Training a Shih Tzu can be both an amusing
and a frustrating experience. “Bad dog”
generally elicits much tail wagging, many
kisses, and lots of “Who, me?” looks of
injured innocence. “How could you possibly
be angry when I’m so charming?” seems to be
the general approach. While all of these
antics make the Shih Tzu a delightful and
unique companion, you have to steel yourself
to avoid succumbing to your pet’s charms.
Most breeders know of a home in which the
situation escalated until the owner had a
chubby, less-than-completely-housebroken dog
that roused him at 5 a.m. and had kissed and
charmed its way out of being groomed so
often that it was a smelly, matted mess.
This isn’t fair to you or your dog, so be
firm when necessary. Rest assured, your Shih
Tzu will love you just as much if you teach
it to be well behaved.
How do I get my puppy to stop barking when I
leave him, especially at night?
While a young puppy is often distressed when
he no longer has the company of his
littermates, one of the first things your
dog must learn is that he cannot receive
attention upon demand. Going in and saying
“quiet” or petting him when he barks is
rewarding him for being noisy, so you must
steel yourself not to react, or to provide
only a mild correction from out of sight to
interrupt the barking, such as shaking a few
coins in a soda can. NEVER reward the dog by
letting him out when he barks or cries; wait
until he is quiet to release him. To
alleviate anxieties, which aggravate the
barking, begin with short departures, and
gradually lengthen the amount of time that
you are away.
Why is crate training recommended?
The crate should not be a place of
punishment, but a sanctuary where your dog
can retreat to rest and be secure. Provide
toys and treats to make the crate a pleasant
place. It helps to put the crate where
people are during the day, or in the bedroom
at night. This way the dog will be safe but
not lonely. A radio or television can help
to keep the dog quiet when you are out. Play
with your puppy and take him out to
eliminate before you confine him to his
crate, and do not leave him there for such a
long time that he has no choice but to
eliminate in the crate. If you will be out
for extended periods, you may want to
puppy-proof a small room or use an exercise
pen to reinforce your dog’s natural desire
to keep his bed clean. Crate training is
also useful when you need to board your dog
or keep it safe while traveling.
How do I housebreak my dog?
Shih Tzu are not difficult to
housebreak. The most critical thing is to
avoid giving your puppy opportunities to
have accidents inside, and to praise him
profusely whenever he eliminates where you
want him to, be it on newspaper or “piddle
pads” in his puppy-proofed area or outside.
This means that your puppy should be
constantly supervised inside the house until
he has not eliminated indoors for at least
four to eight weeks. You must also go
outside with him, so that you can praise him
when he eliminates outdoors. Watch for
signals, such as sniffing and circling, and
be sure to take him out every few hours,
especially when he first wakes up,
immediately after eating and before and
after playtime. Suddenly, the light will
dawn! A puppy has a very short attention
span, so punishing him after the fact is
useless and may instead teach your dog not
to eliminate in your presence. You can
gradually extend the time between outings as
the puppy has greater control over his
bladder. Some Shih Tzu owners teach their
dogs to eliminate on paper indoors as well
as outside all their lives, so they don’t
need to walk them in bad weather or rush
home to take them out. You may want to
associate a command such as “hurry up” or
“go potty” with the act of elimination; this
is useful later when you want the puppy to
eliminate quickly in an unfamiliar place. If
you are housebreaking an older dog, you may
want to use piddle pants or (for males) a
belly band with a sanitary napkin inside
when the dog is inside, being sure to remove
it and take the dog outside on a regular
basis. After a few accidents, the dog will
decide to go outside rather than be wet and
uncomfortable. A classic book on
housetraining is Shirlee Kalstone’s How to
Housebreak Your Dog in Seven Days.
How can I train my Shih Tzu to have its feet
groomed (or just about anything else)?
Hold the dog’s foot for five seconds, and
then give it a tiny treat and lots of
praise. Do this again for a little longer,
again finishing with a treat. Gradually
increase the time the dog must allow
whatever behavior is desired, and decrease
the frequency of the reward. Training Shih
Tzu often entails tricking them into
thinking that you are doing something for
them, rather than vice-versa. If they think
they are manipulating you to give them a
reward, they will eagerly perform the
behavior. For this approach to be effective,
you have to ask your Shih Tzu to do just a
bit at a time in a gradual manner—especially
if he already objects to the project at
hand. Handle and brush him regularly, and
re-ward him for compliance. While you should
not stop when your puppy is misbehaving, do
not force things to the point where he
becomes overly stressed. Instead, pause
briefly to murmur reassuring words, then
continue a bit, reward, and take a break.
Do “time outs” help discipline Shih Tzu?
Giving your dog a “time out”—separating it
from you as a negative response to its
behavior—works really well for this breed,
because Shih Tzu crave human companion-ship.
Yelling at or physically punishing a Shih
Tzu usually just makes it more stubborn.
Instead, get your Shih Tzu’s attention by
holding it by the scruff of the neck or the
moustache and saying firmly, “No bite!” “No
growl!” or whatever is appropriate. Follow
this immediately with closing the dog out of
the room so that it is separated from you
(and from other dogs, if there are any).
Pretty soon just the spoken correction will
be sufficient, and you will have a much
happier and more loving dog.
What about children and my puppy?
Shih Tzu puppies are small. Children should
sit on the floor to play with the puppy.
When walking in its vicinity they should do
the “puppy shuffle,” sliding their feet
across the floor to avoid accidentally
stepping on or kicking the puppy, which
loves being underfoot! Also, children should
be cautioned to keep their fingers away from
the puppy’s eyes, which are easily injured,
to avoid sudden movements or loud noises,
and to let the puppy rest when it is tired.
What should I feed my puppy?
Initially, you should use the food
recommended by your breeder to avoid stomach
upsets. If you change foods later, do so
gradually. Do not leave food down all day.
Small biscuits and bits of raw vegetables,
chicken, or hot dogs are favored treats.
Pigs’ ears and rawhide are NOT recommended.
They can make your ShihTzu sick or pose a
What about traveling with my Shih Tzu?
Most Shih Tzu love to travel, but you should
crate or otherwise restrain your dog so that
it will not be injured in case of an
accident or a sudden stop. NEVER leave your
dog unattended in a parked car; it could be
stolen. On a warm day the temperature can
rise to fatal levels in just moments, and
short-faced breeds are particularly
susceptible to heat stroke.
How do I socialize my puppy?
From the beginning, try to expose your puppy
to a variety of sights, sounds, smells, and
situations. As soon as he has had all of his
shots, take him out into the wider world. If
a new stimulus creates fearful behavior, do
not reward the fear by giving treats or
cuddles; you are then reinforcing
fearfulness. Instead, build up to whatever
frightens the dog gradually, giving rewards
only when the dog is being non-fearful.
How do I keep my puppy from chewing and
other destructive behaviors?
Play with your Shih Tzu so it can work off
its excess energy and provide plenty of
toys, rotating them frequently so they
remain interesting. Provide your puppy with
a “puppy-proofed” area (perhaps behind a
baby gate) that is safe for him to explore,
and do not allow him unsupervised
opportunities to get into mischief. It is
much easier to reinforce desirable behavior
than to break bad habits. Get some bitter
apple spray at the pet store and use it on
anything. It works!