History of the Shih Tzu

No one really knows where the Shih Tzu originated. Up until a few years ago, it was thought that the breeding programs in the Far East were the propriety of the Tibetan Monks. The Lhasa Apso, Pug, Pekinese, and Shih Tzu were all believed to be Tibetan, and made their way to China as royal tribute from the Monks.  However, some years ago, canine bones were excavated and carbon dated, proving conclusively that Maltese type dogs were present in China as early as 8,000 B.C. establishing the Chinese had breeding programs exclusive from the Tibetans. Since it has already been proven the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso are separate breeds, and considering the unusually high status the Shih Tzu have held in China over the centuries, it is reasonable to assume the Chinese are responsible for Shih Tzu.  

Physical proof of an existing Shih Tzu type appears in documents, paintings and art objects from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The dogs appear again between 990-994 in documents, a few paintings and carvings. In the 13th century, Marco Polo reported Emperor Kubla Khan had small "lion" dogs housed with trained hunting lions. The dogs were not lunch but companions to the lions, keeping them calm when they were not hunting.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Shih Tzu type dogs were favored by the royal families. Eunuchs were charged with the duties of breeding and rearing the beautiful royal pets. Several documents mention that the Little Lion Dogs or "chrysanthemum faced ones,"  were small, intelligent, docile, and unquestionably resembled a lion. The Lion Dog Pagoda at right was said to have been used by the court eunuchs to exercise the Little Lion Dogs of the Imperial Palace.
Lion Dog Pagoda

Although there doesn't seem to be much mention of the Chrysanthemum Faced Ones from the 1700's to the early 1900s, many pieces of art that made their way to the west have happy, small shaggy dogs carved and painted. The Shih Tzu gained great popularity in the Imperial Court after the royal concubine became the Empress of China in 1861. One of the new Empress Tzu Hai's first royal edicts concerned palace dogs. Under pain of death, none of them were to be tortured. 

It was widely known that the Empress had a great love for animals. To ensure her animals would receive the treatment she expected, she wisely put her chief eunuch in charge of the palace breeding program, under her royal eye. This plan would keep the eunuchs in line as well as protect her beloved animals. Shih Tzu were already living in the palaces, but it is unknown their size, quality, color or position with the royal family. It is known that as tribute to the "Old Buddha" shortly after she became Imperial Ruler of China, the Dalai Lama presented her a pair of magnificent Shih Tzu. This pair became the foundation of Dowager Empress' Imperial Palace Little Lion Dogs.


The Chinese produced pure lines for centuries before the West and documented their practices. Although the Chinese did not have access to Mendel's Laws, there is no doubt they understood and followed careful breeding practices, to produce healthy, sound lines
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Many books discussing the Little Lions point out that the golds and gold and white Shih Tzu were highly favored. Without question, the Dowager Empress understood color inheritance and the importance of the darker shades of brindle and silver, and of black, to maintain pigmentation. For example,  Hai Ling (Sea Otter), a black solid, was one of her favorite pets, and is the only known photograph of the Empress with a Shih Tzu. (Hai Ling is snoozing at her feet in the photo below.) Shih Tzu are one of the few breeds that all colors are permissible, and there is no liver or tan designation. --editorial comment.


The Manchu rulers were superb record keepers but during the Revolution, the Imperial Palaces were overrun, looted, and burned and thousands of records were destroyed. Although the eunuchs tried to place all the blame for the destruction, it is well documented that most of the  damage to the Palaces is attributed to the hundreds of palace eunuchs to cover their thievery. 


For centuries, the Shih Tzu were a well kept secret, but when the Empress opened her Palace to English diplomats, westerners were introduced to her beloved Shih Tzu. Before her death in 1909, it is a matter of record that the Empress gave several Shih Tzu to British diplomats and their wives. Obviously some of these dogs found their way to England but it is unclear what happened to them.

Most historians attribute today's Shih Tzu to seven dogs and seven bitches imported from China, and state these dogs comprise the gene pool of all existing Shih Tzu in the west. Although it is quite true that the gene pool is incredibly narrow, we must consider the various accounts of Shih Tzu given to friends of the court and foreign diplomats by the Empress, as well as an undetermined number that were sold by the eunuchs to westerners before and after the death of the Dowager Empress.  In addition, returning military during the late 1940's and early 1950's, brought dogs with them when they returned to their homelands, and began breeding programs. These military men and women were not all stationed in the west. Therefore, with these facts in mind, one must surmise the gene pool is larger than 14 dogs. 

A well-known novelist from San Francisco, was born in China to a high ranking official in the British Foreign Service. He related a story about his mother, who was given two gold and white Shih Tzu puppies around 1915 in Peking. He claims the dogs were brought back to England and bred. He also related stories that his parents told him about the Little Lion Dogs who slept on the feet of Imperial Palace women to keep their bound feet warm.--Editorial comment.

Of the 14 dogs that are thought to be the only dogs imported from China, three became the foundation of the Taishan Kennel of Lady Brownrigg in England along with eight additional imports to England between 1933-39; three Shih Tzu were imported into Norway from China in 1932 by Mrs. Henrik Kauffman, including a bitch that many believe to be the only Shih Tzu bred in the Imperial Palace to reach the western world.

 
"The Shih Tzu" by Audrey Dodds comments that Monsieur Graefe (Belgian Minster at Teheran, Iran) and his wife had a number of Shih Tzu which they had brought from Peking, their previous post, from 1941 to 1945). These dogs were seen by Alan Roger and Mrs. Sheila Bode, who later became an English breeder. Rogers acquired a white and apricot puppy dog from Peking in 1948. Soon after this, he acquired a grey and white bitch from a Chinese returning to China. The parents of the puppy bitch were brought to Hong Kong by Mr. and Mrs. Harmon-former Counsel General of Peking. It is believed those dogs returned to the U.S.A.

Another account relates that in 1936-37, Mrs. Fowler of Sussex bought two puppy bitches - a gold/white, the other honey colored, in Peking from the Comtesse d'Anjou. The Comtesse d'Anjou brought several Shih Tzu dogs and bitches with her when she returned to France. It would be interesting to know how many Shih Tzu the Comtesse owned, where she acquired them, and why she was "showing' them in Peking!

The AKC approved the Shih Tzu standard in 1969, placing them in the Toy Group. Some of the great early breeders in this country include Jack and Mary Wood - Mariljac Kennels imported Int. Ch. Bjorneholm Pif who exerted great influence on pedigrees and style throughout the U.S. The Reverend D. Allan and Margaret Easton of Chumulari Kennels bought a son of Pif, whelped in the U.S., who became the famous Am. and Can. Ch Chumulari Ying Ying - the gold and white dog who won BIS at the first show held after breed recognition.

Other great kennels include Bom Shu Kennels owned by Jean Gadberry; Si Kiang Kennels owned by Ingrid Colwell; Mar Del Kennels owned by Margaret and Harry Edel; Char Nick Kennels owned by Louis and Florence Sanfilippo; Shang T'ou Shih Tzu owned by Eleanore Eldredge; Emperor Kennels owned by Dr. and Mrs. Edel. Witch's Wood, Hillside Acres, and the list goes on.

From the first day of formal AKC recognition in 1969, the Shih Tzu catapulted from a relatively unknown breed to one of the most glamorous and popular of all the canine companion dogs.

**Note - Names in red are dogs or breeders of dogs that are represented in some of our breeding stock.

Bill & Wendy Johnson
Mount Airy, NC 27030
(336) 786-8391

 

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