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.
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.
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.
You can read more on this in my article on “How To Stop A Shih Tzu Puppy From Biting“.
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.
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.
I hope you have found this information useful. Please leave a comment or use our contact us form if you have any shih tzu related questions you would like to discuss.