Judging For The Specialist

Some people say that judging is judging and it is the same for both all-rounder and specialist. I do not agree with this. The difference being, you have been breeding and living with Shih Tzu for some years, and should be more familiar with the finer points than someone who has not bred or lived with them. You are the custodian of the breed, and should retain its TYPE AND SOUNDNESS for the future. You will have been watching the dogs in the show ring over the year and noticed if there is any special fault creeping into the breed. If it isn't stopped, before you know where you are it is becoming accepted as an unwritten part of the standard.

You are, I am quite sure thoroughly familiar with the standard. Even so it is always wise to refresh you memory the night before you are judging. It is quite easy to have some idea about the breed in your head, which you have been seriously imagining is in the standard purely because a lot of people have said it is so. For example, `that the Shih Tzu must have a straight coat'. That for instance has never been in the written or unwritten standard, for what it actually says is `long, dense not curly with good undercoat, slight wave permitted'

It is a very different thing judging large classes at a Championship Show, from judging small classes at an Open Show, though you will have had the experience of judging a Club Open Show, where one expects to get bigger classes, but sadly these days it is not always so. Therefore it is a very great help to have done some stewarding at Championship shows, where you will have the chance of noting the methods of experienced judges, and during the break of asking questions of the judge's placings.

It is so important when you judge to have a method to go by, and stick to it throughout all your judging. Also the way you go over the dogs must be the same for all, even when you can see at a glance that the dog under you is quite definitely not of quality. That exhibitor has paid the same money as others for your opinion, and deserves the same treatment.

You will find that the dogs look totally different when you are judging them from when you viewed them from the ringside. It is not unusual to have a class and not like anything in it.

There is a great temptation for Specialist judges to fault judge. Most of us have one or two particular points of the standard which we consider more important than any other. One is inclined to judge these points very harshly whilst disregarding the overall of the dog. You have only got to listen to the comments at the ringside to realise how true this is. We all do it if not aloud then think it to ourselves. An unsound fault must be penalised severely. Just wait until you get the dogs on the table to go over, somehow they look very different from what you thought you saw from the ringside. You will be criticised just as you have criticised others. And if you are not prepared to put up with this you had better not judge. A very apt saying of the late Owen Grinday was "it is a very lonely place in the middle of the ring, whatever you do you will only please the winners."

Do not fall for the gamesmanship that may have taken place, much of it prior to your judging appointment. Gamesmanship to some people is part and parcel of winning; it takes place both in and out of the ring.

It is far more difficult to judge a bad class than a good one. You may find yourself faced with a class of mediocre dogs. On the plus side they all look equal, so you have to decide on what is the least undesirable fault - a rotten situation to be in. You should be able to decide on outstanding good points and ask yourself, do this dog's good points out weigh his bad?

In a large class you are likely to find everything, sway back, roach back, up behind, straight shoulders, straight stifles, light eyes, both long and too short noses etc - and you have got to sort them out. It is far more difficult judging between the weaknesses of a dog than the strengths. Always keep the future of the breed in mind. You are looking for the best dog that most closely resembles the standard. Both Type and SOUNDNESS are all important. Type is the sum of those points which makes a dog look like his own breed. Lacking type and being untypical are two different things. As in many breeds, we have many types, all of which can be typical of the breed.

I know that many people think that a judge should put up all the same type. I do not agree. I know the ringside loves to look at an even winning line, and criticises one with different types and size. You need a very large class of good dogs to be able to say honestly that five dogs of the same type are truly the best specimens there, better than all the others of a different type, perhaps a different type from what you breed. This usually means that better dogs have been left out of the cards, purely so that you please the ringside with your nice even line of winners, or, of course it might be that you are kennel blind, and only put up what you think is your own type, which in your mind is better than any other. There are different types and each one deserves to be judged to the standard. The standard allows for a great difference in sizes, so what is wrong with a line up of one good small one next to one good bigger one?

I learnt to think this way when a top all round judge - sadly now dead - placed my dog third, then said to me, "I know your dog is better than the second, but he would look silly standing next to the first as they are so different". Now do you in all honesty think that is good and fair judging? You are meant to be judging the best dog not playing to the ringside. Having re-read Tom Homer's excellent book on judging I was very glad to note that I was not alone in thinking this, and he was a highly respected judge.

I said before that you should not fault judge. There is an exception to this which I will repeat, for I think it so important. If there is an undesirable fault creeping into the breed, this is where you SHOULD FAULT JUDGE it, if nobody does; it will start to become accepted. Naturally the severity of the fault will decide your placing.

You can get your first impression of the dogs when they first walk into the ring. Though these days this is not often possible, as we have our ring numbers, and the class is usually collected in whist the judge is writing up the judging book.
Then when the steward has sorted out their numbers and seen that all is ready and correct, judges usually walk round the dogs glancing at the heads. An exercise that can be dispensed with as you will be seeing them all again. Next it is usual to walk them all round the ring together. Some people miss this out, more the pity for it does help the dogs to limber up if they have been shut in a cage all day, and let off a little of their exuberance. Just as importantly it gives you a chance to get your first impression. Notice their action and look out for that little extra a dog might have. But I do find that exhibitors walk so fast now, you cannot really gauge the action properly with their very long coats; it is certainly not possible in a small ring as the dogs cannot get going into their stride. When the dog is doing its solo walk, you are within your rites to ask the handler to walk at a different pace.

There are many things you must keep in mind that are not written into the standard, for instance that little extra of showmanship, and presentation. They are very important, and can be a deciding factor over two otherwise equally good exhibits. For it is partly a beauty competition. But never let the beauty side outweigh construction, for if you do the breed as we know it will be finished.
Now it is your job to sort the dogs out, you need to be aware that there are some very clever handlers, all credit to them, it is their job to make the best of their dog. It is your job not to be limited by them.

You may also come up against intimidation of various kinds. I'll tell you a little story about something which happened to me early on. I was judging the Manchu Ch. Show. I was judging puppy dog, a big class and concentrating hard. So my mind was open and receptive, I had a puppy on the table, when dear Olive Newson, who had placed herself right next to the table, called out in a loud voice for me to hear, `I bred that puppy he is very good', then the next puppy went one the table, and the voice came again, `I bred that one as well, he is equally good'. They were quite big puppies, I thought a little too big, but they were good, and I found myself giving them first and second. This left me worried, had I done it because I was influenced by the voice? In my dreams these puppies grew larger and larger until they turned into elephants, and I was not happy until I saw them again at another show, because I could not be certain whether I had put them up by being influenced by this voice. Then when I saw them I was satisfied, they were really good I was so relieved, I had done the right thing!

I will just go over a few things in the standard which I think sometimes cause confusion.

Whilst you have the dog on the table it really is not necessary to go laboriously over every bone, you will get yourself very confused, for you are not likely to remember it all. Strangely enough an animal can feel perfect on the table, but when it walks it can show up an unsuspected fault. Or maybe vice versa, for sometimes two wrongs make a right. For the fore and aft have to synchronise. Exhibitors quite rightly like to feel that you know what you are looking for, but a light quick feel all over that body is quite sufficient to tell you what you want. What is important is to do the same for every dog.

Before you go over the dog
Make sure it is standing correctly on the table, it should be standing freely, not strung up tightly by the handler. If the back legs are not in the correct position, alter them. The hock should be perpendicular to the table, not stretched right back, this lowers the top line, and it is frequently done to deceive the judge The head should be up when you are feeling for the withers and lay of shoulder.

HEADS are, of course, very important, but try not to be obsessive about them. Of course it is very important that the head meets the standard. But after that just remember that a dog does not walk on its head, and a well put together body is quite as important as a pretty head. There are times when a small cosmetic fault should be forgiven. A dog should look its sex.

Another obsession with some is for the dog to have an upturned nose. That may well be highly desirable, it gives a more snooty expression, but do not forget that the standard says, `nose level or slightly uptilted' I do know some people confused a 'straight nose' with a `downward nose'. This is quite incorrect. A downward nose is exactly what it says, it points downwards, and is quite frequently on the long side, this is indeed very bad. Some upturned noses are much too short, and though they look very pretty, it is not something to encourage, as they can affect the airways, a Shih Tzu is not a Peke, and its nose is about an inch. This measurement also depends on the size of the dog. For a large dog with a big head is going to have a full inch nose, whilst a small bitch with a smaller head will be nearer the 1/2 inch. The best way to feel the nose is with the flat of the thumb across it and if your thumb does not reach from stop to the leather, it is probably too long.
The eyes are very important. The eyes of a Shih Tzu should not only be large, round and dark, set well apart, not prominent and show no white', but they need to be expressive. The eyes can be too large, and frequently these over large eyes are quite blank showing no expression whatsoever. I call them `fish' eyes'.

Teeth, Some judges find these very important, others not so important. Naturally a really good bite and full complement of teeth is the thing to aim for. But I hope everyone would agree that they should be clean. Don't forget that a level bite is permitted.. Neither the tongue nor the bottom teeth should show when the mouth is closed. Above all the jaw should be wide. A WRY JAW is definitely a bad fault, for it is usually hereditary and makes it difficult for a dog to chew.

When going over the forequarters, have the head up.

Note the length of neck, and as the standard says 'nicely arched and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly'.

Feel the lay of the shoulders. The length of the shoulder blade should be of similar length to the upper arm bone, from the tip of shoulder to the tip of elbow, which should lie in a perpendicular line under the withers. You will then find that the Shih Tzu has a forechest. This construction will enable the Shih Tzu to have the all important front reach, instead of the taking tiny little steps, which is incorrect.

The Chest of a dog is often referred to as 'the barrel', This some people seem to find confusing and say that the Shih Tzu has a barrel chest. It does not, the standard states SHIH TZU CHEST IS BROAD AND DEEP. The tip of elbow falls below the widest part of the chest, so there is no need for a bow in the leg. But neither is the bone quite straight, as in a Terrier.

The length of the dog is judged from the withers to the root of the tail not from the chest bone. Markings and colouring can often make a dog look longer or shorter. it should be long in rib and short in loin.

Action. It is very difficult to assess action in long coated dogs. For up and down action you can see if the legs go straight, too close or too wide, don't forget that the faster a dog moves the closer the hind legs will be. Some people seem to expect them to stay parallel. This is quite wrong, the legs move towards the centre of gravity. But of course they should not brush. There should be a good reach in front, and strong hind action. Any hackney or padding action, which is when the feet flip upwards, is quite wrong. The legs should move straight. There should not be a bow but they are not straight as in a terrier. Depending on the size of the animal you should have four fingers width at the base of the chest between the legs.

Untypical action may get excused when everything is taken into account. But UNSOUND ACTION should never be excused. It is of the greatest importance that you watch side action, for this is where you can really see what the legs are doing. If the ring is too small to do anything but walk the dogs up and down, then you must have them do it twice and watch from the side.


I do think that the specialist judge remembers everything about every dog that has been handled on the table in a very large class. For they do not get sufficient judging experience to train their mind that way, so you need to devise some method of making short notes, or some other way help you. This is where you should find stewarding a great help.

I will mention a few ways that have been done by other people.

It can be done by placing the dogs you liked apart from the others, which is not done with our breed much in this country. When it has been it has not been very popular with exhibitors though I'm sure the easiest for the judge.

You can remember them by numbers, it is then most important that the exhibitors do not change their places.

It is much easier in a class with a variety of colours, but not so good when you get a large class of similar colour.

You can make little notes of the dogs after you have gone over them. This is far easier when exhibits are standing in the judging book position.

You can short list the ones you found the best, and then go over them again for the final placing.

Some judges remember their dogs by what the exhibitor is wearing.

If you do not have a method but just rely on your memory you can very easily get 'lost'.

Judging is a very responsible position, not to be undertaken lightly. It should not be one where you pay your debts to your friends. A friend who cannot accept your judgement of their dog, is hardly a friend worth much. They are better staying away.

Audrey Dadds

We are glad we have been able to include the entire paper given by Mrs Audrey Dadds at a Breed Seminar a number of years ago.
Books Mrs Dadds recommended for further reading are books on construction of the dog and various books on judging. Some of these may be out of print, but obtainable second hand. All can be found on Amazon.

An Eye for a Dog: Illustrated Guide to Judging Purebred Dogs by RW Cole
Take Them Round Please - The Art of Judging Dog by Tom Horner.
The Nicholas Guide to Dog Judging by Nicholas Howell.
The Dog Structure and Movement by R.H.Smythe

Other resources in this section: