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How smart is a Shih Tzu?


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Shih Tzus are the lap dogs that we’ve grown to love and adore. These dogs are playful and affectionate with a personality that’s hard to resist. But because they’re toy dogs that don’t always respond well to training, owners may question their intelligence.

Are Shih Tzus smart? Shih Tzus are not the smartest dogs. According to Stanley Coren, the Shih Tzu has the lowest degree of obedience & working intelligence. Out of 138 dogs, they’re ranked the 128th breed. However, their ability to adapt and understand human emotions is what makes them intelligent.

Shih Tzus may not be the most obedient dogs, or the quickest learners. Still, there’s more to dog intelligence than just obedience and work. Read on to discover why Shih Tzus are smarter than you think.

Measuring the Shih Tzu’s Intelligence

The current method of measuring canine intelligence doesn’t gauge the true intelligence of a dog. As a result, dog breeds such as the Shih Tzu are unfairly labeled as “dumb.” But how did they receive this dumb dog label in the first place?

The current list of smartest dog breeds was developed by canine psychologist and pHD, Stanley Coren. In 1994, he asked the help of all North American obedience trial judges to help with his research.

How the Shih Tzu Performed

You probably already know that the Shih Tzu did not do very well in Coren’s trials. In fact, only 10 dog breeds performed worse, leaving Shih Tzus just outside the top 10 among the least intelligent dogs.

As a result, they were placed in the group with the lowest degree of dog intelligence. For reference, other breeds in this group include the Beagle, Basset Hound, Pekingese, Mastiff, Bulldog and the Bloodhound.

That said, Shih Tzus needed between 80 and 100 repetitions to learn a new command. They’re not the quickest or best learners, at least when it comes to obedience training.

What’s more, a Shih Tzu is likely to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 25% or worse success rate. Shih Tzus aren’t the most obedient dogs either, though, it’s possible this had something to do with the handler.

Shih Tzus vs. The Smartest Dogs

On the other side of the spectrum, the 10 smartest dog breeds are in a class of their own. We don’t think learning obedience commands is everything, but their performances were undeniably impressive.

The smartest dogs need fewer than 5 repetitions to learn a new command! This means that the smartest dogs are at least 40 times faster at learning new basic commands when compared to the Shih Tzu.

These quick-learning dogs are also the most obedient. They’ll obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a staggering 95% or better success rate. They’re much, much more obedient than Shih Tzus.

So who are these “smartest dogs?” Dog breeds in this intelligence class include the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, Border Collie, Poodle and so many more. Even America’s most popular Labrador made the cut!

Stubborn Shih Tzus & Intelligence

Most Shih Tzu owners would be surprised to hear how low their dogs performed on these intelligence trials. However, there are reasons that can explain the poor results.

Make no mistake, Shih Tzus are very stubborn dogs. They don’t always listen. And it’s not because they don’t love or respect you. Rather, Shih Tzus are just strong-willed dogs that are determined to have it their way.

But just because they don’t listen doesn’t mean they don’t understand. Often times, they do understand, but it doesn’t align with their “goals” or “wants.” Thus, training a Shih Tzu will require more patience and consistency than with other breeds.

One owner makes an argument, saying:

They’re not dumb, but very stubborn. They were carried around on pillows in the past. Now we expect them to give us a paw, then the other paw, then speak, before getting a treat.

– Taylor Lynn (Shih Tzu Owner)

If you didn’t already know, Shih Tzus were originally bred to be companions of the Chinese elitist. It’s why owners often describe them dignified or proud dogs. As such, it’s possible that the stubbornness comes from their old ways of being treated as royalty.

Another owner tells us about his stubborn Shih Tzu:

I don’t mean this in a negative way, but they’re really stubborn. So you have to really work on them before they listen.

According to that owner, Shih Tzus won’t do your bidding for the sake of listening or work. That’s not to say they aren’t loyal dogs, because they actually are. And while they are lap dogs, they’re more independent than others.

So given the independence, strong-will and stubbornness of the Shih Tzu, it’s easy to see why they performed so poorly on an obedience test. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe these dogs are more intelligence than you think!

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

The response was shocking, to say the least. About 199 obedience trial judges responded with huge interest in helping Coren’s mission to rank the intelligence of dog breeds. At the time, this was about half of the judges in North America.

Given Coren’s dog intelligence criteria, the trial judges evaluated and ranked as many dog breeds as they could. Here’s what his criteria was based on:

  • The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions ranked higher for dog intelligence.
  • The success rate that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first try. As you may have guessed, more intelligent dog breeds had a higher success rate.

Not all dog breeds made the final cut. Firstly, only dog breeds that were recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated. Fortunately, the Shih Tzu was recognized by both canine organizations.

In addition, only dog breeds that received at least 100 responses qualified for the final dog intelligence rankings. As a highly prevalent and popular breed, Shih Tzus had no problem qualifying for the final rankings.

Reasons Shih Tzus Are Smart

When it comes to measuring a dog’s true IQ, obedience and working intelligence isn’t all there is – not even close. This specific type of intelligence was used because it’s the most objective to measure.

As a matter of fact, there are actually three dimensions to dog intelligence and even Stanley Coren will admit this. The other two are adaptive and instinctive intelligence, which are both just as important for measuring true dog IQ.

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability or skill that the dog was developed for. Whether it be herding, hunting, pointing, retrieving or companionship, all dogs were bred for a reason – including the Shih Tzu.

For example, the Basset Hound is a scent hound that was originally bred to track hare on hunting trips. They’re in the same intelligence class as Shih Tzus, but they excel at tracking scents (search and rescue).

This ability to track a scent without human training and intervention is a special type of dog intelligence that’s difficult to measure. This is what we call instinctive intelligence.

Similarly, Shih Tzus were bred to be companions and lap dogs. But companionship isn’t simply sitting on your lap. The best companion dogs have an eerie way of understanding human emotions and reacting appropriately.

My Shih Tzu seems to bark more at strangers in the house when I’m present. Could this be protective barking?

– Jackson (Positively)

The best companion dogs always have their owners back. Though Shih Tzus may be small, they are alert and ready to notify their owners at the slightest sign of intruders. These little dogs were watchdogs for the Chinese emperors, after all.

Make no mistake, barking at outside noises and strangers is not acceptable behavior in the home. But next time it happens, try to understand that this is the Shih Tzu’s instincts kicking in. They’re just looking out for you!

Shih Tzu’s Adaptive Intelligence

The Shih Tzus is smarter than you think, especially when it comes to adaptive intelligence – the final dimension of dog IQ. This refers to the ability of your dog to learn for itself.

When analyzing adaptive intelligence in a dog, one may ask: is the dog good at learning from previous experiences or at problem solving? And while all Shih Tzus are equipped with roughly the same instinctive intelligence, adaptive IQ can vary by dog.

One owner tells us a story about his Shih Tzu:

My Shih Tzu is great at communicating. Like if the water bowl is empty, he’ll come bother us until we follow him. He’ll run to his empty water bowl and sit there.

– Simbathetzu (Dog Forums)

Being able to communicate what he wants is a clear sign of high adaptive intelligence. But because Shih Tzus were originally bred for companionship, we would expect them to be great at communicating.

As such, most companion dogs naturally have high adaptive intelligence because their intended purpose is to provide amusement, affection and comfort to humans. To be able to do this successfully, high adaptive intelligence is needed.

Another owner’s story exhibits just how adaptable these dogs can be:

I’m surprised so many owners had a hard time potty training. My Tzu took house training very well. In the crate, quickly learned that there’s only few opportunities to potty every day!

– Tiffany M. (Shih Tzu Owner)

Learning from previous experiences is another clear sign of adaptive intelligence! This Shih Tzu didn’t want to soil her crate, so she learned that it’s best to save her business for later in the day. What’s more, she learned it quickly!

Of course, these are just a few examples. The sample size is small. However, if you asked around, you’ll certainly find many more stories of Shih Tzus just like these.

Is Your Shih Tzu Smart?

According to Stanley Coren, Shih Tzus aren’t smart dogs, but he never raised a Shih Tzu. Rather, we think the best way of gauging a breed’s intelligence is by asking real owners themselves.

So we surveyed the popular Shih Tzu Subreddit and various dog forums to ask owners this question. Here’s what they had to say about their Shih Tzus:

Real Owner Answers

  1. Yhbrandon says Yes: “I have a beautiful 3-month old Shih Tzu puppy named Mazi. He is amazingly smart, as he is already potty trained and knows a lot of commands as well.”
  2. Theearlsystm says Mixed: “There are moments when I think…he’s a genius! …and then there are other times he repeatedly runs into the glass sliding door.”
  3. Peanutswithcream says Mixed: “Shih Tzus are a little on the dumb and stubborn side but it was really easy training mine! She’s super well behaved, but it just takes patience.”
  4. Nmmon95 says No: “He’s very snugly. On the down side, he’s not the brightest bulb in the pack, but we love him anyway.”
  5. Applelollipop says Yes: “Our Shih Tzu is pretty smart. He will tell us when he wants something. For example, he stands by door and barks to go out, or stands by water bowl and barks when it’s empty.”
  6. Aimeedyan says No: “Shih Tzus are not smart dogs… he’s actually as dumb as rocks, I’m convinced. Makes him lovable but also very hard to train.”
  1. Christiane says Yes: “I’m surprised so many people feel their Shih Tzus aren’t smart because our girl is very smart. She is loving, gentle and goofy all at once. Probably a bit bossy in that respect, too.”
  2. Pandjlocke says Yes: “Being a dog groomer, I’ve seen quite a few smart Shih Tzus. Brandon’s older sister is an exceptionally smart dog. She’s sixteen and has shown little sign of deteriorating.”
  3. Jimmerfn7 says Yes: “My Shih tzu has his moments. He’s definitely much smarter than many people make them out to be. Stubborn, but definitely a smart dog.”
  4. 98acura says Yes: “They also seem ‘stupid’ but they are actually very intelligent, just REALLY stubborn. As far as house breaking goes, you will be frustrated.”

Is a Shih Tzu for Me?

The Shih Tzu is a wonderful dog that many owners would enjoy. They’re fun-loving lap dogs that are great with children and can show them with love. Plus, Shih Tzus are adaptable and can make it work in any environment.

That being said, never pick a dog breed based on how smart they are. Rather, you want to pick a dog breed based on their temperaments. You’ll also want to consider how the dog will fit in your situation.

The Shih Tzu will likely be harder to train on average. They require a lot of patience and positive reinforcement. If you can provide the time and patience to do so, then these dogs will be perfect.

Another huge plus – they’re hypoallergenic dogs! If you’re allergic to dogs, Shih Tzus will be great for your sinuses. There are few toy dogs that are as entertaining as a Shih Tzu. If you bring one home, you won’t regret it!

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