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Shih Tzu Breed | More Than Just a Pretty Face

Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu breed is a luxuriously coated Toy breed with a distinctive chrysanthemum face, rectangular body, and an amazing personality and temperament. Shih Tzu also have a “signature” proud head, with a tail held high over the back. They require extensive grooming, so the exhibitors, breeders, and handlers can easily fool the inexperienced judge. Shih Tzu are more than just a pretty face accentuated by an elaborate, and sometimes overdone, artificial topknot.

Anyone contemplating judging our breed or gaining a better understanding of Shih Tzu should begin their education by obtaining a copy of The Illustrated Guide to the Shih Tzu Standard, available from the American Shih Tzu Club. As Chairperson of the committee that developed the guide, I feel it truly is a valuable tool that includes numerous color photos as well as a number of  “before and afters” of  the Shih Tzu in coat—and even shaved down naked. It also contains written clarifications of important points of the Standard and numerous sketches by Stephen Hubbell that outline the breed’s finer points. This booklet is an excellent way to train your eye to look beyond the hair so that you can visualize the actual structure and shape the dog should be as it struts around the ring.

It also contains a description of the “Essence of Shih Tzu Breed Type.” A knowledge of the characteristics listed below, in order of importance, will help take the mystery away from understanding this amazing breed.


Temperament: Outgoing, lively, alert, proud, arrogant, affectionate, friendly, and trusting.

Head: Round and broad, with eyes that are large, round, and dark; the expression is warm, friendly, and trusting, with the head in proportion to the body.

Body: Overall balance and proportion is rectangular; well-bodied, good bone, topline level, high teacup tail.

Gait: Smooth, flowing, effortless; head and tail held high.

Coat: Long, luxurious, and double-coated.

Please allow me to briefly expound on some key points when judging the Shih Tzu.


This is the most important aspect of Shih Tzu. They MUST be outgoing and friendly. Shih Tzu can have a number of personalities. They can be clowns and naughty, regal, and a bit arrogant. However, they should under no circumstances be aggressive or shy. While examining them, you can fully expect a wagging tail, sparkling eyes, and in general, an extremely happy dog that would love to be in your arms. They should love everyone!!!


The Shih Tzu head is what makes our breed unique. Think “round” from all sides. As a judge, I like to see the head at least the size of a grapefruit or larger. Today’s exhibitors are, unfortunately, what we refer to as “Artists.” Once you learn how to examine the head, you can see beyond all the fuss and grandiose grooming. Using the method of cupping the head in your hands with fingers behind the ears, you can then use your thumbs to do all the examining of the rest of the head. This allows you to look into their eyes, feel the whole shape of the skull, width of muzzle, amount of stop, and fullness of fore skull, without destroying the grooming.


Shih Tzu should be surprisingly heavy for their size. The average show dog weighs between 9 and 13 pounds and measures approximately 9 to 10.5 inches at the shoulder when mature. Puppies may sometimes appear to be large, especially if they have the proper coat texture. We want substance, good bone, body, forechest, and shelf in the rear. Shih Tzu do not have a waist or tuck up. They are slightly longer than tall.


Shih Tzu should be built as well as any other breed of dog. They should have a good structure so that they can move effortlessly and smoothly, with head held proudly and the tail over the back. Ideally, the tail set is high and carried properly. (We describe it as a teapot handle.) The tail should not be flat on the back. You want to be able to see the reach and drive from the side, as well as two black pads when the dog is moving away from you.


Many judges are confused about coats because of all the techniques that the exhibitors are now using to camouflage bad coats; to look like good ones. The coat must be luxurious, double -coated and dense. All colors and markings should be considered equally. This may be difficult, as some markings may help or hinder the appearance of balance with the overall dog. You may have to take more time on the solid colors, especially when examining the heads. Different colors can have different textures and fullness of hair. Puppies that have an abundance of puppy coat will appear larger, and adults that have been shown frequently may appear to have single coats. We want a double coat that, on adults, will appear to be long, luxurious, and flowing.

Shih Tzu breed
Attached sketches by Stephen Hubbell from ASTC Illustrated Guide.

When judging, I will bring my class into the ring and, depending on the size of the class, move them as a group or individually first. Going down the line, and from the center of the ring, will give you a good indication of size, proportion, and balance within the class. When judging this breed outdoors, they are sometimes at a great disadvantage depending on the show grounds and the length of the grass. This is when the examinations on the table are very important. It is
difficult to judge balance when the grass is long—and is also difficult to judge movement as well.

In conclusion, I feel Shih Tzu are an awesome breed and we want all judges to enjoy their experiences in our breed. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the important nuances of our breed, by studying the Illustrated Guide, will give you the confidence to pick the correct dog whether it is being shown by a breeder, a handler or a rank novice. Do not be fooled, as the Shih Tzu is more than just a pretty face.