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.

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6 thoughts on “Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms – how to spot them

  1. Hi Steve a few months ago I bought an imperial shih tzu 3yrs old. From a breeder that had 20 sim dogs. I had her thoroughly checked by a Vet familiar with breed. He said slightly dehydrated but in perfect condition .red tear staining , Coat very thin and few tangles . Much better than I expected. . She mixed really well with my daughters two standard shih tzu s . Playful and great. . Then covid happened. I am disabled and live alone apart from carers. She understandably has become even more clingy than before, but I have no way of sending her for play dates. She will run around the garden happily, but has never been taught any commands ,never been walked on a lead , until I put one on her , I am a wheelchair user and need her to follow basic commands instantly. I was told she did all this … do I go back to ‘puppy’ training. ? I know I am the alpha dog now , she accepts all carers but needs acknowledgement from them when they come in . Couple of problems I have , she constantly wants to lick me , hand ok , but not face . How do I stop this? She is very fussy about food , I knew she didn’t like hard food , but no prob , I changed her initially onto chicken and rice then a fishmongers choice supposed to help eye staining, the tear ducts seem to let out a sticky substance, despite bathing and drying carefully, but she won’t put her face to her food to eat it , I have resorted to separating the wet food into little bite size balls . She then eats well. Is it the smell ? Nose and mouth so close together? Not a prob for me to do but later in the year I am due to go into hospital for approx 4 weeks with no chance of seeing her, do I ask my daughter with her two shih tzu s to have her or place her with a single friend who will give her lots of one to one as I do . . I know these may seem very mild issues but she has very quickly become my ‘world’ since the very sudden death of my 16 year old daughter 5 years ago. She is a perfect lap dog but having previously had a poorly shih tzu , I want her to also have a playful nature, but isn’t interested in toys or treats to aid play or training. I do hope you can help me , kindest regards Shirley

    1. Hello Shirley,

      Thank you for your comment, I hope that I can offer you some constructive advice that will help you out. I’ll address the issues in the order that you have presented them.

      Red Tear Staining

      This is a condition known as Epiphora or Wet Eye and can be caused by several problems that invoke the overproduction of tears. The most likely reason is an allergy, particularly so if her ear wax is red also. It could also possibly be a blockage of the tear duct or an abnormality of the eyelid, but if the red stains are on both sides of the face it is unlikely to be this as typically only one eye is affected with these conditions.

      If you can get her to a vet he may prescribe something to ease the allergy. As you have previously had her checked by a vet I don’t think there is an underlying disease causing the red stains but I would have the vet check again while she is there, just to be sure.

      You can read more about Epiphora and all common shih tzu eye problems in my post:

      Shih Tzu And Eye Problems

      Basic Commands

      Despite what the old adage says, you can teach an old dog new tricks. If you want to have your shih tzu respond to your commands then I do recommend going back to basic puppy training.

      As you say, you are the alpha of the pack and this will definitely help with the training. Usually, treats are the best way to encourage the behavior you require but as your shih tzu is like my Bruno and doesn’t go in for treats, you will just have to lavish her with praise when she does something right. The fact that she has become clingy with you tells me that the praise approach will work.

      To allow for a typical shih tzu’s attention span and ability to learn, I would keep training sessions to a maximum of twenty minutes duration and no more than three sessions a day.

      If you need some good training tips I can recommend a free email shih tzu training course offered by TrainPetDog. Click on the link below for more information:

      Shih Tzu Training

      Clicking on this link will take you to the TrainPetDog website. The email course they offer is completely free, but if you were to make a purchase from TrainPetDog, Shihtzuandyou would earn a referral commission at no extra cost to you.

      Excessive Licking

      I have had the same excessive licking problem with my Charlie. The good news is that you can train your shih tzu to stop licking you. First, you have to teach her what a lick is, or rather what you mean when you say the word lick.

      You can do this by saying, in a calm but firm voice, the word “lick” every time your shih tzu starts licking your hand. After several repeats of this, take your hand away and say “no lick” in the same calm but firm voice. Keep on repeating the “lick” and “no lick” commands until your shih tzu understands them.

      You can find out more about licking in my post:

      Why Is My Shih Tzu Licking?

      Fussy Eating

      Being fussy about meal times appears to be a characteristic of the shih tzu breed. In my experience, shih tzu dogs aren’t like other breeds that will eat everything and anything put in front of them, they only appear to eat what they need when they feel need to.

      All you can do is find out which foods yours will eat and, as long as it meets her nutritional requirements, carry on feeding it to her. Even then, I expect she will gobble something up one day and not go near it another. Just persevere with the food you know she likes, she will eat when she is hungry.

      If you really want her to eat on demand, the remedy that I know is quite drastic. Put the bowl with her food in it in the usual place at the usual time. Call her, and if she doesn’t come after you’ve called her for, say, three times, take the food away and do not return it until the next scheduled mealtime. Don’t worry if you have to do this consecutively for up to two days. As I say, she will eat when she is hungry.

      By the way, I think that you are doing the right thing by cutting the food up into bite-sized pieces.

      Care In Your Absence

      When it comes to the time for you to go into hospital, I believe that it may be best to leave your shih tzu with your daughter, providing she gets on with the other two dogs and that there is no chance of any unwanted pregnancies. I think it will be a good thing for your shih tzu to socialize with the other dogs. She may even learn to become a little more playful in their company.

      If you are not sure if they will all get on together, is it possible for them to spend some time together before your hospital date? Then, if it all goes wrong, you can opt for your other choice and leave her in the charge of your single friend.

      I hope that this helps and that all goes well for you.

      Regards,

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  2. Hello, I have a shih tzu named Obie. Obie is 3 years old and we’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old. We got him from a professional breeder and know he was very well cared for. The only problem is, he is very scared of men. He doesn’t mind my Dad or my Grandpa, and doesn’t mind any other female person. But he is scared of men and barks at them and growls. Sometimes he’ll warm up but he is very very scared of my dad’s best friend and it’s causes some issues. Obie also cannot go on walks past a certain point in our neighborhood. He’s fine up until we pass a certain point and then he’ll stop and refuse to move. If there’s anything I can do to help him overcome his fear id love to know how to make him calmer.

    1. Hello, Elena.

      Thank you for your comment. You are right to be concerned, the barking and growling could easily escalate into biting.

      When dogs face what they think may be a confrontation they have to decide on fight or flight. If they are somewhere where they cannot run away the fear turns to aggression which is why Obie barks and growls. Why he only barks and growls at men is probably due to a previous bad experience, or what he perceived as a bad experience, perhaps this happened in the first 8 weeks of his life.

      What Obie needs is some positive reassurance that there is no danger and that nothing bad is going to happen to him. When he starts barking and growling, try reassuring him that all is okay and generally trying to calm him down. If you manage to get him to stop, give him a treat or, better still, have the person who he was barking at drop a treat on the floor in front of him. It’s important not to reward the bad behavior, make him earn his treat by calming down.

      This action will have to be repeated several times but eventually he will come to think that people aren’t out to harm him after all and that they even bring him something good, i.e. the treats.

      When you take Obie for a walk make sure that you are walking slightly in front. Initiate this right from the start of the walk as you leave the house. Don’t let Obie decide when to walk through the door, make him wait until you decide to walk through the door. This conveys the message that it’s your walk and you are going to lead the way.

      Keep walking slightly in front and try and avoid having the leash become taut. Try to keep it slightly slack. A tight leash conveys the wrong message and will start to agitate Obie. At the same time, try to stop Obie wandering off of your chosen direction, keep on encouraging him to follow you. I appreciate that this may take some practice to get right.

      When you reach the spot, or any spot where Obie just sits down and stops, give him a breather for a few seconds but don’t let him retreat. Then tell him to “come on” and continue with the walk, using treats if necessary.

      When you return home, if Obie gets excited, don’t let him in until he calms down and, in any case, make sure again that you pass through the door first. All of this should build Odie’s confidence in you to make all the important decisions.

      I hope that these suggestions increase Odie’s confidence generally and help make him a calmer dog.

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  3. I rescued a shih tzu a year and half ago. Have no idea of age, her past and what she had been thru. She is very aggressive to the point of biting my husband and I. Especially our feet when we move them in the bed at night or even during the day. We have tried a squirt bottle and now she will attack it. What can we do about this aggression? Also, she has started not sleeping at night. She wants up and down on the bed and wants under the covers. Then down again and goes under the bed for a few minutes and then wants back up, to start all over again. Need help. Don’t want to return her to the shelter we got her, but my husband or I can take much more.

    1. Hello Kathy,
      Sorry to hear about the problems you and your husband are having with your rescue shih tzu. It sounds like she wasn’t treated very well previously.
      All I can suggest is that you build up her confidence with you by administering some positive reinforcement training. For this you will need a lot of her favorite treats and a lot of patience. If, like my Bruno, she doesn’t care much for treats you can try rewarding her with toys instead.
      Start off by teaching her to sit calmly. Tell her to “Sit!”. If she’s not used to this you will probably have to start by rewarding her just for making eye contact with you. When you can get this, you can show her what you want when you issue the “sit” command by gently pushing her bottom down. If she resists, turn your back on her for a few seconds and try again. Dogs don’t like to be ignored and this is a more effective way of letting them know they are doing wrong. Punishing with aggression, even a squirt bottle, just teaches the dog to be aggressive.
      Have a training session every day and keep on trying until she finally gets the sit command. Some dogs may get it straight away but from the information you have given me it may take you several attempts. Be persistent, it will come. Keep on rewarding good behavior and turning your back on her when she behaves badly to teach her right from wrong.
      When you have got her to the stage where she will sit calmly in front of you and take her treat, as you said she bites your feet when you move in bed, you can try waving your foot in front of her. If she lunges forwards towards you, gently push her back a little and get her to sit again. Of course, reward her again when she sits calmly.
      You can then progress to testing her by making more exaggerated movements in front of her and getting her to sit calmly. Then, whatever you do with her get her to sit first – putting on the leash – sit! – going through the front door – sit! – giving her her food – sit!
      Don’t be afraid to go back one level in the training if she’s not progressing. Consistently rewarding good behavior is the key to success.
      I hope this helps and I hope things work out for you and your shih tzu.
      Best wishes,
      Shih Tzu Steve.

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