What Is A Shih Tzu Specialty?

by Susan Kilgore

A Shih Tzu specialty show is a dog show where only Shih Tzu are shown. Such shows can be hosted by local Shih Tzu clubs, by the American Shih Tzu Club (ASTC), or regionally by members of the ASTC. Shih Tzu specialty shows are a great place to see Shih Tzu in conformation and performance events and meet their breeders, owners, and exhibitors. A schedule of and information about Shih Tzu specialty shows can be found on this website and at www.akc.org, in the AKC Calendar of Events.

At the annual ASTC National Specialty show, which is alternately held east and west of the Mississippi in various locations, you are likely to see more Shih Tzu than in any other single show. Local Shih Tzu club specialty shows are held throughout the year throughout the United States; there is usually a local and/or a regional specialty show held the same week in the same location as the National Specialty. While you might have to travel some distance to attend the National Specialty, local specialties provide anyone interested in attending a show dedicated to Shih Tzu with an opportunity to locate one within their reach. Because breeders tend to bring their very best dogs to specialty shows to have them seen by their peers, the quality of the dogs exhibited (particularly at the National Specialty) tends to be very high. In addition to conformation classes (in which dogs are judged on how well they conform to the breed standard that describes the ideal Shih Tzu), there are often performance events such as agility, obedience, and rally; sometimes canine good citizen testing is also offered. The ASTC encourages all of these events and participation in them. It is an honor to win/score well at any Shih Tzu specialty, particularly the National Specialty.

Conformation classes at a specialty are divided into non-regular and regular classes. Non-regular classes are those in which competition does not lead to AKC championship points. These classes consist of Sweepstakes (aka "Puppy Sweeps"), Best Bred by Exhibitor, Best Puppy in Show, Veteran Dog and Bitch, Stud Dog, Brood Bitch, and Brace. The first non-regular class event that normally takes place at a specialty show is Sweepstakes. The ASTC holds the event for puppies up to 12 months of age, with classes broken down by sex and age. Dog classes are held first, followed by bitches. The first-place class winners compete for Best in Sweepstakes (BISw)and Best Opposite Sex in Sweepstakes (BOSSw); if the winner is a male, then BOSSw is the best female, or vice versa. Sweepstakes wins are prestigious and fun! Puppies competing in Sweepstakes are often considered the up-and-coming winners-the future of the breed.

Regular conformation classes are normally held after Sweepstakes. At the National Specialty, they are held the following day. Once again, dog judging precedes bitch judging in what is basically an elimination contest. Shih Tzu in competition that have not yet earned their AKC championship titles are divided into various classes based on age or other qualifications. One of the most prestigious of these classes is Bred by Exhibitor, in which the breeder of the dog takes it into the show ring. The first-place winners of these classes compete for Winners Dog (WD) and Winners Bitch (WB). Only these two Shih Tzu earn points towards their championships. The Veteran and Best of Breed entries have already completed the requirements for their championship titles. They compete, along with the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, for the highest honors--Best in Show Specialty (BISS) and Best Opposite Sex in Specialty (BOSS). In addition, the judge may present Awards of Merit to up to five Shih Tzu he or she believes came closest to winning BISS. Several other classes held after Best of Breed competition do not involve championship points. Best Puppy and Best Bred by Exhibitor in Show are selected from the first-place winners of those classes. In the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes, the quality of the offspring is judged, and the award is given to the parent. In the Brace class, the award goes to the pair that is most identically matched.

While the largest number of entries is usually in the conformation classes, attendees love to watch Shih Tzu jump hurdles, negotiate the teeter-totter and A-frame, retrieve, and do all of the other tasks involved in performance events such as obedience, agility, and rally. In these events, awards are based on how well and how fast the Shih Tzu performs specific tasks, rather than what it looks like. You can watch levels of performance ranging from pre-novice (not yet considered ready to compete for performance titles) to rare dogs that have already earned the coveted Obedience Trial Champion (O.T.Ch.) and Master Agility Champion (MACH) titles. For more information about obedience, agility, rally, and canine good citizenship trials go to www.akc.org/events.

A wide variety of breed-related educational and informational seminars are also offered at the National Specialty. The show also offers a chance for breeders to evaluate the dogs other lines are producing, share what they've learned, and make or renew friendships that often last a lifetime. A hospitality room, the annual awards dinner, vendors (how we love to shop!), brochures and other handouts, and raffles and auctions that raise money for the club, for rescue, and for health research add to the fun. The ASTC invites all those interested in Shih Tzu to come to our local and national specialty events. You'll learn a lot and have a grand time!