Shih Tzu. Popular little dog because she's cute, small, cuddly, with an endearing babydoll face. To someone who's not interested in doing a lot of training, she seems attractive and fun, low maintenance (aside from a lot of grooming). Thus, they're very popular with older, less active women living alone in homes with small yards.
But when people choose a dog based on its "cuteness," they're often headed toward trouble. The Shih Tzu is a smart cookie. Tough...emotionally and physically. Not as fragile as her size may make you think. She's pretty solid. Resilient. Opinionated. Reactive (i.e., sometimes does things without thinking them through) . Manipulative. Energetic. Combine all this with a mop of hair that MUST be brushed regularly to avoid mats, and you no longer have a "beginner's dog."
Housebreaking can also be a challenge because they're fast, close to the ground, and reactive. That means they may squat and pee on the carpet so fast that you miss it...
An imbalanced Shih Tzu may poop when stressed, whether outside or not. An imbalanced Shih Tzu can also become a tantrum biter and screamer when she's pushed...like when Mommy's trying to comb her face, when Mommy tries to make her move off the couch, or when visitors (like grandchildren) come to visit.
A dog, as Cesar Millan reminds us, is one whose physiological needs must be met with adequate EXERCISE, DISCIPLINE and AFFECTION dosed out liberally in that order. With that in mind, look again at who typically owns this dog and why they choose her. Most of these little dogs get way too much affection at the wrong time, too little exercise, and very little discipline (boundaries, rules and limitations) because the owners' hearts melt when they look at them. This puts the dog in the position of leadership. I've visited many homes where the Shih Tzu is the dictator of the entire household!
Now, look again at the character of this dog...the smarts, the toughness, the resiliency...and you see a recipe for a potentially DYNAMITE little dog. Cal and Crystal West of Selah, Washington, have done incredible things with their five Shih Tzu. All the dogs have been through Leadership Class at Manning Dog Training, and most excel in agility...in fact, they have some of the highest ranking agility Shih Tzu in the country. The Wests are the first to admit that the personalities of all their dogs are very different. They run the gamut, from ultra-sensitive to tough-guy. Agility titles aside, one of their crowning achievements (from my perspective) was putting all five dogs into a down-stay to have their Christmas card photo taken by a professional a few years ago. Not many Shih Tzu owners in this country can do that....but only because most Shih Tzu owners haven't taken the initiative.
Best training approach: first establish yourself as a benevolent leader. Socialize without coddling. Treat with dignity. This is not a toy. It's a smart dog. Correct inappropriate behavior with well-timed sharpness that startles without hurting. Immediately praise the appropriate behavior. Be very consistent. Remember that she doesn't know she's a "little dog," so don't patronize her! This breed deserves a LOT more credit than it gets for trainability, so give the Shih Tzu plenty of respect and help her reach her potential!
Oh, and if you want a cute toy, buy a stuffed animal, not a live dog!
Note: Photos above are of Crystal West with her dogs in the agility ring and post-Sunfair Parade.