Judging the Shih Tzu

by Sally Vilas

SHIH TZU – Charming, friendly, happy and outgoing – all in a Toy dog package that “…has a distinctly arrogant carriage with head well up and tail curved over the back…” They are also occasionally stubborn – which is not mentioned in the breed standard – but may be evident when a puppy does not want to walk, or stand still on the exam table, but happily wags its tail at the judge. They just know that you will love them even if they are not behaving at the moment! New judges of the breed must set aside any susceptibility to the “cute” factor and look for those that best fit the written standard.

Before you enter the ring to judge Shih Tzu, please review ‘The Illustrated Guide to the Shih Tzu Standard’, published by the American Shih Tzu Club. This attractive 64-page booklet contains the standard, of course, with clarifications and wonderful drawings by Stephen Hubbell to help understand what is under the glamorous looking coat on dogs in the show ring. To further that understanding, there are also colored photos of Shih Tzu in full show coat and then ‘cut down’ (actually, ‘shaved down’ is the better description). The accompanying honest evaluations of the good and less desirable features of these dogs is invaluable to anyone learning the breed. We are always told, when studying a new breed, to learn and remember ‘the essence of the breed type’; it is pictured and summarized on page 27. Before any assignment to judge Shih Tzu, it is worthwhile to take this booklet off the shelf and review what the parent club is telling you about the breed.

From the center of the ring, these are` the attributes that you should see as they enter and move around: Shih Tzu should be rectangular rather than square, and color patterns may be deceptive. For example, a dog with a wide white ‘shawl’ over the shoulders will look shorter in overall length than one that is a solid color, or with a smaller amount of white over the shoulders. You need to train your eye to these variances and then use your hands when examining on the table. The topline must be level, with the tail set high and carried in a high teapcup curve over the back. That tail set is essential to the correct balance and arrogant carriage. Equally essential is the front structure; is there reach in the front? Is there smooth movement? Does the head have naturally high carriage? Is the overall picture an indication of proper front structure?

When the dog is on the table, the only way to determine whether the dog before you fits the written standard is to use your hands to discover what is under the “long and flowing” coat. Getting under the coat is especially important when examining the head. Round is the first word to remember as you examine the head; it should be broad, and rounded from side to side as well as from stop to occiput. The head should also be in balance with the overall size of the dog. There may be a ‘bubble’ of hair over the forehead; it is your job to use your hand in that area to learn whether it is rounded, as desired. Check whether that bubble is obscuring the fact that the dog does not have enough ‘stop.’ There may be a towering topknot, but you should put your fingers through it at the base and determine the shape and size of the head. We are losing the nice big head that should be a hallmark of the breed. Remember that narrow heads are a fault, so find and reward the proper heads when possible.

Reminder: the standard states that “Hair on top of the head is tied up.” It does not state that higher is better. In my opinion, many top knots are out of control. The best top knot should frame the face and enhance the expression. Round is also a key word for Shih Tzu eyes, which should be large but not prominent, very dark, and placed well apart. The correct eyes are vital to the warm, sweet, friendly expression that is a part of the essence of the breed. Almost always when I see a Shih Tzu expression that is not instantly ‘warm and sweet’, it is because of the placement of the eyes or because there is too much white showing in the eye.

Use your hands next to feel for straight front legs, good bone, tight elbows and depth of chest, angles of shoulders. Move back to spring of rib, length of loin, set of tail, angulation of rear legs, etc. Remember that the Shih Tzu should not have a ‘waist’; it is a sturdy, compact dog with good substance and little tuck-up.

When making your placement decisions, remember to consider equally dogs that fall within our wide size range. Any dog within the 9 to 10 ½ inch and 9 to 16 pounds must be evaluated equally; overall balance and proportion is what is important. Please do not fall into the pattern of rewarding only small Shih Tzu. Temperament is important; please do not award a dog that is shy or aggressive.

Shih Tzu should be outgoing, lively, alert, proud, arrogant, affectionate, friendly and trusting – in a sound, smooth moving, ‘arrogant’ package. As you judge, may you enjoy this charming breed!

AUTHOR NOTE: The late Sally Vilas, past President of the ASTC, “discovered” Shih Tzu at about the time the breed was recognized. She and her family shared their home with small numbers of Poodles and Shih Tzu, and produced champions in both breeds, including BIS Shih Tzu Ch. Vilenzo Red Rover Red Rover. She began judging Shih Tzu and Poodles in 1993 and later judged Toy and Non-Sporting Groups, Best in Show and Junior Showmanship; she judged the ASTC National Specialty twice.