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Shih Tzu Intelligence

When someone has a Shih Tzu and experiences the joy of owning this amazing dog breed, it is natural to want to find out exactly how this breed ranks in terms of intelligence.

Many owners are a bit disappointed to find out that the Tzu ranks low. In fact, according to a popular method of classification, this breed comes in practically last place… “How can that be?” and “My Shih Tzu IS smart!” are common reactions from owners. 

The truth is, in looking at this in more detail, you will see that this list is not all-inclusive …And there are reasons to not judge a Shih Tzu merely by the commonly seen ranking. 
Who Categorized These Dog Breeds?

Back in 1994, a book came out called “The Intelligence of Dogs”. It lists the intellect of many (but not all) purebred dog breeds. 

The basis of how aptitude was ranked was by how well particular breeds learned new commands and obeyed them. 

The man who wrote the book, Stanley Coren, was a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada and he did not test the dogs himself. 

Rather, he sent evaluation requests to the AKC and the CKC (Canadian Kennel Club), asking obedience judges to rank breeds by previously witnessed performances. He only received 199 responses, from what was roughly 50% of the judges that were working in the US and Canada at that time. 
Shih Tzu with puck in mouth
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Shih Tzu sitting with a larger dog
How the Shih Tzu Placed

Only based on command elements, breeds were placed into 6 different groups of intelligence levels.

10 breeds were listed under the “Brightest Dogs”.

The next grouping held breeds 11-26 and were labeled “Excellent Working Dogs”.

The 3rd grouping holds the next 27-39 breeds and are under the ranking of “Above Average Working Dogs”.
This is followed by breeds 40-54 which are, according to these findings, “Average Working/Obedience Intelligence”.

The 5th grouping is called “Fair Working/Obedience Intelligence” which lists out the next 55-69 breeds.

The last set are the final 10 breeds (70-79), labeled “Lowest Degree of Working/Obedience Intelligence”, with the Shih Tzu at number 70.

According to the judges involved, this breed did not do well with commands, and overall was ruled to need 80 to 100 repetitions of new commands given before following them…And only obeyed the first command 25% of the time (or worse).

So What Does This All Mean?

It should first be mentioned 8 out of the top 10 breeds are in the Herding, Sporting or Hunting groups. For many generations, specific and careful breeding was done to instill certain traits in particular breeds. Dogs that were used for herding cattle have strong, inbred traits to follow commands for the difficult and demanding tasks of controlling livestock. They are, by nature, very aware of their surroundings, taking cues from both humans and animals. This goes for those in the Working and Hunting groups as well.

If we look at the top 10 breeds, let’s see what we have:

1. The Border Collie: Herding Group 

2. The Poodle; this includes the Toy, Miniature and Standard…and while they are in the Non-Sporting Group, they were bred to be retrievers dogs, mainly retrieving fish from rivers and other bodies of water.
3. German Shepherd : Herding Group 

4. Golden Retriever: Sporting group and bred to be excellent hunting dogs.

5. Doberman Pinscher: Working Group and bred to be superb guard dogs.

6. Shetland Sheepdog : Herding group, one of the most popular and widely used dogs for sheep herding.

7. Labrador Retriever : Sporting group, commonly used as water dogs.

8. Papillon: This is the only canine breed among this top 10 list of intelligence that was bred to be a toy sized companion dog, just like the Shih Tzu.

9. Rottweiler: Working Group, this breed is well known for its guard dog capabilities but had been used for generations as a cattle driving canine.

10. Australian Cattle Dog: Herding group, as the name implies, used extensively as a cattle herder and livestock guardian.

So, as you can see, 8 of the top 10 dogs that ranked the highest for intelligence, again only based on ability to learn commands quickly, have very strong inbred traits to take commands from humans and actually work side-by-side with them. 

The Shih Tzu is a toy sized dog, bred specifically as a companion. The history and origin of the Tzu shows us that while the breed was being perfected, great time and energy was devoted to developing a graceful, small lap dog that would be friendly, affectionate and a perfect companion. In contrast to 9 of the dogs that made the top 10 list (excluding the Papillon), the Tzu is meant to be an inside dog. While most of the dogs that ranked high are now wonderful family pets, for many generations they were outside dogs that spent their days working as opposed to Tzu that were specifically meant to keep humans company indoors, and develop close bonds.

Therefore, the Shih Tzu was intentionally bred to be friendly, loyal and incredible affectionate canine family members.
Compliance to Commands Equals Intellect?

As stated earlier, when this book was released, many disagreed with it. However, over time it has been accepted as the guideline of choice with little competition. The definition of intelligence is: The capacity for learning, reasoning and understanding. With how smart is a Shih Tzuthis said, if a person was asked to perform a task and did not want to do so, he would NOT immediately be labeled as unintelligent. Most would describe him or her as being stubborn or of having independent thought. 
Since the book caused quite a stir, further studies were done (by asking owners the same basic questions), and that resulted in simply showing a “similar pattern”…Therefore, it does not mean that the ranking stayed the same or clarified if intelligence can be based solely on this element.

Most Shih Tzu owners would agree that just because the Tzu breed is known for being independent and some can be a bit stubborn surely does not make the dog inane or unthinking. Owners know that aptitude shows when their Tzu realizes that their human is sad and goes over to show affection…Or when a Tzu immediately runs behind the sofa, just knowing that grooming tends to begin when his human walks toward where the hair brush is kept. 
white and tan Shih Tzu dog
Intelligence can be seen and proven when a dog shows that they know certain toys by name, excels at indoor games or mouths a food dish to bring to their human when they want more food or remembers particular people who have visited the home before.

Being an essential member of the family, carefully keeping an eye on young children, responding to both unspoken and spoken communication and displaying excellent skills with commands that a Shih Tzu WANTS to follow are also ways in which intelligence can be seen.
Does This Mean That the Shih Tzu Cannot Learn Commands?

The answer is huge “NO!” Of course the Tzu can learn…and they can learn any command that any other dog is able to. When trained properly, a Shih Tzu can learn: Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Heel and much more. There are many Shih Tzu dogs working as therapy dogs, bringing amazing joy to all sorts of people and they must have all of these commands down pat, without hesitation. An owner should never give up on training or worse yet offer no training at all, mistakenly believing that their Tzu is not able to learn.

One of the most important aspects of training is repetition. For example, when teaching “Sit”, one would want to take at least 10 minutes per day (2 different 10 minute sessions each day are best)…And during those sessions, the command word is repeated…Taking time to offer encouragement for “good tries” and reward for successes. Most Shih Tzu are able to learn these basic commands within one week.

Therefore, with this in mind, when these findings state that this breed needs to hear 80 to 100 repetitions of a word, this is realistic! If one were to take 10 minutes per day and train in this way for 1 week, just saying the word 20 times with each of those 10 minutes equals a total of 140 times. And in the end, after 7 days, the Tzu is trained to follow the command…And that, we would consider being a wonderful success and certainly a sign of intelligence!
If you would like an excellent training guide for your Shih Tzu, we highly recommend The Well Trained Puppy: Housebreaking, Commands to Shape Behavior and All Training Needed for a Happy, Obedient Dog. This book is written by Faye Dunningham and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and hard copy format.
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