by Chris Jones © copyright
Probably the single most defining and outstanding feature of the Shih Tzu is it's temperament. It is addressed immediately in the standard: These are called sturdy, lively, alert dogs, proud of bearing, HAVING A DISTINCTIVELY ARROGANT CARRIAGE WITH HEAD WELL UP AND TAIL CURVED OVER THE BACK. The last paragraph of the standard again emphasizes the sole purpose of this breed is that of A COMPANION AND HOUSE PET. It is essential that it's temperament be outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly and trusting towards all.
The show ring is not always the easiest place to assess temperament. But obviously if a dog attempts to bite, tries to jump off the table, pees on the table from fear or tucks it tail between it's legs, it probably has a temperament problem. If it is dull or lethargic and the handler has to hold up the dog's head and tail up for the dog, can we say it fulfills the specific breed requirements for temperament? If temperament wasn't important, we wouldn't see it addressed again in the gait section. It states: ....NATURALLY HIGH HEAD CARRIAGE, and tail carried in a gentle curve over the back. This means the dog must possess poise and confidence.
The Shih Tzu is a head breed. This sets it apart from other breeds. There are actually 10 head faults in the new (1988) standard. The entire rest of the dog only contains 4 additional faults. (Two of theses faults pertain to legs. Two address coat. These we will mention as we come to them.)
What makes the Shih Tzu head different? Most noticeably, we would have to say, the large round wide set eyes, the short well defined muzzle, nicely domed broad round skull. The stop is important and must be pronounced and well defined. The lack of definite stop is a fault. Small eyes are a fault. Excessive eye white is a fault. A narrow head is a fault and close set eyes are also a fault.
The Shih Tzu has a rounder, larger eye than the Lhasa. A shorter, wider muzzle and the distinctive stop accompanied by a domed skull. The Peke has a wrinkle above it's nose and a flatter top skull.
Two interesting notes about the Shih Tzu head:
When describing expression in the standard, we are now instructed to examine well beyond the hair to determine if what is being seen is the actual head and expression rather than an image created by grooming technique. This was a very important addition to our standard.
People new to this breed could easily be fooled into thinking a dog had a larger or more correct head than it actually had because of volume of hair, teasing of hair, styling and/or parting of hair. The correct head is so important, you may hear people who know what they are looking for referred to as "head hunters"! Many dogs have long coats or can move around the ring, but conformationally, the proper head is what makes a Shih Tzu unique.
In the bite section, the only fault is the overshot bite. That means a scissors bite is totally unacceptable in Shih Tzu. It would ruin the desired oriental expression. The new standard specifically addresses a missing tooth or misaligned teeth, stating that these things should not be too severely penalized.
Addressing the muzzle section:
The muzzle is to be set no lower than bottom eye rim, never down-turned, ideally no longer than 1" from nose tip to stop. Front of muzzle should be flat, lower lip not protruding and definitely never receding.
The next phrase regarding depth of muzzle that was once considered inclusive "length may vary slightly in relation to the size of the overall size of dog". This has been corrupted over the years to allow for a variance over and above the prescribed ideal 1". Just because a dog is a male or larger dog does not mean his nose may exceed the 1", this was just to allow for a variance within the 1" range. If you allow the noses to get longer in combination with other head faults like smaller eyes and lack of definition in the stop, you very quickly have a Lhasa head on a Shih Tzu! Snippiness is a fault. No pointy muzzles!) The muzzle should be short, broad and square. (not narrow or shallow)
Color and markings; we are told all are permissible and to be considered equally.
Color and markings can create optical illusions. Judges may have to work a little harder on some less than perfectly marked dogs to determine which are truly the best examples of the breed. Solid colors, brindles, parti-colors are all to be judged equally regardless of personal preference. There is no penalty for ticking, pie bald, flecking, ticking, spotting, dark faces, or asymmetrical markings. We should say this is ideally speaking, of course, people do have their own personal prejudices and favorites.
An interesting new section regarding trimming now allows for feet, bottom of coat and anus to be trimmed for neatness and to facilitate movement. This doesn't allow for the common practice of scissoring or shaving around the tail you often see! Fault; Excess trimming. Are "Poodle feet" excess trimming? Is shaving the belly, the lower body or the base of the tail excessive? (answer: YES, shaving isn't trimming it's scalping! This is not done for neatness or to facilitate movement. This is certainly excessive.) How about shaving the muzzle? Perhaps it could be said that it is promoting neatness. However, many people believe the practice of shaving the muzzle is also excessive.
This might be a subjective call for the judge and exhibitor.
The other coat fault actually addresses the hair itself:: sparse coat, single coat, curly coat. Interesting enough, nowhere in the standard does it state, floor length coat!! A long flowing double coat is prescribed. A heavy single coat may fair better in the show ring than a thin double coat or short coat of either type. Over emphasis should never be placed on coat. Adequate coat rather than abundance of coat seems to fulfill the glamour of the breed and still let the Shih Tzu serve it's actual function as a pet. (Who wants a pet that takes 4-5 hours to wash and dry?!) Many grooming techniques allow for curly, excessively wavy and otherwise undesirable coats to pass show ring muster. Many substances enhance and even grow coat length and density.
Please look for the best Shih Tzu, not the best coat!
Remember, and it is hard to do sometimes, but we are showing the dogs.
It is a DOG SHOW not a HAIR SHOW!
Lastly, the two leg faults specifically mentioned in our standard are legginess and hyper- extended hocks. The first you will see by finding a dog who is out of "balance". The Shih Tzu is to be slightly longer from withers to base of tail than he is tall from withers to ground. Style and preferences make may alter that picture slightly. Shih Tzu are taller today than they once were in their early days. Hyper-extended hocks can be a problem in the breed. It goes without saying, judges should examine rears! Angulation of hindquarters should be in balance with forequarters. Some breeders are now over exaggerating rears and this is no more desirable than producing weak ones. In italics in another section of the standard we read, "Of utmost importance is an overall well-balanced dog with no exaggerated features."
The Shih Tzu is to have a short coupled, sturdy body. The chest is to be broad and deep with a good spring of rib. The ribcage should end just beneath well boned elbows that are set close to the body.
Legs should be straight, well boned, muscular and feet point straight ahead.
Top line is level : croup is flat.
The new gait section created much controversy initially because the words "neither raced nor strung up" were initialized and taken to mean the Shih Tzu must be shown on a loose lead. While this is certainly a judge's prerogative to ask for a loose lead, not everyone interpreted this phrase in the same way. The Shih Tzu moves straight, and exhibits smooth, flowing effortless movement, with good reach and equally strong rear drive.
The top line is to remain level and head carriage is to to be naturally high and tail carried in a gentle curve over the back. Since the emphasis is again on naturally high head carriage, judges may ask for exhibitors to drop the lead if they have any doubts about the dog's ability to hold their own head up naturally when gaiting or standing.
One most important section that was added to the standard states, even though a toy dog, the Shih Tzu must be subject to the same requirements of soundness and structure prescribed for all breeds and any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Shih Tzu as in any other breed, regardless of whether or not such are specifically mentioned in the standard. This of course means; wry mouths, sickle hocks or AKC show rule disqualifications such as undescended testicles, etc.
There are no disqualifying faults in the Shih Tzu Standard.
We hope this has been informative and useful to your assessment of the Shih Tzu.
Please feel free to call or write me any time to discuss your opinions. I will also be happy to answer any of your questions.
Read the other articles by Chris Jones,