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The Shih Tzu Topknot

The Shih Tzu Topknot


The shapes and styles of Shih Tzu topknots over the past few decades has morphed to a point of exaggeration that, in many cases, is detrimental to the purpose of the bow (which is to draw attention to the beautiful, large, round head and the warm expression of our breed).

The sole purpose of the Shih Tzu is as a companion dog. A warm, friendly, and trusting temperament is the most important aspect and is an essential component of breed type. Breeders and exhibitors have worked hard to present our breed in a fashion that enhances the beauty and elegance of the breed, resulting in a winning look that has seen the Shih Tzu consistently garnering high awards in strong Group and Best in Show rings.

The breed generally receives a considerable amount of proper coat conditioning and attention to the finishing touches.

There are varying degrees of presentation of Shih Tzu, not only in the US and Canada but in every country in the world. A quick observation is that in countries around the world where Shih Tzu are rewarded highly and hold their own against other breeds in the Group, the breed generally receives a considerable amount of proper coat conditioning and attention to the finishing touches. This results in our Shih Tzu having the “irresistible factor” when presented in the ring, exuding correct breed type in a complete package.

During the early 1970s, in North America and in many countries around the world, the hair on the top of the head was generally held up with a single elastic band. By the late ‘70s, the single band was enhanced with a simple bow, as exhibitors were proud of their beautiful charges and wanted to draw attention to a correct head with its warm expression.

Over time, and with the use of more elastic bands, fancier bows, back-combing, and teasing, many exhibitors’ efforts appeared as works of “art” that ranged from very acceptable to completely outlandish.

Shih Tzu topknot

Judges today need to learn to judge the Shih Tzu in spite of the exhibitors’ creations that can easily confuse the untrained. Focus first on feeling, with your fingers, the actual construction of the head, which should be large and round. Frame the head by cupping it in your hands with your thumbs up… use your thumbs to feel the whole head by getting under the topknot to feel the correct, round dome of the head and the broadness of the skull. (Thumbs “in and out” will not destroy the Shih Tzu’s topknot and annoy the exhibitor.)

Look directly into the face to see the wide-set, large, round, dark eyes. Feel the muzzle, which should be broad and square. Check the bite to be sure the slightly undershot bite [slightly undershot or level, per CKC Standard—Ed.] has a broad underjaw with incisors and canines in a straight line, which is so important to the expression and “Oriental” look of the Shih Tzu.

Determine whether the head is in balance with the well-boned, sturdy body. This technique will allow you to completely and thoroughly examine the head in spite of the efforts of the groomer to enhance the look of a Shih Tzu with a topknot that occasionally appears artificial and incorrect.

Many of you may have heard of the “Bow” controversy at Crufts several years ago. The breed judge placed a sign at the ring entrance that read: “Bows and/or any other adornments will not be permitted in the ring. Plain elastic band holding the topknot up only please.” Apparently, she then received a barrage of nasty comments from “overseas exhibitors.” IMHO, Much Ado About Nothing!!!!

I feel that the judge’s sign was very appropriate on many levels. The first is that it is a new amendment to the breed standard by the Kennel Club in the UK. Secondly, as a very longtime exhibitor, I appreciate knowing the preferences of the judge before entering the ring. If she preferred “no bows”… that would have been fine for me and I would have taken advantage of the “heads-up.”

In November 2016, The Kennel Club sent a letter out to all Shih Tzu Clubs, advising of an amendment to the Shih Tzu Breed Standard that “…it is strongly recommended that the hair on head is tied-up without adornment.”

Matthew Russell, Chairman of the Shih Tzu Club in the UK, said his club had been lobbying for this recommendation on bows because they are part of a “trend in recent years” to regard the dog as a “designer or hand-bag dog,” which is “as much a status symbol as it is a pet and companion.” He said this is of “great concern” to the vast majority of breeders and exhibitors in the UK. For me, personally, I do not have a grave concern about this. However, I feel it was not anything that “needed” to be included in the standard.

The danger I see is that this has been amended in the FCI standard, and many countries around the world respect the standard of the country of origin. China is the country of “origin,” but The United Kingdom is “the country of development.” This may cause some confusion in countries that use the FCI standard, as the use of a bow in many FCI countries is widespread and entrenched in the grooming and presentation traditions of exhibitors—and many do not want to give up the right to use a bow.

As I judge, we judge by the standard used by the country we are judging in. Exhibitors in countries that traditionally use a bow (such as most Asian countries and Russia, for example) may be asked by judges to remove the bows. Thank heavens it is only a recommendation that no adornment be used, and not mandatory that there be no adornment. Will they be forced to adhere to a requirement that was primarily intended for shows in the UK, or does the UK want all countries around the world to adhere to this policy?

The high-level presentation, including bows, as seen in Yorkshire Terriers and Maltese in the UK, has never been a focus of UK Shih Tzu breeders. We can appreciate and respect this, though we fail to understand The Kennel Club discouraging bows in Shih Tzu while condoning them in Maltese and Yorkshire Terriers.

It is most likely that the AKC or CKC breed standards will never be changed to reflect “no bows” because the tradition is entrenched in our countries and is used to draw attention and importance to our beautifully headed breed, and not as a mechanism to “hide faults” as is the impression of some. The strongest point we would like to stress with this article is that whether a dog is shown with an inappropriate topknot —with or without a bow—is of very little importance when judging, as it should not hinder the proper assessment of our affectionate, sturdy, and beautiful breed: THE SHIH TZU!!!



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