A Few Tips for First Time Judges
By Patrick Shannahan 

As published in American Border Collie Magazine.


So you have been asked to judge a trial.  It may be a big important trial, or maybe a fun day., but there are a few hints that I would like to give to help not only you, the judge, but also for the benefit of the contestant.


First of all, the most important thing is to show up on time. Not just moments before the class is to begin, but with plenty of time to discuss the course, field, etc with the trial coordinator or course director. If I am flying, I always make sure that I am not coming in the last flight the night before, as if that flight is cancelled, or somehow I miss the flight, I still have usually another chance to make the trial.

I would also review all my judging material that I have collected.  If you have been asked to judge a double lift, know the rules for a double lift.  One of the most important aspects of judging is being confident in your decisions.  If you don’t know the rules, you can’t be confident.


Even If you haven’t signed a contract, I would call the trial coordinator the week before, and ask if there are any last minute changes they would like to tell you about.  They can also tell you about any last minute schedule changes if they know about them.  At the same time, if you have any dietary requirements or specific needs during the trial, you can mention them at that time.

When you arrive and see the course, I always try and walk it just like I was a competitor.  I would go to the top near the set out, and see the conditions for the outrun and lift.  Next I would look for clues that help me accurately predict the straight lines of the drive.  Spending a few minutes looking the course over will make your job as a judge much easier.


The handler’s meeting is supposed to be a brief meeting to explain the course.  I have always advised my friends to say as little as possible during the meeting.  Just give the basics of the course.  The handler’s meeting is not a time to explain your judging philosophy or go over common rules that the contestants should already know.  I try not to “lock” myself in on decisions like grips for the first few runs.  Nothing more disappointing for me to hear at a handler’s meeting than the judge saying, “these sheep should be tough, so I will allow some grips”.  Right then, the judge has committed himself for the entire day to watch dogs bite sheep, whether it was needed or not.


Many of our trials run over several days.  If I am judging, I try not to discuss any judging with anyone except the pertinent people (course director, trial host, etc.) until the trial is over.  It is most unfair, to discuss judging with some contestants, and not the entire field.  If I have a student or a friend in the competition, and I know they are making a simple mistake that would be very easily corrected, I tell my student or friend to call or email me after the trial.  During the trial, I don’t give hints or suggestions until the trial is over, unless I give those hints or suggestions to the entire group of contestants.


Part of judging is making sure that all the scores are accurate.  Once a run is over, I look at the score sheet to make sure the score written down is correct.  It is surprising the number of mistakes that get made from what the judge says, and what the clerk hears.  Many times the clerks are volunteers who may or may not know their job.  It is always the judge’s responsibility to make sure they are written down correctly.


After the trial, I have found that most participants are genuine in any comments they make.  I never ask anyone what the crowd thought, because it really isn’t important.  What is important is that the judge is comfortable and confident in their decisions.


If a handler asks a question about their run, I try to remember the run. If I can’t accurately remember the run, I tell them so.  If they have a question about the scoring of their run, I will be happy to tell them the reason, but if they think they will change my mind, I tell them that we don’t need any further discussion on the matter.


Judging a trail is hard work.  But at the same time, it can be a very rewarding experience.  Having the opportunity to watch the best dogs and handlers will only enhance your own dog training and handling skills.