Selecting a show puppy from a litter can have many pitfalls and result in disappointment, but if all works out and that puppy becomes a winner it is a very satisfying feeling.
To start, you must be certain in your own mind of exactly what you require in a Shih Tzu but also that it adheres closely to the KC Standard. Unfortunately there is no written standard relating to the puppy Shih Tzu, only to the finished result. I have been told that when puppies are first born is the time to select the best. I prefer to leave my selection until at least 8 weeks, preferably 12-14, and even then there are many pitfalls. At birth you can see which puppy has the largest head (I find this easier to do looking from the back) and also the best markings. If a young puppy has trouble feeding this is often due to tight nostrils and if you want to breed after a show career never select this one as it is hereditary. It is fairly common for the nostrils to tighten during teething and this should correct itself at 4-5 months.
As puppies start to grow and move about you can see many more of the points that will hopefully make this your ‘star’. The puppy you noticed at birth with the largest broadest skull will still have this attribute. It usually follows that this will have the broadest foreface, giving it a good chance of having enough room for six teeth along the bottom and top jaw. At this stage I place a finger on the face across the top and bottom lip and up towards the nose. If the bottom jaw juts out into your finger you will usually find that this puppy will become too undershot. As soon as the teeth are through, count them. If you have less than six teeth between the canines you will not get six adult teeth.
The nose should sit level with the lower eye rims, have a deep stop and open nostrils. If it is a very long nose, be assured that it will not get any shorter as an adult. Tipped up noses give a better expression but sometimes straight ones can give a lovely expression, as in some lines the skull appears to grow up and around the nose. Very short noses are not advisable as the health and wellbeing should be considered at all times. I would not consider a down nosed puppy as I have never seen this correct itself by adulthood.
Ear set on a puppy is straightforward, they are either high (incorrect) or low set on the skull and should preferably have large leathers.
Eyes are very important to me as a small or light eye ruins the expression as much as a down nose. If the head and muzzle are broad it usually follows that eyes are wide spaced. Sometimes a smaller eye will grow with the puppy but light eyes remain so and go along with poor pigmentation which, again, ruins the Oriental expression. White of eye is more complex. If a dog, when looking at you, shows no white then that is good. When they turn their eyes they usually show some white at the edges. In solid dogs they rarely show any white but in dogs with copious amounts of white whisker and blaize it is harder to get no white showing.
When puppies are running around you can more easily assess balance and conformation. A Shih Tzu is longer than high, but if as a puppy it appears very long in the back it will be a long backed adult. Everything always grows outwards, never inwards. A solid puppy needs to appear more compact than a parti-colour, otherwise, as an adult, it will look rangy with no break up of colour. Having said this, a too short back is incorrect for several reasons. An adult Shih Tzu who is too short in the back will not move with the true breed action. Also as a breed, Shih Tzu have always been very successful easy whelpers and if we shorten backs we shall find that with our large round heads we will hit similar problems to Bulldogs, Pekingese and Pugs and caesareans will be the norm instead of a rare occurrence.
I like the puppies that, when they come to a halt, stand naturally in the position you would wish for showing; the conformation on these puppies is always correct. If the elbows on your puppy stick out and the front legs move in circles when it trots towards you, then you should not be considering it. Also, when it appears to go down on the front shoulder, shoulder lameness is likely. Neither of these scenarios will ever correct themselves. If the puppy is just a bit loose on the move, careful exercise can correct it. In this case it often helps to feed your puppy using a raised platform so that he doesn’t have to bend to the floor for his food and drink. If the topline is not quite perfect at eight weeks (I don’t mean dipping in the middle or down into the shoulder – a definite no) careful exercise can correct this.
People ask me regularly about upright shoulders. If a puppy looks to have no neck or is very stuffy in the neck when running around, the odds are that it will be upright in the shoulder. On 8 week puppies you can feel if they have enough bone in the front and back legs. The front legs should be as straight as possible but there must be enough room for the chest to let down at a later date. If the tail is flat on the back it will never become the desired teapot handle. Also the base of the tail should be set on high – if it is too low as a puppy it will never give you the outline you require.
A good puppy of 8-10 weeks should stand easily on the table with head held high with a high over tail with no need for you to push or pull him into shape. If you do have to do this, look for what is wrong and face up to it.
Coats on puppies of 8-10 weeks should be thick. A thin sparse puppy coat will remain so. No amount of caging and restriction of the growing puppy will give you the coat you need. A puppy coat that is enormously thick and heavy is not always the best either as they blow very badly at puppy coat change and it takes great patience and physical effort to deal with them.
Movement of your puppy at 8 weeks is easy to assess as they do not have long flowing hair to distract your attention. The puppy should have the correct adult movement in place already – good straight reach forward with width between the front legs (not single tracking), also width at the rear with the legs not crossing over one another and coming well under the body. Judge this from the side, it is not enough just to show the back pads, each leg must reach well under the body to drive it forward. The rear end is the engine room of movement, the drive from the back legs is what shows the rear pads – not some vague flick.
I hope this has been helpful but remember nothing is foolproof and all dogs, even Champions, have faults. Enjoy your showing and always remember that this charming breed has been entrusted to us, the breeders, to take care of it, to keep it healthy and to follow the guidelines in our Standard as laid down by the early breeders. This is more important now than ever.