The words “imperial” and “tiny teacup” are sometimes used inter-changeably to describe undersized Shih Tzu. In fact, the terms “imperial” or “tiny teacup” should be regarded as what they really are…A MYTH often used by unethical breeders to create a market for dogs that do not conform to the breed standard. These tiny dogs are NOT what the Shih Tzu has been since it was developed as a distinctive breed in China’s imperial palace, nor what it ought to be. Likewise, “designer dogs” that involve the cross-breeding of two different AKC-recognized breeds are another myth generally used by unethical breeders to create a demand for mixed-breed dogs that otherwise would usually be given away. Trendy mutts, whatever fancy names they may be given, are still just that—mutts.

“Imperial” or “Teacup” Shih Tzu?

Maybe you read an ad in your local newspaper, searched the Internet, or know of someone who acquired a Shih Tzu using the words “imperial” or “tiny teacup” to describe how unusual and special (and even more expensive?) their dog might be. The official breed standard approved by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Shih Tzu Club (ASTC) calls for a weight range of 9 to 16 pounds.
A breed standard is a written description of the ideal dog of a particular breed by which it is bred and judged at dog shows. Breed standards are used by all canine organizations. The first written standard for Shih Tzu was that of the Peking Kennel Club, in 1938, which stated that the ideal weight for Shih Tzu was 10 to 15 pounds. Today, Shih Tzu breed standards approved by purebred dog registries around the world are very similar to the 1938 Peking Kennel Club standard. They recognize that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Shih Tzu is that it is not a fragile dog. It is very solid and sturdy despite its relatively compact size.

Why would anyone want to steer away from the weight called for in the AKC-approved breed standard or to call the breed by anything but its AKC-recognized name? Could it be a fad they have created in order to obtain a higher price? These particular breeders have deliberately downsized an already designated Toy breed. By doing this, they risk the overall health and wonder-ful distinguishing breed characteristics that responsible breeders have worked long and hard to preserve.

Many of these less reputable breeders claim that their Shih Tzu possess the “imperial” gene. There is no proof that such a gene exists. Size reduction occurs by breeding the smallest dog in a litter to another small dog of another litter, and so on and so forth. This not only creates abnormally small Shih Tzu, but also puppies that may have health problems. This is not indicative of an “imperial gene,” but rather of poor breeding practices.

A responsible breeder does not advertise an occasional “runt” as an “imperial” or “tiny teacup” Shih Tzu. Rather, it is sold as a pet, solely as a companion dog that is not to be used for breeding. Responsible breeders strive to breed healthy dogs that conform to the breed standard. The ideal Shih Tzu is a sturdy, active, healthy dog with good substance for its size. Those desiring a very tiny pet should choose another breed rather than destroying the very characteristics that make the Shih Tzu such an ideal companion.

There is no such thing as an AKC-recognized Imperial or Tiny Teacup Shih Tzu. Any domestic registry other than the American Kennel Club is not recognized by the American Shih Tzu Club. Breeders using alternative registries may have lost their AKC registration and breeding privileges for various reasons.

“Designer Dogs?”

The Shih Tzu, with its unique and distinctive pushed-in face and wide-eyed, trusting expression, is a breed that deviates considerably from the generic, wolf-like dog, with its longer nose, narrower head, and more closely-set eyes.

Evidence from accidental cross-breedings clearly demonstrates that many of the most highly prized and distinguishing characteristics of the Shih Tzu are genetically recessive. Once lost by poor breeding practices, the recessives that make a Shih Tzu a Shih Tzu can never be recaptured. This is one reason that poorly-bred pet shop Shih Tzu so often bear little resemblance to the gorgeous, elegant Shih Tzu seen in the show ring.

Imagine how much more swiftly these genetic traits are lost when someone deliberately crosses a Shih Tzu with another breed, be it Pekingese, Poodle, or Yorkshire Terrier. Puppies from the first generation cross may look appealing—or not—and you have no idea what they will grow up to be.

A responsible breeder always breeds to the standard, and works to improve the breed. He or she does not deliberately plan litters based on their trendiness or marketability. In fact, any member of the American Shih Tzu Club found to be deliberately breeding and selling “designer dogs” will be expelled.

For More Information

The ASTC website ( is a good place to begin or continue your research on our breed or find out how to locate a responsible breeder. As you search the web, however, be wary of well-designed web sites with appealing photos that may lead you to the very breeders you should avoid. Puppy-selling web sites are often nothing more than enhanced, glorified marketing sources commercial breeders use to reach the uninitiated. It is sometimes difficult even for those aware of the dangers of pet shops and puppy mills to discriminate between the various web sites and determine which are maintained by ethical breeders, so be sure to do your homework.