Let's Help the Judge
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine

In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to judge some very nice trials. Although it is not near as much fun as participating as a handler, I do enjoy getting to see the dogs and handlers from different parts of the country. Judging allows you the best view to see the dogs and handlers at work. It also makes you realize what role handling plays in the outcome of a trial.

First, let me say that judging is a very important and hard job. Many of the days start quite early and end quite late. It is not always a pleasurable experience. The stress level is usually high and the pay low. But as a competitor, I feel that I need to give something back to the sport, and I can do part of that by judging.

Now many of us are armchair experts at judging. We tend to forget that the judge has the best view on the field. The judge is alone in concentrating on each run. Most of the armchair experts are busy talking with their friends and competitors. They don't see each part of the run as the judge does. They don't have the same view as the judge. They aren't concentrating like the judge.

The judge is alone in his analysis of what actually happened during the run. He has no one else to consult no other pair of eyes to help watch in case he happens to miss something very important. Now, I will be the first one to admit that I can and do make mistakes during judging. It is impossible to put in a 12-hour day of judging and not make a mistake. Sometimes I realize immediately when I make a mistake, and sometimes it might take a while to realize the mistake that I have made. The point is that all judges are human and do make mistakes.

Here are a few ways to help the judge make fewer mistakes:

  • Make sure the judge has only one job, and that job of course is to judge. It is very difficult to keep your concentration if you are the timer, course director, scorekeeper, and announcer. Any little distraction can be costly on watching someone's run. The distraction also plays on a judge's mind for not only the actual run that it occurs, but can upset the judge for the whole day.
  • Keep the judge isolated while he is judging. It is very difficult to focus on the current run if there are loud handlers behind the judge. It is not hard to get distracted when people are discussing anything from the current handler to the latest gossip. Put the judge in an area where he can concentrate on his job.
  • If it is a large trial, consider having another judge for some of the other classes. A small break during the day would improve any judge's competence. Most of our trials out west, the judge goes all day long judging each and every class. Hiring another judge for at least one of the other classes will help your judge stay fresh for the classes that he is required to judge.
  • Make it known that any questions after the judging starts should be directed to the course director or trial organizer.
  • Be sure to remember to have plenty of liquids on a hot day, and a port-a-potty near the judge's stand to keep the breaks to a minimum.
  • Discuss any special requests you might have with the judge before the handler's meeting. It is difficult to repair damage when the trial coordinator and judge have different views during the meeting they are trying to conduct.

We all should remember that the judges are hired to give their opinion of the trial. It is only his opinion on who had the best run of the day. It does not necessarily tell us which is his favorite dog, who is his favorite handler, or whom he just thinks had some really bad luck. Unfortunately when I have judged, sometimes people who I really would like to see do well have a run that isn't good enough to win, and many times a team that I really don't care for happens to win. But the purpose of the judge is to determine the best team of that day, not to count the votes of a popularity contest.

The judge has a very hard job to do. Whether you agree with their decisions or not, their account to the trial is final. If you hear someone complaining about the judge, think of the hard work and concentration the judge is putting forth before you might decide to include yourself in the conversation. We are all very lucky to have discovered this activity, and our judge is just one of the important aspects that makes our competition work.