Shih Tzu Top Knots

by Jo Ann White

It seems that some Shih Tzu topknots are becoming less elaborate, but many are works of art. The difficulty of making topknots has really discouraged many novices from showing our breed, and makes it difficult to determine the quality of the head from ringside or from photographs. Remember that the Shih Tzu is a head breed. Every one of the experts interviewed at the 2019 National felt that the overall quality of heads in our breed has deteriorated. Breeders please take note…the ideal Shih Tzu head is a complex collection of recessives, and it is important to preserve it!!!

As a judge, you MUST examine the head with your hands to be sure that what is underneath all of the teasing and hairspray and rubber bands is the head described in the breed standard rather than an illusion created by grooming. To do this without damaging the topknot, approach the dog and put your palm under the dog’s chin. Then place both hands behind the dog’s ears, cupping the head with your thumbs at the ear set. With a light touch, use your thumbs to check the width and depth of the skull and the length of the nose and depth of the stop. If you want the exhibitor to show the bite, do so after you have examined the entire dog. Otherwise, gently and briefly lift the lips to check the width and depth of the lower jaw after examining the rest of the head; you only need to check front dentition in this breed. If you are preparing to apply to judge our breed, many exhibitors will be happy to let you practice your technique in the grooming area after judging is over. You may find it particularly educational to examine heads after the topknots have been taken down.

The ASTC Judges Education Committee has provided the following statement to judges and prospective judges of Shih Tzu at seminars sanctioned by the American Shih Tzu Club. The Shih Tzu Standard addresses both the Shih Tzu head and expression in some detail. The head should be round and broad “in balance with the overall size of the dog.” The expression is warm and sweet, “an overall well-balanced and pleasant expression.” We are cautioned to “examine well beyond the hair to determine if what is seen is the actual head and expression rather than an image created by grooming technique.”

The Parent Club has been watching an ever growing trend for topknots that are more and more elaborate in shape and construction. It has, in fact, developed to the point of detracting from some of the breed’s very important characteristics—head, expression and balance.

This style of topknot may give the illusion of a longer neck when viewed from the side. The breed is required to have sufficient length to permit naturally high head carriage—in balance with the height and length of the dog. Nowhere is it stated “long neck.” We are asking Shih Tzu judges, as well as breeders, to help reverse a trend that has become out of hand. Some handlers are hesitant to show their dogs with a more classic, simplistic topknot for fear of appearing unknowledgeable or lacking in grooming skills. Perhaps some judges are hesitant in their selections for the same reason.

No good dog should be penalized for the groomer’s preference in topknot style. However, they should not be given preferential treatment for the same thing. Let’s please heed the caution underlined in our Standard referencing “an image created by grooming technique.”

A special thank you to owner Sharon Murray and breeder Gloria Davies for the accompanying photos of Australian Ch. Tzuyuan Defiant Angel in various topknot styles.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the December 2019 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission