Smoke and Mirrors

By Bonnie L. Guggenheim

Once upon a time when the breed was young, at least in AKC terms, Shih Tzu had one rubber band in the topknot, had hair that had one or two strands out of place and probably a less-than-sculptured look overall. Structurally the dogs were not better…they did not move better…and they did not grow any more or less hair. They did have better heads!!! This is a head breed! Shih Tzu in the ring today are groomed to perfection with topknots that are a work of art and scissored under, around and underneath to create the impression of the “perfect” Shih Tzu.

Skillful grooming creates the smoke and mirrors effect but it is a dog show, beauty contest and a game of sorts. It is also the presenter’s job to make his dog look the best it possibly can and the judge’s job to actually understand what the dog looks like “undressed.”

Reading the standard should give judges a clear understanding of the breed with a few areas that need discussion. Of utmost importance is an overall well-balanced dog without exaggeration.

The neck is to be well set and flowing smoothly into the shoulders. This does not mean a long exaggerated neck with a small head sitting on top. Level topline with a rectangular body……SLIGHTLY longer than tall. The tail should be high set, curved well over the back (not a tightly curled doughnut) and should give the illusion of close to square. Shoulders are to be well angulated and laid back fitting smoothly into the body with straight legs, well boned, wide apart and fitting under the chest. Hindquarters should be angulated and be in balance with the forequarters – The Shih Tzu going away should show smooth, flowing effortless movement with not exaggerated kick up. I’m seeing more of this than I’d like and while it is flashy, it is not correct. The Shih Tzu may be any color and while symmetrical head markings do give a more striking appearance and make the heads look larger, there are no disqualifications for uneven markings.

Shih Tzu in the ring today often have an inordinate length of neck, head of a less than desirable size and shape and a kick in the rear that is very Lhasa-like. Top these things with a 3-inch topknot and while the dog truly is out of balance, the “go around” side picture looks elegant and correct. Careful table examination will give a true picture of the head if you have done your homework, and a loose lead at a moderate speed will tell even more. Strung up and flying around the ring does not give the true picture.

The American Shih Tzu Club has available a number of tools to clarify proper judging, including a videotape of the Shih Tzu standard; available by mail from:

Jo Ann White
5136 36th Street West
Bradenton, FL 34210

and the 64-page Illustrated Guide to the Shih Tzu Standard; available by mail from:

Lee Stephens
1744 Sunwood Drive
Longwood, FL 32779-2790

The video and Illustrated Guide are $5 each to judges and prospective judges. Tapes and DVDs of previous national specialties are available through the ASTC Store. The Judges Education Committee has breeder judges who serve as mentors and will do presentations. Additional information is available from ASTC Judges Education Coordinator Kristi Trivilino at krigar@aol.com.

One last comment… and particularly in my ring…Do not swing your dog off the table by the lead and the tail. You could collapse a trachea or cause other injury.

Reprinted from The Shih Tzu Bulletin. Author Bonnie Guggenheim, Vice President of the American Shih Tzu Club, began breeding Shih Tzu before AKC recognition. She previously served as Shih Tzu breed columnist for the AKC Gazette and as chair of the ASTC Judges Education Committee. She is licensed to judge Shih Tzu and a number of other breeds, including Japanese Chin and Poodles.