Shih Tzu Fronts

Fronts are generally the most anatomically flawed part of a Shih Tzu—or, indeed, of any breed. In Shih Tzu, the problem is compounded by the fact that structural flaws are hidden under a curtain of hair. Unlike the hindquarters, which are hooked into the spine, the front end is like a suspension bridge connected by muscles and ligaments. Breeding and consistently maintaining good fronts is extremely difficult.

An excellent Shih Tzu of any weight/size has a broad, deep chest that should extend down to or below the elbow. The bones between elbow and wrist should be straight, and the toes should point straight ahead whether the dog is moving or stacked. The forechest, which may be either rounded or angular and often feels like the prow of a ship, should be pronounced. On an adult Shih Tzu, you should be able to slide your entire hand down the forechest and insert it between the dog’s front legs. If you cannot, the dog is likely slabsided, leggy, too narrow in front, and lacking in bone.

Ideally, the three main bones of the foreleg——the scapula, the humerous, and the ulna—should be of equal length. A short upper arm is perhaps the most common fault in Shih Tzu, and results in a lack of front reach. The shoulders should be well angulated, well laid back, and fit smoothly into the body. There should be a naturally high head carriage, with a smooth transition from the neck to the shoulders to the withers.

You can also have a high head carriage with steep or “stuffy” shoulders, because the neck can go up into the space between shoulder blades that are not well laid in. You then get a right angle between the neck and the topline, rather than the more desirable smooth arch. The presenters felt that steep shoulders were a less serious fault than bowed front legs or a lack of forechest, bone, and spring of rib, but cautioned that a dog with steep shoulders should be bred to one with shoulders that were well laid in.
To understand structure, you need to read the standard over and over and learn to feel for correct structure and be able to recognize it when the dog is moving. Examining wet or cut-down dogs is a good way to see how they use their front ends. They should not single track, and should have good front reach and a naturally high head carriage without being raced or strung up. A dog that is good to go over standing still is sometimes not sound kinetically. Often the movement problem in this case is a mental one, rather than being caused by faulty structure. The ASTC web site has additional information on structure and movement, including sections of the Illustrated Guide to the Shih Tzu Standard.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the June 2011 issue of the AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe, visit This is the second in a series of four articles based on the breeder education seminar held during the 2010 ASTC National Specialty in St. Louis, Missouri. Each will cover one of the four stations—heads, fronts, rears, and overall balance and movement. The first, covering heads, appeared in the March 2011 Gazette. The presenters at the station on fronts were Kristi Trivilino and Dorothy Edge; their remarks are summarized above.