Shih-Poo

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Shih-Poo
allnightavenue / Flickr.com

Fun-loving and sparky, the Shih-Poo is one of the more recently developed Poodle hybrids, and is usually bred from Toy Poodle and Shih Tzu parents. Its low-shedding coat (inherited from the Poodle) and small size make it an ideal indoor dog, where it will place itself at the heart of family activities and on the lap of its favourite person. Like all hybrids, many of its physical and behavioural characteristics are very variable, depending on which parent’s traits it inherits, but the Shih-Poo is generally an intelligent, if somewhat stubborn, dog. This is a cheerful cross that loves to play, but because of its dainty build it may find young children too inconsiderate, so is better suited to older families. Similarly, although it will usually be sociable towards other dogs, it can easily be injured by larger animals, so must be supervised in its play and other interactions.

Although it is unlikely to strike fear in the heart of a determined burglar, the Shih-Poo inherits the Shih Tzu’s instinct to guard, and is a vigilant and noisy watchdog. Indeed, many tend to be excessively yappy, and time spent training a Shih-Poo to be silent on command is time well spent. The nature of the coat can vary a great deal, from long and straight to shorter and curled, but all Shih-Poos need a lot of grooming to prevent mats and sores developing. Most do not like to be strenuously exercised, because of both their short legs and narrow airways, meaning this hybrid might suit less active owners. This is a relatively new cross, so information regarding health and life expectancy is limited; however, given the health of the parent breeds, it is reasonable to expect most Shih-Poos to live to between 12 and 14 years of age.

About & History

Poodle hybrids have been popular since the mid-twentieth century, when the Cockapoo blazed a trail with its lovable personality, irresistible cuteness, and low-shedding coat, with the result that there are now a myriad of other “-oodle” and “-poo” crosses available. The Shih-Poo is one of the more recent of these, and has been around for somewhere between 10 and 20 years.

Because it is such a new “breed”, most Shih-Poos are first-generation crosses of purebred parents, and so there is very little consistency in terms of their appearance and temperament. Such cross-breeding results in a random re-assortment of the parents’ genes, so that a Shih-Poo can very closely resemble either a Poodle or Shih Tzu, or may have the perfect combination of the Poodle’s intellect and coat and the Shih Tzu’s courage and loyalty.

Appearance

Shih-Poo Large Photo

Shih-Poos are small dogs, weighing between 4 and 8 kg (9–18 lb), and standing 23–28 cm (9–11 in) tall at the withers. As mentioned above, the character of the coat varies from one individual to the next, but if left unclipped can grow to be moderately long and fluffy. Both Shih Tzus and Poodles come in a variety of colours, which is also reflected in the Shih-Poos. The most common colour patterns seen are:

  • Black
  • White
  • Gold
  • Brindle
  • Black and white
  • Brown and white
  • Particoloured

The Shih Tzu has a couple of design flaws that should ideally not be passed on: its protruding eyes, which are prone to injury and dryness, and the short and narrow airways that restrict its physical activity and can cause respiratory distress. Unfortunately, again because of the randomness of crossing pedigrees, many Shih-Poos do exhibit these features, though they should become less pronounced over time with more multi-generational breeding. Most have a compact and lean body shape and quite short limbs, but it is important to seek and promote straightness of these limbs to avoid chronic trauma and the early onset of arthritis, which is seen in many Shih Tzus.

Character & Temperament

The Shih-Poo is an energetic little dog that is always ready to play. It is also renowned for its love of noise, be that the sound of its own voice, or the squeak of a favourite toy. It loves and demands attention, and will happily pursue a ball kicked or tossed around the house for hours on end. When the games end, it wants to be snuggled on its owner’s lap or to share a bed or sofa, but care must be taken not spoil this feisty character, who can become too full of his own self-importance given the chance.

Indeed, stubbornness and a potential for snappiness are two negative temperamental traits that do sometimes come through in the Shih-Poo, and a certain amount of gentle discipline is important in order to prevent creating a monster. It does not tolerate rough handling, and is relatively easily injured, so is not ideal for younger children, but this affectionate hybrid will enjoy the company of older children who know how to handle and respect a dog.

Trainability

Photo of Shih-Poo puppy
westkeasman69 / Flickr.com

Again, the Shih-Poo’s stubbornness comes to the fore in training. Although the Poodle is famed as one of the most intelligent of dog breeds, the Shih-Poo is generally a reluctant and uninterested pupil. All dogs are capable of learning, but owners need to be prepared to devote time and no small amount of patience to young Shih-Poos to raise a well-mannered and obedient adult. House-training, too, can be a slow process, and crate training is strongly recommended to avoid facing a mess on the kitchen floor every morning for 12 months.

Health

In an ideal world, the Shih-Poo would benefit from hybrid vigour, the improved health that results from breeding dogs from an extended gene pool. However, hybrid vigour does not always result from pedigree cross-breeding, and first-generation crosses in particular are at risk of inheriting any of the common health complaints seen in the parent breeds. Among the more common of these problems are the following:

  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome – A combination of anatomic defects, including narrow nostrils, collapsing trachea, and elongated soft palate that increase the resistance to airflow and create breathing difficulties, especially when stressed or excited. Most of these defects can be addressed surgically if severe.
  • Dental disease – Dental overcrowding, tartar accumulation, and periodontal disease are common in many small dogs, including the Shih-Poo. Daily brushing is very helpful in promoting dental health.
  • Hip dysplasia – Developmental disorder of one or both hip joints, causing lameness and discomfort in young, growing dogs.
  • Intervertebral disc disease – Degeneration of the shock-absorbing rubbery discs of the spinal column, resulting in nerve compression and pain that can be seen in middle-aged and elderly dogs. Although most cases resolve with strict rest and anti-inflammatory treatment, some may require surgery to alleviate severe pain or nerve deficits.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca – Also known as “dry eye”, reduced tear production caused by autoimmune destruction of the microscopic tear glands of the eyelids. Causes irritation and inflammation, and potentially severe scarring of the eye’s surface. Can usually be well managed with topical medications.
  • Patellar luxation – Intermittent, non-weight bearing hindlimb lameness caused by the kneecap slipping out of its normal position in the bony groove above the knee joint. Seen in dogs with poor hindlimb conformation, and may require surgical correction to prevent the development of arthritis.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – Inherited in many Poodle hybrids, this is a degenerative nerve disorder that affects middle-aged dogs to cause progressive sight loss that may first be noticed as night blindness. Strongly inherited, and all Poodle parents should undergo the simple blood testing procedure that can detect carrier status.
  • Sebaceous adenitis – An inflammatory disorder of the skin’s sebaceous glands that can cause hair loss, irritation, and infection. Managed with a combination of systemic anti-inflammatories and medicated shampoo, but requires long-term treatment.
  • von Willebrand’s disease – An inherited bleeding disorder caused by poor platelet function and impaired clot formation. Relatively common in the Poodle, all Shih-Poos should be screened for this condition before undergoing routine surgical procedures, such as neutering.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Shih-Poos do not need a lot of exercise, and can get most of their daily requirement in playing around the house. Half an hour of lead walking every day is advisable for the opportunities to socialise and build the bond between dog and owner that it offers. For dogs afflicted with brachycephalic airway syndrome (see above), it is important to not undertake strenuous activity and to avoid exercise in very warm weather.

Grooming

The Shih-Poo’s soft, moderately long coat needs daily brushing and combing. Though it sheds very little, it should be trimmed at least every two months to make grooming a less onerous chore for both the dog and the owner, and as many are prone to faecal matting and urine scalding, the owner should also be willing to occasionally trim hair from around the perineum and genitals. All Shih-Poos need their teeth brushed on a daily basis, and many require dental work during their lives to extract decayed or overcrowded teeth.

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