Are Shih Tzus smart?

Shih Tzus, affectionately known as “lion dogs,” are small, friendly, and loyal companions. Despite their small size, they have a big personality that has endeared them to pet owners for centuries. One question that often arises when discussing the breed is, “Are Shih Tzus smart?” Let’s delve into the topic of Shih Tzu intelligence, exploring various aspects of canine intelligence and how the Shih Tzu breed measures up.

Featured image for article answering the question: Are Shih Tzus smart?

Are Shih Tzus smart?

Understanding canine intelligence

When discussing canine intelligence, it is essential to recognize that there are multiple dimensions to consider. Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and dog expert, has identified three primary types of dog intelligence:

  • Instinctive intelligence: This relates to the breed’s original purpose and how well a dog can perform tasks it was bred to do. For example, a herding dog’s instinctive intelligence would be assessed based on its ability to herd livestock.
  • Adaptive intelligence: This type of intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn from its environment, solve problems, and adapt to new situations.
  • Working and obedience intelligence: This dimension measures a dog’s ability to learn from humans, including their ability to understand commands and perform tasks taught by their owner or trainer.

The Shih Tzu breed and instinctive intelligence

Shih Tzus were originally bred in ancient China as companion dogs for royalty. Unlike breeds developed for hunting, herding, or guarding, Shih Tzus were bred primarily for their affectionate and loving nature. As a result, their instinctive intelligence lies in their ability to bond closely with their human family, provide companionship, and offer emotional support.

While they may not excel in tasks typically associated with “working” breeds, Shih Tzus demonstrate a high level of instinctive intelligence in their role as companion animals. They are highly attuned to their owners’ emotions and can often sense when their human family members need comfort or companionship. This intuitive nature has led many Shih Tzus to be successfully employed as therapy and emotional support animals.

Adaptive intelligence in Shih Tzus

Adaptive intelligence varies widely among individual dogs, even within the same breed. Shih Tzus, in general, display a moderate level of adaptive intelligence. They can learn from their environment, understand cause-and-effect relationships, and solve problems to some extent.

Anecdotal evidence from Shih Tzu owners suggests that some individuals within the breed can be quite resourceful and innovative. Some Shih Tzus have been known to figure out how to open doors, manipulate puzzle toys, or find creative ways to access off-limit areas or food. However, it is important to remember that adaptive intelligence can vary significantly from one dog to another, and not all Shih Tzus will display the same level of problem-solving ability.

Shih Tzus and working and obedience intelligence

When it comes to working and obedience intelligence, Shih Tzus rank relatively lower compared to other breeds. In Dr. Stanley Coren’s book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” the Shih Tzu is ranked 70th out of 138 breeds. This ranking is based on the number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new command and the likelihood of a dog obeying a known command on the first attempt.

It is important to note that a lower ranking in working and obedience intelligence does not mean that Shih Tzus are incapable of learning or performing tasks. Rather, it indicates that they may take longer to learn new commands and may be less consistent in obeying them compared to breeds ranked higher on the list.

This aspect of Shih Tzu intelligence can be attributed to the breed’s independent nature and the fact that they were not developed for specific working tasks. As companion animals, Shih Tzus tend to be more focused on interacting with their human family than performing specific tasks or obeying commands. Additionally, their stubborn streak can sometimes make them more challenging to train.

Training and motivation in Shih Tzus

While Shih Tzus may not be the quickest learners or most obedient dogs, they are still capable of learning and performing a variety of tasks. The key to successful training with Shih Tzus lies in understanding their motivations and using positive reinforcement techniques.

Shih Tzus are often motivated by praise, attention, and food rewards. Consistently rewarding your Shih Tzu for desired behaviors and providing plenty of positive reinforcement can help them learn more quickly and be more willing to perform tasks.

Training sessions should be kept short, fun, and engaging to maintain your Shih Tzu’s interest. Additionally, it is essential to practice patience and understanding when working with this breed. Shih Tzus may take longer to learn new tasks or be less consistent in their performance, but with time and persistence, they can be trained to perform a variety of commands and even participate in dog sports like agility or obedience trials.

Social intelligence in Shih Tzus

Another aspect of intelligence to consider is social intelligence – a dog’s ability to understand and communicate with other dogs and humans. Shih Tzus are known for their friendly, outgoing nature, and their ability to get along well with other dogs, pets, and people.

Their expressive faces and body language can convey a range of emotions, and they are skilled at picking up on the emotions and body language of their human family members. This high level of social intelligence makes Shih Tzus excellent companion animals and contributes to their popularity as therapy and emotional support dogs.


When evaluating Shih Tzu intelligence, it is crucial to consider the various dimensions of canine intelligence. While Shih Tzus may not rank highly in terms of working and obedience intelligence, they excel in their instinctive intelligence as companion animals and display moderate adaptive intelligence.

Their social intelligence, combined with their affectionate nature and ability to bond closely with their human family, make Shih Tzus excellent companions for individuals or families looking for a loving, loyal pet. With patience, persistence, and positive reinforcement, Shih Tzus can be trained to perform a variety of tasks and commands, despite their sometimes stubborn nature.

Ultimately, the question of whether Shih Tzus are smart depends on the criteria used to evaluate intelligence. In their role as companion animals, Shih Tzus demonstrate a high level of instinctive intelligence and a strong ability to connect with their human family members, making them a smart choice for those seeking a loving, loyal, and intuitive pet.

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