The Shih Tzu is a small dog categorized as a Toy Breed in American show rings. The breed has recently been confirmed as originating from ancient times; meaning so old that their true origins are obscured at best. It is said that the breed has, for the most part, remained the same, but we cannot be really secure in believing such. Over time, standards may have changed, but the American Shih Tzu Club, AKC and other organizations have posted official standards for this breed that are set for the health of the pet as well as their breeding relations. Should you want specific information, it can be found at AKC.org or Shihtzu.org. Since some of the standards are hard to visualize, I will do my best to make things clearer. Not every tiny issue has to be met when buying a puppy, but it really helps to stay as true as possible, especially if you are planning on breeding. If you are buying a puppy it can be hard to see the standards as they are listed, so if you are unable to tell with a puppy make sure you see the parents. The puppy will be getting it's features from them. So here we go!
Size & Proportion
The Shih Tzu should stand between 9 and 11 inches tall from withers to toe. They should weigh between 9 and 16 pounds when full grown. Shih Tzu will reach their full growth potential between the ages of 6 to 8 months, but will continue to gain weight until 2 years, at the latest, unless fed an unhealthy diet causing them to be overweight or undernourished. The Shih Tzu should be 1 to 3 inches longer than they are tall. If you look at the picture to your right, from thumb to thumb. A back that is too long will lead to arthritis or back problems. A back that is equal to height is fine, but considered a flaw, where a back too short just looks funny. The neck should be long enough to encourage the dog to hold it's head high while staying within proportion of the rest of the body.
It is very possible for a Shih Tzu to be smaller or larger. A smaller Shih Tzu can still be a healthy pet if raised from parents of ideal weight and size. It has become a trend to breed tiny Shih Tzu, but it is not considered healthy or responsible. The American Kennel Club and The American Shih Tzu Club have made themselves very clear on this point. There is no such term as Imperial Shih Tzu. It was created by breeders as propaganda for selling undersized and less healthy puppies for a higher price. The AKC does not recognize such distinction and has no plans to do so in the future. These smaller counterparts are not excepted in show rings or in respectable breed clubs, because they do not meet the standards of the breed. For more information on "Imperials" you can find common health problems and practices at Entirely Shih Tzu. Larger dogs, can still be pure Shih Tzu, but DNA tends to prove they have been mixed at some point in their history with a Lhasa Ahpso, a similar breed. Smaller or larger Shih Tzu may stand at an ideal height since the Shih Tzu is famous for packing either a tiny or very heavy bone structure into the same body size as an ideal dog.
The eyes should be wide spaced from the nose with little or or no white showing around the pupils, large and looking straight ahead. Eyes that are too far from the head or too close will result in future eye problems, which tend to be common in the breed. The head should be dome shaped and in balance with the proportions of the body. A tiny head on a well sized dog is not going to be a very pretty sight. The muzzle should be no more than about an inch from the head, or if using your thumb as I do below, the nose should stop before or at the first knuckle from your nail. Any longer and the dog is less likely to be Shih Tzu, but if proved to be pure bred this will not affect health, it just does not look very nice. The nostrils should be broad and open. smaller nostrils tend to have more trouble breathing in thick air. Grunting, sneezing, sniffling, snoring and other nasal sounds are perfectly normal.
The nose, lips and eyes should be black unless the dog is liver colored or blue, again this is more cosmetic than health related. The jaw should have an undershot (the bottom row is supposed to stick out!), but the teeth should not show when the mouth is closed. The front teeth of both jaws should be straighter from the side view then I have shown here. I have a new picture coming, but here you at least see how they should not be. If the bottom jaw sticks out too far, be prepared to have dental problems from the exposure. It is also stated that the tongue should not show, but I have known several dogs to stick their tongues out while resting, I find it adorable. The stop should be definite and most importantly, the dog should look friendly and trusting.
Hindquarters & Tail
The tail makes the Shih Tzu most famous by it's tight curl which should loop over the back of the body. Another cosmetic feature, your dog will not be affected if the tail does not curl all the way. If it does not curl at all, be prepared to hear it is not purebred. The bones should be well muscled and strong. Who wants to have bone problems in late adulthood? A pup should have at least one dew claw on each front foot and may have one on each back foot. It is not written anywhere that extra dew claws are a flaw. For showing, these should be removed at birth. The feet should be well padded and should point straight ahead. Though many breeds are duck footed or the opposite, it is not healthy in this breed. The gait should be a flowing movement without hindrance and should look effortless, as if they walk and run on air. If they do not run or walk in this manner, there is a problem that should be looked into.
Coat & Color
All important is the coat of these dogs. The coat should be long and flowing to the ground, but many owners will shave their dogs or cut the coats shorter for easier maintenance. In a home where more than one young dog reside, the hair may never grow since it is prone to split very easily during play or adventure. The coat may be straight or have a slight wave but should never be curly. The coat should be thick, known as a double coat. A single coat will be stringy and coarse as well as thin. There are 14 acceptable colors, all of which can be found in A Wealth of Color. All colors are acceptable in the show ring, but lets face it, you usually see the partis win, not the solids.
There are two sites of interest if you are looking to learn more about how pure breeds have developed and the purpose of keeping them pure as well as tips to making sure you have a well bred dog. They are :
American Kennel Club covers breed qualities, showing guides, help finding a nearby breeder and more.
American Shih Tzu Club covers everything that is Shih Tzu. You will find correct information on the breed standard, colors, markings and stature. Here is where you will find the official stand for every controversy that has ever surrounded the breed.
See, I warned you... this is my opinion and not fact. Nature has it's own way with the world and we are just following at a safe distance, so we hope! We can try to manipulate the circle of life all we want, but Mother Nature, will still have her way. Now, breeding adults with major flaws is irresponsible and may very well cause you heartache in the future, so watch out. You will find breeders who care more for the money than their dogs. They may be cheaper than a good breeder, but better to pay for health then to spend less now only to pay more in vet bills in the future. Many flaws are nothing to worry about. I have known several dogs with single coats, smaller noses and longer muzzles. They were incredibly sweet, as the breed should be and well adored by their owners. These standards are not only set for health, but for superiority. There had to be some ground rules as with any competition. If you are looking to show, be picky. If you want to breed, be disgustingly picky! If you are looking for a pet or know someone with a pet, what is the point in being critical when it does not affect their health? Just know that if you meet me on the street and ask for my opinion, I will give it, though with the utmost love and kindness, I promise!