“How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive?” – It’s Good That You’ve Asked!
The chances are that you have found this article by typing into your favorite search engine something like “how to stop a shih tzu from being aggressive”. It is not a nice problem to have but it is a good thing that this is a problem that concerns you and you want to do something about it. Many owners of small dogs think that it is okay, even fun, for their dog to have a feisty, aggressive streak. These people are mistaken. Aggression in dogs, even the smallest of dogs, must be addressed to prevent the very real risk of serious injuries to children and adults with the resultant possibility of the dog being euthanized. Don’t worry though, this won’t happen to your dog as you have taken the first positive step to resolve this problem.
Three Reasons Why Your Shih Tzu May Be Showing Aggression
There are usually three reasons why a shih tzu may be aggressive, any single one, or any combination of the three may be the underlying cause of your dog’s bad attitude.
- All dogs are pack animals and think like pack animals. However much they become part of a human family they will always think like a dog. A shih tzu that is showing aggression may believe that he or she is the pack leader, the alpha dog, and is showing this aggression to assert his number one position and to keep the rest of the pack in order.
- A shih tzu may be showing aggression because he is scared or senses danger and is trying to protect himself and those above him in the pack. If he or she is sick or injured, this can also lead to aggression.
- If your shih tzu was not taught that biting anything other than his food or toys was wrong when he was a puppy, he may still be growling and biting as an adult just because he doesn’t know any different, he thinks that aggressive behavior is normal.
Fear ye not as all of these causes can be trained out of your shih tzu so that he or she becomes the bundle of fun and loveable companion that you desire. Whatever the reason for the aggression, the same basic principles apply to correct the behavior. Dogs learn by repetition, so consistency on your part is the key.
First Step – You Become The Pack Leader
A dog always looks up to the pack leader for guidance and assurance, so to control your shih tzu’s behavior you need to become the pack leader or, if you already hold that position, become a more established pack leader.
There are a few methods that I use that work with my two boys and I believe that they will work for you too. Let me just say at this point that it is important for you to stay calm at all times. If you show any aggression towards your dog, that will just teach him that aggression is the right way. If you stay calm, eventually he will realize that if you are calm, then there is nothing to get excited about.
- The first and most important action to take to assert your position as pack leader is to control the food. He or she who controls the food, decides when and what to eat, controls the pack. Establish set feeding times. A puppy may need feeding three times a day, an adult twice and a senior perhaps only once. (See “How Much Food Should A Shih Tzu Eat?” for more information on this.) Put the filled feeding bowl down at the usual time in the usual place. If your shih tzu does not come to eat straight away after you call him, take the bowl away and do not replace it until the next feeding time. Repeat this action as necessary. Try not to worry about your dog missing meals as he can actually go two or even three days without eating. He will eat when he is hungry enough! Just make sure he has sufficient, clean drinking water at all times.
- Once you have your shih tzu coming to eat at the time you put down the bowl, you can then work on food aggression, should your shih tzu be one who growls and snaps when you or anyone else goes near his food. Place the bowl down empty, then add the food by hand a few pieces at a time. Let the dog eat what you put there before adding more food. This gets the dog used to your hands being around the bowl. After a few handfuls, as the dog is eating the morsels you have put in the bowl, take one or two pieces away, stall for a moment and then put them back again. This builds the dog’s trust in you with his food, establishing in his mind that you are the provider and should lead to him being comfortable with you and calm as you approach him when he is eating.
- The next step to becoming pack leader is quite simple. In a dog’s mind, the pack leader always enters or exits the den first. This is a natural survival extinct as much as a courtesy to the top dog. So, when taking your dog out, while you are out and when you come back, always make sure that you, and any other family members or friends that might be present, go through any doorways or gates first and the dog follows behind. Be consistent with this every time at every doorway and gate as it will go a long way to ensuring your shih tzu not only shows no aggression towards you but also none towards the other people in your life.
- When you have gone out of your door first with your shih tzu behind you, keep him on a short leash and keep him by your side but slightly behind you. Make sure that it is you who leads the way and chooses the direction of travel, not your dog. If he tries to pull you one way, calmly turn around and walk in the opposite direction. If he is one to show aggression to other dogs, the same applies. Calmly turn around and walk away with him, showing that there is nothing to get excited about. After a few times of doing this, if he stays calm you can try walking past other dogs but at a safe distance to find out if he reacts or stays calm.
Continue with these basics persistently and consistently and you will soon find yourself as pack leader. Your dog will love the stability of knowing his place, it’s the way dogs think, and he will respect you for it.
Develop A Loving And Trusted Relationship With Your Shih Tzu
As you continue to make your way to pack leader, you will find your dog more receptive to learning right from wrong if you build a mutually loving and trusted relationship with him. You can do this with plenty of tactile activity. Stroke him often, massage his ears and his paws, give him plenty of back rubs and belly rubs. Play games with him such as throw and chase or tug the rope. Groom your shih tzu regularly. By that I don’t necessarily mean cut his hair, rather general hygiene maintenance. You can find out more about this in my post: “How To Groom A Shih Tzu Dog”.
As your relationship with your shih tzu develops you should find him seeking eye contact with you more and more as he looks to you for guidance on what to do next and how to behave. This creates the ideal situation for the next step in stopping your shih tzu from being aggressive as he will be more receptive to your commands.
Teaching Your Shih Tzu Right From Wrong
No dog is born knowing how to behave. Just as with human children, puppies have to be shown what is good and acceptable behavior and what isn’t. In a natural environment puppies would learn how to behave by interacting with their litter siblings and their parents. In their absence, however, it is down to you as the adoptive parent to provide this education. You will find your dog more willing to accept your instructions if you are following the guidance set out previously in this post.
All you have to do, really, is when your shih tzu does something wrong or behaves badly, let him or her know immediately by looking him in the eyes and saying “No!”, firmly but calmly and possibly accompanied by a pointing finger. This must be done immediately after the offense so that the shih tzu associates the admonishment with his actions, otherwise he will have no idea why he is being scolded. It must also be done persistently and consistently as I have said before so that the dog learns by repetition.
If your shih tzu insists on continuing with the bad behavior, then you may have to put him on time out. Calmly place your shih tzu in a crate, a fenced-off corner of the room or a separate room on his own for a few minutes. During this period there must be no contact at all, not even eye contact, with your shih tzu by you or anyone else in the house. This gives him time to think about what he has done and why he is there, isolated from the rest of the pack. Shih tzu, like most dogs, don’t like to be alone and, when he realizes what his happening, will stop behaving in a way that ends up with him on time out. After three or four minutes, if he has calmed down, you can let him out. It’s best not to leave him any more than five minutes as after this time he will no longer associate his punishment with his actions.
When training your shih tzu not to misbehave this way you must also teach him the correct way to behave by encouraging good behavior with rewards. As you assert yourself as leader of the pack, your shih tzu will only be too eager to behave in a way that pleases you, so let him know when he does. These rewards can vary from simply reassuring him with a “Good boy!” and a pat on the head to presenting him with his favorite toy or a new toy to rewarding him with treats. You will learn yourself, through trial and error, which reward to give for which behavior. Again, you must be persistent and consistent with this action.
You can also improve behavior by using treats to teach your shih tzu to obey commands. This helps instill confidence in your shih tzu and to boost his bond with you. For instance, start with the “Sit!” command. Only give the treat when your shih tzu sits for you. When he will do that consistently, you can then move onto the “Come!” command, where you can have him come to you on demand by gradually, with time, moving further away from him before dropping his treat. Drop one treat in front of him when he obeys the “Sit!” command, then call him to you with the “Come!” command and treat him again when he does so. Continue this positive progression by teaching more commands such as “Stay!”, “LIe down!” and “Fetch!”.
Unless you want your shih tzu develop behavior where he begs you to be hand fed, always drop the treat on the floor in front of him so that he picks it up himself, rather than you placing it in his mouth by hand.
Following These Guidelines
All of the guidelines I have written here are tried, trusted and are effective with my two boys. I have also had much positive feedback from readers who have put these methods to the test. The guidelines are designed to be used together, simultaneously, rather than consecutively. As you are establishing yourself as pack leader, also begin using the behavioral training. I’ll say it again because it is important, follow these guidelines persistently and consistently as dogs learn by repetition. In a few weeks you should have a much calmer, friendlier and happier shih tzu, though you should start noticing some improvement within a few days.
I wish you and your shih tzu happy times.
All dogs have their own individual characters, just like us humans. My Charlie can be mischievous but listens when I tell him “No!”, whereas Bruno, generally well behaved, has always had a stubborn streak when he is determined to do something he wants to do but he does know right from wrong. What I am trying to say is, although these guidelines are there in black and white as a basic strategy for making your shih tzu more well behaved, you will have to customize your strategy for your shih tzu. You will find yourself doing this through trial and error with what feels right as the training progresses.
If you would like more free information about the characteristics of a typical shih tzu plus a free mini-course on how to train your shih tzu to be a happy, well-behaved dog, try my friends at TrainPetDog. They have more specific information relating to the shih tzu breed that may help you.
Shih Tzu Steve.
PS: If you have any questions or comments about this post, this website or shih tzu in general please leave a comment below or, if you prefer to take a more private route, use our contact us form. I usually answer within 24 hours but sometimes circumstances dictate that I take a little longer.