Shih Tzu Behavior Problems – How To Conquer Them

Shih tzu behavior problems.

Shih Tzu Behavior Problems That Must Be Addressed

If you were not yet aware, shih tzu are generally happy, friendly, well behaved, playful and fun loving companion dogs that will always have the odd moment of stubbornness no matter how well you train them. However, if brought up the wrong way, shih tzu behavior problems can develop that can lead to serious issues with family, friends, strangers, other dogs and other animals that, in a worse case scenario, could result in a shih tzu being impounded or even destroyed.

All of these bad behavior problems, aggression, growling, nipping, biting, excessive barking and inappropriate urination and excretion, can be easily trained out of your shih tzu using a few simple techniques, which I will go into shortly.

First of all, I think it is important to understand why a shih tzu, as I say usually such a happy and friendly dog, would behave in such a bad way.

All dogs are instinctively pack animals with traces of wolf, their ancestors, in their DNA. Every pack has its leader, the alpha, who, historically, was the one who controlled the food distribution for the whole pack. He would have his share first, then, and only then, would the rest of the pack be invited to join in.

If a shih tzu is behaving inappropriately on a regular basis, 99 times out of 100 it is going to be because he thinks he is the alpha and the rest of the family, including the owner, is his pack. This is sometimes referred to as “small dog syndrome”. Why? I don’t know as it can happen to larger breeds as well.

The key, then, to solving shih tzu behavior problems is for the owner to establish his or herself as the alpha of the pack. The way to do this is to control the food and feeding times. There are one or two other things you can do to back up your claim to be leader but controlling the food is the main one.

Feeding Time

A shih tzu having his food taken away from him.
ID: 165189872 © chaoss | Depositphotos

Firstly, always have your meals before feeding your shih tzu. However much he sits there and begs, however much he stares at you with those eyes, you must completely ignore him. In time he will realize there is nothing to gain from begging.

When you have finished eating, place your dog’s bowl with his meal in it on the spot you have designated as his eating area. If he eats his meal then and there, all well and good.

It may happen, though, that he will try to regain control of the feeding terms and conditions. Your shih tzu, to show you he is in control will leave the food where it is and come back to it when he is ready. He may even take scraps a piece at a time to a place of his choosing to eat it or hide it for later.

If this does happen, give him a moment and if he does not eat his food, take it away and do not return it until the next scheduled feeding time. This must be done every time he refuses to eat his food straight away, even if it means your shih tzu goes without eating for two, three, or even four days, though it is unlikely to go on for that long. As long as he has access to adequate supplies of fresh water he will survive.

It won’t take your shih tzu long to understand that the only way he is going to be fed is to trust you to make the meal time and food decisions and will begin to relinquish his claim for leadership and recognize you as the pack alpha.

For more information on feeding your shih tzu, have a look at my posts “How Much Food Should A Shih Tzu Eat?” and “Best Dog Food For A Shih Tzu? – Find Out Here”.

Attention Seeking

A shih tzu seeking attention.
ID: 78645594 © adogslifephoto | Depositphotos

There are other actions you can be taking in your battle for pack supremacy before, during and after the feeding time training. This one is going to be just as hard for you to cope with emotionally perhaps as the feeding time training. Whenever your shih tzu begs, jumps up at you or starts barking, whining or crying for your attention or a treat you must totally ignore him, turning you back and avoiding eye contact.

It sounds cruel but look on it as a building block towards your shih tzu’s complete happiness. All attention and treat giving must be on your terms. Eventually your shih tzu will give up and go and sit or lie down, probably with that sulky expression on his face. After he has been calm for around five minutes, reward him with a treat and some petting. Always encourage good behavior by rewarding it. Your shih tzu will learn that making a fuss will not gain him anything whereas good behavior will.

First Across The Threshold

When leaving or entering the den it is the privilege of the alpha to go through the entrance first. So, when leaving with your shih tzu to go for a walk and when you come back, make sure it is you that goes through the door first and make your shih tzu follow behind you. Do this for all doorways and entrances when accompanied by your shih tzu. It sounds like a small thing but it is a big help in getting the message across that you are the alpha.

Walk On By

When you are actually out walking with your shih tzu do not let him walk in front of you. Make him walk by the side of you or, if anything, slightly behind you. Until he will do this willingly you will need to keep him on a short leash. Make it clear that you decide the direction and where to walk. If he starts pulling on the leash turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Do this every time he pulls and with practice he will realize that his place is by your side and will actually follow you around on a slacker leash without pulling.

Further information on walking your shih tzu can be found in my post, “How Often Should You Walk A Shih Tzu?”.

You Are In Charge

Practice all four of these methods simultaneously and your shih tzu will come to respect you as the alpha and therefore you are the one that makes all of the decisions for the pack. You become the one that decides when to eat, when to play, when to be aggressive and when to be scared. This, in turn, means a happier, well behaved dog that does not bark excessively or growl at, nip or bite people, children, other dogs or other animals.

Another benefit of establishing yourself as the alpha is that it will become easier to teach your shih tzu basic commands such as sit, stay and come as his mission in life will be to please you and do what you want him to do.

My Inspiration

A child playing with a shih tzu.
ID: 16042859 © pressmaster | Depositphotos

I was inspired to write this post after reading on social media of shih tzu owners whose dogs have growled at and nipped their children or grandchildren. This is done by dogs who consider themselves as pack leader putting what they consider to be a subordinate in their place after doing something they disapprove of, like touching their underbelly uninvited or overwhelming them. The nip is instinctive, something they would do to another dog in their litter that they considered to be out of turn. It is intended as a warning to back off and very rarely breaks the skin.

Establishing yourself as the alpha will go a long way to preventing incidents as serious as this occurring, perhaps eliminating the chance altogether. Since practicing these techniques with my two shih tzu I have become a lot more relaxed when they are around children.

Further Training

These techniques will go a long way to ensuring that you and your shih tzu will have a long and happy relationship together but if you want more help than you can find more free shih tzu specific training tips from the professionals at TrainPetDog. Click here for further information under no obligation.

Disclaimer: The above paragraph contains an affiliate link. Clicking on it will take you away from to the website where you will find details of how you can sign up for further free shih tzu specific training tips. If you then choose to go on and purchase anything that has to offer, will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Any commissions received will help towards the running costs of and help keep this website pop-up and banner ad free.

I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you have any thoughts or questions relating to shih tzu behavior or about shih tzu in general, please leave a comment or contact us.

Enjoy training your dog and bye for now.

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12 thoughts on “Shih Tzu Behavior Problems – How To Conquer Them

  1. Hello! i write this with a heavy heart because i know i’ve done my beautiful girl wrong but i have stopped years ago. When i first had her, she was young and she used to have bad puppy behaviours (eating poop and urinating in wrong places), and as she is my first pet, i was struggling and was asking for help and the advice i got was to give her spanks when she does something wrong and out of frustration i did and i got in the habit of doing so and she started off growling and then snapping and nipping me. after research i learnt my mistake and have completely stopped my terrible actions and i now use positive reinforcement only. no punishment whatsoever. our relationship has grown better, there is more trustful but there is the occasional snapping. and it has become without a warning and she does it with me and people she doesn’t know because she is not very friendly (although she meets lots of people) unless she sniffs people thoroughly while they stay still. we still have a good relationship where she trusts me with giving her haircuts and clipping her nails and play time. But it makes me feel terrible knowing she’s an anxious dog with aggression issues.
    so the issues i need help figuring out how to solve are

    * snapping (i feel i may be having a hard time establishing myself as the pack leader although she is very well command and walk trained)

    * barking at the door

    * possession over her ball, she will not return a fetched ball and will growl if i try to take it (she does not do this over her bowl of food)

    * usually before she snaps, she growls a very shushed growl and lick her teeth and when i try to comfort her i see her feeling bad and when she finally relaxes she weeps and cuddles me and i don’t know what that means.

    it would mean the world to me if you can help me with this i know it is so much to ask but i absolutely love her and i’m very remorseful over my actions and i just want her to be a happy dog. thank you.

    1. Hello Sara,

      Thank you for your query.

      Please don’t despair over your past actions. When my Bruno was much younger I had little experience with dogs and I twice slapped him hard on the backside when he bit me on one occasion and my granddaughter on another. Like you, I realized this was the wrong action to take and, also like you, I did my research. The important thing is, we both now know that aggressive punishments should be avoided as, apart from unnecessarily hurting the dog, will only encourage further aggressive behavior.

      You say you don’t administer any form of punishment now but I think you need to use the “time out” method of punishment for the growling and snapping. If you let this behavior go completely unchecked, your dog will go on believing that this is acceptable. Please believe me that the “time out” training will contribute to her future happiness.

      When she behaves badly, such as growling or snapping, admonish her with a calm but confident “No!”. If she then behaves, give her some praise. If she continues to misbehave, put her on the time out.

      For the time out, she needs to be isolated somewhere with no contact from anyone in the household for around five minutes. Any more than five minutes and she’ll forget that she is being punished. The time out area should be somewhere she can’t escape from but not where she eats or sleeps. It should also be where she can see that she is being ignored, or banished from the pack. If she continues with the bad behavior after you let her out, put her back on time out again.

      Be consistent with this and I am sure that she will get the message and end her bad ways. From what you say, she knows when she has done wrong anyway, so it shouldn’t be too long before she stops. This method works with both of my dogs and I cannot remember the last time I had to punish either of them now.

      You can also improve your relationship with your dog by continuing with your command training. The positive interaction with you will help build her self-confidence and achieve the result you want, which is for her to be happy. One command which I know will be particularly good for you to teach is “No barking!”. First, you have to teach her what you mean by “bark”. You can read more about how to do this in my post:

      How To Train A Shih Tzu Puppy Not To Bark

      I know your dog isn’t a puppy but the principle is the same, it may just take a little longer to come to fruition.

      I hope this helps solve your problems.

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  2. My 9 month old shipoo
    Is acting frightened at times and we comfort her but she is ok for a bit then happened all over again
    Just wondering what you think may be the issue

    1. Hello Stephanie,

      Thank you for contacting Shihtzuandyou with your problem, I hope that I can help.

      This sounds very similar to my Charlie, who as a puppy was always scared by the slightest thing and would hide in the smallest space he could find. I believe that this was due to him being badly treated by the owners of the thankfully now closed down pet shop I bought him from. Perhaps this is what happened to your shih poo, she had a bad experience before you met her.

      Charlie is now 4-years-old and it has taken this long for him to become a completely relaxed dog. It won’t take this long, though, before you could start seeing some improvements with your shih poo.

      The best way, I think, to make your shih poo a less frightened dog is to demonstrate to her that you are in charge and while you are in charge nothing is going to happen to her.

      You can achieve this by taking actions that assert your position as pack leader, the one making the decisions, and boosting your shih poo’s self-confidence by teaching her some basic commands. You can find advice on how to go about both of these in my post:

      How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive

      and also in my reply to the comment below.

      Also, when your shih poo has become frightened by an event, calmly reassure her that there is nothing wrong. At first, you may feel that this doesn’t have any effect but if you do this every time, it will eventually put the message across that there is nothing to be scared of. She will trust your decisions as pack leader.

      After a few days and weeks of putting these actions into practice, you should start seeing a more happy, more confident shih poo.


      Shih Tzu Steve.

  3. My daughter bought a 6 year old shihtsu a girl off a lady she kept her in a cage all the time I’ve had her 15 months now the problem I have she want go for walks I have to drag her she stops in the middle of the be road she hates people out side she makes me panic my daughter s only bought it this because I lost my husband 15 months ago please help I’m really fed up of it

    1. Hello Julie,

      Thank you for contacting Shihtzuandyou and sharing your problem.

      I think that the main problem here is pack leadership. It is my opinion that in the absence of her previous owner, your shih tzu has assumed that she has moved up the ranks and has become pack leader, the one that makes the decisions.

      There is also the secondary problem of not ever being taught to go for a walk by her previous owner, so it is not part of her daily routine, something she instinctively wants to do.

      Solving the pack leader problem will make solving the walking problem so much easier. When you have established yourself as pack leader, or the “alpha” you will find your shih tzu more willing to please you and do the things that you want her to do.

      You can find information on asserting yourself as the alpha in my post:

      How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive

      but to start you on your way, try making your shih tzu sit before you give her anything, especially her food. If you have not done this before, you will have to teach her what you mean by “sit”, perhaps by gently pushing her bottom to the floor each time you say “sit” until she understands and does it by herself.

      When she does perform an action you want her to do, it is important to reinforce this behavior by rewarding her, either with a treat if she likes treats, a favorite toy or just plain old praise.

      Once you and she have mastered “sit”, you can move on to other basic commands, such as “stay”, “come” and, particularly useful for you, “heel”. It is important that when you walk your shih tzu, she walks “to heel”, i.e. alongside you or just a hair’s breadth behind you but never in front of you. You can practice this with her on the leash indoors or, better still, in your backyard if you have one. Teaching basic commands will show that you are the one making the decisions and also boost your shih tzu’s self-confidence.

      One more important thing I think you should do. The pack leader is always the first one to cross the threshold, so when you are with your shih tzu make sure that it is you who passes through all entrances and exits first, especially at home, with your shih tzu following behind.

      After a few days and weeks of putting these actions into practice, you should find taking your shih tzu for a walk a much easier and a more pleasant task, especially when it becomes routine. It may help at first to take a few treats along with you to reward her when she walks to where you want her to walk.

      I hope this works for you.

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  4. My 4 year old female dog is urinating and pooping everywhere and shes has always use her wiwi pads,shes a trained dog.i don’t understand why?i got her when she was 2.since she came she eats her poop .everytime she poops i try to clean it fast so she wont eat it.she does not bark at all,never i heard her bark ?????if u can please tell me any of these. Thank you very much!

    1. Hello, Yajaira.

      Thank you for contacting Shihtzuandyou with your problems, I hope I can help.

      You have two separate problems here, the going to the toilet all over the house problem and the eating the poop problem. I’ll start with the toilet problem.

      At first I thought this may be territorial marking but the fact that she is pooping everywhere as well makes me think that this is a stress problem. Is she left alone a lot, or has something major changed in your household? Either could trigger this behavior.

      You need to retrain her to use only her puppy pads for her toilet needs. (As you are already using these, I am guessing she doesn’t get outside much.)

      I suggest that you section off a small area in your living area that your shih tzu can make her own, a safe place where she feels secure.

      You can use pieces of furniture or wooden panels, whatever comes to hand that will resist a shih tzu’s attempts at a breakout, to make this enclosed area. Or you can buy a pet playpen, something like this:

      (Affiliate Disclosure: If you click on this image you will be taken to the Amazon website where I would earn a small commission at no extra cost to you should you proceed to make a purchase.)

      Whichever way you set up your shih tzu’s space, place her favorite bed in one corner and the puppy-pads in the opposite corner. In the other two corners, place her favorite toys in one and a bowl of water in the other. If you are going out for a while, place some food next to the water. The area should be of such a size that there now isn’t much space left.

      The idea is that your shih tzu will not defecate on her sleeping, eating and playing areas, leaving only the puppy-pads to do her business on. Until she becomes better housetrained again I would keep her enclosed in her new safe area, especially when she is being left unattended.

      You can encourage your shih tzu to pee and poo in the right places by using positive reinforcement. When she does her business in the right place, praise her and give her a small piece of her favorite treat. When using this method you will also have to let her know when she is going in the wrong places.

      When she starts peeing or pooing in the wrong area, say “No!” (“No wee-wees!” works with my two,) in a firm but calm voice and try to move her to where she should be going. If she persistently doesn’t obey your “No!” command, you may have to put her on time out. Isolate her somewhere, say, the bathroom, (not her new safe area, which should never be used for punishment,) and do not pay her any attention for up to 5 minutes and no more before ending the time out.

      Your shih tzu will be attracted to anywhere that smells of pee and will do more pee on top of it, so it is important to clean the inappropriate areas where she has been thoroughly. There are some cleaning products especially formulated to remove the smell of urine and these are available at pet supply stores and veterinary surgeries.

      Now for the eating of her own poo problem.

      This is quite a common occurrence with many breeds of dog and is not generally harmful for the dog. If your shih tzu is eating her own poo, although to us it is disgusting, it will not hurt her at all as long as she is healthy to start with. Just make sure she doesn’t eat other dog’s poo or cat poo as she can be infected by worms and other parasites this way.

      If you want to stop this habit, then try to be around to clean it up as soon as she does it before she has any chance to eat it. In time, she will lose her taste for it.

      If you cannot always be around to do this, you can try adding either some meat tenderizer, pineapple or pineapple juice to her food. Any of these will make her poop not something she will want to eat.

      Also take a look at her diet. Do you feed your shih tzu mainly dry kibble? This comes out much the same as it went in, making it difficult for her to tell the difference. If her diet contains too much fat, this will make her poop very tasty in her world. She also may be trying to make up for any lack of nutrients in her diet by trying to find them in her poop.

      For more information on what to feed a shih tzu, take a look at my post: “Best Dog Food For A Shih Tzu? – Find Out Here.

      I hope this helps,

      Best regards,

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  5. My 2 year old is starting to urinating at different places not normal in my home I trained him to use wewe pads He still uses them but for the last 2 weeks he is urinating at the legs of tables and chairs Help Please

    1. Hello.

      Thank you for contacting Shihtzuandyou, I am sorry to hear about your problem.

      This sudden change of behavior could be down to a few different reasons. Due to his young age, I think we can rule out incontinence, which is more likely to be bed-wetting anyway. As you make no mention of another dog recently added to the home, I think we can rule out jealousy also. So, this narrows the list of causes down a little.

      I think I know what is happening but first of all, let’s rule out disease. Could your dog be suffering from a bladder infection or urinary tract infection? A typical sign of this is excessive thirst; if your dog has been drinking a lot extra recently, he may well have one of these infections. If you suspect this may be the case, a trip to the vet and a prescribed course of treatment should end the fouling of your furniture.

      The next thing to look at is exactly when your dog is urinating on the furniture legs. Is it when you either enter the room or stand next to him or both? If this is the case, he is behaving submissively. A submissive dog can be retrained to urinate in the appropriate place, either by you or a behavioral specialist. I’ll come to how to train him yourself in a moment.

      Is he urinating on the furniture legs when you are not there, that is, when you are out of the house? This may indicate that he is suffering from separation anxiety, he cannot cope with being without you and alone in the house. The stress may cause many strange behavioral patterns including inappropriate urination. If you think that separation anxiety could be causing the problem, I have written a post that describes how to deal with this: “Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety – How To Cope”.

      If none of the above apply and your dog is apparently randomly urinating on your furniture legs whether you are there or not, then we have come to what I think is the cause of the problem. Your dog thinks that he is the pack leader and he is using urination to mark out his territory. The simple cure for this is for you to assert yourself as pack leader, making it clear that you are the one that calls the shots. I have described a few easy but important actions you can take that will quickly establish you as pack leader in my post: “How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive”.

      Establishing yourself as pack leader would also help reassure a submissive dog and an anxious dog.

      That, then, is what I think are the possible causes of your problem. Now, as promised, a few words on how to retrain your dog to urinate in the appropriate place. This same technique should work for almost any bad behavior you want to train out of your dog.

      You need to be vigilant for this. When you see him cock his leg up pointing towards a furniture leg, look him in the face and say “[Dog’s name], No!” calmly but firmly, accusing, pointing finger optional. Immediately pick him up and take him to the spot where you want him to pee. Place him there and say “[Dog’s name], wee-wee!” (or whatever you call his peeing action), in the same calm but firm voice.

      If he then goes ahead and urinates where he is supposed to go, reward him with plenty of praise and, perhaps, a small treat as well. However, if he were to go back to the furniture you may have to put him on “time-out” for a few minutes, that is to isolate him in the corner of a room or another room if necessary and for you and other family members to ignore him and all of his cries for attention, including no eye contact. In this particular case, wherever you isolate him, place a wee pad there as well.

      The idea with this is that after you have consistently repeated these actions a few times, he will associate peeing on the furniture as a bad experience and will eventually stop doing it. On the other hand, he will associate using the wee pad with a pleasant experience which should encourage him to continue to use it.

      Continue with the rewards for about a week after he has learned to only use the wee pad for his bathroom, after which it should be in his head to do his business there regardless.

      One other thing you must do is to remove the scent of pee from your furniture by cleaning the legs with a pet-friendly cleaning agent and then spraying them with a pet-friendly refresher spray formulated to disguise the odor of urine. You should be able to find these products in pet stores and veterinary surgeries. If dogs smell urine on a surface, that tells them that it is okay to use that spot for a toilet.

      I hope that this helps you.

      Best wishes,

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  6. I have a 5 year old black Zuchon he is very loving but when it’s time for bed he will attack me really viciously,cant understand why

    1. Hello, Ann.
      Let me first apologize for not replying to your comment within 24 hours. I have only just noticed it as I was deleting my mountain of spam comments.
      Does your Zuchon just get aggressive out of nothing, or are you physically trying to put him to bed when he becomes this way?
      Whatever the answer is to that question, try reading my recent post “How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive”.
      I hope that you can find the answers to your problem there.
      Best Wishes,
      Shih Tzu Steve.

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