|There is evidence, from documents, paintings and objets d’art, the Shih Tzu has been around since before 624 A.D. During the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 A.D.), the King of Viqur gave the Chinese court a pair of dogs said to have come from the Fu Lin (assumed to be the Byzantine Empire). The dogs looked similar to what we now know as the Pekingese. Yet did have features of the Lhasa Apso and the now Shih Tzu.
Another theory of their introduction to China was recorded in the mid-17th century when dogs were brought from Tibet to the Shih Tzus were brought to the Chinese Court from Tibet, and later bred in the Forbidden City, in the heart of Peking. It is believed that Shih Tzus were bred by crossing the Lhasa Apso with the Pekingese. Since they resemble lions, they were given the name Shih Tzu, which means “little lion”. Shih Tzus soon became favorites in the Chinese Courts, and were used as watchdogs.
A more documented version was in the early 1900s when the Dalai Lama sent a pair of Lhasa Apsos to Tzu Hsi/Cixi, Dowager Empress of the Manchu Dynasty, who was known to be a passionate dog breeder. The Empress herself supervised the breeding of the Lhasa Apsos to ensure that they would remain distinct from the Pekingese which she already owned. After her death in 1908 their breeding was not closely monitored and it is suspected that cross breedings occurred the Lhasa Apso with the Pekingese.
During the Communist Revolution the Shih Tzu was on the brink of extinction. At one point, only 14 remained in the world; 7 males and 7 females. Some of these 14 were by that point located in England, which imported its first pair of Shih Tzus in 1930. The Shih Tzu Club of England was formed in 1935, after which the Shih Tzu was exported all across the world. They were introduced to the US by soldiers during World War II. The Shih Tzu was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1969, and since then has become enormously popular as a companion and as a show dog.
Originally considered part of the Lhasa apso breed, the Kennel Club of England later ruled the Shih Tzu was a separate breed. The Shih Tzu Club of England was formed in 1935. The breed spread from England to other European countries and Australia before World War II.
American soldiers returning from Europe after World War II brought the dogs back to the United States. The breed became part of the American Kennel Club September 1, 1969 and is classified as part of the Toy Group.