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Are Shih Tzus Smart?

The Shih Tzu is loved by many many dog owners around the world for it’s adorable looks, friendly personality, and for being a cuddly lapdog.

They currently rank as the 20th Most Popular Dog in America according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Shih Tzus are super friendly, and great with children & other animals — this makes them an excellent family pet that is highly adaptable to different environments and people.

I mean, how can you not love a face like this?

White & brown Shih Tzu laying upside down on the floor

Looks aren’t everything, are they?

The Shih Tzu may be cute… there’s no denying that

But is it as smart as it is cute?!

The truth might surprise you…

Read on to learn what it means for a dog to be smart, the smartest dogs in the world, and where Shih Tzus fit on the intelligence rankings.

What Exactly is Canine Intelligence?

Before we talk about just how smart the Shih Tzu is, it’s important to know how dog intelligence is determined.

Let’s first define what we mean by “intelligence.”

What the American Psychological Association says

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines intelligence as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge; to think abstractly and creatively; to plan, solve problems, make decisions quickly and accurately; [and] learn from experience.”

This means that dogs are just as smart as your average two-year-old… 

But let’s be honest…

This isn’t a fair way to consider whether a dog is smart or not.

Nobody expects dogs to come even close to a human’s intelligence.

But that doesn’t mean dogs are stupid by any means…

Dogs, in general, are considered to have a high level of intelligence within the animal kingdom. With some dogs even being able to learn over 1,000 words and understand human body language.

How canine intelligence is measured

In the context of canine intelligence, one of the most well-known researchers is Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia.

Coren developed a list of criteria to assess canine intelligence based on their ability to learn new commands, their problem-solving skills, and their ability to adapt to new situations.

He defined three types of intelligence in his book The Intelligence of Dogs

The three types of dog intelligence

  • Adaptive intelligence: a dog’s ability to solve problems and adapt to new situations on its own
  • Instinctive intelligence: a dog’s ability to perform tasks that it was bred to do, such as herding or hunting
  • Working and obedience intelligence: a dog’s ability to learn from humans and follow commands

Does your dog understand what you’re saying

Have you ever thought, “My dog knows what I’m saying!!!”.

It’s like there’s a little human stuck inside a dog’s body.

Well, they probably have somewhat of an idea. They definitely can learn words and associate them with certain things.

If they could talk to you, they probably would.

But I wouldn’t expect them to have deep philosophical conversations with you.

If we could converse with our dogs, it would likely go as well as it would with a toddler.

So how smart are Shih Tzus?

According to Stanley Coren’s Dog Intelligence Ranking, the Shih Tzu is the #70 Most Intelligent Dog Breed.

This places them in the “Lowest Degree of Working/Obedience Intelligence” category.

Lowest Degree of Working/Obedience Intelligence

Understanding of new commands: 80 to 100 repetitions or more.

Obey first command: 25% of the time or worse.

I know what you’re thinking…

“My Shih Tzu is so much smarter than that!!!”

Which might be true for your Shih Tzu. They could be an exceptionally smart Shih Tzu…

But on average, Shih Tzus tend to take a lot of repetitions of a command to really “get it”

They don’t always listen to you when you tell them to sit/stay/come. 

I’m sure any Shih Tzu owner has experienced that frustration, lol.

But get a few treats, and this all will change in an instant. Shih Tzus are highly treat motivated.

While Shih Tzus may not be the brightest pups on the block, it’s important to remember that intelligence is not the only factor to consider when choosing a dog. Most of us just want a loving companion. 

Shih Tzus make up for their lower intelligence with their charming personalities and affectionate nature.

Shih Tzus Intelligence Compared to Other Dog Breeds

The 5 smartest dog breeds according to Coren are:

  • 1. Border Collie
  • 2. Poodle
  • 3. German Shepherd
  • 4. Golden Retriever
  • 5. Doberman Pinscher

Dogs similar to intelligence to the Shih Tzu

  • 68 Lhasa Apso
  • 69. Bullmastiff
  • 70. Shih Tzu
  • 71. Basset Hound
  • 72. Mastiff
  • 73. Beagle

The 5 least intelligent breeds are:

  • 75. Borzoi
  • 76. Chow Chow
  • 77. Bulldog
  • 78. Basenji
  • 79. Afghan Hound

Check out how Smart this Shih Tzu is!

What Commands Should I Teach my Shih Tzu?

When it comes to obedience training, there are a few must-have commands that I believe all dog owners should teach their dog.

These are: sit, stay, come, off, and lay-down.

4 Essential commands to teach your Shih Tzu

  1. Sit: The most basic command; usually the first one that people teach their dog. It’s an easy trick to learn that can help them understand your training expectations. It also helps you get the hang of training if you’re new.
  2. Stay: This is important for safety and good manners. Whether you’re opening the door & don’t want them running out or just going to the kitchen for some water and don’t want them jumping off the bed to follow you — this is my favorite command to teach my dogs.
  3. Come: Again; this trick is less of a trick and more of a needed skill for safety. You’ll really want to nail this one down so they’ll stop whatever they’re doing & come to you when you really need it. My Shih Tzu had got off the leash in the past and wouldn’t listen to us saying “Come” — trust me, you’re going to wish you really practiced this one when that time comes.
  4. Off: This will come in handy if you want to teach your Shih Tzu to get off furniture or if they tend to jump on visitors. Another “polite” command that is nice to have.
  5. Lay Down or Down: Teaching your dog the “down” command promotes obedience, safety, and calmness, and can help you control your dog’s behavior in various situations.

7 Shih Tzu Training Tips

Shih Tzus aren’t the quickest learners…

That means you should be doing everything within your power to make training as enjoyable, fun, and effective as possible.

Maybe you’ve trained a few dogs in the past… maybe you’ve never trained a dog ever… but regardless of your dog-training experience level, there are a few Shih-Tzu-specific tips that you’ll want to keep in mind.

Here are some tips on how to effectively train your Shih Tzu:

  1. Start early: Begin training your Shih Tzu as soon as possible. Puppies are like sponges and are eager to learn. The earlier you start training, the better.
  2. Use positive reinforcement: Shih Tzus respond well to positive reinforcement training methods. Reward your dog with treats, praise, and affection when they behave well, and ignore or redirect bad behavior.
  3. Be consistent: Consistency is key in training your Shih Tzu. Use the same commands and rewards every time, and make sure everyone in the household is on the same page.
  4. Socialize your dog: Socializing your Shih Tzu from a young age is important to help them feel comfortable around other people and dogs. Take your dog to puppy classes, dog parks, and other social events to help them develop good social skills.
  5. Keep training sessions short: Shih Tzus have short attention spans, so keep training sessions brief and fun. Aim for 5-10 minute sessions a few times a day, rather than one long session.
  6. Teach basic commands: Start with basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. Once your dog has mastered these, you can move on to more advanced commands.
  7. Be patient: Training takes time and patience, so don’t get discouraged if your Shih Tzu doesn’t learn something right away. Keep practicing and be consistent, and your dog will eventually catch on.