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9 Fluffy Facts About the Shih Tzu

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The shih tzu, known for its humorous-sounding name (the real pronunciation is actually “sheed-zoo,” thank you very much), has a lot to offer. Loyal service dogs and loving companions, these small dogs are an ideal fit for anyone in need of affection. Learn more about the pooch and its long history of melting hearts. 

1. THEY’RE AN OLD BREED. 

Nobody knows exactly how old the shih tzu is, although it existed at least as far back as 624 CE (we know this because of its presence in art from the era). As with most ancient breeds, it’s difficult to determine when and how exactly it originated, though experts have some ideas. According to one popular theory, the breed was started in Tibet by Buddhist monks and eventually made its way to China. 

Back then, Tibetan monks bred a number of lion-like dogs, which they referred to as “holy dogs.” (Since the time of early Buddhism, the lion has been an important religious symbol, representing the Bodhisattvas, or "sons of the Buddha.") According to some accounts, the Dalai Lama came to China in the 17th century with a trio of lion-like pooches. These shih tzu predecessors were bred with Chinese dogs, resulting in pups with shorter snouts. 

In the early 20th century, the Chinese empress Tzu-hsi was gifted a pair of Tibetan lion dogs. She was immediately enamored, and kept them from breeding with the Pekingese and pugs in her care. The result: the shih tzus we know and love today.

2. THEY’RE CLOSELY RELATED TO WOLVES. 

They may not look like it, but the modest shih tzu is more closely related to wolves than many fiercer-looking breeds. In 2004, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tested the genetic data of 414 dogs from 85 different breeds. They concluded that Asian breeds, from the imposing akita all the way down to the diminuitive Pekingese, are some of the oldest and most closely related to Canis lupus familiaris's wolf ancestors. (Only the Nordic breeds have these dogs beat: The Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, and Samoyed, among others, are the "best living representative[s] of the ancestral dog gene pool," the researchers wrote.)

3. ROYALTY LOVED THEM.

Despite their genetic similarities to wolves, shih tzus were bred to be loving companions. The pampered pets led luxurious lives in palaces, enjoying all the creature comforts a dog could want. Their thick coats made them effective radiators, and their owners would use the dogs to keep their beds warm. At one time, it was even fashionable to keep the small canines tucked away in large robe sleeves. 

4. THEY HAVE MANY NAMES.

For such a small dog, the shih tzu has a long list of nicknames. Shih tzu roughly translates to little lion dog. Other monikers include "under-the-table dog," "Fu dog," "shock dog," "sleeve dog," "Tibetan poodle," and more. They are sometimes referred to as the chrysanthemum-faced dog thanks to their unique facial fur, which fans out like flower petals. 

5. THEY ALMOST WENT EXTINCT. 

As with other Chinese dog breeds, the shih tzu was nearly wiped out when the Communist party began its takeover. Luckily for shih tzu lovers, some dedicated fanciers protected the breed and seven males and seven females survived. Those 14 dogs were responsible for rebuilding the entire line. 

6. THEY HAVE LONG, SILKY ‘DOS …

The hair of a shih tzu is truly something to envy. Show dogs can be seen sporting stylish long hair that drags on the floor like a dress's train. This particular hairstyle is very hard to keep up, so most shih tzu owners opt to keep their dog’s hair in a short style called the “puppy cut.” Usually this involves cutting the hair uniformly about two inches from the body (this is also referred to as the "teddy bear cut," because it makes them look like a plush toy). Other owners opt to shave the body hair closely, leaving the hair on the head and ears in a bob-like style (this is known as the "top knot cut.") If neither of these options appeal to you, you can always book an appointment with this groomer in Taiwan, who will cut your dog’s hair into a perfect circle or square. 

7. … AND COME IN LOTS OF COLORS.

According to the American Kennel Club, the shih tzu comes in 14 different colors and three different markings. 

8. THEIR SPOTS ARE THE STUFF OF LEGEND.

Most shih tzus rock a little white spot on their foreheads, which is affectionately known as the “Star of Buddha.” According to legend, Buddha was traveling with a little canine companion that closely resembled the shih tzu. When a group of robbers tried to attack Buddha, the little dog transformed into a fierce lion and chased the thieves off.  Buddha was so grateful he kissed the dog on the forehead, giving it its little white mark. The markings on its back are said to represent the saddle Buddha used to ride the dog-turned-lion. 

9. TRAINING CAN BE TRICKY.

Before you get a shih tzu, consider how much free time you have. The little dogs are notoriously difficult to train and it takes a lot of patience to housebreak them. In fact, it can take around 40 to 50 repetitions of a bathroom routine before the stubborn pup catches on. Owners are urged to start training immediately at puppyhood so irreversible bad habits don’t form.

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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