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Acting Strange

Top 8 Reasons for a Shih Tzu Acting Strange

Overview

Lately, we've received quite a bit of email from concerned owners regarding their Shih Tzu's behavior. Here's some examples:

"My Shih Tzu's been acting odd for the past few days. She keeps trying to hide in one of our closets and she's eating less then normal. We can't pinpoint anything that might have set her off her, but we aren't sure if something happened while we were away at work. Any ideas?"

"My 5 year old male Shih Tzu has been behaving odd since he got back from the groomer's. He doesn't want to be touched and runs if we try to pick him up. Do you think that something happened there and what should we do?"

"My normally friendly Shih Tzu, a 9 year old female, has been acting weird. She attacks toys, barks at the walls and generally seems really off. As if inanimate things are bothering her. She also seems to have trouble staying asleep. We're worried, can you offer any advice". 

So, if your Shih Tzu has been acting strange lately, you can probably relate to one of the situations above. This section will discuss the top reasons for all sorts of unusual, out-of-character behavior and how you can try to pinpoint the problem. 
three-shih-tzu-dogs-funny-faces
Mojo (2), Molly (3), and Bella (16 months), 
photo courtesy of Renee

Possible Reasons for a Shih Tzu Acting Strange

1) Health issue. When a dog is behaving out of character, the first thing that you want to look at is a possible health issue. And don't be fooled; some dogs will become more alert and some will retreat. Some will become more vocal and others will be quieter than normal. 

With a health condition, a normally friendly dog that loves to cuddle may not want to be picked up and a Shih Tzu that was rather independent may start to become clingy. 

When a dog experiences discomfort and pain, often it is his behavior that will be a first sign, long before any clinical symptoms. 

It is typical, however, for eating patterns to become off kilter as well. 
The list of possible conditions is rather endless, it could range from worms to pre-diabetes to joint issues. 

For young puppies, hypoglycemia is always a concern, this is a rapid drop in blood sugar levels that can cause the pup to act as if he is drunk (confused, trouble walking, overly sleepy). 

Before you start looking at other causes for strange behavior, always have health issues ruled out, even if your Shih Tzu just had a checkup recently; something could have developed between then and now. And do remember that early diagnosis is your best bet for good prognosis and effective treatment. 
2) Pent-up energy. Dogs have a certain amount of energy that needs to be released and if it is not, this will most often manifest with hyper, often out-of-control behavior. 
A dog that is long overdue for his daily exercise may bark at nothing, chew things up, run in circles and find other ways to show that he's really in need of stretching his legs and blowing off steam.

A Shih Tzu should be walked twice per day, for at least 20 minutes at a pace that is brisk for the dog. 

Be particularly aware of this during the winter, when getting out may be more difficult. Bundle up (both you and your Tzu) and apply paw wax to protect from the cold, snow, and ice melt chemicals. 

On stormy days, do not assume that your Shih Tzu will 'self exercise'; instead, do a planned activity such as hide n' seek or play fetch in a hallway for those 20 allotted minutes. 
3) Being mishandled at the groomers. Sadly, this happens far too often. 

It is very common for owners to say that their Shih Tzu started acting strange after being at the groomers. And more often than not, it happens with a groomer that was known and trusted. 

Even good groomers can have off days where they do not keep their stress in check and accidents can occur that owners are not notified of. 

We'd suggest calling the groomer to ask if anything out of the ordinary happened; do not blame but rather ask for help in trying to identify why your Shih Tzu is acting oddly after the visit. 
female-shih-tzu-side-profile
Molly Sue, photo courtesy of Sarah Sue
You may be told that your dog was especially nervous during a nail trim (in which case you may want to take over this task at home; electric filers can make this easy) or that your Shih Tzu was fine with a body trim but acted quite afraid when his ears were touched; in which case you may want to make changes to what sort of trim your Tzu receives. 

But also, if one particular body area set your dog off, this can be a red flag of a developing health issue; for example, intolerance to having the ears touched may point to an ear infection. 

This all said, some dogs simple dislike certain people for reasons that will never be explained. It can be a gender issue or even a person's particular smell. A Shih Tzu may have always disliked a certain groomer and finally crossed a line in the sand where the stress of contact was so great it culminated into acting afraid or strange afterward. 
In any case, we would recommend locating a new groomer that allows you to view your Shih Tzu while being groomed. There are salons that have an owner's viewing area. You will be allowed to see your dog through a window for reassurance that he is being handled with care. 
4) Being mishandled by someone else. Again, this is far too common. We've heard of cases of jealous boyfriends mishandling their girlfriends dogs; however, the most typical case is one in which children play far too rough with Shih Tzu while not being supervised. 

Never assume that anyone, and in particular a child, will know how to pick up your dog, not to pull his tail, and what constitutes rough play. 

In most cases, if a Shih Tzu is acting off due to a bad encounter, he will start to act normally a few days later, as long as he did not receive any sort of injury. He may, however, be skittish around that person for quite some time. We'd recommend fully supervised visits from that point on, never forcing your dog to interact or be touched, and only leaving him alone once it is proven that he will be handled properly. 
2-very-fluffy-shih-tzu-dogs
Bailey (9) 
and Sir Walter (2 and 1/2), 
photo couresty of Ken and Jennifer
5) Improper hierarchy. This would be in the case of a Shih Tzu is acting weird just around one person in the household. The dog may pee on that person's side of the bed, bark or snap at them, refused to be picked up, growl, etc. 

Basically, the dog will act normal with one person and behave oddly around the other, most often in an unfriendly way. This can happen if the dog see one person as his loving owner and the other as a threat.

How things end up like this is often due to the recipient of the bad behavior not having been involved in the dog's care. 

In a slow and gradual manner, the person on the receiving end of the unfriendly behavior should start to play the role of leader. 

He will feed the dog by asking for a 'Sit' and then placing the bowl down. He will be the one to attach the leash to harness and initiate the walk. He will ask for a 'Sit' and offer a new toy. 

In time, both humans should split the care tasks and both be involved in an equal way. 
Any severe growling or nipping should be dealt with by giving a time out (gated off area or canine playpen) and any overly aggressive behavior that includes actual biting should be handled by a licensed dog trainer. 

6) Hormonal changes in females. If you have an un-spayed female, it is not uncommon for there to be some odd behavior during the heat cycle. The combination of surging and dropping hormones along with possible stomach cramping can cause a female Shih Tzu to either retreat or become more clingy. There may be decreased appetite as well. 
shih-tzu-puppy-on-rug
Maggie, photo courtesy of Donna Bowles
7) Disturbances unseen or unheard by humans. As you are probably well aware, canines can hear twice as many frequencies and 4 times further away than humans. 

So if a Shih Tzu is acting strange by barking at nothing, staring at walls, waking up at night and acting very alert, growling at the air, acting as if he's seeing something invisible, etc., this may just be a matter of hearing birds on the roof, a squirrel running up the side of the house, sirens off in the distance, or other sounds that you simply cannot hear due to your limited human hearing. 

For this, it is best to acknowledge your Shih Tzu and then offer a distraction. 

When you approach your Shih Tzu, it will be important to keep your voice matter-of-fact. This is because our dogs look to us for cues regarding their behavior. If a dog is alert to something, how you react will either validate his concern or negate it. 

If you act worried when he does this, this is akin to telling your dog that he's right to be upset as well. 
So, offer a light and matter-of-fact, "Oh, you hear something, don't you?" and then offer a distraction.

For the distraction, this can be getting his attention onto a favorite toy, having him follow you into another room, ordering a 'Sit' or other command or trick, or any other action that causes him to look at something or engage in an activity. 

If there is a certain noise that is waking your Shih Tzu up very early such as birds chirping or a car starting, you may wish to employ a white-noise machine or move his sleeping area. 

Red flags - Such things as staring off into space or barking repeatedly as if a video is broken are signs of a seizure and there may be other issues at play such as cognitive issues (ahead). 

8) Senior issues. If a Shih Tzu is acting oddly and he 9+ years, you'll want to rule out issues that can affect older dogs. Two common maladies are hearing and vision loss.
Both can cause a dog to act confused or out of character. Dogs with hearing loss or decreased vision may act startled when someone enters a room or may not be responsive when their name is called. 

Another issue to rule out is canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) which is a type of dementia, similar to what humans may develop. It is not that uncommon, with 50% of dogs 11 years and older having this to some extent. 

Signs may include confusion, restlessness, retreating, not following household rules, excessive licking, changes in eating (often eating less), loss of bladder and/or bowel control and/or changes in sleep.

Therefore, for senior Shih Tzu that are acting strangely, all of these issues should be ruled out, along with all other possible health issues.
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