The origin of the Shih Tzu is most likely Tibet, however, it has always been categorized as a Chinese breed. Tibet is a remote area full of mountains on the Indian-Chinese border. The relationship between these two areas has had a long time reputation of being quite stormy.

Buddhism is the religion of Tibet. Buddhism originated in India. One of the main beliefs of Buddhism is that souls are reborn into another body (not necessarily human). It is a learning process toward the soul leading a perfect, spiritual, Buddhist life. As a result the soul achieves nirvana, leaving nothing else for it to learn on earth.

The early Tibetans believed holy Buddhist monks who transgressed were reincarnated as small, short-legged, hairy dogs, which were known as “Ha-pa,” meaning lap dog. These particular dogs lived in Buddhist monasteries and were treated with great respect.

The lion inherited the symbols of Indian Buddhism and was a revered figure for the Tibetans. The lion also had a very close association with the Shih Tzu according to Indian Buddhism belief.

One legend tells of Buddha Manjusri, the god of learning, who had a Ha-pa, which could turn into a lion for the Buddha to ride. A saddle marking on a Shih Tzu is still a highly prized characteristic for this reason.

It is peculiar to me that the first male Shih Tzu I purchased was black and white with a perfect saddle marking. I left early from a job that was draining the life out of me and making me like a person walking around in a trance, never able to neither smell the flowers when they bloomed in the spring nor feel the stillness of fall or the extreme temperature changes of winter.

The purchase proceeded many years, still going on, of learning experiences in many different areas and subjects.

I learned after purchasing the male of the highly prized saddle marking, which must have been my personal Ha-pa that turned into a lion for me to ride upon through all these learning adventures. I do not see myself as a God of learning, however, it seems as if since the purchase I cannot “stop” learning something continually, every day, I am learning, learning, learning. Before the purchase, my life was pretty stand still, and without a lot of change or movement. I personally feel a mysterious spirituality about acquiring my Shih Tzu. I also feel as though they were a gift from heaven in many different ways, and an answer to prayers for deliverance from the lifestyle I lead. Further, and since acquiring the Shih Tzu, I concentrate more upon achieving “perfection” within my soul. I have lived in a haven with much time to think deeply about my soul. Howbeit, this haven is full of Lions, but not deadly Lions as was with Daniel in the Lions Den bible story.

It has been said by many Shih Tzu writers that centuries ago, Tibetans could not have ever seen a lion. They only developed their own version of a lion. The small temple dogs were bred and groomed to resemble the Tibetan image of a lion. The word “Shih Tzu Kou,” (as the breed was known) actually means “Lion Dog.” I really think a cat resembles more the lion.

The shaggy mane of the dogs that lived in the highly mountainous regions of Tibet met with great extremes of temperature. The coat of these dogs offered them a practical purpose of keeping warm, and being lap dogs, they also kept their owners warm. To fall in love with a Shih Tzu or many Shih Tzu, at least one must always share the bed of its master or mistress. They are surprisingly still excellent hot-water bottles for their owners. Though I do live in a haven with them, the transition from one lifestyle to another required some very compassionate and comforting companions, of whom the Shih Tzu has provided.

Now China and Tibet have never gotten along with each other. Tibet’s history has featured many wars with and invasions by its powerful neighbor of China. I suppose China’s Emperors and Tibet’s Dalai Lamas (spiritual leaders) did just about everything they could to create cordial relations between these two countries that included:

• Tactical marriages arranged between royal Chinese princesses and Tibetan noblemen
• Gifts of “tribute dogs” were very often made to the Chinese Emperor
• During the span of the Manchu Dynasty (1643 to 1911), many dogs were presented to the Chinese Emperor

The dogs presented as gifts were considered precious animals. They were never seen outside the Imperial Palace in Peking (now Beijing). They became a symbol of wealth and royalty. For this reason, the ordinary people were not allowed to own them. It was even against the law and punishable by death if the law was broken for the “ordinary” people to own a Shih Tzu.

It is now thought that the palace eunuchs that were trusted with the everyday care of the dogs, sold Shih Tzu (particularly those that were not suitable for breeding) outside the palace for monetary gain. It has also been said the eunuchs may have fed some of the dogs (probably the better ones) glass to make them die shortly after the sale to stop others from breeding.

At any rate, I am glad some Shih Tzu survived all that and are here with us today! They are a dog breed with a long, mysterious and spiritual history. In my opinion, they are more than just a dog or pet as well. What that more is depends upon who you are perhaps and what your particular need is.

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Written by: Connie Limon. Visit us at Stain Glass Shih Tzu, and sign up on our puppy waiting list. You might also be interested in a FREE Shih Tzu newsletter. There is a sign up form on home page for the newsletter. For a variety of FREE reprint articles visit Camelot Articles at