Structure And Movement


The Shih Tzu has broad resemblances to two other varieties of Eastern dog, in head type, body structure and conformation. Lhasa Apsos are somewhat longer and less square in muzzle, less deep and rounded in body than the Shih Tzu while Pekingese are flatter in face, shorter in neck, lower to ground, and markedly more bowed in front with heavier coats andmore rounded bodies and their hind legs are held closer together.

In the structure, balance and placement of the limbs there are marked resemblances between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso with perceptible but not marked differences.  The more pronounced features of the Pekingese's structure produce a different type and movement, the greater width of chest and the closer placement of the hind legs producing a pronounced roll in this breed's action.

As in all its features there is nothing over exaggerated about the Shih Tzu’s conformation. It should have sufficient length of neck to enable the head to be carried proudly and high, especially on the move, when the desired alert, arrogant and dignified outlook should be in evidence. 

To secure the right length of neck and high head carriage the shoulders must slope well back. This will ensure the firm level topline with no dip behind the withers (the highest point of the shoulder blades) essential in the Shih Tzu.

Shoulder blades must also slope well back in a correctly formed forehand in this breed and angle of 45 degrees to the ground is the ideal but a rather greater angle than this will still give sufficient slope. 30 degrees from the vertical.

Shoulder blades should slope inwards as well as back to lie close against the rib cage, any slackness in this area, or undue amount of fat under the shoulder blade, will lead to a general slackness in the front, and the forelegs turning out of the straight.

The angle at the shoulder joint - where the lower end of the shoulder blade meets the upper end of the humerus or upper arm - should be very pronounced - as near as maybe to 90 degrees. With a more open angle at this point the dogs action is bound to be less free ie it will step short in front and there may also be looseness at elbow in pronounced cases. This angulation between the shoulder blade and the upper arm causes the upper arm to slope backward along the chest wall and places the elbow well back from the front of the chest ie well under the dog, and so in a position to support the heavy body and head of the dog.

Elbows must be well tucked in to the dogs body, the floor of the chest should reach down to the level of the elbow in this breed, but the elbows must also be free to move to and fro as the dog extends its forelegs. If they are tied in too tight the dog will turn its toes outward as it moves.

As in all low to ground breeds there is a slight curve in the bone of the foreleg down to the wrist, it follows the curve of the slightly rounded ribs. The heavy coat on the forelegs hides this curve from sight but it is there as will be revealed by careful handling.

Below the wrist the joint between the forearm (ulna/radius) and the pastern, the feet should point straight forward. The distance between the forelegs and feet depends on the width of the chest, it will be found that some strongly built males with rather over rounded ribs tend to roll from side to side as they move, seldom seen in the more finely built females. This broad chest of the Pekingese coupled with the pronounced bend in the forelegs and the close hind movement produces the Pekingese roll.

In movement the Shih Tzu forelegs should remain parallel, even at fast speeds. If it tends to turn its toes in or move with one foot in front of the other - single tracking it will be found that there is a flaw in the conformation of its forehand - it may be too fat, pushing out its elbows, too short and/or steep in upper arm, or that there is insufficient slope at the shoulder; or the dog may be nervous or badly handled - on a too tight a lead. A properly made, fit and confident Shih Tzu should always move with the forelegs in parallel. This breed should be moved at a pace that best displays its outline, head carriage and natural self esteem - not rushed around the ring at the speed of a long legged breed.

Common faults in the forehand of the Shih Tzu, which are inevitably transmitted to its movement are protruding elbows, usually caused by upright shoulders and/or short steep upper arms, soft flat feet and weak pasterns. Breeding for better conformation will rectify most of them, but it may take time.


To secure the unique flowing, driving hind action of the Shih Tzu, the conformation of the body, including the loins and the croup, and of the hindquarters must be about right and the dog must receive sufficient exercise to give tone to the muscles. Hind action and conformation at the rear of this breed and the Lhasa Apson are very similar. A level topline stemming from well placed shoulders, a short strong loin and a correctly placed croup to give the desired high set tail are more frequently seen in the Shih Tzu than is the correct forehand conformation.

These factors are all necessary to secure correct hind movement but must be allied with short hocks - not too far from the ground - and well turned stifles. Well turned stifles come about only when there is sufficient length in the femur - the upper thigh and tibia fibular, the lower thigh, to form almost a right angle at the stifle joint. Well angulated stifles are an absolute essential for sound flowing movement with the desired drive in short legged breeds.

From behind the Shih Tzu should show pronounced drive and flowing movement, there should be no trace of jerking or undue up and down movement of the hocks as sometimes seen in the Lhasa Apso. The  pads of the feet should show and the legs remain always parallel, even at fast paces. Well developed muscles are vital to produce the desired drive in the Shih Tzu's hind movement.

Cow hocks, bowed hocks, and moving close are all faults that arise from poor structure in the hind legs, the length of one hock - back pastern - is a good width between the hocks. This gives a balanced look to the moving dog -neither too close nor too far apart.

When hocks and/or stifles are too straight the above mentioned faults tend to arise and are difficult to breed out except by use of exceptionally well built partners. Straight stifles and hocks can also cause the topline to run up towards the set on of the tail. One should always test for this with the hand as an unduly thick coat can give the impression of running up which may not be the case.

A roach back, a very bad fault in the Shih Tzu, can be camouflaged by clever grooming and judges need to use their hands on this breed to secure a proper assessment.

Movement in the Shih Tzu should always be assessed from three directions, moving across the judges line of sight, as when moving round the show ring, going away and coming towards the judge - in each of the two latter directions it is essential to see the dog moved in a straight line. The triangle, properly used is a most useful device for the assessment of movement in this breed.

Moving round the ring the Shih Tzu should be seen to hold its head high, its topline level with the tail well over the back, to stride out freely in front with good length of stride and no apparent effort or difficulty and no undue lifting of the fore feet. The hindlegs should be brought well forward under the body without undue lift and should extend well out behind the dog without any trace of exaggerated thrust or lift. The whole dog should flow round the ring with pride and arrogance in his style, forelegs and hind legs in complete co-ordination, a level topline, tail on high as if he owned the world and wished everyone to know it.

Coming towards the judge the high head carriage should be maintained along with the proud bearing and forelegs reaching well forward, remaining in parallel, so long as the dog is moved at a sensible speed.

Going away the head should still be held high, the tail well up, the backline level and the hind legs exhibiting the so desired flowing drive, even the dogs pads have a look of arrogance about them as they move away remaining always in parallel.


An in depth examination of correct Shih Tzu construction and movement written by Tom Horner

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