Shih Tzu: Origin and early history

Shih Tzu

The earliest known documented evidence of the existence of Shih Tzu dates back to AD 624 though the exact place of its origin, whether it is Tibet or China remains shrouded in mystery.

DNA studies have confirmed the existence of Shih Tzu in Tibet as far back as 800 BC and forms part of 14 ancient breeds known to have originated from the region. It is believed the Shih Tzu was actually developed by the Tibetan monks to be offered to the Chinese emperors as the royal temple dog.

There is also much evidence that point to Shih Tzu having originated from Tibet. For instance, the pair of Shih Tzu that the Vizur king presented to the Chinese court during the Tang Dynasty is believed to have come from Fu Lin. Then there also are records of a pair of the Shih Tzu having been brought to the Chinese Court from Tibet during the mid-17th century. The dogs were later bred in Peking, also known as the Forbidden City.

Then there is the other school of thought that claims the Shih Tzu was introduced in China during the Manchu period. Not surprisingly, the breed became popular with the Chinese royalty. In fact, its name comes from the Chinese term for ‘Lion King; owing to its close similarity with the Chinese Guardian Lions.

Shih Tzu also had a specialised role to play during the times of the Manchu and Ming dynasties, that of bed warmers and were placed at the feet of the kings and other royal citizen to keep their feet warm during cold nights.

However, it was during the times of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi that the Shih Tzu came to be accorded a sacred status. Tzu Hsi used to be the ruler of China from 1861 to 1908.

Fortunately, the breed standard now evident can be attributed to the selective and high standard of breeding that were followed in the Pekingese, Pugs, and Shih Tzu kennels.

The Shih Tzu also became quite popular in 1935 when it was presented as the Lhasa lion dog. In England, people confused Shih Tzu with the Lhasa Apso owing to both looking quite similar. Hence they thought it best to differentiate between the two by placing them in different classes. Meanwhile in the US, the Shih Tzu went on to be recognized as toy dogs by the American Kennel Club.

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