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A Brief History of the Shih Tzu
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 1950s 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.
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