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Breed Priorities – The Shih Tzu

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264 – September 2019

By Nikki Riggsbee

The Shih Tzu (meaning Lion Dog) began in Tibet and became a treasured dog of royalty in China. Some suggest it may have been the product of other Chinese/Tibetan breeds such as the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese. The breed arrived in the United States from Europe in the mid-twentieth century. It currently ranks 20th in AKC registrations.

The Shih Tzu’s popularity surely derives from its primary job as a delightful companion, good with children and other pets. Its temperament is happy, even tempered, and loving. It is beautiful and glamourous as well as a great companion, with its long flowing coat.

The Shih Tzu provided a challenge in doing a survey of their breed priorities because normal show photos pose the Shih Tzu facing the camera to show off their heads and expressions. It was very difficult to find photos of the dogs standing in full profile to outline for the survey. Many thanks to the Shih Tzu folks who helped find enough suitable photos for this project.

Many other breeds also pose the dogs facing the camera. Let me solicit photos here of those facing-camera breeds we haven’t done surveys for, with the dogs in full profile. High quality, typical dogs in high resolution photos are needed for Affenpinschers, Maltese, and Yorkshire Terriers – with the dog in full profile including the head.

We found thirty-three Shih Tzu breeder-judges and mentors. Twenty-four of them accepted the invitation to take a survey on their breed priorities. By the deadline, fifteen surveys were received. This group has been in the breed nearly forty years on average. Those who are judges have been judging their breed for over twenty-two years on average.

 Shih Tzu Virtues

The experts were asked to rank a list of virtues taken from their breed standard. Below is the list in sequence by the average of the group’s rankings, with one being the most important. Yes, the list has only fifteen items this time.

1. Head round, broad, wide between eyes

2. Outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly, trusting

3. Expression warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly, trusting

4. Eyes large, round, not prominent…very dark

5. Smooth, flowing, effortless movement, good front reach, equally strong rear drive

6. Compact, solid, carrying good weight and substance

7. Chest broad, deep, good spring-of-rib

8. Legs straight, well-boned, muscular, set well apart under the chest

9. Proud of bearing, distinctly arrogant carriage with head well up

10. Topline level

11. Tail set high, heavily plumed, carried in curve well over back

12. Coat luxurious, double-coated, dense, long, flowing

13. Neck well set-on flowing smoothly into shoulders

14. Length between withers and root of tail slightly longer than height at withers

15. (Rear) legs well-boned, muscular, with well-bent stifles

Eleven of the virtues garnered majority opinions, but not by overwhelming numbers. The greatest agreement with eighty percent was on “Head round, broad, wide between eyes” (1st). Almost as many agreed on “Outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly, trusting” (2nd), “Expression warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly, trusting” (3rd), and “(Rear) legs well-boned, muscular, with well-bent stifles” (15th). Actual temperament and that temperament showing in expression were very important, positioned as second and third in the list. Head is also important, with three of the top four features about the head.

“Eyes large, round, not prominent…very dark” (4th) was similarly valued on ten surveys. Nine of the group concurred on “Topline level” (10th), “Tail set high, heavily plumed, carried in curve well over back” (11th), and “Coat luxurious, double-coated, dense, long, flowing” (12th). “Tail carriage” (11th) was mid-point or below for the majority, and another four ranked it thirteenth. “Coat” (12th) was near or in the last quartile for the majority, but four placed it in the top quartile.

The smallest majority agreed on “Chest broad, deep, good spring-of-rib” (7th), “Legs straight, well-boned, muscular, set well apart under chest” (8th), and “Length between withers and root of tail slightly longer than height at withers” (14th). “Chest” (7th) was below average for more, with five ranking it tenth, but another six ranked it above average. “Legs straight/under” (8th) was at or near the third quartile for the bigger number, while four had it mostly in the second quartile. “Height/length proportion” (14th) was midpoint or better for eight, but seven ranked it in the bottom four.

Seven had “Smooth, flowing, effortless movement, good front reach, equally strong rear drive” (5th) fairly important, although three ranked it in the bottom two places. “Proud of bearing, distinctly arrogant carriage with head well up” (9th) was in the bottom quartile for seven, with the other experts all over. Seven had “Neck well set-on flowing smoothly into shoulders” (13th) around the middle, but six others had it lower.

Six experts had “Compact, solid, carrying good weight and substance” (6th) in the second quartile, and another six had it in the third quartile.

A full two points separated the averages between the fourth and fifth placed virtues, confirming the importance of head and temperament.

Additional input might change the relative rankings in the list of items whose averages were fairly close, such as “Legs straight/under” (8th) and “Proud/arrogant carriage” (9th) whose averages were just one-tenth of a point apart.

 Shih Tzu Faults

The survey also included a list of faults taken directly from or derived from their standard. The faults are listed below in sequence by the average ranks, with one being the most serious.

1. Lacking warm, sweet, wide-eyed friendly expression

2. Small, close set eyes, excessive white

3. Snipy, lack of definite stop

4. Head too small

5. Muzzle set lower than bottom of eye rim

6. Lower lip receding

7. Skull not domed

8. Teeth or tongue show when mouth closed

9. Tail not carried in curve well over back

10. Lacking good spring-of-rib

11. Sparse coat, single coat, or curly coat

12. Lacking good front reach and equally strong rear drive

13. Low stationed, dumpy, squatty

13. High stationed, leggy

15. Topline not level

16. Angulation of hindquarters not in balance with forequarters

These experts had less agreement in their opinions on the faults compared to the virtues. Five of the faults had majority agreement.

Nine of the group placed “Lacking warm, sweet, wide-eyed friendly expression” (1st) in the top quartile. The smallest majority concurred on these faults: “Small, close set eyes, excessive white” (2nd), “Head too small” (4th), “Skull not domed” (7th), and “High stationed, leggy” (13th). “Head small” (4th) was quite important for eight, but three had it well below average. “Skull not domed” (7th) was in the second quartile for eight, but three put it in the bottom quartile. The majority put “High stationed, leggy” (tied at 13th) in the bottom quartile, but four placed it in the third quartile, raising its average a bit.

Most of the remaining faults had split opinions. Except for “Topline not level” (15th) – seven ranked it from ten to fourteen, with the rest all over.

“Snipy, lack of definite stop” (3rd) had seven experts put it in the first quartile, five in the second. “Tail not carried in curve well over back” (9th) was in the third quartile for seven experts, third or fourth for four, and thirteenth for three. Seven surveys had “Lacking good spring-of-rib” (10th) eleventh through fourteenth, but five had it in the second quartile.

Seven placed “Sparse coat, single coat, or curly coat” (11th) in the last quartile, but four ranked it fourth through sixth, and three others at midpoint or below. “Angulation of hindquarters not in balance with forequarters” (16th) was in the last quartile on seven surveys and the third quartile on five.

“Muzzle set lower than bottom of eye rim” (5th) ranked five through seven by six experts, in the third quartile by five, and in the top quartile by four. “Lower lip receding” (6th) had a similar split. “Teeth or tongue show when mouth closed” (8th) had the most divergent split, with six ranking between two and five and four in the last quartile, producing an average rank in the middle.

Six experts had “Lacking good front reach and equally strong rear drive” (12th) in the third quartile, five in the bottom quartile, and three placed it sixth. “Low stationed, dumpy, squatty” (tied at 13th) was in the second quartile for five, at or near the bottom for another five, and the third quartile for four.

Additional input would break the tie at thirteen. “Topline not level” (15th) had an average very close to those tied at thirteen. “Bad coat” (11th) and “Lacking reach and drive” (12th) also had averages within one-tenth of a point of each other.

The group was fairly consistent between the two lists. Head, eyes, and expression were important on both. Tail carriage was ninth as a virtue, eleventh when faulty. Coat was twelfth and eleventh. Topline was higher on the virtues list, lower when incorrect. Proportions were toward the bottom on both lists.


The survey included photos of six dogs and six bitches for the experts to place as they would dog show classes. The outlines were made from photos of real dogs – and there was the challenge: finding quality dogs show groomed and standing in full profile to make the outlines from for this survey. It is a coated breed, so the placements might change if the group could get their hands on the dogs, see faces and expression, watch them move, and more; but these placements were based on only what can be seen from outlines.

The dog outline with the best average placement and more first placements than any other was Shih Tzu “F.” Those who placed him first said “overall balance of leg, neck, slightly longer than tall,” “most pleasing outline and apparently the largest head,” “nice layback, proper tailset, correct balance and proportion,” “moderate, good head and tail carriage,”

The second-place dog based on average placement was Shih Tzu “D.” Comments on him included “nice balance and tail set,” “nice head carriage, good body length,” and “proportionate and good rear.”

“D” had the second-best placement average but only one first placement. Dog “B” had the second most first placements with three, but was fourth based on average placements because seven experts left “B” out of the ribbons.

The bitch with the best average placement and most first placements was Shih Tzu “Y.” Comments on her included “most pleasing outline,” “balanced,” “true to standard,” and “beautiful proportions.”

Runner-up bitch based on average placement was Shih Tzu “U.” Those who liked her noted “nice balance and proportion, good head carriage, good front angulation, nice tail,” “best overall shape, size, bone, substance, head size,” and “level topline.” “U” had the second-best average placement and was placed first by two experts. Bitch “Z” had three first placements, but was third by average placement.

Dog “F” was named Best of Breed by six experts and had the best average placement and first placements (ten) of all the outlines. Bitch “Y” placed first on eight surveys and was named BOB three times, the only bitch to do so.

All the dogs were placed first at least once except for “A and “C.” All the bitches placed first on at least one survey except for “V” and “W.” Dog “A” and bitch “W” were unplaced by thirteen experts.

Essential Characteristics

The experts were asked to name four to six essential characteristics that a Shih Tzu must have to be a good one. The head was listed on every survey – the head should be large, broad, and round. Temperament was named next most often followed by eyes (large, round, dark) and movement (sound, effortless, smooth, with reach and drive and head held high) followed by expression. Features they named were consistent with their priorities on the lists above.

Additional Notes

The Shih Tzu experts offered the following comments to help others evaluate their breed:

• Focus on temperament, large head, large bone, good substance, sound, with full eyes and expression.

• Correct structure can be determined by moving the dog up and back and in profile.

• On the table, examine head and expression including correct bite and correct muzzle and its placement.

• You must look under the coat.

• The head makes it a Shih Tzu, not the expression created by grooming.

• The Shih Tzu is a coat breed, not a coated breed. The coat is important, but not as much as the dog underneath.

• First – temperament, second – head, third – body (bone and substance), fourth – gait, last – coat.

• Look for head domes that are real, not puffs of hair.

• Movement with reach and drive that is smooth, not bouncy (the tail bouncing is okay.)

• Lift the whiskers to see the bite.

• Don’t let coat distract, don’t reward grooming over quality.

• Although a toy dog, it needs to be as sound as a working dog, but in a small package.

• Look for a beautiful, warm, welcoming expression, with a large head, and large, warm, dark eyes.

• All colors and markings are accepted.

Much appreciation to the experts for sharing their knowledge – and to several for also sharing photos to outline.

 Official Standard of the Shih Tzu

 General Appearance: The Shih Tzu is a sturdy, lively, alert toy dog with long flowing double coat. Befitting his noble Chinese ancestry as a highly valued, prized companion and palace pet, the Shih Tzu is proud of bearing, has a distinctively arrogant carriage with head well up and tail curved over the back. Although there has always been considerable size variation, the Shih Tzu must be compact, solid, carrying good weight and substance.

Even though a toy dog, the Shih Tzu must be subject to the same requirements of soundness and structure prescribed for all breeds, and any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Shih Tzu as in any other breed, regardless of whether or not such faults are specifically mentioned in the standard.

Size, Proportion, Substance: Size – Ideally, height at withers is 9 to 10½ inches; but, not less than 8 inches nor more than 11 inches. Ideally, weight of mature dogs, 9 to 16 pounds. Proportion – Length between withers and root of tail is slightly longer than height at withers. The Shih Tzu must never be so high stationed as to appear leggy, nor so low stationed as to appear dumpy or squatty. Substance – Regardless of size, the Shih Tzu is always compact, solid and carries good weight and substance.

Head: Head – Round, broad, wide between eyes, its size in balance with the overall size of dog being neither too large nor too small. Fault: Narrow head, close-set eyes. Expression – Warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly and trusting. An overall well-balanced and pleasant expression supersedes the importance of individual parts. Care should be taken to look and 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. Eyes – Large, round, not prominent, placed well apart, looking straight ahead. Very dark. Lighter on liver pigmented dogs and blue pigmented dogs. Fault: Small, close-set or light eyes; excessive eye white. Ears – Large, set slightly below crown of skull; heavily coated. Skull – Domed. Stop – There is a definite stop. Muzzle – Square, short, unwrinkled, with good cushioning, set no lower than bottom eye rim; never downturned. Ideally, no longer than 1 inch from tip of nose to stop, although length may vary slightly in relation to overall size of dog. Front of muzzle should be flat; lower lip and chin not protruding and definitely never receding. Fault: Snipiness, lack of definite stop. Nose – Nostrils are broad, wide, and open. Pigmentation – Nose, lips, eye rims are black on all colors, except liver on liver pigmented dogs and blue on blue pigmented dogs. Fault: Pink on nose, lips, or eye rims. Bite – Undershot. Jaw is broad and wide. A missing tooth or slightly misaligned teeth should not be too severely penalized. Teeth and tongue should not show when mouth is closed. Fault: Overshot bite.

Neck, Topline, Body: Of utmost importance is an overall well-balanced dog with no exaggerated features. Neck – Well set-on flowing smoothly into shoulders; of sufficient length to permit natural high head carriage and in balance with height and length of dog. Topline – Level. Body – Short-coupled and sturdy with no waist or tuck-up. The Shih Tzu is slightly longer than tall. Fault – Legginess. Chest – Broad and deep with good spring-of-rib, however, not barrel-chested. Depth of ribcage should extend to just below elbow. Distance from elbow to withers is a little greater than from elbow to ground. Croup – Flat. Tail – Set on high, heavily plumed, carried in curve well over back. Too loose, too tight, too flat, or too low set a tail is undesirable and should be penalized to extent of deviation.

Forequarters: Shoulders – Well-angulated, well laid-back, well laid-in, fitting smoothly into body. Legs – Straight, well-boned, muscular, set well-apart and under chest, with elbows set close to body. Pasterns – Strong, perpendicular. Dewclaws – May be removed. Feet – Firm, well-padded, point straight ahead.

Hindquarters: Angulation of hindquarters should be in balance with forequarters. Legs – Well-boned, muscular, and straight when viewed from rear with well-bent stifles, not close set but in line with forequarters. Hocks – Well let down, perpendicular. Fault – Hyperextension of hocks. Dewclaws – May be removed. Feet – Firm, well-padded, point straight ahead.

Coat: Coat – Luxurious, double-coated, dense, long, and flowing. Slight wave permissible. Hair on top of head is tied up. Fault: Sparse coat, single coat, curly coat. Trimming – Feet, bottom of coat, and anus may be done for neatness and to facilitate movement. Fault – Excessive trimming.

Color and Markings: All are permissible and to be considered equally.

Gait: The Shih Tzu moves straight and must be shown at its own natural speed, neither raced nor strung-up, to evaluate its smooth, flowing, effortless movement with good front reach and equally strong rear drive, level topline, naturally high head carriage, and tail carried in gentle curve over back.

Temperament: As the sole purpose of the Shih Tzu is that of a companion and house pet, it is essential that its temperament be outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly and trusting towards all.

 Approved May 9, 1989 – Effective June 29, 1989

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264 – September 2019

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