Shorkie

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Shorkie

If you’re looking for a small dog that’s cute and cuddly, but thinks of itself as a Rottweiler, the Shorkie might just be the one for you. A hybrid that’s becoming increasingly popular in the United Kingdom, it is the product of pedigree Yorkshire Terrier and Shih Tzu parents, and its fluffy coat and large eyes belie its big-dog attitude. From the Yorkie, it inherits energy and enthusiasm, with the Shih Tzu giving it the instinct to watch and protect its people and property. As hybrids, Shorkies are not entirely uniform in terms of appearance or temperament, but as time goes by, and more Shorkie to Shorkie breeding continues, a more consistent population will emerge that may some day become a recognised breed in its own right.

While the idea behind creating a cross-breed is to combine the positive traits of both parents to create offspring that are in some way superior to the parent breeds, it is equally possible that cross-bred pups can inherit one or more of the problems recognised in the pedigree lines, and both Yorkshire Terriers and Shih Tzus suffer a variety of inherited disorders. For this reason, anyone considering the purchase of a Shorkie pup must carefully research the health of both parents so as not to fall victim to unscrupulous breeding practices. Although there is limited information available on this relatively new hybrid, based on the life expectancies of its parents, the Shorkie should live to the age of 12–14 years.

About & History

Apart from the occasional accidental mating, Shorkies have really only become available and popular in the last 10 years. As is the case for most hybrids, it was in the United States where the first efforts to firmly establish this as a new line were undertaken, but it appears to be in Britain and Ireland where it is most in demand. The intention in crossing the Yorkshire Terrier and Shih Tzu, both devoted companion dogs was to create a small, friendly dog with an attractive appearance that was suited to living indoors. The fact that neither parent breed sheds very heavily is a very appealing characteristic, as many owners find the amount of hair left around the home by other breeds to be off-putting.

Almost all Shorkies that one sees for sale at the moment are first-generation crosses of two pedigrees, meaning that the pups will vary in appearance and temperament, with each taking more after one parent than the other. While the majority will have a reasonably equal mix of genes from both, others could potentially be confused for either parent breed. As time passes, and the Shorkie becomes more established, multigenerational breeding of Shorkies will ensure an even distribution of characteristics, and may allow this, and other hybrids, to become the new pedigree breeds of the future.

Appearance

Shorkie Large Photo
a4gpa / Flickr.com

The Shorkie has a soft coat that can be either straight, as is the Yorkshire Terrier’s, or has a gentle wave. It comes in a range of different colours with the most common being:

  • Black and tan
  • Brown and white
  • Gold
  • Red
  • Gold, black, and white
  • Particoloured (mixture of black, white, chocolate & gold)

There is often an appreciable facial mask of darker hair. The hair can be quite long, but is generally trimmed to make it easier to manage. The large eyes of the Shih Tzu carry through to a greater or lesser degree, but the eyes should ideally not protrude as they do in the parent, as this feature makes them easily injured and traumatised. The Shorkie has a rounded skull and a relatively short muzzle, and small, triangular ears set high on the side of the head. The body is compact, with ample muscling for its small size, while the legs are quite short and fine-boned. The tail is relatively thin, often curled over the back, and carries a long plume of hair. Shorkies range in height from 18 to 24 cm (7–9 in), and weigh 4.5–6.5 kg (10–14 lb).

Character & Temperament

The parent breeds offer quite different behavioural traits that usually combine to endow the Shorkie with an energetic and playful personality. This is a dog that is intensely loyal to its owners, from whom it cannot bear to be separated. Separation anxiety is a common problem in Shorkies, and excess barking can be the result of ignoring or abandoning the dog for more than a few minutes at a time.

It is a watchful and alert hybrid, and its terrier instinct to bark coupled with the Shih Tzu’s heritage as a watchdog mean that it makes a capable and noisy burglar alarm. Prospective owners need to be prepared for this fondness for barking, which can be an issue in the close confines of an apartment block, for example. Though it is generally a very gentle and sociable dog, it can be hurt relatively easily by young children, and will snap if it feels threatened or abused. For this reason, it is not an ideal children’s pet, at least not for the very young.

Trainability

Photo of Shorkie puppy

Shorkies tend to be quite stubborn and may be a challenge to train. House-training can take time, and instituting crate training is a good idea for most Shorkie pups. This involves providing a good-sized cage, or “crate”, in which the pup can be fed and its toys and bed placed. This gives the pup a secure space of its own that it will be reluctant to soil.

Sleeping in this crate overnight greatly accelerates the house-training process in most pups. Socialisation training is extremely important for Shorkies, as Shih Tzus are naturally wary of strangers, something that can result in undesirable behaviours if this is not managed. Providing opportunities to mingle with other, sociable pups and patient adult dogs, as well as providing positive interactions with friends and family, will allow even reserved or suspicious pups to mature into well-balanced and outgoing adults.

Health

Health problems are not uncommon in Shorkies. Both the Yorkshire Terrier and Shih Tzu suffer from a range of inherited illnesses and anatomic defects that can be passed onto their pups, irrespective of whether or not the pups themselves are purebred.

  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome – A combination of narrow, underdeveloped nostrils and lower airways with an elongated soft palate and possible laryngeal deformities. Very common in Shih Tzus, this causes varying degrees of respiratory distress, particularly when the dog is stressed or excited, and may require surgical correction in severe cases. Obviously, dogs exhibiting marked respiratory distress should never be used for future breeding.
  • Dental disease – The short, narrow jaw of the Shorkie means that it can suffer from dental overcrowding and periodontal disease. Premature tooth loss is common in this and other small breeds.
  • Glaucoma – Painful increase in the fluid pressure within the eye, often secondary to lens luxation in Yorkshire Terriers and their crosses.
  • Hypoglycaemia – Like many small breed puppies, Shorkies may suffer episodes of low blood glucose around the time of weaning. This is due to their very low reserves of this essential sugar in the liver and muscle tissues. Can cause dramatic signs of depression or even loss of consciousness that must be treated with emergency glucose infusion and regular force-feeding until the pup has grown considerably.
  • Lens luxation – Degeneration of the network of fibres that suspend the eye’s lens in its normal position can allow the lens to fall into either chamber of the eye. This causes visual impairment and, potentially, glaucoma in middle-aged terriers of many breeds.
  • Patellar Luxation – Inherited from both parent breeds, anatomic abnormalities of the hindlimb can allow the kneecap to “pop” out of position during exercise, causing a three-legged skipping gait that is usually intermittent in nature. May lead to the early onset of arthritis.
  • Portosystemic shunt – Presence of an abnormal blood vessel that bypasses the circulation within the liver, preventing detoxification of bodily waste products. Causes ill-thrift and signs of mental dullness in growing pups.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Shorkies are active dogs around the home, but their short legs do not demand much walking from their owners. Lead walking is always a beneficial, stimulating activity, and provides opportunities for socialisation, but around thirty-minutes per day should be sufficient for most individuals.

Grooming

Because the Shorkie’s coat is so fine and light, it tangles easily, and must be brushed and combed every day to prevent matts. For the same reason, baths are needed around once a month, but it is essential to use a specially formulated dog shampoo, as these little dogs have sensitive skin that is easily dried and irritated by human products. Routine dental care is another important responsibility, as most Shorkies will be prone to rapid plaque and tartar build-up and ensuing tooth loss without daily brushing and occasional descaling as recommended by a veterinary professional.

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