Shih Tzu vs. Shih Tzu: Understanding the Breed Standards

  • The Shih Tzu, with its distinctive appearance and charming demeanor, has become a beloved companion in households around the world. However, within this charming breed, there are subtle variations that distinguish show-quality Shih Tzus from those that may not conform as closely to the breed standards. Understanding these standards is crucial for both breeders and enthusiasts to appreciate the unique qualities that define the Shih Tzu.


**The Origins of the Shih Tzu:**

Originating in China, the Shih Tzu has a rich history as a companion to royalty. Bred as a lapdog for Chinese emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Shih Tzu eventually made its way to Europe and later to other parts of the world. The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Shih Tzu as a breed in 1969.


**Breed Standards:**

Breed standards are guidelines set by kennel clubs that describe the ideal characteristics, appearance, and temperament of a specific breed. These standards serve as a benchmark for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts, ensuring that the integrity of the breed is maintained. Shih Tzu breed standards encompass various aspects, including size, coat color, structure, and temperament.


**Size and Proportion:**

According to breed standards, a Shih Tzu should have a compact and sturdy body. The ideal weight range for a Shih Tzu is generally between 9 to 16 pounds. The height at the withers (the highest point of the shoulder blades) is typically around 8 to 11 inches. Proportions are important, and a Shih Tzu should be well-balanced with no exaggerated features.


**Head and Expression:**

The head of a Shih Tzu is a distinctive feature, with a broad, rounded skull and a short, square muzzle. The breed standard emphasizes a distinct stop (the indentation between the forehead and the nose), creating a “chrysanthemum face” appearance. Large, round eyes and a sweet, alert expression contribute to the Shih Tzu’s endearing charm.


**Coat and Color:**

One of the most iconic features of the Shih Tzu is its luxurious double coat. The breed standard specifies a long, flowing coat with a dense undercoat and a topcoat that is long, straight, and flowing. While all coat colors are acceptable, certain markings are preferred, such as a blaze on the forehead and a white tip on the tail. The AKC recognizes various coat colors, including gold, black, white, brindle, and combinations of these.


**Gait and Movement:**

Shih Tzus should move with a distinct “chrysanthemum-like” rolling gait, displaying an effortless and smooth movement. The breed standard emphasizes coordination and balance, ensuring that the Shih Tzu’s movement is efficient and free-flowing.



The Shih Tzu’s temperament is a defining characteristic. According to breed standards, they should exhibit a friendly, outgoing, and affectionate nature. The breed is known for its adaptability and gets along well with children, other pets, and even strangers. While they can be lively and playful, a Shih Tzu should also possess a regal demeanor, reflecting their royal heritage.


**Differences in Show and Pet Quality:**

While all Shih Tzus make wonderful companions, those bred for show purposes must adhere closely to breed standards. Show-quality Shih Tzus are evaluated based on how well they conform to these standards. However, this doesn’t diminish the value or affection one can have for a Shih Tzu that may not meet all show specifications. Pet-quality Shih Tzus may have slight deviations from the breed standard but can still be delightful and loving family members.


**Grooming Considerations:**

Regardless of whether a Shih Tzu is show or pet quality, grooming is a significant aspect of their care. The breed standard emphasizes a well-groomed and maintained coat. Regular brushing, bathing, and attention to the eyes, ears, and paws contribute to the overall appearance and health of the Shih Tzu.



Understanding the breed standards for Shih Tzus provides insight into the distinctive features that make this breed so cherished. Whether you have a show-quality Shih Tzu or a beloved pet, the essence of the breed’s charm remains. Appreciating the subtle nuances outlined in the standards ensures that the endearing qualities of the Shih Tzu are preserved for generations to come. Whether they prance into the show ring or curl up on your lap at home, Shih Tzus continue to capture hearts with their royal charm and delightful personalities.

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