The Shih Tzu often called the Shitzu in many places where originally bred in Tibet as a companion dog. They are not a high energy breed but do require a moderate amount of exercise. They are not a lazy dog. Exercise is important for a Shih Tzu because it helps strengthen their circulatory and respiratory system, keeps their joints flexible and muscles toned, and helps improve their sleep and digestion. It is also helpful to manage their weight along with a healthy diet.
Shih Tzu health
Shih Tzu’s are known for their longevity as they live on average anywhere from 10-16 years. Even though they are normally a pretty healthy dog breed, Shih Tzu’s are prone to a few health issues. It is important to understand these issues so that you can look out for symptoms and modify their exercise routine to suit.
These health issues can include
- Hip Dysplasia. This is a displacement between the hip joint and thigh bone and is usually genetic. For more on what exercise to provide read “Exercise for a dog with hip dysplasia“
- Collapsing Trachea. This is more often found in little dogs, due to the structure of their faces. The trachea or windpipe is composed of cartilage. If the cartilage weakens, the structure will flatten, and breathing becomes difficult.
- Intervertebral Disk Disease. This often occurs in dogs with shorter legs but a large back, as this build can be structurally volatile for the spine. It occurs when a disk slips out and presses against the spinal cord. The symptoms include muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, difficulty walking, and extreme sensitivity to touch.
- Patellar Luxation. This occurs when there’s a separation in the dog’s kneecap, causing it to dislocate at random times. The severity fluctuates drastically, as patellar luxation can be as minuscule as your dog having a limp for a couple days in the year, all the way to the need of corrective surgery.
The conditions listed above are simply the health issues which affect this breed most, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will experience any of these conditions. If you have any concerns about any of these potential health issues, consult your vet.
Shih Tzu exercise needs
For a healthy adult Shih Tzu there exercise needs can be broken down into three groups
- 1. a daily walk
- 2. free play and toys
- 3. mental stimulation
We will look at each of these three categories along with suggested activities and type of exercise you can incorporate into their daily routine.
A Shih Tzu requires a daily walk of between 20 – 30 minutes at a comfortable pace for them. This can be a walk on a leash around the block or can be off leash exploring at the local park. The daily walk is not only a good way to release some pent up energy, but is also a good opportunity for training and is great for building your bond with each other. It also provides mental stimulation by way of the sights, sounds and smells they come across and social interaction with other dogs you meet along the way.
A short daily walk is more beneficial that nothing all week with a long walk at the weekend. If you prefer you can take your Shih Tzu for two shorter walks instead.
Obviously, every dog is an individual even of the same breed. By observing your Shih Tzu you can assess how long of a walk they need. If they are panting excessively or falling behind they have probably had enough. It is probably a good idea to end the walk. If they are happily trotting along you can choose to walk a bit further.
Free play and toys
The Shih Tzu is a playful little dog. They enjoy a good game with people, other dogs and often by themselves. Provide an opportunity for them to play whenever possible. This will help burn energy, stimulate their mind and strengthen their bond with you. Some suggestions for free play include;
The Shih Tzu is most cases is what we term a light or moderate chewer. This means they tend not to be overly destructive with their toys. Dogs like this quite often favor Plush Toys. To learn more about the benefits and uses of your dog’s toys read “Not all dog toys are created equal“
Dog toys that move on their own
There are dog toys that rattle, shake, roll and move on their own. These are great for a Shih Tzu as they encourage them to be active. Read “Dog toys that move on their own” for more information.
Self Playing Dog Toys
There are a variety of dog toys that your dog can use to play by themselves. These are great for times when your dog is home alone, you don’t have the time or you are otherwise occupied. This way your dog can still get some physical activity and mental stimulation without your direct involvement. See “Self Playing Dog Toys” for some ideas.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity for your Shih Tzu to play with other dogs. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills.
There are countless fun games that you can play with your dog. Check out “50 Boredom Busters and games for dogs” for ideas.
Your Shih Tzu will get some mental stimulation and enrichment from their daily walk and time spent with free play. However, it is a good idea to provide other activities that stimulate the mind. Mental exercise can burn as much energy as physical exercise.
Many dog behavior problems are a direct result of boredom. Read “Mental enrichment and mind stimulation for dogs” to learn about the six categories of enrichment for dogs.
Some ideas to provide mental stimulation include;
Puzzle toys are a great way to test your dog’s intelligence and improve their problem-solving skills. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.
Kong toys which you stuff with food and treats work in much the same way. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs”.
Puzzle toys are great for times when your dog is home alone. If your dog is home alone while you are at work or out you may find some helpful information at “Leaving a dog alone while at work“
Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.
Chewing is a natural instinct for dogs and has many benefits including keeping them busy and occupying and stimulating their minds. To learn more about the benefits of and the best chew toys see here.
Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Shih Tzu to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.
Enrich their environment
Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.
How much should exercise does a Shih Tzu puppy need
The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Shih Tzu. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bone, muscles, and joints are still growing and developing.
Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys. Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.
As your Shih Tzu puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.
The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 2 – 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 8 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your Shih Tzu puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.
Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.
For more on puppy exercise read “How to exercise a puppy“
How much exercise does an older Shih Tzu need
As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read “ Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.
Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.
So, how much exercise does a Shih Tzu need
The Shih Tzu doesn’t require excessive exercise. By providing a short walk each day, some free play, and mental enrichment you will have a happy, healthy, and well behaved little dog.