A Brief History of the Shih Tzu
By Victor Joris
Dogs of various sizes, shapes, and colors have been bred in China for centuries. Records substantiate the
existence of short, square, "under the table" dogs from at least 1000 B.C. By piecing together historical facts
and documented records, it is possible to some extent to follow the development in China of the breeding of
dogs likely to be the ancestors of the present-day Shih Tzu.
The ancestry of the Shih Tzu is rather obscure, but it is probable that the breed is primarily of Tibetan origin.
The history of the Tibetan “Lion Dogs” is interwoven with the tenets of Buddhism, which originated in India. The
lion was closely associated with Buddhism, but the lion was not indigenous to China, so the Chinese and the
Tibetan lamas bred their toy dogs to resemble lions. The Shih Tzu (whose name means “lion”) is reputed to
have been the oldest and smallest variety of the Tibetan “holy dogs” and bears some similarity to other Tibetan
breeds. For much of the long and illustrious history of China, the breeding of the small “Lion Dog” was a favorite
pastime of succeeding imperial rulers.
Prior to A.D. 624, documents show that small dogs were exported from Malta, Turkey, Greece, and Persia as
gifts to the ruling Chinese emperors. It is likely that the first small Tibetan Lion Dogs from which the Shih Tzu is
probably descended came to China during the Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty (1644-62) as tributes from the Grand
Lamas to the Chinese Imperial Court, and that the Chinese interbred these Tibetan dogs with the early western
imports and with the Pug and the Pekingese. The existence of the Shih Tzu as we know it today is owed to the Dowager Empress Cixi (T’zu Hsi), whose kennel of Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu was world renowned. Although she carefully supervised the kennel during her lifetime and attempted to keep the three imperial breeds separate, the actual breeding was carried out by palace eunuchs who secretly crossed the breeds to reduce size and produce unusual and desirable markings. After her death in 1908, the kennels were dispersed and palace breeding became haphazard. Some breeding was still practiced by private individuals and specimens were exhibited, but the dogs were almost impossible to acquire. So far as is known, the breed became extinct in China after the Communist revolution.
Seven dogs and seven bitches comprise the gene pool of all existing Shih Tzu. These fourteen include the
Pekingese dog used in an admitted cross in England in 1952--a cross which caused considerable trouble, as
it was done by a newcomer to the breed and reported after the fact. The other foundation dogs included three
Shih Tzu imported from China that became the foundation of the Taishan kennel of Lady Brownrigg in England
and eight additional imports to England between 1933 and 1959. Three other Shih Tzu were imported into
Norway from China in 1932 by Mrs. Henrick Kauffman, including a bitch that was the only Shih Tzu bred in the
Imperial Palace to reach the Western world.
Returning military personnel brought some of the first Shih Tzu into the United States during the late 1940s and
1950's and began breeding programs. The unique beauty and outstanding temperament of this “new” breed
quickly found favor with the fancy. From the first day of formal AKC recognition (Sept. 1, 1969), the Shih Tzu
catapulted from a relatively unknown breed to one of the most glamorous and popular of all canine companions.
This month’s column was contributed by Shih Tzu breeder-judge Victor Joris, author of The Complete Shih Tzu
(Howell Book House). We hope you have enjoyed it.
Originally published in the Shih Tzu breed column in the American Kennel Club Gazette . Written by Shih Tzu
breeder-judge Victor Joris, author of 'The Complete Shih Tzu' (Howell Book House).
The Early Days Of The ASTC
By Mrs. Andy Warner
The American Kennel Club accepted the Shih Tzu into the Miscellaneous Class in 1955. At that time, there
were very few Shih Tzu in this country. Maureen Murdock and Philip Price, her nephew, were the first to import
and breed Shih Tzu in this country. In 1954 Mr. Price brought back to the United States Golden S. Wen of
Chasmu and imported Ho Lai Sheum of Yram in 1955; both were from England.
As with all unrecognized breeds, complete records of imports and births must be kept by individuals or groups
until such time as a club is formed and a registrar is selected. This is extremely important if a breed hopes to
be recognized by the American Kennel Club. If the interest in a breed does not increase and spread across the
country, the Miscellaneous status may be withdrawn by AKC. The same thing may happen if incorrect,
up-to-date records are not kept on all imports and births.
In 1957 the Shih Tzu Club of America was formed in the eastern part of the United States. By 1960 there were
three Shih Tzu clubs: the Texas Shih Tzu Society, the American Shih Tzu Association in Florida, and the Shih
Tzu Club of America. Many of the early Shih Tzu supporters and enthusiasts were military people who bought
their Shih Tzu in England and Scandinavia and returned to the United States with them when they were
stationed stateside again. Because they were so spread out across the country, the three clubs were formed
independently of each other. By 1961 there were over 100 Shih Tzu registered in the United States, both
imports and offspring born here.
The first champion bitch to be imported into the United States was French Ch. Jungfaltets Jung-Wu, a 9-pound
gold and white, in 1960. Ingrid Colwell bought her in Sweden and showed her to her championship in France
while her Air Force husband was stationed there. Ingrid arrived in the United States with five Shih Tzu, including
two with the Pukedal prefix (her mother’s kennel name in Sweden). From 1960 to 1968, when Ingrid sadly died
in a fire, she imported several Shih Tzu from both Scandinavia and England.
Yvette Duval, a close friend of Ingrid’s, imported the first male champion, French Ch. Pukedals Ding Dang.
Yvette bought this black and white male from Ingrid’s mother and finished his championship in France before
she and her Air Force husband, Lucian, were reassigned to the United States. They also brought two Shih Tzu
bitches into the country with them at the same time.
In 1963 the Shih Tzu Club of America and the Texas Shih Tzu Society merged to form the American Shih Tzu
Club. Since the AKC had accepted the Shih Tzu into the Miscellaneous class in 1955 it was important to have
only one club, with one registry. Lucian Duval was selected as registrar, and he combined the work of the two
clubs into one. Our hope was that if we did a good job of keeping our records and spread the word of how great
the Shih Tzu was by showing and exposure, we might hope to someday be recognized by the AKC and be
able to earn American championships. With much pleasure, and always a great deal of fun, many early
Shih Tzu lovers showed their best all over the country. We were stopped by all kinds of curious people and
answered questions at shows all day long. Many of us sold dogs to new people to the breed, thus spreading
the joy of owning a Shih Tzu and helping to educate about this relatively new breed to the United States. In 1962
, when there was still a Miscellaneous class held at Westminster, there were 12 Shih Tzu entered. By the end of
1962 there were more than 300 Shih Tzu registered with the American Shih Tzu Club.
We had three registrars during the history of the American Shih Tzu Club. Gene Dudgeon
(publisher of the Shih Tzu News) followed Lucian Duval. Mary Wood then served as registrar until AKC
By July 1965 there were 656 Shih Tzu registered by the ASTC, and registrations had spread rather nicely
across the United States. Some groups were starting to form local Shih Tzu clubs. a fun match had been held
in June of 1964 at Ingrid Colwell’s home in Middletown, PA, and others were being planned.
In 1967 it felt as though we were finally getting closer to our goal of recognition. In the spring of that year the
AKC asked several representatives of the ASTC to meet with them in New York to discuss revising the breed
standard. We had originally adopted the English Kennel Club standard when we formed the ASTC, and we
were asked to clarify points that seemed unclear. A committee was formed to do this, and we returned to the
AKC with revisions. Nothing major was changed, but we felt that if AKC was interested it was a very
encouraging sign. Shortly before recognition another committee came up with a few changes approved by the
The ASTC was incorporated in 1968--another step forward in our efforts for recognition. The following year the
AKC accepted the Shih Tzu as its 116th recognized breed. It was an exciting day for all of us. The carefully
kept records of the ASTC registry were turned over to the AKC, and in September 1969 Shih Tzu were shown
for the first time in the United States for championship points. At recognition, the registry had increased to
Originally published in the Shih Tzu breed column in the American Kennel Club Gazette.