By Laurie Semple
Our standard is very clear. It says that “the Shih Tzu moves straight and must be shown at its own natural speed, neither raced nor strung-up…. Why, then, weekend after weekend, do Shih Tzu rings look more like race tracks than dog shows, with handlers taking off in such a blur of speed that you can barely tell one dog from the other?
While an occasional judge may ask exhibitors to slow down, the request is often ignored. Dishearteningly, sometimes those who have ignored the judge’s request win the class anyway. This is unacceptable. Judges should be wary of the handler who runs with a Shih Tzu, because he or she may be hiding something.
If a dog is induced to trot at a faster speed than is natural for that dog, it is forced to “dig in deeper” to the ground in an effort to keep up. This can create an illusion of reach and drive that really isn’t there. Excessive speed can also make it harder to see a dog rocking in the front due to a poor front assembly. A dog that is struggling to trot at a high rate of speed will still have a slight bounce when viewed from the side, but sometimes this can be missed. At an outdoor show, it can be attributed (mistakenly) to rough terrain. Any rocking or swaying in the front end will not be as noticeable in a dog that is flying around the ring.
Overall, a number of structural defects are less obvious when a dog is moving at a high rate of speed. I therefore urge judges to insist upon a natural pace in their rings and penalize those who do not comply. A natural pace for most toy breeds is about the speed that the average person can “power-walk” (walk as fast as possible without breaking into a run). Some tension on the lead is often needed to guide and direct the dog. But if you race your dog around the ring with its front feet barely touching the ground, or allow your handler to do so, who are you really fooling?
Of course, some dogs may not move well simply because of poor muscle tone. Many Shih Tzu are shown in flabby condition. It is very hard to allow our Shih Tzu to run and play daily because so much emphasis is placed on the coat. Nevertheless, exercise is essential. Pacing in a small ex-pen isn’t real exercise….in fact, that kind of continued confinement with no play breaks can damage our dogs psychologically. Tie up the coat if you must, and go around the block a few times a week with the dog on a lead. This is one way to tone up our dogs (and ourselves!). Some people invest in treadmills.
Once your dog has been brought into proper muscle condition, evaluate its movement at a natural speed. If it still exhibits some rocking or bouncing or other problem when moved at a proper pace, you could indeed have a serious structural problem. If so, will having the dog run around the ring really solve the problem? Will this dog’s get have the same fault? Are structurally flawed dogs are worth finishing, even if you can do so? The future of our breed is in your hands.
This article was reprinted from the March 2007 AKC Gazette with the permission of the author. Author Laurie Semple, who died in May 2008, was involved in Shih Tzu for 37 years and bred and or owned about 25 Shih Tzu champions. At the time of her death she was president of the Shih Tzu Club of Northern New Jersey and an active member of the ASTC Education Committee. For much of her life, she was deeply involved with Shih Tzu rescue.