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How To Help Your Shih Tzu Rescue Overcome Stress and Anxiety

Shih tzu puppy licking lips 

If you're looking for a dog who will love and pamper you, a Shih Tzu rescue is a great option to consider! The Shih Tzu is a dog of royalty, bred initially as a companion of Chinese emperors. The name Shih Tzu means "little lion," a symbol of religious significance in Buddhism more than a description of the Shih Tzu temperament. Shih Tzus adore their owners, but they, in turn, expect the royal treatment from you as well.

Before you rush out to find a Shih Tzu rescue, know that Shih Tzu puppies and adults can possess unique needs upon their adoption. Therefore, owners need to understand the common issues that often present with Shih Tzu rescues and what will be required of you to help manage and alleviate the stress and anxiety you will likely inherit with these beautiful dogs.     

The Inherent Anxiety of Shih Tzu Rescues

Any dog you adopt from a shelter or rescue group comes with a backstory. Owners surrender dogs when they can no longer keep them. In worst-case scenarios, dogs are abused and neglected and might be confiscated by a rescue group before they die. Sometimes people adopt dogs without giving thought to the work they will have to put in to train the dog properly, and they ultimately decide to return the dog.

In all of these scenarios, consider the stress and trauma that the dog itself faces.  Obviously, abuse creates a multitude of problems. But the constant turnaround of owners and environments can create deep psychological issues. Even dogs who are more adaptable still prefer a stable home with consistent owners and routines.

A Shih Tzu rescue is especially prone to the separation anxiety that develops from frequent environmental changes. These dogs were originally bred to remain in a pampered environment. While they don't require royal treatment, their happiness is strongly proportional to their bond with particular owners in a specific place. Shih Tzu puppies are highly sensitive to drastic or frequent environmental transitions, and their stress from these changes manifests in a variety of anxious behaviors when they are adults. 

Stress-Induced Indicators to Note with a Shih Tzu Rescue

What behaviors should you be observant of when you are looking to adopt a Shih Tzu rescue? First, not all Shih Tzu rescues are the same. The following list gives you some things to observe that will help guide specific questions you may want to ask about particular shih tzu puppies or adults to a rescue organization or shelter.

Nervous or Shy Behavior

The behavior most common with a Shih Tzu rescue is pensiveness. A Shih Tzu rescue undoubtedly has been displaced at least once (and likely more than that). When you meet a Shih Tzu rescue for the first time, most likely, the Shih Tzu rescue will not be jumping up and down like a Labrador retriever or another breed with a bubbly personality. Shih Tzu rescues usually will not be placing their paws up on the kennel door and saying to you in dog language, "Pick me!" Instead, Shih Tzu rescues will be watching you from a secure place in their kennel. They will show you a posture that looks either unconcerned to your presence or perhaps even a little scared. 

Please note this is normal behavior. It is NOT a good practice to select any breed of dog for adoption based on how exuberantly the dog presents itself. If you are convinced you want a Shih Tzu rescue, do not expect your potential new dog to fall in love with you at first sight. They look at you and are likely thinking that you are just another person who will abandon them. What are the considerations you need to make? Their shy introduction offers you an opportunity to ask the rescue or shelter representative questions about the dog's background, health, and previous owners. This critical information provides you with good data to determine how much work a specific Shih Tzu rescue will need versus the amount of financial and time commitment you are willing to spend. 

Signs of Physical Stress

As you ask questions about the history of a Shih Tzu rescue and introduce yourself to the dog, pay particular attention to the Shih Tzu's physical condition. If you fill out an application with a shelter or rescue group, this is a great time to ask about health history. What are some of the important physical markers to investigate?  

The first is the Shih Tzu's coat, which is arguably their most distinctive characteristic.  Do not expect a Shih Tzu rescue to be perfectly groomed when you meet them. Even the most attentive rescue groups and shelters don't have the time to give each of their Shih Tzu puppies or adults the frequent brushing their coats need.  So what do you need to look for in their coats? If Shih Tzu rescues have matted, tangled, discolored, or missing hair, there is likely a deeper cause for it besides inattention. Previous owners may have utterly neglected grooming them. In addition, coats often reflect other health concerns such as poor diet or thyroid issues. But a disheveled coat can itself cause underlying health issues for Shih Tzu rescues such as skin irritation, eye problems, or even posture issues (tangled hair can pull on them so much that it causes enough pain to affect the way they move). As such, unhealthy coats can themselves cause a massive amount of stress for a Shih Tzu rescue.

Eyes are another classic physical characteristic to observe in Shih Tzu puppies and adults. Their huge, gorgeous eyes make them so attractive and cuddly. But their prominent eyes are also prone to numerous (and potentially costly) issues. It is common for both Shih Tzu puppies and adults to suffer from scratches to their eyes, perhaps even corneal abrasions, from dangling hair. This risk increases if the dog is not properly groomed. Dermoids, or abnormal growths under the skin around the eyes, are often seen in shih tzu puppies. Any animal will experience stress if they struggle to see, but Shih Tzus are more vulnerable to anxiety created by problems to their eyesight.

Fear and Phobias

Shih Tzu rescues are more susceptible to anxiety due to environmental instability, and this also increases the likelihood that they possess specific fears or phobias. In cases of abuse, countless triggers can cause fear or aggressive reaction in a Shih Tzu rescue. But whatever the cause, a state of anxiety creates a greater sensitivity to overwhelming stimuli that could quickly lead to a phobia. So how can you determine these fears? While you can't figure out the entire personality of a Shih Tzu rescue in your initial introduction, pay careful attention to the way the dog reacts to things in its environment. Do not intentionally subject a Shih Tzu rescue to harmful stimuli, but if you are in a shelter with other dogs, watch how the Shih Tzu rescue reacts to the sights and sounds. This data is hugely significant for assessing things that might potentially trigger Shih Tzu puppies and adults within your home.     

Shih tzu puppu laying on floor

How Do You Help Your Shih Tzu Rescue Adjust to Their New Home?

To stress again, you need to gain as much information about the background of your Shih Tzu rescue before you formally adopt the dog. Separation anxiety, an affliction that affects approximately 14% of all dogs, is a significant challenge that Shih Tzu rescues invariably face. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach for addressing this anxiety. Instead, think carefully about your Shih Tzu rescue, its needs, and the context of how it may fit into your particular environment. 

With that said, some behavior patterns can be identified and addressed when Shih Tzu rescues finally arrive at their forever homes. So here are some tips for helping your Shih Tzu puppies or adults adjust happily to your welcoming home. 

Provide a Home Base for Shih Tzu Rescues

The priority upon introducing Shih Tzu rescues into a new environment is to provide them with an area of their own. Over time, Shih Tzus will grow comfortable in any environment in which they are consistently exposed. Knowing their disposition for experiencing separation anxiety, create a small home base for them. You may start with a crate, especially for Shih Tzu puppies, but this isn't necessary for all Shih Tzu rescues. 

Above all else, Shih Tzu rescues need a bed in which they can feel comfortable and secure. The Calming Dog Cuddle Bed is a superb option because it provides the security and the sensation of feeling cuddled, something you will love to appreciate about your Shih Tzu rescue. In a stressful situation, your Shih Tzu rescue may also need a place to hide. A good blanket like the Calming Dog Cuddle Blanket Plus provides that extra sense of comfort when their stress or anxiety level rises.   

Once you've established this home base, train your Shih Tzu rescue to frequently go to this area. Every time they move to it at your command, reward them with praise and treats if necessary. Be consistent and regular in exposing Shih Tzu rescues to their beds and giving them positive reinforcement. Beds provide a home base not only for their security but also for a foundation through which you can begin other types of training.

Obedience Training

Are Shih Tzu rescues easy to train? So let's get this out of the way. Shih Tzu rescues take considerable effort to train. This doesn't mean they are difficult, defiant, or unintelligent (far from it on all fronts). But you have to earn the trust of your Shih Tzu rescue. Because of the likelihood that a previous owner has let them down somehow, your willingness to spend time building a relationship with them is THE key in training them. 

Shih Tzu puppies are generally easier to train than adults only because they have fewer experiences they remember. But if Shih Tzu puppies have been abused or abandoned, these traumatic experiences will undoubtedly negatively affect your ability to train them. 

The number one rule in training your Shih Tzu rescue is NEVER scold or punish the dog. Shih Tzu rescues are often emotionally fragile when you first encounter them. Don't let their first associations with you be yelling, frustration, or anything that might cause them more stress. This will only complicate and lengthen the time it will take to train them, not to mention causing them more harm. 

Praise, praise, and more praise is the strategy. But it is understandable to feel frustration when your Shih Tzu rescue doesn't seem to instantly "get it." Shih Tzu rescues may repeatedly make the same mistake or stubbornly refuse at times to listen. If your frustration gets too high, stop and walk away. You can always come back when you've calmed down. Your Shih Tzu rescue will appreciate it, as it will also allow them to start fresh again with the same exercise.

Hand in hand with obedience training, make sure your Shih Tzu rescue has plenty of positive experiences with you that don't require a battle of the wills. Play with them, take them for a short walk, and above all else, let them cuddle with you! You can pick them up and put them in your laps, but don't force them to stay. If they want to be there, they will lie down and make themselves at home. While the trust doesn't come instantly, they will learn quickly that you love them and will begin to listen to you more and more if you are consistent in your training practices. 

One final word on training - Do not overdo treats. Because of their small size, Shih Tzu puppies and adults can easily become obese from well-meaning owners. Positive reinforcement should always be the first tool. Treats should only be used for special occasions or for particular challenges such as dealing with owners leaving the house. Calming Dog Zen Chews are great options for healthy treats that also assist in reducing anxiety.

Dietary Habits

Shih Tzu rescues are notoriously picky eaters. Resist the temptation to feed them simply anything they consume because, well, like human children, they will eat treats all day if you let them! Shih Tzu puppies, in particular, are also prone like other breeds to invade any human food that is within their reach. So get into the habit of not leaving your snacks and medicines out on a coffee table or other low-lying area. You do not want to be responsible for an emergency vet visit.

Purchase high-quality dog food. If in doubt, ask your vet for a good recommendation. Above all else, feed your Shih Tzu rescue at consistent times. Once your Shih Tzu rescue figures out the feeding time, they will begin to eat the food you provide. A healthy diet and the meal routine you establish will help immensely reduce anxiety in Shih Tzu rescues.

Leaving the House

With a good foundation of a home base and consistent diet, you can address a common issue with Shih Tzu rescues: separation anxiety. What are the signs of separation anxiety? If your Shih Tzu rescue chews on furniture or shoes, whines or barks incessantly, urinates or defecates in inappropriate places, or paces frantically while you are away, these are indicators of possible separation anxiety. All of these symptoms can also be caused by other factors. Still, a combination of these symptoms along with prolonged excitement or enthusiasm at your returning home, make separation anxiety the likely suspect.

Remember that, for Shih Tzu rescues in particular, they can easily interpret your leaving the house initially as abandonment. It doesn't matter if you leave for 5 minutes or 5 hours. Once they see you exit the door, it can easily trigger stress-induced behaviors like the ones listed above.

What can you do about separation anxiety? The most important rule for separation anxiety is to leave the house calmly. As much as it may pain you, don't give dramatic good-byes to your Shih Tzu rescue. When you first adopt your Shih Tzu, this is hard to do. As soon as you establish the bed as your dog's home base, call them to it. Give them a Calming Zen Chew or a toy that you can stuff two or three treats into that your Shih Tzu rescue will have to work to get out. In extreme cases, use the Calming Dog Calming Spray to help them relax a little more before you leave. Be careful not to cuddle or play with shih tzu rescues within 30 minutes of leaving the house. Don't give them any reason to associate your leaving with play or snuggle time.

When you return home, as soon as you can, spend a few minutes greeting your Shih Tzu rescue. They will appreciate the attention, but it will also help calm their excitement and not allow them to experience more stress because they perceive you are ignoring them.

Like obedience training, separation anxiety training takes time. Again, practice a consistent routine, and ultimately it will help equip your Shih Tzu rescue with the skills to cope and self-soothe when you depart the house each day.

Grooming Practices

Your Shih Tzu rescue requires a brushing 2-3 times per week. If possible, take them to a professional groomer for their first major grooming to ensure it is done correctly. From that point, with regular maintenance, you will be able to keep your Shih Tzu rescue looking and feeling like a million bucks. A good and healthy coat makes a healthy and happy Shih Tzu.

Keeping Your Shih Tzu Rescue Cool

Your Shih Tzu rescue does not like to get overheated! Shih Tzus are bred to be indoor dogs, which is good since their coat and metabolism are not well-suited for temperatures 85 degrees or higher. During the summer, try if at all possible to walk or play with your Shih Tzu rescue inside. Even in the spring or early fall, limit your Shih Tzu's outside time if there is full sun. 

Make sure you place your Shih Tzu's bed in a cool, well-ventilated place. The last place your Shih Tzu rescue needs to be warm is their home base. If you keep them cool, it will greatly assist in keeping their stress and anxiety at a lower level.

Conclusion

Shih Tzu rescues are well worth the investment. Once you establish a trusting, loving relationship with them and have a good set of routines, they are amazingly low-maintenance dogs. But there is significant time and energy invested on the front end of adopting a Shih Tzu rescue. Make sure you are capable of making this commitment, but remember that, as you're doing this hard work, you are forging a special bond with a dog who will be loyal and loving to you in so many wonderful ways.