By Alice Bixler
NOTE: While this article was originally written about the Lowchen, it is equally applicable when you substitute “Shih Tzu” for “Löwchen,” as our breed also has a “tea cup” tail. Shih Tzu tails have more hair on them, though, so the cup handle may be more difficult to see. While Shih Tzu tail-sets have been improving in recent years, we still see some that are incorrect. Just one caveat: Shih Tzu are not supposed to drop their tails when moving or standing still, but some of them don’t like their tails being “fussed with” when being set up, brushed, or examined. They may let you know this by temporarily twisting these appendages into really peculiar shapes! Once they start moving, however, their tails should return to the desired cup handle position. And now on to the tails, with thanks to Alice.
Think “tea cup,” the old-fashioned kind with the precisely curved handle—a handle without curlicues, dips, or squiggles, just a gentle up and over smooth curve that invites you to curl your index finger around it, project your pinky out for balance, and politely sip your tea. Now, transfer the image of that handle to the posterior of your Löwchen.
The correctly set and carried Löwchen tail should bring to mind that perfect tea cup handle. If the plume end of the tail were firmly affixed to the dog’s back (please don’t try it), you should be able to envision slipping a finger or two through the opening as you would that cup handle. Keep in mind that we’re talking about the Löwchen in motion. It’s perfectly acceptable for the Löwchen to relax the tail into a downward position when standing still, which they may do on rare occasions. But once on the move, the high-set tail should rise to the occasion and assume the “cup handle” curve over the back.
Never, ever should the tail lie flat on the back! It’s equally unacceptable for it to be carried upright like a flagpole. And it’s positively unthinkable that it should ever be tucked under between the hind legs. That would be totally out of character for this outgoing, confident breed. While standards from other countries stipulate that the tail should be “carried gaily,” the AKC standard specifically calls for “cup handle” carriage. It doesn’t matter if the plume drapes over the middle of the back or cascades to one side or the other.
The correct tail-set is important. Ideally, there’s no drop or change in the level topline until the point where the tail lifts off from the back. A nicely rounded rump is a hallmark of the breed, but it should never be achieved by means of a low tail-set.
It’s often been said that if one must go to the tail of the dog to find a fault, it’s probably a pretty good dog. But that’s far from true when it comes to the Löwchen. That correct “cup handle” tail is a vital part of the unique profile presented by the ideal specimen of the breed.
This article first appeared in the September, 2004 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission.