Shih Tzu are a colorful and sweet breed. Their coats can vary as much as a rainbow and all colors are beautiful to behold. Shih Tzu are born much darker than their final coat, many are born black and lighten with time. Even as puppies, they retain a very dark coat and the lighter coats will not change, completely, until the dog is almost a year old. The only coat color that will always remain true are the Black and Whites. So how can you tell? With help and practice! I am gathering pictures and information as I can and I am not sure how long it will take me to get this page finished, but I will at least offer what I have, as I have it. If you to donate a picture of you dog, I would be eternally grateful to anyone kind enough to send it to me. I would not mind having more than one picture of each age, especially since reds, blues, livers and brindles can vary. Please tell me this is your purpose so that I can distinguish from those wanting to show me their dogs and those wanting to donate pictures. I prefer long coats, but for the time will accept all.
The AKC recognizes 7 shih tzu coat colors with all seven colors being either Parti or solid; all are listed and explained, below. Some colors are easy to distinguish; the rest can cause some confusion. Two of the colors depend upon skin pigment, the rest are coat color. The real problem with coat color is the many ranges of shade within each allowance. Do not be afraid to place your dog in the best category you can, even if they are a shade darker or lighter.
The color on the face does not matter when claiming coat color for reds, golds, blacks, silvers and brindles; see below for blues and livers. The face comes in when determining the presence of a mask or tips only. If your dog is solid everywhere of any other color, but for streaks on the face, they are solid with a mask. The mask is what makes the Shih Tzu a Shih Tzu, though the mask is not mandatory. I also want to lay to rest a myth that "it is not possible for two partis to produce solid colored pups and two solids to produce parti pups". It is possible; I have had many solids in the past from two parti parents. You may debate that all you want, but there it is. Mother nature is not as neat as all that and you may see some pretty funny designs while you are at it.
Pictures courtesy of Rachel Conover, Kim Taylor & Leisa Watkins
Gold coats can range from pale cream to light brown in color or strawberry blonde. The range tends to confuse many, but reds and golds are based soley on coat color and without strict rules, so choose wisely. If the coat is dark you have a red. All other lighter coats in a brown scale of color are golds.
Gold & White
Pictures courtesy of Missy Belle Kissimee, Annie Molasses, Toto Happiness & Janette Jolley
Gold and Whites have been debatable with breeders who are not as familiar with the color chart. They have been commonly and mistakenly called blondes, creams, strawberries, tri-colored and Brindles. You will notice above that the range is bigger than you would expect, but they are still Gold. I have provided four adult pictures for the Gold and Whites, above, so that you can see the possibilities. You will also notice the Solid White puppy. Solid White puppies belong here as, they fall into the light coats that signify the name Gold and they darken to a cream like color in older ages as seen between the second and fourth puppy pictures above.
Pictures courtesy of Tonya Walker
Blue shih tzu are extremly rare. They have a gene that does not allow for black pigment or hair so their eyes, skin, nose, foot pads, nails and lips will be blue whether dark or light. Their coat may be any solid color, except black, and the highlights may be light or dark grey, not black. Many healthy shih tzu will have blue eyes, but they are only allowed in the show ring if they are true blues; otherwise it is considered a flaw and not an indication of ill health. My absolute gratitide for the pictures that have been volunteered!
Blue & White
If there is a fair amount of white, the dog is a parti. As with the solids, Blues have blue eyes, skin, nose, foot pads, nails and lips. Their coat will be white and any other color, except black, so a Blue may look like any other without any black highlights. Blue and Whites are just as rare as Solid Blues so do not be so easily led when a breeder claims to have a Blue.
Picture courtesy of Becky Kidd & Gloria Ramos
Solid Brindles are the confusing and beautiful color. Brindles are a mix of Black, Liver, Silver and Gold. The mixture reminds me of Cookies and Cream Ice Cream with Caramel and the affect is lovely. These dogs seem to be harder to find lately since it has become practice to try to breed more of the rarer colors. What a shame.
Brindle & White
Pictures courtesy of Anne Loeffler, Gloria Ramos & Mickie
Again, there is the mix described with the Solid Brindles, but with the patches of White where ever they may be.
Pictures courtesy of Jeannette Howard, Laurie Bedard & Sabrina Baker
Livers, like blues are determined only by the pigment of their skin. A liver will never have any black on it's body, as the darker skin pigment makes the black impossible. They will have brown eyes, skin, hair, nose, foot pads, nails and lips. Livers are less rare than Blues, but may still be hard to find. Unlike the Blues, their coats will look brown or red.
Liver & White
Pictures courtesy of Jeanette Howard
Liver and White have the mix of white into their coat color, but are still determined true Livers by the brown pigment of their eyes, skin, hair, nose, foot pads, nails and lips. As with the Solid Livers, there will be no black in hair or skin.
Pictures courtesy of Sabrina Baker & My Sweet Chamonix
Reds are those dogs that are too dark to be golds and do not have the brown pigment required for Liver. They may have a black mask and/or tips. Reds and Golds are registered, determined, by the shade of the coat. The American Shih Tzu Club is not very strict on the labeling of these two colors so do not be afraid to choose which is best, but try not to label them too young as the coat may change! I always wait until the age of 6 months at least, but best to wait until just before the year mark.
Red & White
Pictures courtesy of Jody Ingram & Avi
Red and Whites are partis that have dark brown hair with white patches. They would be too dark to be Gold and would have black mask and/or tips. As with the Solids, do not be afraid to label as best you can, but wait until they are older and the coat color is more stable.
Pictures courtesy of Hermione Paddington, Karen Kenninger & Esther Emeigh
Solid Blacks are very easy to distinguish. They will only be black, but are allowed only a tiny amount of white anywhere and may have a white tummy. The black may change, slightly, with age with a few dark highlights or minor streaks presenting. If there is any more white on the body, even if mostly black, it is a Black and White. A few breeders have managed to produce puppies with Dauchsund markings including brown under the tail, over both eyes, and on all feet. These dogs are still classified as Solids Black, but the additional "Tan" in the "Markings" area should be selected.
Black & White
Pictures courtesy of The Georgia Shih Tzu, Rachel Conover & Anne Loeffler
Black and Whites are also easy to tell and they are the only coat color that will always stay true without change with age. It will be a very clean Black. You may have mostly white with only a small amount of Black; still Black and White. Blacks with only a very tiny amount of White may be considered Solid Black. If the Black is faded or lighter the dog is a Silver and White and may not manifest in a puppy until 12 weeks or later when the coat starts to fade. Many solid blacks bred with another color will produce the dark Silver and Whites that start out as Black and White. You will not b able to tell the difference in the puppies.
Pictures courtesy of Haley Hurst, Becky Kidd & Connie Lonsberry
Silvers are becoming less and less of a mystery thanks to pictures from other owners who I thank very heartily. Solid Silvers may be born with dark grey and/or black hair. As they age the coat lightens to silver. Be careful to wait until the pup has grown before labeling it's coat color.
Silver & White
Picture courtesy of Alisha Davenport , Junior Blackstone Paddington & Kathy Raymond
Silver Partis will be like their Solid relations only with plenty of white dotted in. They may be born with black and/or dark grey hair that lightens into silver with age as you can see from the puppy picture. And also with the Solids, be sure to wait for the coat to stabilize before claiming it's color. Many experienced breeders will be able to tell in an older pup, but it takes years of practice. I know it is hard to see in the second picture, but Junior began to show streaks in his coat at the age of 12 weeks. I will try to provide better lighting in my pictures, but if you look well at the black and whites you will see there are no streaks in their black coat as you would with the silvers.
I must give thanks where it is due to the American Shih Tzu Club. They were very kind and extremely helpful in guiding me through the myths and misconceptions of color that has spread through the years. Without the help of a wonderful lady, I would not be able to bring you the truth. Thank you!!