Shih Tzu Heads

This is the first in a series of four articles based on the breeder education seminar held during the 2010 ASTC National Specialty in St. Louis, Missouri. Each will cover one of the four stations—heads, fronts, rears, and overall balance and movement. The presenters at the heads station Bonnie Guggenheim and Jo Ann White; their remarks are summarized below.

The four live dogs used at the seminar to illustrate the Shih Tzu head all had beautiful heads, because the presenters wanted participants to form a mental picture of what is correct rather than fault judging bits and pieces of the complex collection of recessives that create the desired soft, warm expression. Breeders should do the same, remembering that the head and its various parts should be in proportion to the overall size of the dog.

First and foremost when looking at the Shih Tzu head, you should have an overall impression of roundness. The head itself should be round when viewed from the front or the side. This requires dome and plenty of foreskull and fill; the skull should never fall away abruptly behind the eyes. The ears should blend into the head—ears that are set too high make the top of the skull appear flat, while ears that are set too low produce a “houndy” look.

The eyes should be large, set well apart, and pointing straight ahead; they should be round, not almond-shaped. Correct eyes are full, dark, and expressive—warm and melting, rather than like little black shoe buttons. They do not protrude nor show excessive eye white (a small amount of white showing at the corner, particularly when the dog is looking sideways, is generally considered acceptable). Only dogs with liver or blue coloring will have slightly lighter eyes and pigment. Otherwise, eyes, eye rims, nose, and lips should be very dark. For health reasons, the nostrils should be broad, wide, and open.

The broad, square muzzle should be set no lower than the bottom of the eye rim and is flat when viewed from the side. It should generally be no more than one inch in length, with the appropriate length determined by the overall size of the dog. The desired soft expression is enhanced by plenty of muzzle cushioning. A lack of cushioning creates a shallow, hard look. There is a definite stop. An uptilted muzzle creates a “Persian kitten” look. A downtilted muzzle, particularly when coupled with a weak underjaw, results in an unappealing “Andy Gump” look. The bite is undershot, the underjaw is strong and broad, and the teeth and tongue should never show when the mouth is closed; an occasional missing or misaligned tooth is generally not severely penalized.

When presenting your dog in the show ring, you obviously will do what you can to make the head look as correct as possible. This is why judges are cautioned to look beyond the grooming and use their hands to determine the actual size, shape, and expression. As a breeder, however, you need to be honest with yourself if your breeding program is to progress. Remember that the Shih Tzu’s “warm, sweet, wide-eyed, friendly and trusting” expression reflects its temperament and is an important part of its appeal.

NOTE:This article first appeared in the March 2011 issue of the AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe, visit AKC Publications