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Rescue Dogs

Care for a Rescued, Adopted Shih Tzu


We have received lots of emails from owners of rescued Shih Tzu asking what the care guidelines are in regard their adopted canine family member. We also read through many requests that ask where a person can go and who they can contact to find a Shih Tzu to take in, either by fostering or adopting. 

For that reason, this section is going to discuss all of the details regarding rescued Shih Tzu puppies and dogs.
We will look at:
  • What type of care a Shih Tzu will most likely receive while at a shelter
  • What you can expect in regard to behavior that a rescued Shih Tzu may display
  • Detailed tips to provide excellent care for an adopted dog including feeding, grooming, setting up the right environment and more
  • Where to find a Shih Tzu to adopt

What happens to a Shih Tzu while at a shelter?

The experiences that a dog will have at his former home and then at the shelter that he ends up at will vary from dog to dog. 

However, in most cases the main element will be that the Shih Tzu did not receive proper care for at least some of the time.  

Some shelters will handle the initial care and then a rescue group will have a member foster the dog until a permanent home is found. 

With others, the Shih Tzu will remain in the shelter, waiting to be adopted. Some will have time limits before euthanizing animals. And others will be no-kill shelters that scramble together resources to provide care no matter how long the dog must remain.

With most rescue dogs, care given at the shelter will include:
1) The coat. This is a major issue for many shelter dogs that are capable of growing long coats. 
Without meticulous grooming - which most did not receive - the coat will be snarled with knots and matting. While we always strongly recommend patiently working out any tangle that develops in a Shih Tzu's coat, this is often not possible with a dog that has been surrendered or rescued. 

Many shelters (or the rescue groups and foster homes where dogs temporarily live) will shave down the coat to remove knots and tangles. 

In some cases, the Shih Tzu's coat will need to be shaved very short as knots will be twisted down to nearly the roots. It would be almost impossible to find a rescued Shih Tzu with a lovely long coat and most will have hair even shorter than a 'puppy cut' once tangles are removed.

2) Skin issues. Sadly, moderate to severe knotting will pull at the skin. Therefore, even after the coat has been trimmed down, many rescued Shih Tzu will have skin issues where the pulling affected the skin. This can cause sore spots that will need extra attention. 

In addition, dogs that find themselves in shelters frequently have sores on their elbows from non-padded laying and resting surfaces for months or even years. Some of the initial care will involve topical treatments to sores. Red, irritated sores may also have bacterial infections which will need additional treatment.
3) Addressing weight problems. In many instances, a Shih Tzu from a shelter will be undernourished when arriving there. This will be due to either inferior food previously being given or in some cases, hardly any at all. 

A rescued Shih Tzu may be only a few pounds underweight or severely malnourished to the point of being skeletal.

Healthy weight gain must be done slowly. For this reason some weight will be put back on while under the care of the shelter, however this will often need to continue once the dog has been adopted (more ahead).
Shih Tzu looking a bit sad
4) Vaccinations. The tricky part about this is that for many dogs there are no vaccination records. 

Many potential owners wonder if it is safe to vaccinate a Shih Tzu that has no records but may be up-to-date. 

In these instances when no one can say what has or has not been given, shots will be given again. This includes inoculations for distemper, parvo and rabies. 

While there is always the case to be made for over-vaccinating, it is just not safe to potentially leave a dog unprotected from these terrible diseases and danger that would then result for every other animal he or she comes into contact with. 

5) Spaying and neutering. Some rescued Shih Tzu will be spayed or neutered at the shelter facilities if they are not already fixed. In very few cases (small shelters without the means and resources) the dog will adopted out with a spay/neuter contract in which new owners are obliged to have this procedure performed by the veterinarian.

6) Additional care. Most rescues will be treated for fleas, be de-wormed, be tested for heartworms, and be micro-chipped.

What is the normal behavior of a rescued Shih Tzu? Will an adopted dog be able to adapt? What should I expect?

The experiences that a rescued Shih Tzu has endured will vary; however, it is safe to say that all adopted dogs will have history that includes some type of a lack of love. 

Once in a while, a dog will originate from an owner who found the cost and effort of care to become too draining; this may be the case with a senior citizen who found that things became overwhelming.

However, with the majority of dogs, there will be some type of emotional trauma. Some will have been left in crates for days on end. Others will literally have never seen the light of day or not even know what it feels like to walk upon grass. Those that are rescued from backyard breeders may have lived for months or years crowded into cages with other dogs. 

Many will not know what it feels like to be loved or for a human to follow proper care tips. It can take some time for a dog to accept that he or she is actually being treated well.  

Most rescues will exhibit one or all of the following behaviors:

1) Shy, nervous behavior. When you are caring for a rescued Shih Tzu, expect that the dog will be shy and may become anxious very easily. This can be difficult or even disappointing for some new owners.

It's easy to think that as soon as a warm, safe, loving home is presented that the dog will lap up the love and be happy to be in such a terrific environment. The truth is that it can take a while for a rescue to feel secure. 

We can only imagine what rescued dogs are thinking and feeling when finally in a new, loving home. We'd venture to say that an adopted Shih Tzu is metaphorically thinking "Is it true? Is the nightmare over? Just what - exactly - is happening?" and perhaps, "What proof do I have that these nice humans are going to keep giving me food? Why is this one trying to hug me… humans are bad."

Most rescues will adapt. Ahead we will look at exact ways to care for an adopted Shih Tzu. All elements such as grooming, walking, feeding and even cuddling will need to be incorporated gradually and the dog will need time to accept this all as a new, wonderful way of life.

2) Shadowing, clingy behavior. It is common - after some initial time getting used to his new owners - that a rescued dog will latch on tightly, wanting to always stay close. Your Shih Tzu may follow you from room to room, always wanting to be by your side.  

This can be a pro or a con when caring for an adopted dog. For owners that are away from home for the majority of the day, this can make it really rough for the dog, creating a feeling of abandonment that can lead to separation anxiety. Extra steps such as calming collars, hiring a dog walker to break up the day half way through and specialized toys to offer comfort may need to be incorporated. 
3) Fear. Depending on his history, a rescue may have certain fears. This may be being afraid of other dogs, people or sounds. Our most vivid memory of taking care of an adopted dog involved a female that was estimated to be 13 years old and had not been outside - at all. 

She was absolutely terrified of grass. The texture of it under her paws was something that she never experienced. We would never place her directly on it; but rather to the side and allow her to make up her own mind. At first she would hold out one paw over the blades, trying to decide just how scary it was. 

Later, she would take a few steps but shake with fright; how brave of her to even try! Just about a month later, she was rolling, bouncing, and running around the yard with delight.  

How should I care for a rescued Shih Tzu? How can I provide the best home?

The goal will be to provide the best care and environment possible without sheltering the dog so much that he or she does not gradually get to experience the possibility that his new life can offer. 

In other words, you want to provide a safe, loving home but do not want to coddle the dog so much that he is stifled and unable to grow and learn about his new world.

Here is a list of ways to care for an adopted Shih Tzu:

1) Offer a designated private space. 

When you bring your rescue home, you're going to have a strong urge to stand with your arms spread wide and say with glee, "Look! It's all yours!". And the pride that you'll feel that you can offer that is rightfully justified. 

Knowing that your new, adopted Shih Tzu had lived some time in a small space, it'll feel wonderful to offer an entire home to your dog.

However, many rescues do not respond as you'd initially expect, and creating a designated area has benefits. There are 4 main reasons for doing this:

#1 For those coming from a small space, wide open areas can seem overwhelming. Many rescue dogs that are not given their own area will find places to hide such as a closet or under a table. 

#2 It's all about security. For canines, a vital aspect that signals security is a 'den'. And while the whole house is essentially a den in regard to 'territory', most dogs do best when they have their own personal space.

#3 There will undoubtedly be some house training that needs to be done and creating a space to contain messes is part of the technique for quick success.

#4 If  there'll be any times that your Shih Tzu is home alone, a designated area plays a role in providing a solution for separation anxiety. This is because it both offers that secure 'den' feeling and keeps all of a dog's necessities easily within reach. 

For this, it is recommended to have:
  • A good-sized sturdy yet portable canine playpen with a door
  • A quality bed (a memory foam orthopedic is best for all ages due to a likely history of previously poor sleeping surfaces)
  • Bowls with food and water (for when the Shih Tzu is home alone; stainless steel is best.
  • Some great interactive toys
  • For those that need extra security and especially for those that will have to be home alone, a companion toy works wonders. 
Recommended items are shown below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 
2) Slow introductions. There is no limit to new experiences; however make this gradual. 

One of the most wonderful elements about taking in and providing care for a rescued Shih Tzu is the gift of making the world available to your new canine family member. What was once a limited world has now expanded to any size that you choose. And it should be a big one.
With this said, all introductions to new elements - people, places and situations - should be gradual.

While it may be tempting to show off your new Shih Tzu to your friends, extended family, and neighbors, this is best reserved for at least a month or so in and one person at a time. Meeting too many people at once can be exceedingly overwhelming.

Give your Shih Tzu plenty of time to become accustomed to the house before exploring new places.

You can make a list of all the places that you want to bring your adopted dog… the park, outdoor markets, pet stores, for rides to the beach… as many places as you want. And take these on one at a time and in small increments. Five minutes the first time, then ten the next… if things go well, twenty the next visit. 

3) You need time to learn your new Tzu's personality. Dogs in shelters will behave very differently than they will behave once at their adopted home. It takes time for new owners to learn what a dog does and does not like and the dog's particular personality. You'll learn his preferences and what he will need to be socialized to and what may trigger anxiety so badly that it should be avoided. 

Many rescued Shih Tzu will be set in their ways to a certain extent. If there is a deep-seated fear of other dogs or a fear of the car, know that this may not be able to be overcome. You will need to decide which elements you can slowly socialize your dog to and which - if they are really not 'musts' can be taken off the list of what you will expose the dog to.

4) Feeding issues. It is not uncommon for adopted Shih Tzu to be underweight. In addition, years of either inconsistent feedings or limited feedings may have caused the stomach to be sensitive.

Be careful to choose one of the better foods that has no artificial coloring, preservatives, or flavoring. It should also have no by-products or fillers and be formulated for small breeds. A great choice is Wellness CORE Natural Dry Grain-Free for Small Breeds.
The goal will be to have a gradual weight gain over time. Don't overfeed, as this can cause cramping, gas problems, digestion issues and even vomiting

Spread meals throughout the day; most rescued dogs do best with 3 meals per day plus healthy snacks.

Follow normal guidelines in regard to giving the Shih Tzu his own private dining spot that is away from foot traffic. There may be a strong overprotective behavior of the bowls; you may need to wait until your Shih Tzu is in another room to wash his dishes.

5) Proper exercise. When you are caring for a rescued Shih Tzu there may be a need to build up muscle before the dog can handle normal duration and pace of walks. This is often due being caged for long periods of time; inactive muscles will weaken and there is often a certain degree of muscle atrophy. 

Before you take home your new Shih Tzu, it is best to discuss this with the shelter and find out to what degree your dog has been inactive. 

If there has been a history of lack of exercise, you'll want to begin a routine right away to set the foundation for which you will then build on. Start with a slow 15 minute walk twice per day, building up to 20 minutes after the first week. You goal will be two, 25 to 30 minute walks. 

In addition to this, other activity such as climbing stairs and running (playing fetch) will allow a different set of muscles to be put to work and this should be gradually incorporated as well.
Any time that you have your Shih Tzu outside on leash, be sure to use a harness and not a collar; having tension on the neck is never a good idea for a brachycephalic breed. A quality harness will be comfortable, adjustable, and properly sized. 

We highly recommend the Puppia Harness Soft Vest, which comes in 13 colors and in sizes extra-small, small, and medium. 
6) Coat care. If the coat had to be shaved down to skin level, do not expect the Shih Tzu to be able to grow a long show coat. And this is okay because the grooming that is involved with a long coat is often too much for a rescue dog to handle.

There can be dry skin issues and also some sore spots that still need to heal. 

You may need to tend to the nose and the paws, which are two areas that dry out very quickly. Use a quality nose balm and a really good paw wax that protects and conditions while letting the paws breathe.

For shampoo, this is one area to not skimp; superior products formulated for sensitive skin that promotes good coat health is a must. 

One other product to not overlook is a leave-in coat spray. This is vital for offering the daily benefits of protection from outside elements, contact friction and possible tangles and for proper skin and coat moisture.
Recommended nose balm, paw wax, shampoo and leave-in are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 
7) House training. Many adult dogs that were living lives of neglect and/or abuse never came close to being properly house trained. 

Normally, puppies with weak bladder and bowel muscles are given the opportunity to slowly learn how to control their needs on a steady, incremental basis. Adult dogs that were not properly trained often have very weak bladder and bowel control.
cute adopted Shih Tzu
Even if the enthusiasm to listen and learn is there, it may not be physically possible to become housebroken as one might wish. 

The truth of the matter is, many rescued shelter dogs may never be able to be fully house trained.

But, this does not mean that you should not try. 

An outside designated area should be established or an indoor area with pee pads. You should bring your Shih Tzu there at scheduled times throughout the day and also whenever the dog makes a motion to go to the bathroom. However, do expect for there to be some accidents.

Many rescues will benefit from belly bands (for males) and canine diapers (for females). 

These need to be changed often, either using disposable types or those that you wash. 
Bands and diapers should not be kept on overnight or for long periods of time, since dribbles of urine can cause rashes and irritation. Allow the area to breath. However, these work well for times that you cannot keep a close eye on your Shih Tzu.

Where can I find a Shih Tzu to adopt? 

One of the biggest obstacles in regard to a rescued Shih Tzu is the first initial step of locating one.

Here, the thing: Shelters are not brimming with purebred Shih Tzu puppies. While there will be a random puppy or older Shih Tzu that is surrendered, most often you will need to locate one that was just rescued and of course, you have no control over when that will happen.

A particular shelter may not see a purebred Shih Tzu for a year and then a backyard breeder or puppy mill may be shut down and twenty may be brought in.

The best way to find a Shih Tzu to adopt is to make yourself known to every shelter in your area that is a reasonable driving distance from your home. Visit all of them, getting to know the workers there and allowing them to get to know you.

Let them know that you are looking for a Shih Tzu to adopt and are very willing to patiently wait. Take the time to explain who you are, if you have experience with the breed, and the type of home you can offer. 

Stay in touch with all of the shelter facilities on a regular basis, not just calling and asking if a Shih Tzu has come in, but actively taking an interest in all of the dogs and what they do as a whole.

You may wish to make a small donation on a monthly basis or bring in a few toys when you visit. As you become acquainted with the rescue workers, they will keep you in mind as they network and you will be first on their mind when a Shih Tzu is brought in.

Do keep in mind that you cannot be choosy in regard to age and gender and certainly not with coat color. Be ready to say 'yes' without hesitation when the call does come in; if a mill was shut down there may be a sudden influx of dogs that need re-homing. 
Don't forget to become an AllShihTzu Member; to know when new pages of info are added to the site. You will also receive a free Welcome eBooklet.
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