by Jo Ann White
Over the past few years, there have been many comments from long-time breeders, exhibitors, and breeder-judges about the deterioration in the quality of Shih Tzu eyes. While there has been some recent improvement, particularly in terms the elimination of eyes showing a huge amount of white and those that protrude excessively, a great deal still needs to be done.
Most breeders consider the Shih Tzu to be a “head breed.” While structural soundness and coat are important, head and expression are what make the Shih Tzu different from all other breeds. One of the most important facets of this is the Shih Tzu’s dark, meltingly expressive eyes. The breed standard calls for the eyes to be “large, round, not prominent, placed well apart….Very dark…” Small, close-set or light eyes and excessive eye white are considered faults. The expression should be “Warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly and trusting.” The desired expression is in large part determined by the shape and placement of the eyes, and enhanced by a properly placed broad, square muzzle with lots of cushioning.
Although a small amount of white seen mostly in the corners of the eye when the dog is not looking straight ahead is permissible, Shih Tzu showing too much white in the eyes have a startled look that is anything but warm and sweet. In some cases, this happens because the head is too small and the eye socket too shallow for the proper sized eye. The white can be (and often has been) eliminated by breeding for a smaller eye, but this creates two faults rather than correcting one. A properly placed eye of proper size requires a large head. If a dark eye is too small, it will not have the required expressiveness; the look will be harsh instead of sweet. An eye that is large but too light in color will also be unappealing. (Note, however, that lighter eyes are correct in rarely seen blue and liver dogs.) Likewise, eyes that are oval or almond-shaped, or are set too close together, too far above the nose, or too far towards the side of a head that falls away abruptly lack the proper expression.
I have had many people, when looking at proper and correctly placed eyes, comment that the expression makes them want to simply melt. Such eyes are the result of a complex collection of recessives and have become increasingly rare, but once you have seen them you will fall in love! Poufing the topknot out over the forehead won’t hide the “eye problem” from a knowledgeable judge. As our standard points out, “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.” This head and expression can be seen in the artwork in the Illustrated Guide to the Shih Tzu Standard.
NOTE: This article first appeared in the March 2010 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe, visit www.akc.org/pubs.