Far too many prospective Shih Tzu owners approach a breeder requesting a “small, gold and white, female puppy.” Do these things really matter? What a buyer should be seeking, first and foremost, is an affectionate, intelligent, healthy, and playful companion. The rest of it is secondary, for several reasons.
The Shih Tzu standard states that all colors and markings are permissible and are to be considered equally in judging our breed. This includes the seldom-seen livers and blues (which have brown or blue pigment and may have lighter eyes). Decades ago, however, a small group of breeders insisted that gold and white was the preferred color for our breed. This fueled an effort to breed for gold and whites and led to the virtual disappearance of many other colors from the show ring. Today many breeders would love to have more solid blacks, black-masked golds, black and whites, and platinum silver and whites with black tippings, but these colors are recessive and it has become very difficult to find quality dogs that are genetically capable of producing them. In a breeding program, blacks and black and whites are especially valued for their ability to improve pigment, and the more unusual colors stand out in the show ring. And, for pet owners, dogs with dark faces don’t have the visible face-staining problem that affects so many of the gold and whites.
The pet buyer’s desire for a female probably stems from previous experiences with other breeds. Shih Tzu have always been bred to be companions to humans. Unlike many larger breeds, Shih Tzu do not have sex-linked temperament differences. Dogs are every bit as affectionate as bitches (some say more), and an aggressive Shih Tzu of either sex is unusual and undesirable. In fact, one is more likely to witness occasional squabbles over food and toys and ranking in the pecking order between bitches than between dogs, particularly among bitches in season. Note that it is best to have your pet Shih Tzu spayed or neutered as soon as recommended by your veterinarian to help curtail and eliminate undesirable sex-related behavior and reproductive health anomalies. Males are easier to keep in coat because they don’t go through periodic, hormone-related coat loss, making the male the ideal choice for someone planning to keep a pet in coat or have only one show dog. Also, dogs are much easier to housebreak. A male would much prefer to “hold it” until he goes outside to mark his territory in the greater world, while a female seems to think it is all right to eliminate wherever she happens to be when the urge strikes!
The Shih Tzu is such an adaptable breed that buyers might want to consider a more mature dog (which may well be already trained or easier to train) rather than insisting on a very young puppy. This is particularly true when purchasing a show dog, because you know exactly what you are getting. In addition, this is a breed that matures slowly. Puppies benefit from additional time with their mothers and littermates. The ASTC recommends that Shih Tzu not leave for their new homes until they are at least 12 weeks old. Breeders often have even older puppies that didn’t quite live up to their promise as show dogs or retirees who would love to spend the rest of their lives as pampered pets. There are always rescue dogs that are in need of new, loving homes. Remember that adopting a dog, whether from a breeder or a rescue group, gives it a new life!
Remember that in most countries the Shih Tzu is not shown in the Toy Group, but in the Non-Sporting Group, and that the AKC breed standard states that the ideal weight for the Shih Tzu is 9 to 16 pounds. There is NO such thing as an officially recognized “Imperial,” or “Teacup,” or "Stained Glass” Shih Tzu in the United States or abroad. Very tiny Shih Tzu are often small because they have health problems. Those who are breeding very tiny Shih Tzu and charging a premium price for them are breeding to make money, not to better the breed. The best advice for someone determined to have a really tiny dog is to consider another breed. One of the finest attributes of a Shih Tzu is that it is solid and sturdy, despite its relatively small size, and ethical breeders work to keep it that way.
Adding a Shih Tzu to your household is not something to do on impulse. Devote time and energy to learning about the breed and how to recognize a responsible breeder before you begin your search for a dog. This website has a list of questions to ask yourself and a breeder, breeder referral information, recommended health tests, a picture guide to breed colors, and articles on many of the other issues discussed here.
Once you have found such a breeder, listen to his or her opinions about which dogs would best suit your lifestyle. After all, the breeder has been watching these animals since they were born, not just for a single afternoon. With the breeder’s advice in mind, you can choose the dog that appeals to you. After all, your new Shih Tzu will be sharing your life for many years to come, and you will soon find that color, sex, age, and size are not the characteristics that really matter.