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Home > Dogs > Shih Tzu vs Havanese: Which Should I Choose?

Shih Tzu vs Havanese: Which Should I Choose?

Shih Tzu vs Havanese - Featured Image

There are a lot of toy and small dog breeds available, and if you’re looking for a petite pup with a precocious personality, then you may have found yourself landing on the Shih Tzu or the Havanese. Both of these dogs are very similar in size, coat type, and temperament, but there are some differences between these breeds as well.

To make it easier to choose between these two similar breeds, it’s important to understand these differences. Without knowing the differences between the Shih Tzu and Havanese, you may unintentionally end up with a dog that isn’t as suitable as the other breed might have been. Here’s what you should know!


Visual Differences

Shih Tzu vs Havanese - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – Oksamutnaya, Shutterstock | Right – Martin Erdniss, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Shih Tzu
  • Average height (adult): 9–10.5 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 9–16 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–18 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, playful, social, highly trainable
  • Average height (adult): 5–11.5 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 7–13 pounds
  • Lifespan: 14–16 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, attached, outgoing, can be very trainable

Shih Tzu Overview


The Shih Tzu’s temperament is playful but intelligent and trainable, and this adaptable breed is often considered to be one of the most kid-friendly dog breeds, especially among small breeds. They are friendly, social dogs that are exuberant and love to play.

As much as they like having their people around, they are still suitable for homes where everyone’s gone to work or school most of the day.

dog breeds shih tzu
Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak, Shutterstock


This breed has a moderate energy level, so they are often equally happy to run around or to be a couch potato. It’s best to aim for at least 1 hour of exercise every day for your Shih Tzu. They are small and have short legs, though, so don’t expect them to be a good jogging companion.

Some Shih Tzus may be up for big adventures, like hiking and bikejoring, but most of them will be content with some fun and games around the house or yard, or a jaunt around the neighborhood.


Shih Tzus are prized for their intelligence and trainability. They are playful but eager to please, and their loyalty and desire for companionship with their people make them highly trainable. They are intelligent enough to learn how to perform tricks, solve puzzles, and play games. They are also a great option for people looking for a dog that will enjoy participating in dog sports like obedience and agility.

Health & Care

Although they have short snouts and legs, the Shih Tzu is generally a relatively healthy dog. They may be prone to joint problems like luxating patella and hip dysplasia. They also are at risk for eye injuries and conditions, including dry eye, corneal abrasions, progressive retinal atrophy, and cataracts. Responsible breeding of health-tested parents is the key to maintaining the health of this breed.

Shih tzu dog with red bow on head running on leash on green grass
Image Credit: Przemek Iciak, Shutterstock

Suitable for:

The adaptable Shih Tzu is a great dog to add to a family with kids and frequent visitors, thanks to their social nature. They are gentle enough for homes with elderly and frail people, and their trainability makes them a good option, even for first-time dog owners.


Havanese Overview


The Havanese is the only dog native to Cuba, and it has made its country proud. This breed is loved for its funny and joyful personality. It’s intelligent, and the Havanese is likely to be a “Velcro dog,” or a dog that is practically attached at the hip to their person or people.

They are gentle and playful dogs that love meeting new people and animals alike. They prefer to be around people as much as possible, and many Havanese are not suitable to be left home alone all day.

happy havanese dog
Image Credit: Sandra Huber, Shutterstock


Like the Shih Tzu, the Havanese is happy to play and participate in physical activity every day, but they are also content to be a couch potato. Ideally, you should aim to give your Havanese at least an hour of exercise every day, but they are unlikely to be good companions for things like hiking or jogging. Walks and games are likely to be the best ways to keep your Havanese active.


The Havanese is a trainable breed, although it has a little more of an independent streak than the Shih Tzu. Its intelligence and desire to be with its people often plays in your favor when training a Havanese, but the desire to be silly, playful, and overly attached instead of focused may make training difficult. Finding ways to keep training sessions fun, interesting, and short is likely to be the best way to train your Havanese.

Health & Care

Havanese suffer from more conditions on a regular basis than the Shih Tzu, but they are still considered to be a generally healthy breed. Orthopedic conditions, like patellar luxation, chondrodysplasia, and Legg-Calves-Perthes disease, which is a disease of the hip joint, are not uncommon in the Havanese, so it’s recommended to ensure dogs are OFA certified before breeding.

They also may be prone to a variety of eye conditions, deafness, and even heart murmurs. Most of these conditions can be prevented through responsible breeding practices, and ensuring your Havanese has a thorough physical exam annually is important to catch problems early.

havanese on grass
Image Credit: Sandra Huber, Shutterstock

Suitable for:

Although quite family-friendly and social, the Havanese doesn’t like to be home alone all day. This makes them more suitable for homes of retired people or homes where someone is home all day, rather than a home where everyone is gone throughout the day.

They are social dogs that generally are accepting of new people and animals, and they are a suitable breed for homes with children. They are slightly less sturdy than the Shih Tzu, though, so gentle handling from children is very important with these small dogs.


Which Breed Is Right for You?

The Shih Tzu and Havanese are both wonderful dog breeds that are family-friendly and often a good fit for homes with other animals. They both are intelligent breeds that are very trainable, although the Havanese is more likely to give you a challenge than the Shih Tzu.

The Shih Tzu is the more confident and adaptable of the two breeds, often comfortably staying home throughout the day when its people are out and quickly learning new routines, games, and activities. The Havanese is highly attached to its people, and this breed doesn’t like to be left alone all day.

Both breeds are small and laid back enough to comfortably live in an apartment, condo, or home with or without a yard, but both also need to be provided with physical activity every day. They both also may become bored, developing bad behaviors because of it, if they aren’t provided with enough attention, mental challenges, and exercise.

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Featured Image Credit: Top – Castorly Stock, Pexels | Bottom – Dennis Bautista, Pexels

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