A blast from the past

17 Oct

If my shih tzu were to travel more than 1000 years back to the imperial palaces of China, he would be spoiled rotten by emperors and Buddhists. Not because he’s cute, but because back in 618, during the Tang dynasty, shih tzus were considered sacred.

Court ladies pampered shih tzus in the palace.

Originally, a cross breed between the Lhasa and the Pekingese, these dogs sat among emperors and empresses. According to paintings and sculptures, shih tzus were first brought to China by Buddhists living in the Tibetan mountains. Buddhists saw the shih tzus as earthly representations of the sacred Buddhist lion, which represented honour and strength in their culture. It was for that reason that shih tzus were never sold, but given away as gifts.

When a Buddhist gave away a shih tzu to the emperor of China, they got their name “lion dogs”. From their gold coat to their furry faces, Shih tzus had similar features to lions, enough for the Chinese to call them “lion dogs”.

When I look at my shih tzu, I don’t necessarily think of lion, but I can see why the Chinese may have thought they were lions in the past. These dogs are carnivores who are very territorial with their food. If someone were to try and take a bone away from my shih tzu, he would not hesitate to bite and growl. Not only in food are they similar to lions, but in territory as well. My shih tzu marks his territory everywhere we go to deter other dogs.

The breed grew after a woman by the name of Lady Brownrigg visited China and bought a shih tzu back to England, breeding it with another shih tzu in order to spread the breed.

As more owners began breeding the shih tzu in different countries, the breed grew to become a well-known species across Europe. In addition, after world war II, military officers brought shih tzus home to their countries, which included United States and Canada.

And by 1961, the breed had grown to more than 100 pure shih tzus. In March 1969, shih tzus were officially registered in the American Kennel Club Stud book and noted as its own unique breed.

Today, if I look around my neighbourhood, there are many people who own shih tzus and breed them. They have become one of the most popular dogs in Canada and adored by many. Now when I look at my shih tzu, I don’t only think he’s a four-legged companion, but a noble pet that once upon a time, sat among royalty.

Cool facts:

  • All shih tzus can be traced back to fourteen dogs from England and China
  • Shih tzus were nicknamed “chrysanthemum dogs” because their hair grew in different directions on their face
  • The name shih tzu can be translated to lion dog in mandarin
  • The breed was originally an exotic mixture of Lhasa and Pekingese and regarded as ornamental dogs for people
  • The Dalai lama owned shih tzus and even presented a pair of shih tzus to the Imperial ruler of China








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