American vs European Shih Tzu: Which Tail Wags for You?


american vs european shih tzuShih Tzus have long been cherished for their delightful companionship and distinct looks. These canines, often referred to as the lion dog, carry an aura of royalty and history with them.

When navigating the expansive world of these pups, a budding question emerges about the American vs European Shih Tzu. Each type of Shih Tzu, while sharing a common lineage, boasts unique characteristics molded by their individual journeys.

From their introduction to the West by European traders to their widespread presence in the United States, these breeds have seen adaptations in both temperament and appearance. Factors such as the allure of the blue-eyed Shih Tzu or the health traits of their European counterparts only add to their intrigue.

As you delve deeper, prepare to explore a realm of silky coats, expressive eyes, and tales that stretch from ancient Chinese palaces to cozy living rooms around the world.

Understanding the Shih Tzu Coat

One of the defining characteristics of the Shih Tzu, whether American or European, is its resplendent coat. This section dives into the intricacies of their fur, exploring colors, maintenance, and even common misconceptions.

Coat Color Variations

From the shimmering blacks and radiant browns to the rare blue-eyed Shih Tzu, the breed comes in a myriad of colors. While some might believe certain colors are limited to either the American or European type, it’s more about genetics than geographical origin. Here, we’ll debunk myths and celebrate the spectrum of Shih Tzu coat colors.

Common Myths: Shedding and Hypoallergenic Qualities

There’s a prevalent misconception that Shih Tzus don’t shed and are completely hypoallergenic. While their shedding is minimal compared to other breeds, they aren’t entirely hypoallergenic. Regular grooming can, however, mitigate potential allergens and keep their coat in top condition.

American shih tzu

American Shih Tzu

American Shih Tzu

Originating from the expanse of the United States, the American Shih Tzu stands as a testament to the breed’s adaptability and appeal. Characterized by its unique features, it remains one of the most sought-after breeds in America.


The journey of the Shih Tzu in America began in the mid-20th century. These captivating dogs, which trace their roots back to ancient China and the laps of Chinese emperors, found a new home in the United States. Quickly gaining traction due to their charm and size, the breed was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969. However, the Imperial Shih Tzu (or teacup Shih Tzu) was not recognized by the AKC due to their smaller stature.

Their rich history, combined with their affectionate nature, propelled their popularity, making them an enduring favorite among American households.


The American Shih Tzu boasts a sturdy build, typically weighing between 9-16 pounds. Standing at a height of about 8 to 11 inches, they exhibit a proud, upright posture. Their large eyes, often dark but occasionally blue in some, are one of their most endearing features. Ears hang down, covered in a luxurious fur that matches their double coat.

This coat, often seen in colors like black, brown, and even a mix, can be both short or flowingly long. Their tail curls beautifully over their back, and their short neck and small chest give them a compact look. Legs are straight, adding to their regal stature.


American Shih Tzus are true companion dogs known for their friendly and outgoing nature. They’re often great with families, including homes with small children or other pet dogs. Their affectionate demeanor, combined with a sprinkle of cheekiness, makes them both entertaining and lovable.

However, it’s not uncommon for them to develop separation anxiety if left alone for longer periods. They’re keen on human interaction and thrive when they’re at the center of attention.


Like many small dog breeds, American Shih Tzus have their set of health concerns. Being a brachycephalic breed, respiratory issues can arise due to their short muzzle. Regular check-ups are essential, especially focusing on their eyes and hips. Their large eyes can sometimes be prone to infections or irritations. A healthy diet is key, ensuring they maintain an ideal weight, and preventing undue stress on their joints.


The American Shih Tzu’s coat is a thing of beauty but requires consistent care. Depending on the length, daily to weekly brushing is essential to prevent matting. Their silky coat, while magnificent, can attract dirt. Regular baths, coupled with eye cleaning and ear checks, should be a part of their routine. Also, because of their fast-growing nails, monthly trims are advisable.


Training an American Shih Tzu can be both a joy and a challenge. Their intelligent and eager-to-please nature makes them quick learners, but they can occasionally show a stubborn side. Early socialization is key, exposing them to various environments and sounds. Using positive reinforcement techniques, like treats and praises, ensures a smooth training process.

european shih tzu

European Shih Tzu

European Shih Tzu

The European Shih Tzu, with its fascinating lineage and slightly varied characteristics, offers a unique twist on the beloved breed. Often regarded as a reflection of its American counterpart, this variety has its distinct quirks, developed on the European continent.


The Shih Tzu’s entrance into Europe is largely credited to European traders who brought these exotic “lion dogs” from China. The breed’s allure grew especially after World War II when returning soldiers brought these delightful companions home.

Unlike the first Shih Tzus in America, their European journey had them mingling with different breeds, subtly shaping their characteristics.


The European Shih Tzu stands slightly taller, with an average height ranging between 9 to 12 inches. Their weight fluctuates around 10-18 pounds. They often possess a longer neck and forward-facing legs, giving them a wider stance. Their faces, while equally expressive with large eyes, sometimes sport eye rims of various colors.

Their ears tend to be a tad more erect compared to their American counterparts. Coat variations, including the desirable black Shih Tzu or the occasional blue-eyed Shih Tzu, make each individual truly unique. The tail retains its classic curl, but the European variety might have a more pronounced white tip.


While retaining the classic Shih Tzu charm, the European ones are often perceived as more laid-back. Their demeanor is calm, yet they remain playful companions. Known to be incredibly loyal, they form strong bonds with their families. Just like the American variant, separation anxiety can be a concern, making it essential to keep them engaged and ensure they aren’t left alone for long periods.


European Shih Tzus, due to their slightly different build, might have fewer respiratory issues compared to their American kin. However, they too face challenges. Regular check-ups, focusing on potential health issues like hip dysplasia or eye concerns, are crucial. They also require a balanced healthy diet to maintain their ideal weight and support good health.


A defining feature remains their luxurious double coat, which demands regular grooming. Depending on coat length and color (with coat color variations like pure black, brown, or mixed), they might require more frequent baths. Regular brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trims are vital to keep them looking their best.

The unique coat color variations can sometimes demand specialized care, especially for maintaining their sheen.


European Shih Tzus, with their calm disposition, can sometimes be slightly more straightforward to train. Nevertheless, patience and consistency are pivotal. Early socialization remains key, introducing them to diverse scenarios and ensuring a well-rounded temperament. Positive reinforcement, treats, and consistent routines make for a successful training regimen.

shih tzu playing

Dietary and Exercise Needs

Just like humans, Shih Tzus have specific dietary and exercise requirements. These little canines might be small in stature, but their zest for life is enormous! By understanding their dietary needs and tailoring exercise routines, you can ensure a longer, healthier life for your furry friend.

Tailored Nutrition for Size and Age

Every Shih Tzu puppy or mature dog has specific dietary needs. As they grow, their nutrient requirements change. While both American and European variants thrive on high-quality dog food, ensuring the right balance of protein, fats, and fiber is crucial. Especially since the European kind might have a more relaxed nature, calorie considerations can differ.

Regular Exercise: More Than Just Walks

Shih Tzus, irrespective of their origin, are lively and enjoy playful activities. While they might not need as much exercise as larger breeds, they still benefit from regular short walks and playful bouts. Toys, agility courses, or even simple fetch games can keep them engaged and help ward off potential health problems related to inactivity.

Choosing Your Shih Tzu: What to Consider

In the diverse world of Shih Tzu dogs, potential owners are often met with a delightful dilemma: American or European? While both exude undeniable charm, understanding their nuances can lead to a more harmonious companionship. Delving deeper into breed standards, ease of training for first-time owners, and their fit as a companion or show dog can simplify this decision.

American Kennel Club and Breed Standards

Recognizing a purebred Shih Tzu goes beyond its luxurious coat or expressive eyes. The American Kennel Club sets precise standards, defining everything from weight to coat color. While the European counterparts have slightly varied standards, understanding these can ensure you’re welcoming a genuine, purebred dog into your home.

Factors like height, tail curl, and even eye rims can play a crucial role in this recognition.

Good Choice for First Time Owners?

For those embarking on their maiden voyage into dog ownership, the Shih Tzu, regardless of its origin, can be an enticing option. However, there are considerations. While European Shih Tzus, with their laid-back nature, might seem an easier fit, the American ones, with their adaptable temperament, can be equally rewarding.

But, delving into health concerns, grooming needs, and training routines can paint a clearer picture for first-timers.

Companion Dog vs. Show Ring Star

Are you looking for a cuddly companion or a dazzling show ring star? Your intent can influence your choice. American Shih Tzus, often bred with show standards in mind, might be more suited for the show ring. On the other hand, European Shih Tzus, known for their distinct appearance and calm demeanor, make splendid companions.

Of course, with proper training and grooming, any Shih Tzu can shine in the spotlight or snuggle on the couch.

european shih tzu dog

Conclusion: American vs European Shih Tzu

In the enchanting world of Shih Tzus, the differences between the American and European Shih Tzu offer a fascinating insight into the breed’s diversity. While they share the same foundational characteristics that make them one of the most beloved dog breeds globally, their subtle distinctions in appearance, temperament, and health make each one unique.

As potential or current Shih Tzu owners, understanding these nuances not only enriches our appreciation for these lion dogs but also empowers us to provide them with the best care possible. Whether you’re leaning towards the American variant, the European one, or are simply curious about this delightful breed, it’s evident that any Shih Tzu can bring plenty of love and joy into a home.

FAQ Section

  • Why are some Shih Tzus called “Teacup”? Teacup is not an official breed but rather a descriptive term used to categorize dogs that are smaller than the breed’s standard size. For Shih Tzus, “Teacup” variants are typically under the average weight and height, making them even more petite.
  • How does the American Shih Tzu’s temperament differ from its European counterpart? While both breeds are generally friendly and affectionate, the American variant can be slightly more energetic, while the European tends to be a bit more laid-back. However, individual temperaments can vary widely based on upbringing, training, and genetics.
  • Is the European or American Shih Tzu a better choice for families with small children? Both breeds are known for their affable nature and can fit well with families. It’s more about training the dog and educating children on how to interact with them safely. However, European Shih Tzus, with their often calmer demeanor, might be a slight preference for households with very young kids.
  • What is the average weight and height difference between the two? American Shih Tzus tend to be slightly smaller, with an average weight of 9-16 pounds and a height of 8-11 inches. European counterparts might be slightly larger, but the difference isn’t significant.
  • How often should each type receive regular exercise? Both types benefit from daily exercise. A combination of short walks and playful indoor activities is ideal. The exact duration can vary based on the individual dog’s energy levels, but generally, 20-30 minutes daily is a good starting point.

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