Advice for New Shih Tzu Judges and Prospective Judges

By Sally Vilas
(Originally published in Top Notch Toys, November 2007)


Many of us, when writing about ’how to judge’ a breed, have described general or specific ring procedures for that breed. I’ve done that myself but was asked to offer advice for newer judges of the Shih Tzu. This sounds obvious, but I start with that borrowed slogan: BE PREPARED!

Of course the judge, new or experienced, has already studied the breed by attending seminars, finding mentors, attending specialties, and taking advantage of any opportunity to put hands on actual Shih Tzu! He/she has been interviewed to determine depth of knowledge of the breed, and AKC has granted approval to adjudicate the breed. That may be where our preparation begins, but should not be where it ends.


BE PREPARED to use parent club material about the breed. I urge new or experienced judges of Shih Tzu to include in their preparation ‘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 somewhat 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 appropriate description). The accompanying honest evaluations of 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 of the shelf and review what the parent club is telling you about the breed. To order a copy, contact Lee Stephens.


BE PREPARED to evaluate the balance of the dogs; they 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 use your hands to confirm visual evaluations made while the class is moving around the ring.


BE MENTALLY PREPARED to deal with the parts of the Shih Tzu that might be most challenging to judge: do not fear getting into and under the coat to find the structure. 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 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.

Round is also a key word for Shih Tzu eyes, which are additionally supposed to 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.


BE PREPARED to use your hands to feel for straight front legs, 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.


BE PREPARED to evaluate the topline when the dog is moving. A good handler may be able to show a level topline when the dog is on the exam table but the true test is whether that smooth, level topline is seen when the dog is moving. I see too many Shih Tzu with a sloping croup and resulting low tail set; these affect the topline and the overall balance of the dog.


BE PREPAREDto reward a Shih Tzu with the proper head and expression even if it does not have the currently faddish towering topknot. Higher is not better! The topknot should help to frame the face and enhance the expression; it should not resemble a palm tree or a show-girl headdress. In fact, the too-tall topknot can actually distort the profile and thereby hide some of the virtues of the dog. There should be enough length of neck to “permit natural head carriage...in balance with the height and length of the dog”, but not so much that the dog resembles a giraffe rather than the ‘overall well-balanced dog with no exaggerated features” that our standard describes.


BE PREPARED to consider equally dogs that fall within our size range; do not fall into the pattern of rewarding only small Shih Tzu. Any dog within the 9 to 10 1/2 inch and 9 to 16 pounds must be evaluated equally; overall balance and proportion is what is important.


BE PREPAREDto enjoy your time with Shih Tzu. Temperament is important. Do not reward a dog that is shy or aggressive. When you approach a friendly Shih Tzu puppy and see that wagging tail, it will make you smile. Enjoy your experiences in the ring with this lovely breed!


AUTHOR'S BACKGROUND: My husband & I began showing Poodles in Obedience and then Conformation some 40 years ago and then ‘discovered’ Shih Tzu about the time they were recognized. Both breeds are wonderful family companions, which was important for our situation where our show dogs were kept in small numbers in a home situation. They had to enjoy life with our two sons and their friends. My first mentor in dogs taught me that commitment to the sport should include service in appropriate organizations. I was President of the American Shih Tzu Club from 1996 to 2006, and am currently Recording Secretary, AKC Delegate, and a member of the Judges Education Committee. I am a member of the Poodle Club of America, Poodle Club of Central California, Golden Gate Shih Tzu Fanciers and Nor-Cal Toy Dog Fanciers, and have served as an officer and/or committee member for all them. I also serve on an external advisory board for the Center for Companion Animal Health at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. I am approved to judge the Toy & Non-Sporting Groups.