The correct size for a Shih Tzu dog has been a hotly debated issue over the years. A breed standard was approved and published, and it was hoped that this would end the controversy. However, today the debate about the proper Shih Tzu size continues.
Miss Catherine Carl was an American artist hired to paint a portrait of the Chinese Empress Dowager in 1903. She reported that the Empress Dowager of China adored her small Shih Tzu palace dogs, and she especially preferred golden colored dogs. The Empress encouraged the imperial eunuchs to keep the Shih Tzu quite small by strict selective breeding. If a puppy was deemed too large, it was “rejected” by the Empress, and the palace eunuchs would sell the dog at the Chinese street market.
When looking for Shih Tzu dogs for sale in Peking, the early English importers found that “some were very large.” Several of these larger Shih Tzu dogs were exported to England and other nations. The breed standard for Shih Tzu dogs was established based on the weight of these early imports.
The Countess D’Anjou, who lived in Peking in the 1930s, learned all about the Shih Tzu palace dogs from Princess Der Ling. (Princess Der Ling had been a lady-in-waiting in the Chinese palace, and was in a unique position to know what the royal palace dogs were like.) By the fourth annual Peking International Dog Show in 1937 the Countess D’Anjou had become the leading Shih Tzu breeder in Peking. Although at the Peking International Dog Show they were called “Lhasa Lion Dogs,” the Countess’ award winning dogs were what we now call “Shih Tzu” dogs.
The Countess D’Anjou wrote a letter in May, 1955, to Mrs. L.G. Widdrington, a leading English dog fancier. The Countess enclosed the new French standard for the Shih Tzu breed which set weight limits for the Shih Tzu at 11 – 22 pounds, with 11 – 15 pounds being preferable. However, in the letter the Countess voiced her disagreement with this published breed standard. The Countess wrote, “Yes, I did think the Shih Tzu too big in England. They really should be under 12 pounds. In fact, we had two classes in Peking, up to 12 pounds and over 12 pounds were judged separately. They never had the big ones in the Imperial Palace….”
In the 1930s a few of the small Shih Tzu palace dogs were exported to Scandinavia. Mr. Carl Olaf Jungefeldt, a member of the board of Swedish Kennel Club, became known as a breeder of high quality Shih Tzu dogs. He explained that 9 to 11 pounds was the desirable weight for a Shih Tzu. In Scandinavia the Shih Tzu breed had always been placed in the Toy Group. Mr. Jungefeldt wrote in letters to Reverend Easton that all Swedish Shih Tzu that won Best in Show at major events weighed about 10 pounds.
Meanwhile, during this same time period the English Shih Tzu dogs seemed to grow larger with each generation. The growth in size of the dogs in England is believed to be due to the fact they were descended from the larger Shih Tzu sold by the Chinese palace eunuchs. Based on the size of the few Shih Tzu dogs in the show rings at that time in Great Britain, the English breed standard was established at 14 to 19 pounds. Knowledge of the breed’s true background and history in the Chinese Imperial Palace was hampered by the political upheaval of World War II.
On many occasions visitors from China who saw the Shih Tzu dogs at the English dog shows exclaimed, “Your dogs are very lovely, but far too big!”
Mrs. Widdrington, an English dog breeder, told a story of how an Anglo-Chinese woman had ordered two Shih Tzu bitches without ever having seen an English Shih Tzu dog. The woman visited an English dog show before taking delivery of the puppies, and was very disappointed by the size of the dogs exhibited, and she promptly cancelled her order. She insisted that a true Shih Tzu dog should be “small and jewel-like.”
With the help of Mrs. Widdrington, the Manchu Shih Tzu Society was founded “to promote and protect the interests of the smaller Shih Tzu (12 pounds and under) as bred in the Imperial Palace, Peking.” Eta Pauptit, a leading Dutch dog fancier, wrote in the June, 1966, issue of the Manchu Shih Tzu Society News Letter, that in her five years of breeding she “has never had a puppy go over twelve pounds, adult weight.”
The Manchu Shih Tzu Society encouraged the appearance of smaller Shih Tzu in the show ring, which generated renewed public interest in the breed. Mrs. Widdrington tells a story of an elderly woman who came up to her after a dog show in 1957. This woman explained that she had owned Shih Tzu dogs in China. After carefully inspecting Mrs. Widdrington’s dogs, who weighed not more than 10 pounds each, the woman said they were identical in size to the ones she had owned in China.
In an issue of Dog World in 1957, British dog show judge Mr. Leo Wilson wrote, “I think it ought to be made clear that in talking about Shih Tzu I am just as much against weeds as I am against out-size specimens. The ideal to aim at is, in my opinion, between 10 and 12 pounds….”
Mr. Leo Helbig, distinguished international judge and leader in German dog circles wrote, ”Breeders should have stayed with the rules, set by the Royal Palace in Peking, to breed only with dogs under 12 English pounds or 5,400 grams. It would have saved a lot of headaches.”
In April, 1969, the American Magazine Dog World stated that “two distinct types of Shih Tzu exist - the larger, robust English Shih Tzu and the personable Scandinavian version.” Some breeders have suggested that the smaller dogs be called “Imperial Shih Tzu” to explain their association with the Shih Tzu dogs of the Peking Palace. The "Chinese Imperial Dog Club" was formed to represent these smaller 4 to 9 pound dogs. ( http://www.cidclub.com/ )
This size issue has still not been resolved at the AKC. The weight limits in the 1958 British Standard were changed to include all sizes from 9 to 18 pounds. It was expressed that in a few years the hope was to reduce the upper weight limit to 16 pounds. In the United States the American Kennel Club placed the Shih Tzu breed in the Toy Group, but set the American breed standard at 9 to 16 pounds.
“The Book of the Shih Tzu” By Joan McDonald Brearley and Rev. D. Allan Easton, 1980 by T.F.H. Publications, Inc.,Ltd.