Shih Tzu Coat Colors

All Shih Tzu Coat Colors are permissible, states the breed standard, but what colors are really available?  When a person first looks or think about a Shih Tzu dog or puppy, they see the gorgeous coats of many colors characteristic of Shih Tzu Show Dogs.  Unlike some breeds that are typically one color or a variety of a few colors, the Shih Tzu come in an amazing array of rich colors.  

But with such a rich variety of Shih Tzu Colors, color combinations and markings comes a great deal of confusion.  In this article about hair colors of Shih Tzu dogs, I will try to explain the many variations of colors that are present in the breed today and help you decide on your perfect Shih Tzu color.

BUT, please note that the color of the Shih Tzu does not make the dog!  When purchasing a dog, look for health, personality and temperament.

Shih Tzu puppies can be born with a solid coat of hair, a combination of two colors, or a mixture of three colors.  To complicate matters worse, Shih Tzu dogs can be registered with the American Kennel Club, (AKC) based on the pigment of their skin rather than the color of their coat!  

Can the “experts” make it any more complicated?  Well, the short answer is yes and no. Understanding what is considered a specific color can be even more difficult if you’re as nearsighted as me, so how does one determine the color of a Shih Tzu dog?

If a puppy is going to be registered with the American Kennel Club, the breeder has a choice of eight solid colors, seven varieties of two color combinations, four combinations of three or more colors and a variety of different types of markings that occur with the combinations listed above.  Let us start with the solid colors. There can be eight solid colors from which to choose:

Basic Solid Colors

Black is the most dominant color and a true black Shih Tzu will have no other hair color.  Even if there is a small trace of another color, the dog will then be considered to have a combination of two colors.  All Shih Tzu dogs that have black hair will also have black noses.  You will never see a Shih Tzu that is all black with a brown nose.  It does not exist.

A White coat is similar to black in that it only has one color with no traces of any other colors. The nose is black unless the dog is considered to be liver and then the dog will have a brown nose and be liver color.


A silver color coat tends to look white with a deep shine resembling silver.  It is not grey, but rather a shiny, silky color.  The dog will have black lips, pads, eye rims and a black nose.

Red is a solid color that looks deep, dark, orange.  The dog's nose and other points (eye rims, pads, lips and nose) will be black.

Gold solid resembles a tan-yellow

Brindle is really a combination with one color and a streaking of another color running throughout such as a gold-black brindle

Liver is confusing because it is the color of the points (the dog’s nose, eye rims, pads, and lips and not the actual coat color.  Only when the points are a brown or liver color will the dog be labeled “liver.”  These dogs lack the black pigmentation of the skin.  Their noses, pads on their feet and lips will be brown, but their hair may have other coloring, from very light to deep chocolate and everything in between.  Livers can range from light red, orange, and cream coloration to deep chocolate.  So, you could have a white-liver, a cream colored-liver, a red-liver, or a chocolate liver.  Some Shih Tzu dogs may also have green eyes with this coloring, but not always.  The liver color comes from a recessive gene and for it to show up in a puppy, both mother and father must carry the gene.

Blue is another confusing color.  A true blue Shih Tzu will have a blue nose, but can have other colors of hair.  The color looks more charcoal and is often difficult to see except in natural light. Sunlight is the best way to observe this rare color.

This rare color comes from a recessive gene and it show up in a puppy, both mother and father must carry the gene.  So, if you are contemplating the purchase of a true blue colored Shih Tzu, it is best to visit the breeder personally rather than depend on a photo on the Internet.

LIVER

This Shih Tzu is Liver colored.  Notice that her nose, eye rims, and mouth are the typical of the liver color.  The hair color is often called chocolate.

Two Color Coat Color Combinations

RED and WHITE

Here is a red and white Shih Tzu.  The red looks orange to the eye but should not be confused with the lighter colored golds

There are seven varieties of colors that contain two combinations, a white with another color:

  • White with black
  • White with blue
  • White with silver
  • White with red
  • White with gold
  • White with brindle
  • White with liver  

Another combination of two colors includes dogs with red and gold colorations but this combination does not appear on the official AKC Registration paperwork, even though it exists.  

When there are two combinations, the color patterns can have endless possibilities.  No two Shih Tzu with two colors will ever look alike.  Symmetry in color combinations is highly desirable, but not necessary.  

Three Color Coat Color Combinations

Shih Tzu dogs can also have a combination of three colors.  The most common combinations of these include:

  • Silver, Gold and White
  • Silver, Black and White
  • Black, Gold and White
  • Black, Silver and Gold

Unique Markings

In addition to the solid colors, and combinations, certain markings on the fur can occur. Each has its own terminology. 

Black Mask

You might think of the Lone Ranger or Batman, but the mask on a shih tzu is quite different. Sometimes a dog will have a black coloring of hair on his muzzle which may extend towards his eyes and on his ears and even up towards his forehead.  This is called a black mask. The rest of the hair can be another color such as gold or red. 

Dobie Markings

A very rare colored marking called Dobie markings occurs when a puppy is born with tan markings on an otherwise black or very dark coat.  These markings can be found above the eyes, on the jowls, on the lower legs, and under the tail. This is considered very rare and breeders will often sell these pups at a premium.  They are called dobie markings because they resemble the coloration seen on the Doberman Pinscher.  These colors and marking are relatively rare since they come from recessive genes, meaning that both parents of a puppy must “carry” that recessive gene for the puppy to have that color or marking and not all puppies from those parents will show the dobie marking.

Black Tips

Another interesting occurrence in hair color is black tips. When the puppy is born, the coat is one color such as red or gold with black tips at the ends of the hair shaft.  This occurs over the body and should not be confused by the black that some Shih Tzu dogs have on their ears.  This black tipping disappears entirely after the puppy's first hair cut, but is very striking and beautiful when the dog is young or if the dog remains in full coat.

But my puppy was a deep golden brindle, What happened?

Another interesting phenomenon of Shih Tzu coat colors is that they tend to change over time, most will lighten somewhat which is called fading and others turn gray or graying.  It is not uncommon to see a color marked on the AKC paperwork for a puppy at 8 weeks that is totally different from the reality of the adult coat color.  So, heed a word of warming, that color you fell in love with at 8 weeks of age may be completely different by the time they reach their first birthday.

What causes these color changes? Very simply, it's all in the genes. Two distinct genes determine whether a Shih Tzu's coat will lighten or gray over time.  I don't mean to get to technical on you, but basically there are two genes at work in these processes.

Fading: If a Shih Tzu carries the "G" gene, his coat will fade as he gets older. You will notice fading in puppies as young as a month old. Sometimes puppies look like they are almost black at birth but by the time they get their taste of dog food for the first time, their coat has changed.  Fading will continue until the dog reaches his first birthday.

Graying: If a dog carries the Chinchilla gene (CH series) he is likely to change colors as well, but not in the same way as fading. Instead, the dog's coat will turn a rich, silver color. Someone once asked me if my dog was aging prematurely at two.  No, its just that gene at work!

8 Week Old Puppy

Here is Ricky at 8 weeks old.  He has black tips but its difficult to see in this photograph. His coloring is very dark, almost brindle in color with a black mask.

Adult Dog

Here is Ricky again all grown up.  Same dog, but his color is completely different.  He has retained his black mask, but all black tipping goes away with the first haircut.

More Interesting Patterns

You will hear all sorts of terms used to try and describe the may ways that colors fall on the coat.  Here are just a few:

Blaze:  refers to a strip of white hair right up the center of the face, between the eyes 

Flare:  this occurs when the  blaze (above) widens as it approaches the top of the skull.

Collar or shawl: as the name suggests, it is the marking around the neck which is usually white 

Saddle:  A large  patch of color, often white, over the back where a saddle would go if it were a horse.

Tuxedo:  This is an interesting design where a white patch of hair can be found on the chest of an otherwise solid colored dog.  The color is often on the chin and sometimes on the feet.  When you put it all together, it resembles a Tuxedo!

Choosing A Color

So how does one choose a color?  It is really all about personal preferences.  A light colored coat will require more bathing and grooming. A white coloration on the face, around the muzzle or under the eyes can stain easily and will require frequent washing.  Products that eliminate tear stains may be necessary in these light colored Shih Tzu.  Chocolates are “hot” now and rare colors are more expensive.  Colors are beautiful, but hair and point colors are only “skin deep.”  The true  personality and amazing characteristics of the breed goes deep and comes in any color!

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