Can a Shih Tzu Be a Service Dog: Why Breed Is No Barrier to Serving Humans

Shih Tzu dogs are small and adorable. But many people think that their small size and long coat mean Shih Tzu dogs are not qualified to become service dogs.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Any dog of any size or breed can be a candidate for service dog training, as Service Dogs of America explains.

In this article, learn more about why Shih Tzus can make good service dogs and what types of jobs these small dogs are best suited to do for their people.

Can a Shih Tzu Be a Service Dog

A Shih Tzu can qualify to be a service dog just like any other dog breed. The key is to match the dog well with the types of services the owner needs.

Watch a Shih Tzu Service Dog

This short YouTube video showcases how size or breed is no barrier to serving as a service dog.

Dazzle the Shih Tzu Yorkie mix dog has learned how to obey hand signals and help with common tasks like picking up and retrieving objects.

Shih Tzu Dogs Have a Good Temperament for Service Dogs

The American Kennel Club (AKC) reports that the Shih Tzu dog breed is the 20th most popular purebred dog breed in America (out of 197 dog breeds).

This means a lot of people choose these dogs to be their canine companions!

What makes Shih Tzu dogs so popular (besides their obvious cuteness, of course)?

Shih Tzus have a wonderful temperament. The Shih Tzu is smart, affectionate, low maintenance, and outgoing. All of these qualities are essential for a service dog.

Let’s take a closer look at each quality and why it is important when choosing a service dog.


Shih Tzu dogs are very intelligent, as Vetstreet points out. So why do so many dog trainers and canine researchers say just the opposite?

The key is understanding the different types of canine intelligence.

The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that there are three types of canine intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working/obedience.

The type that most canine researchers focus on is working/obedience. This is not the type of intelligence the Shih Tzu is known for. Shih Tzus as a breed score much higher in instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

Instinctive intelligence focuses on how well a dog does what that dog has been bred to do. The Shih Tzu breed name means “lion dog” in Chinese. This ancient dog breed was originally bred to guard palaces and be a companion to people.

Shih Tzu excels at both of these jobs.

Adaptive intelligence focuses on how well a dog learns from its environment and adapts to challenges and opportunities.

As anyone who has ever tried to train a stubborn and very cute Shih Tzu will attest, these dogs are experts at learning how to wrap their owners around their little paws!

Shih Tzus are entirely capable of learning the necessary skills to serve people in service dog roles. The key is to use the right type of training and rewards that work for this highly instinctive and adaptive dog breed.


As North Star Shih Tzu Rescue highlights, Shih Tzu dogs were originally bred to sit on royal laps and serve as palace watchdogs.

Over the centuries, this has created a very loyal, watchful, and affectionate dog breed.

A Shih Tzu may not have the imposing size most people think of when considering a guard dog, but nothing gets by these watchful and people-focused dogs.

This is another trait that makes the Shih Tzu an ideal service dog in the right kind of role.

Low maintenance

Most people take one look at a Shih Tzu dog in a long haircut and think these dogs are as high maintenance as they come.

But as Pet Care RX points out, there is no need to keep a Shih Tzu in a long traditional haircut unless you plan to show your dog.

Most owners choose a low-maintenance cut like a puppy cut that only requires minimal brushing and the occasional trim.

And because Shih Tzu coats shed far less than most dog breeds, they are easy to groom and clean up after when kept in a shorter haircut.

NOTE: This doesn’t mean that the Shih Tzu is hypoallergenic, which is an enduring myth made popular through some clever if inaccurate marketing. No dog breed is truly hypoallergenic. But certain low shedding breeds can be less prone to trigger allergies.

Finally, as PetMD explains, Shih Tzus as a rule do not need a lot of exercises or outdoor time to stay healthy and happy. This is especially important for service dogs who may be serving humans who have limited energy or mobility.


The Shih Tzu is a lot of dogs in a very small package. In fact, Shih Tzu dogs are notoriously outgoing and extroverted. The well-bred, well-trained, and healthy Shih Tzu is going to make friends wherever they go.

This is an essential trait for any successful service animal because such an animal is likely to encounter more unknown people and animals than the average companion animal.

A service dog should be able to cope with frequent interactions with humans and animals not known to them without resorting to behavior problems.

When a dog is extroverted, outgoing, and people-loving, you will have fewer problems training and managing your service dog.

How to Train a Shih Tzu to Be a Service Dog

Service dogs and their owner/handlers have special rights that are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, in order to receive the benefit of these rights, the service dog must meet certain criteria and qualifications.

The ADA states that a service dog must be trained to perform certain work or tasks for a person who has a disability.

Here, it is important to note that a service dog is not the same as an emotional support dog or a therapy dog. Only service dogs receive the full protection of the ADA.

But there is no set curriculum you as the handler and your dog must follow in order to qualify to be an ADA recognized service dog. You simply need to train your Shih Tzu to do certain tasks that assist you in managing your daily life with your disability.

Medical Mutts explains that the training tends to be rigorous – up to 120 hours, 30 of which focus on practicing in a public setting.

Why is the training so rigorous?

Your Shih Tzu must be reliable in performing the tasks you need to be done regardless of what is going on around them. If there is a strange person or animal, a loud noise, a tasty snack, strange sights or smells or surfaces, this should not distract your dog.

This is why it is important to find a dog trainer who is qualified to help you train your Shih Tzu to be a reliable service dog to you under any circumstances.

Whether you are on an airplane, in a car, at the doctor’s office, in a car, at home, or in a restaurant, you must be able to count on your dog to be ready to help you with your disability.

But the most important thing to remember is that the Shih Tzu can be an excellent service dog with the right type of training and practice.