Training the Performance Shih Tzu Dog – Challenging but Rewarding

shih tzu running on grass

Training the Performance Shih Tzu Dog – Challenging but Rewarding

Shih Tzu are very much a thinking breed and will come up with different things to do if they are bored or don’t understand their job—as the center photo of “Dori” demonstrates. You must keep your sense of humor, but don’t think you can’t train a Shih Tzu like any other dog. I have trained mine (I’m on my fourth Agility/Obedience/Rally Shih Tzu) as I would any other dog. I know that this seems taboo, but training a dog is training a dog. They are ALL different, even within the same breed, and you have to figure out what makes them “tick.”

My current Shih Tzu, Dori, is the sixth dog I have trained in Agility and the foundation has been the same for all. That said, I do make concessions based on the dog. For example, you cannot drill a Shih Tzu as you can other breeds. Do things once or twice and quit that exercise, especially if they have done it right. If they do it right, move on. Otherwise, you are flirting with disaster. They’ll think of many different ways they can do it wrong. I keep training very upbeat and happy, but I DO mark when they do something wrong. Usually with an “Uh-Oh!” I believe dogs need to know when they are right and when they are wrong. Good things are “yes” and/or “good.”

shih tzu dog training
Training the Performance Shih Tzu Dog

I keep training sessions short and very specific. We may only work weave poles for five minutes and quit, or work contacts and quit, or maybe a jump sequence and quit. Give them lots of things to think through. They are great problem-solvers and you want to channel that.

In my experience, Shih Tzu are not a very “driven” breed, but it is there, and you have to work on building the little bit of drive that is there; lots of restraint and revving up, and then let them “explode” forward, which you would never do with a dog that has tons of drive. Build that drive when they are young. Restrain them, throw a toy, and rev them up to go get it. I use “ready, ready, ready” as a puppy, and then I transfer that to Agility equipment—contacts, weaves, and even jumps. It helps to have a toy-motivated dog. If you don’t, you can always get one of those toys you can put treats in. I throw the toy and then try to beat them to it. And if I do, I make a big deal that I got it and it’s mine; like it’s the best thing I’ve ever gotten. Most dogs love this game.

The other thing to remember is not to push your Shih Tzu too fast in training. Take the time to lay a good foundation. Make sure they are confident doing all the obstacles and don’t move on until they are. If they are not confident, they will do them slowly and, let’s face it, Agility is about speed. Also, never force your dog to do an obstacles they are afraid of. If they show fear, back up to some easier form of the obstacle. This usually happens with contact obstacles, so go back to a smaller version or go back to an easier version of the obstacle. Get them confident again and then move on. Don’t be afraid to back up in your training. I have done that a lot, especially with my Shih Tzu.

Agility training and trialing is fun and forms a great bond between you and your Shih Tzu. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do Agility with a Shih Tzu. It may be a bit more challenging, but it’s worth it—and the dogs and you can have a blast. But, if you don’t have a sense of humor, get a different breed!

Training the Performance Shih Tzu Dog – Challenging but Rewarding
By Beth Scorzelli