Coat Texture

by Jo Ann White

There is a wonderful reason to breed for proper coat texture—it will make your life easier! In a recent discussion on one of the Shih Tzu lists, experienced breeders agreed that the better the coat texture, the less work it is. Correct hair therefore saves grooming time, as well as a lot of money expended on expensive hair care products designed to improve coat texture.

Most people agree that we seldom see the sturdy, easy-to-care-for coats that were common in the decade or so after AKC recognition. These coats had a strong top coat that could tolerate a lot of abuse, and a non-wooly undercoat that did not mat if you looked at it cross-eyed. For a long time, we tended to take such coats for granted and pretty much ignore coat texture in our breeding programs. Today we drool over the idea of being able to brush a show dog twice a week, bathe it every three weeks, or keep a retired show dog (or one sold as a pet) in full coat, perhaps trimming the hair on the head and stripping out some of the undercoat. As one person commented, what a joy it was to watch a Shih Tzu roll on its back on a Berber carpet and leap up mat-free.

The breed standard describes the Shih Tzu coat as dense, long, and flowing. This is a double-coated breed, but most felt that the soft, puffy double coat that refuses to drape is just as incorrect as the Maltese-type single coat that flows beautifully. Often the flowing single coats are very fragile, several people commented, and even single coats can sometimes be wooly and dense.

While the loss of the easy-to-care-for coats of yore has forced breeders to pay more attention to coat texture in their breeding programs, a coat that isn’t correct isn’t the most important fault one encounters as a breeder or a judge. (And, as a judge, it’s sometimes pretty hard to determine the natural coat texture after it’s been enhanced with a lot of grooming products.) Most of those involved in the thread on the list felt that good health and proper temperament, plus the correct conformation underneath all that hair, should weigh more heavily than a pretty coat. And to a man (or woman) they’d choose the coat that was easiest to care for!

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the December 2009 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe, visit AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB - PUBLICATIONS