If you have adopted a Shih Tzu, either as an adult or a puppy, you might be wondering what their life was like before they came to live with you. Unfortunately, some, if not many of the rescue Shih Tzus you run into had a hard start in life. So, if you’re wondering if yours wasn’t treated well in the past, here are 9 signs your Shih Tzu has been abused.
9 Signs Your Shih Tzu Has Been Abused
The idea of someone abusing a sweet, innocent little dog makes my blood boil and as Shih Tzu lover I’m sure it does yours.
Even so, it does unfortunately happen.
My rescue Shih Tzu, Sammy was abused and neglected before I brought her home.
She was nearly starved to death and her feet were so matted she couldn’t walk.
It was horrible and it took about a year for her to get over most of the trauma.
When she wasn’t fed, she would eat dirt and sticks to try and feed herself.
It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it.
Her signs of abuse were pretty easy to see.
She only weighed 4 pounds when she should have weighed 10.
And she would duck when you tried to pet her because she was afraid you were going to hit her.
But what are the signs you should be looking for when you rescue a Shih Tzu and how can you help them get past their traumatic past?
1. Unhealthy Looking Hair
I know that when I got Sammy, she had bald spots and her hair wasn’t shinny at all.
It looked dull and lifeless.
That’s not normal.
A healthy dog has healthy looking hair.
If they don’t and they don’t have an underlying health issue, then there is a chance they were abused or neglected.
2. Not Liking to Be Touched
Another sign of possible abuse is if your Shih Tzu doesn’t really like to be touched.
Again, if there is not an injury or health issue behind this behavior then you’ll need to look deeper into your dog’s past.
It could be that your dog’s past owner was rough with them.
They may have hurt them when they were “petting” them.
It might be as bad as them hitting the dog when they came near them.
Regardless, Shih Tzus normally like lots of attention and lots of petting.
So, if yours doesn’t, it might be time to talk to your vet.
3. Eating Their Food Quickly or Hiding It
Some owners abuse their dog by not feeding it or giving it enough food.
That was certainly the case for Sammy.
Other times, your dog may have had to fight for food.
If there were other dogs in the household and there was one dog bowl, your small Shih Tzu might have had a tough time getting their fair share.
This can lead to your dog eating very quickly or hiding their food.
It is a learned behavior so they can get enough to eat.
It doesn’t matter that they now have plenty.
This is a behavior that doesn’t really go away.
I know that when I first got Sammy, she was severely underweight as I mentioned above.
For the first few months she would go into the kitchen every five minutes to see if there was food available.
I always leave out dry dog food.
She would get a bite and then come back to where I was.
I was concerned that she might over eat and gain too much weight but that didn’t happen.
Once she was at her prime weight – for her that was/is 10 pounds, she stopped all the extra eating and started eating twice a day.
One habit that she has never got over is taking food out of the bowl and bringing it to another room to eat it.
This is common for dogs that had to fight other dogs to get their food.
It is a way to keep their food safe and so another dog won’t steal it before they get it eaten.
Even though she doesn’t have to share food and there is always plenty, she still to this day does this.
She will take a piece or two or three and bring them to another room and eat them and then repeat the process until she has had her fill.
There are other reasons for this fearful behavior but prior abuse or lack of food is one of them.
4. Healing Wounds
Unless your dog was in an accident or something similar they shouldn’t have any wounds healed or otherwise.
Common signs of abuse are lots of healed wounds or wounds that are healing.
You’ll need to be loving and patient with a physically abused animal.
They are going to be skittish and standoffish and possibly show destructive behavior or even aggression.
5. Being Extra Clingy
When it comes to unusual behaviors being clingy is pretty normal for a Shih Tzu.
Most of them want to be right there with you all the time.
So, while this can be a sign of animal abuse, it will be hard to tell the difference between a normal clingy Shih Tzu and one that is showing signs of anxiety due to abuse from their past pet owner.
Even so, it can be a sign of separation anxiety.
Shih Tzus tend to be prone to this anyway, but if it is really bad – destructive behavior to your home or even to themselves, then it will need to be addressed.
6. Being Overly Submissive
Even though a Shih Tzu tends to be small they aren’t naturally submissive.
In fact, if you have had one for any length of time, you know that they feel they are the king or queen of your home.
They are small and in charge.
So, if you are seeing signs of submission such as your dog immediately rolling over and tucking their tail when you come near them or they start to cower there is a problem.
Most Shih Tzus aren’t overly aggressive.
They love people and want to be with them.
Of course, some will become so attached to one person they may not want anyone else near that person and will bark or growl when someone does come near, but that’s not typically the case.
If your dog has been abused in the past they may should aggressive behavior without provocation.
Their aggression is due to fear, so punishing them for it will only make it worse.
Instead, talk to your vet about it and consider a trainer that deals with aggression in abused dogs.
8. They Are Anxious
While Shih Tzus can become anxious when left alone, extrema anxiousness or being anxious when you are around are signs of animal abuse.
My Sammy has always been anxious and as she has aged she is down right skittish.
I know this comes from the trauma from when she was a puppy.
It is hard to see.
At times, she can’t sit down and just relax.
She paces back and forth and doesn’t really even want to be picked up or petted.
It got so bad that we had to put her on medication.
It has helped a little, but she is still stressed out.
When you are around a healthy and happy dog will want to play and be petted and enjoy their food and treat time and live a pretty normal life.
If your Shih Tzu is too anxious to do so, it is possible they are ill or injured or have been abused.
Start by talking to your vet about it and then consider a trainer to help you get your little pup to a better place mentally and emotionally.
9. They Self Sooth – A Lot
Pacing can be a way to self sooth for a dog as my Sammy does.
Obsessively licking themselves is another.
If there is no medical reason for it – Shih Tzus can have skin issues – or they don’t have fleas then there is another issue.
Licking all the time can be a physical sign of previous abuse.
Anxiety in dogs can be treated with medication.
Severe separation anxiety can cause this type of behavior as well.
So, do what you can to find the cause and then finding a solution will be easier.
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How to Help Your Abused Shih Tzu
If you feel your dog has been abused or if they just seem a little timid or unsure of themselves being in their new environment, there are ways to help them gain confidence and make them feel safe and loved.
1. Always use a calm voice.
Never yell at them or shout even if they are doing something you don’t like.
Just be calm and loving.
For example, my other Shih Tzu, Truman was peeing on my bed this morning when I walked in to get him to take him outside.
He was never abused, but he is old. He is over 17 years old now and doesn’t have the ability to control his behavior as he used to.
Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled about catching him in the act, but I didn’t yell at him.
He doesn’t know what he is doing so pointing it out to him won’t do anything.
I just grabbed him and quickly got him outside.
Then I went back in to clean up the mess.
Yelling might have made me feel better in the moment, but it would have just confused him even more.
He has doggie dementia so he really doesn’t know what is going on in the first place.
I should have just got him outside a bit faster this morning.
If your dog has been abused, yelling at them or running at them will only make them fear you.
2. Coming to your home is a major adjustment for your Shih Tzu.
Don’t overwhelm them and put them in a situation where there are a lot of new people or animals all at once.
Everyone always wants to see the new dog, but keep the dog’s needs in mind and let them get comfortable in their new environment before you add too many people or animals to the mix.
3. Have a safe place in your home where your dog can go.
Your Shih Tzu needs a place that they can retreat to when they are fearful or overwhelmed.
This will give them a sense of security.
This could be an open crate or just a doggie bed in your bedroom or some other room where people don’t typically go.
Where ever it is, make sure it is comfortable and maybe has a few toys, so your dog can retreat and spend some alone time if they feel they need it.
Don’t follow them into the room. Let them come back out when they are ready.
4. Work on learning your Shih Tzu’s body language.
If you can understand your dog’s body language you will know when they are feeling happy and secure and when you need to back off and give them some space.
This will make their transition into your home easier and even when you have had them for a while it will help to keep them from getting overwhelmed or scared.
Watch for the subtle signs and soon you will recognize what your dog is feeling.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
Living with and loving an abused dog can be difficult and stressful at times.
Just know that there is help out there for you.
Your vet is always a good resource and cab point you in the direction of additional help.
The right trainer can help your Shih Tzu gain confidence and learn new behaviors.
6. Give your Shih Tzu lots of positive experiences.
The unfortunate truth is your dog has not experienced the good things about life when they have spent their life being abused.
Now is the time to show them the joy and happiness they can have.
This can include simple things such as treats and playtime with toys.
Walks or even the dog park can be good options too as long as they can handle being around other people or dogs.
Just show them you love them, without overwhelming them.
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To Sum it All Up:
Physical abuse and animal cruelty of pets are two of the worst things that can happen to a helpless dog. If you have been kind enough to rescue a Shih Tzu do look for the signs of previous abuse. Talk to your vet about your options and know that giving your pet a loving home will go a long way to erasing their difficult past.