This is the final article in a four-art series based on the breeder education seminar held during the 2010 ASTC National Specialty in St. Louis, Missouri. The presenters at the fourth station, on overall balance and movement, were Joe Walton and David Ritchkoff.
First you must train your eye to recognize that the Shih Tzu is a rectangular dog. The length from withers to root of tail is slightly longer than the height from withers to ground. There has, of course, been frequent disagreement about exactly what “slightly” means! Nevertheless, the correctly balanced Shih Tzu is NEVER a square dog like the Poodle. It should not be so high-stationed as to appear leggy, nor so low-stationed as to appear dumpy or squatty.
Many things can create optical illusions that hinder efforts to determine which Shih Tzu has the most correct overall balance. A solid-colored dog will appear longer than a parti-colored one. A wide white shawl automatically shortens the dog visually, as a wide blaze broadens the head. A high-set, arched tail makes the back appear shorter than a tightly curled or flat one. A too-loose tail on a teething puppy will probably tighten, while a tight tail will remain tight. A young Shih Tzu can appear out at the elbow when the coat breaks at that point. This demonstrates how essential it is to physically examine the dog under the hair to determine whether or not it is correct.
Skillful grooming can also visually alter the appearance of a dog. The towering topknot is the most notable example. However, skillful groomers often thin out the hair on the neck to visually elongate it, trim closer to the inside of the feet to create the illusion of a wider front or rear, etc. Many deep stops, well-cushioned muzzles, and short noses are created by hair alone. One way to help train your eye when observing dogs in the show ring is to look at toplines, rather than topknots.
Front and rear angulation should be balanced. In the ring, if not in a breeding program, it is better to have a dog that is equally steep in shoulder and pelvis than one that is well angulated at one end and steep at the other. The former will move more effortlessly than the latter. In any case, the front and rear angulation of a dog that bounces when moving cannot be correct, nor can one with a sloping topline. An individual Shih Tzu might well move at a natural speed consistent with a very fast walk. However, the Shih Tzu should NEVER be raced or strung up.
Our standard calls for a weight range of 9 to 16 pounds, and a height of 9 to 11 inches. Whatever its size or weight, the Shih Tzu is supposed to be sturdy and solid. Nevertheless, depending on the amount of bone and coat, one Shih Tzu could easily weigh twice as much of another even though they appear to be of similar size. A fine-boned, slab-sided dog, especially one with a dense, wooly undercoat, can appear much larger than it actually is. Once again, always use your hands as well as your eyes to determine what is correct and what is illusion.
CREDIT This article first appeared in the December 2011 issue of the AKC Gazette, and is reprinted with permission. To read this and other AKC publications, go to AKC Publications