearly as much daily exercise as bigger breeds such as labradors and Alsatians. Shih tzu were originally bred as indoor house dogs but, nevertheless, they need exercise to keep them fit and healthy.

Outdoor exercise especially will improve overall physical and mental health and potentially add months or even years to their life expectancy compared to sedentary dogs. Lack of exercise and particularly walks will subject your shih tzu to boredom and most probably lead to behavioural problems such as excessive barking or chewing.


How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu
Taking Shih Tzu For a Walk

So, just how often should you walk a shih tzu?

Frankly, this can vary from dog to dog depending on factors such as their individual character and age but generally a shih tzu will need a bare minimum of a daily walk of twenty minutes duration, walked at what, regardless of the dog’s age, is a brisk pace for the dog. This brisk pace will be broken up with plenty of breaks for sniffing, peeing and pooping. I can’t understand people who are almost dragging their dog along without giving them a chance to do any of the three.

If you have the time, two walks per day of at least twenty minutes duration each is a better habit to get into. Not only is this even better for your dog’s physical and mental health but also, if you can put twelve hours between the two walks, will mean there is much less chance of your dog taking a toilet break indoors than if he only had the one walk per day.

Some shih tzu may, on a particular day when they are feeling extra energetic, want to walk for up to an hour or more. I find that if this happens the next two or three walks turn out to be of much less duration.

I don’t know if this happens with other dogs, but I can usually predict what length of walk Bruno is going to finish up doing by the amount of urine he releases at each pee stop. If there’s a lot I know it’s going to be a short one; just a few drips and I know we’re going to be out for some time.

Walking your shih tzu for more than an hour a day is getting towards the limit of what it’s little body is designed to do. Sure signs that your little one has had enough walking for one day is if he is panting heavily and/or if he lies flat on his belly and refuses to budge. If either of these happen it means it’s time to finish the walk or any other exercise and go home.

If, like me, you are walking shih tzu with several years between their ages you may at times need to take the older ones back home before taking the younger ones with their extra energy of youth out again for a longer session.

Try to vary the routes you walk your dog along. Yes, have your regular walks within the immediate neighbourhood area but also consider occasionally moving further afield. Shih tzus love a runaround in an open field, a frolic along a beach (check dogs are allowed on the beach first) and they absolutely love rolling around in freshly settled snow.

If walking near trees or shrubs be careful that there are none of those little, sticky burrs lying around. These have a habit of sticking well into your dog’s coat as well as between his toes. You’ll know if any of these burrs are between his toes as he’ll be limping. They can be removed slowly and gently by hand or, if this proves difficult, from the coat with a comb and from the toes with tweezers.

Shih tzu in general can be very obedient and usually want to behave in a way that makes their owners happy but no matter how obedient they may be they still have their moments when they want to do their own thing and stubbornly refuse to answer your commands. For that reason, when I’m walking Bruno and Charlie I always have them on extendable leashes. Although they know that moving vehicles are a bad thing to go near they are prone to dash across the road if they pick up a smell they like or see another dog they like/hate. It would break my heart if anything happened to them, so always the leash attached to the back of a harness it is and I recommend the same for any other shih tzu owner.

Always set out prepared for the weather. Shih tzu overheat easily so in the hotter months it is a good idea to keep their hair cut short and then taking walks at sunrise and sunset avoiding the heat of the day. Carry a bottle of water with you on the walk, especially if it’s going to be one of the longer ones, and also a vessel for your dog to drink it from. One of those all in one plastic bottles hinged into an oblong drinking bowl is ideal for this. Halfway through the walk find a shady spot and offer your dog the drink.

In the colder months keep your shih tzu‘s hair longer and in extremes of cold, frost and snow dress your dog in a fleece or waterproof jacket and don’t expose them to cold temperatures for more than fifteen minutes.

Shih tzu puppy playing with ball.

If the weather is so bad walking the dog is out of the question then consider exercising your dog indoors. Shih tzu are usually very playful and respond well to chasing or catching rubber ball and hunting for their favourite toy that you’ve hidden somewhere are just two ways you can get your dog running around indoors. If you have a tiled floor your shih tzu will love to push an ice cube around the floor. Charlie sometimes initiates his own indoor exercise by running backwards and forwards from room to room like a demented Banshee for a few minutes. Bruno used to do the same when he was younger, but he is more into sleeping now!

In summary then, to answer the question “How often should you walk a shih tzu?”, a minimum of one, twenty minute walk per day but preferably two walks a day, one of twenty minutes, the other a bit longer up to an hour and these walks to be at sunrise and sunset. You need to get a “feel” of what length of walk is right for your dog. If the weather prevents “walkies”, then some form of indoor exercise should be encouraged as a substitute.

I hope this has proved useful for you, please make a comment or use the contact us form  and I’ll see you in the next post.