Insights Into Judging Obedience ~ Part 1

Thursday, September 01, 2016 12:00 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

Take a moment and consider yourself as one applying to judge in the sport of Obedience and look to what it takes to fill the shoes of such a judge. We are all quite opinionated when it comes to the question of what makes an excellent Obedience judge and opinions will vary as to what it takes to fill the shoes of an obedience judge. What kind of judge would YOU make and how would YOU go about judging? As in every field there are variations (some good and some that could use improvement) in how an individual accomplishes a task so consider the options in meeting your ideals of an EXCELLENT judge. Take a close look at some of the aspects and decision-making involved in judging with you stepping into the ring as the judge.

You have decided that you want to judge obedience trials so now what are the steps required to meet this goal? One starts by applying first for Novice - Open and Utility are applied for separately at a later time. Before prematurely applying to judge Novice Obedience Classes at American Kennel Club member or licensed trials, the AKC has certain requirements that must be met. Failure to meet any requirement will result in the application being returned. Exemptions from some requirements may be made for applicants from Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico.

To qualify as an applicant – you must have:

1. Personally owned, trained and titled a dog to an AKC Utility Dog (UD) title and at least one other dog to an AKC Companion Dog (CD) title;

2. Been active in the sport a minimum of six (6) consecutive years;

3. Acted as a steward in Novice/Open/Utility class (depending upon class applying for) at AKC member or licensed trials a minimum of ten (10) times;

4. Have judged at AKC sanctioned obedience A or B matches a minimum of five (5) times. Judging a non-regular class at an AKC trial with a minimum of ten (10) dogs competing may substitute on a one to one basis to replace the match requirement. Apprentice assignments beyond the three (3) required may be used on a one to one basis to replace the match requirement.Apprentice judged under three (3) judges with a minimum of ten (10) dogs in each class. Apprenticing is for prospective judges only and is to be done at the level they are eligible to apply for.

5. Actively participated as an assistant trainer or as a trainer in a dog training club or similar organization;

6. Attended an AKC obedience seminar within the last three (3) years.

Check out the AKC web page for further details:

As a judge you are to:
1. Qualify the dogs that meet the minimum requirements in the Obedience Regulations

2. Non-qualify the dogs that do not meet the minimum requirements

3. Separate and place the top four dogs and handlers in the class

A good knowledge of the Obedience Regulations and Guidelines For Obedience judges is only part of judging - one has to have the fortitude to carry out the correct decisions. All decisions are not going to be clear-cut and scoring faults is not going to be easy. Every infraction from perfection (providing it is worth at least one-half point) should be scored. This may sound like nit-picking but consider the following: If the dog and handler in the ring make a minor or substantial error and it is not scored, is this fair to the next dog and handler when they perform the exercise (or between exercise) perfectly? In theory, you would be giving the same score for different qualities of work. While studying judges, keep notes on both the good points observed and points you feel might be improved upon. Pay particular attention to the following:

1. Is the judge giving the impression of being the one in charge of the ring and meeting his/her judge’s responsibilities?

2. How does the judge set up and run their ring?

3. What instructions are given to the stewards?

4. What kind of heeling pattern is used? Is it a good one and does it appear to have been thought out?

5. What position is the judge in for observing and scoring the performance of the dog and handler in the ring?

6. The scoring of a performance.

7. How are the ribbon prizes presented?

1. Is the Judge giving the impression of being the one in charge of the ring and meeting the Judge’s responsibilities?
The Guidelines For Obedience judges addresses the duties of a judge in the areas of judge's responsibilities, appearance, impartiality, knowledge, and responsibilities to exhibitors, spectators and to the sport of purebred dogs.

It is vitally important for all judges to understand their responsibilities to the sport. Obedience judges symbolize the entire sport of obedience training. While presiding over a ring they represent The American Kennel Club, an organization devoted to impartial administration of every rule and regulation adopted to promote and protect the interest of purebred dogs, their breeding and their exhibiting in shows, obedience trials, tracking tests, and field trials.

Judges should be friendly and courteous, but above all they must be impartial and firm. It is fine to have a sympathetic attitude toward some unexpected failure provided the decision and scoring are not affected. Competent judges are aware that they cannot make concessions to one exhibitor without doing a disfavor to all other exhibitors. First, consideration must be given to those who enter the ring prepared to perform the exercises as required by the Regulations, without any special treatment.

A judge must remember at all times that every exhibitor is an important participant in the sport. Without exhibitors there would be no trials. It must also be remembered that for every experienced exhibitor, there are hundreds of newcomers. The alienation of newcomers may eventually cause them to lose interest, stop training and quit the sport. The sport needs the novice, because the future of the sport is in the hands of the novice.

2. How does a Judge set up their ring?
The way the obedience ring is set up WILL affect the dog's performance. To be sure the ring is going to be the way YOU want it is one reason to be at ringside at least 45-minutes before the scheduled starting time of the class. This will allow time to set up the ring, check the equipment, make changes if necessary and instruct the stewards on how YOU want the ring to run. A good judge will plan the ring set-up so every dog and handler can move between exercises and perform each exercise to the best advantage. While you are observing judges, see how they check the following:

The ring should be paced off to make sure it meets the requirements in Chapter 1, Section 32 of the Obedience Regulations. If the ring does not meet the specifications, you are going to need to take action.

It is your responsibility to see that every handler and dog have a fair shot at a good clean performance; this is first accomplished by having good ring conditions as per the Regulations. If you don't deal with these deficiencies, how are you going to deal with the scoring of a dog/handler when they are affected by such conditions? If indoors, the floor shall have surface or covering that provides footing for the largest dogs. Rubber or similar non-slip material totaling at least four feet in width must be laid for the takeoff and landing at all jumps unless the surface, in the judge's opinion, is such as to not require it. If outdoors, "The ground shall be clean and level, and the grass, if any, shall be cut short." Short means SHORT! Keep in mind the small dog trying to retrieve a dumbbell, scent articles or accomplishing a Long Down in long grass. Blades of grass and weeds will be sticking the dog in the face and unfairly affecting its performance as compared to the Saint Bernard whose face is a good thirty inches from the ground. Of course, a Saint Bernard will not look kindly to having long blades of grass going up his nostrils as he bends down in the course of picking up a dumbbell! Level ground means level! The handler and dog, not to mention the judge, should not have to concern themselves with trying to maintain their balance when walking in the ring.

You now have the ring all squared (actually rectangular) away and it is time to check out the equipment. If indoors, and matting is to be used, there are a few things to keep in mind. If your ring is fully matted - you've got it made! You, the handler and dog have ideal conditions. If not fully matted, matting for jumping must be four feet wide and laid for the takeoff and landing at all jumps. If the mats you are supplied with are only three feet wide, two will have to be used to make the required four-foot width for jumping. Length of mat is now also a concern. A dog must be positioned at least eight feet (in Open) in front of the High Jump and Broad Jump. Also, the dumbbell must be thrown at least eight feet beyond the High Jump. This means there should be AT LEAST sixteen feet of matting to be fair to all breeds of dogs for  takeoff and landing. The Jumps are regulated and the required measurements are in Chapter 4, Sections 11 and 13, and Chapter 5, Section 14. These sections also deal with the painting and numbering of the jumps. There are all types of jumps that one will encounter. Beside the wood jumps we now have PVC (plastic) styles. These jumps must have the same properties of the wood jumps. For example, the boards in the High Jump must be rigid and not able to bend and fall out of the upright standards. The Bar must be weighted and have the integrity of a wood bar. It is up to the judge to measure the jumps and have corrections made if needed.

The judge should take immediate action to correct the deficiencies in the ring or equipment by bringing them to the attention of the Trial Secretary or Superintendent. If there are undesirable ring conditions they must be reported to the American Kennel Club if the deficiencies have not been promptly corrected at the judge's request per Chapter 1, Section 34. The judge reports to the AKC by writing up the uncorrected problem inside the judge's Book cover. Also, a letter (or email) should be sent to the Obedience Department as a follow-up. Had the judge reported incorrect equipment at the club's prior show, it would have been corrected and you would not be dealing with such problems. Don't hesitate to take action - you owe it to the sport and exhibitors!

Be aware of lighting if indoors or out. Pay attention to the dog's line of sight for jumping and signals, and consider where the Group Exercises will take place in the ring. For example, the sun would be better on the dogs back than in its face. Lighting might affect where you want the gate and table in relation to the heeling pattern, plus the position of the jumps may need to be thought out.

Where the ring gate goes in relation to the ring is YOUR choice. If you don't care for the location of the gate when arriving at the ring, change it! It is best to be comfortable with the gate in relation to your heeling pattern and set-up of the ring. The end result will be a better job of judging.

Give some real consideration as to where YOU want the judge's table. At the AKC Obedience Judging Seminars it is suggested that the table be OUTSIDE the ring. Their reasons make good common sense: The ring is for the use of the dog, handler and judge.

· If stewards are on the outside of the ring their attention is more likely to be focused on the ring activities, and they will be ready when needed.

· If there is food on the table for the judge or stewards, it is now outside the ring.

· The dog and handler have a better opportunity to perform with the elimination of the commotion around the judge's table. It also frees up more space for better use of the ring.

One thing a judge should strive for is to be consistent. Every dog and handler deserves the same opportunity when entering the ring. One way to help achieve consistency is to mark the ring for the DIFFERENT exercises as needed. For example, mark where you want the stewards to stand for the Figure Eight. This makes sure the stewards are always the eight feet apart that is required. If not marked, you will notice the stewards unconsciously standing farther apart for larger dogs and closer for smaller dogs. Also be aware of the other “required” marks for the advanced and Preferred classes.

Before starting the class, make sure you have all the ribbons and prizes required for that class. This will help your efficiency in being able to present the ribbons and awards after marking the placements in your judge's Book.

3. What instructions will be given to the Stewards?
In the Obedience ring a steward CAN make a big difference in how efficiently a ring functions. Their actions can also have an affect on the performance of the dog in the ring. The judge is in sole charge of the way they want the ring conducted, but if this is NOT conveyed to the stewards the first several handlers may be entering a "zoo" instead of an Obedience ring. A helpful suggestion: Have typed steward instructions with your judging equipment. Having your detailed instructions at hand ensures you won't overlook anything and have them available for the stewards' reference during the class.

4. What type of heeling pattern is used? Is it a good one and appear to have been thought out for your ring?
When you are invited to judge at a trial, there is an important Chapter and Section to keep in mind. CHAPTER 2, SECTION 6 – JUDGING OF CLASSES AND DIFFERENT BREEDS: "The same methods and standards will be used for judging and scoring the regular, preferred, optional titling and non-regular classes and in judging and scoring the work of dogs of different breeds, including dogs listed with AKC Canine Partners." The time to be aware of this regulation is BEFORE you set up your ring and plot out the heeling pattern and the areas for the different exercises. Large breeds (and super-fast dogs) require a considerable amount of room to maneuver. If this is not factored in beforehand, then the dog's performance could be compromised. All breeds need be given ample space so they have the opportunity to work towards perfection. Also, heeling patterns should be smooth and not choppy. Choppy patterns (explained below) seem to be more of a hindrance to the larger and faster working teams. The next time you go to a trial, notice how the judge has set up their ring. PAY ATTENTION to how the space is used for the different exercises. Make note of the heeling pattern. Also observe how far a dog travels before a halt or a turn and how much space is used for the dog and handler to execute the Fast or Slow. There is NO perfect way to set up a ring or a perfect heeling pattern for all breeds, but some judges make better use of the ring space. When judging at an all-breed trial, you have to be ready for whatever breed comes into the ring -- be it a Chihuahua or an Irish Wolfhound. It is imperative that all breeds be given an equal chance to earn a perfect score if you wish to be a fair judge.

Heeling is in every AKC obedience class. In choosing a pattern that works for you, also consider the handler and dog. You must give ALL handlers and dogs an EQUAL opportunity to do the principal part of heeling -- the ability of the dog and handler working as a team. Teamwork is best performed when a heeling pattern is smooth. One way to accomplish this objective is to have only one heeling function per leg of the pattern. This provides ALL teams a chance for a smooth performance but when two heeling functions are on one leg of a pattern it becomes choppy and the teamwork starts to suffer. For example, a Fast, Normal, and Halt on one leg would be choppy. Picture an Irish Wolfhound doing this pattern smoothly. Another example...heeling down the center of the ring and making a Right or Left turn and then Slow, using half the ring, before turning again. The choppy pattern will unfairly affect the performance of the larger and/or faster breeds. There is just less room and time to respond if too much is going on during one leg of the heeling pattern. Remember, you are going to be judging these actions. The faults you observe MAY have been caused by YOU by not giving thought to the heeling pattern. The small breeds will start to gain an advantage and you, as a judge, will find your goals of fairness and consistency going down the tubes. A pattern does not have to be long to achieve the smooth objective. The simple "L" pattern (although minimal) lends itself to a smooth performance if you give some thought to where different heeling functions will take place. The "Forward" followed by a few steps and then a "Halt" is another example of unfairness to large breeds, plus it is also choppy. Picture the extremes. A Chihuahua and handler start to heel and the handler walks forward two or three steps and halts on the judge's order. This small breed has had a chance to get up and walk a fair distance before going into a sit. The next dog in the ring is an Irish Wolfhound. The handler starts to heel and walks two or three steps and halts on the judge's order. The Irish Wolfhound starts to move forward in heel position, and maybe just moved one-half or one body length, and now has to go into a sit. Did this breed have the same opportunity to have a smooth performance? The handler of the Irish Wolfhound had no choice but to stop on the judge's order or be penalized for delay in following a judge's order. The judge was consistent and stopped both dogs in the same spot, but lacked good judgment in setting up a heeling pattern that was fair to all breeds. Had the judge halted each dog further away from the Forward, both breeds would have had an equal opportunity for a smooth performance.

When planning the area for the Figure Eight think about the ring barriers and, in Open, also consider the jumps. You want to provide ALL dogs the opportunity to go around the outside post and not have to concern them with the possibility of running into an object. Figure Eight posts that are in the corners of a ring or too close to a jump jeopardize the performance of the larger breeds. This type of set up is also too restrictive for the disabled handlers and their dogs. If you are judging indoors and using mats on slick floors, use THREE mats if possible. Large breeds should have mats under them at all times during the Figure Eight if that is the case for the smaller breeds.

As you set up for the different individual exercises ask yourself, "Is this exercise going to be fair to ALL breeds and handlers when they enter my ring?" Another point to keep in mind is the disabled handlers and their space requirements. Make a mental picture of an Irish Wolfhound being handled by a person in a wheelchair. With this in mind you should have no problem in setting up the ring that is fair to all who enter.

5. What position is the Judge in for observing and scoring the performance of the dog and handler in the ring?
It is absolutely essential to develop skills in observing dogs and handlers and being able to evaluate their performance fairly and consistently. To help accomplish this goal, give considerable thought as to where the best positions are to observe without interfering with the performance of an individual exercise (or between exercises). Where you stand determines what you can see. It also gives the impression to the spectators outside the ring as to whether or not you know what you're doing! Every judge should want to give the appearance of being professional and precise. There is no perfect position but there are positions that will help the judge better fulfill their responsibilities to the sport. A judge should know what position to be in and why. Sometimes when you are observing from one angle you may be "giving up" being in another position to see other errors that may be occurring. The good judge will recognize what they are giving up," knowing that these errors are less common and of lesser significance than errors observed from their chosen position. When you think through the Regulations, most of the exercises have two common denominators - heel position and the recall. The majority of exercises will refer back to these two items. A few examples of judging positions taken from the Guidelines and AKC Obedience Judging Seminar notes -- are as follows:

Heeling Exercises
After planning your heeling pattern, the next step is to plan YOUR positions during the course of the pattern. Judges should attempt to position themselves so the dog and handler will be observed from the rear, front and sides, and the judge's movements during the heeling pattern should be consistent from dog to dog. Knowing where heel position is located is of paramount importance during the course of judging. The five faults of heeling in regards to the dog are forging, lagging, wide, crowding and not being straight in line with the direction of the handler. When starting the heeling pattern, be in position to check for the handler and dog moving out together on the "Forward." This is an area where lagging and forging can occur and you will want to be in a good location to watch and score if needed. Being on the dog's side in line with the handler is preferable. During the Utility Signal Exercise, this position will also be important at the end of heeling; the judge will have a better view of the dog stopping and standing in heel position. It is a scorable fault if the dog is not in heel position at this point. You have to be there to see it!

A good position for judging a Sit is from the front or back of the dog and handler. For example, consider a dog making a SLIGHT error on the Sit; from this location the judge can observe sitting wide, crowding or not straight in line with the handler - three of the more common faults. If judging from the side, two faults could best be observed - forge and lag. This is a good example in choosing a position to see MOST of the errors from one location. A spectator sitting in the bleachers outside the ring can observe a dog sitting a foot in front or behind a handler on a halt. YOU want to be in the BEST position to observe most of the minor errors, if any. This is part of judging fair and consistently.

Planning a heeling pattern that allows you to judge from the dog's side most of the time is preferable to being on the side of the handler. Two key elements in the heeling exercise are the Fast and Slow. The judge needs to watch the transition from Normal to Fast or Slow and back to Normal and evaluate heel position. The "Fast" signifies that the handler must run, handler and dog moving forward at NOTICEABLY ACCELERATED speed. "Slow" signifies the handler and dog must NOTICEABLY DECELERATE from a brisk walk. Judging on the dog's side is a favorable place to see if the dog is maintaining heel position or making any of the five heeling errors. Judging from the handler's side obscures the view of the dog's position. Also, momentarily stepping behind the dog and handler on the Fast or Slow will give an excellent observation point for judging straight in line with the handler.

Other Areas of Heel Positions:
A dog is in heel position at some point during EVERY exercise. A good judge will study the different exercises in various classes and see when the dog or handler is required to be in heel position. Then studying Chapter 2, Section 18 (Heel Position) and see how it relates to all the different exercises. To observe a fault you first have to recognize that fault. Let's look at two exercises and notice the importance of the judge's location for judging heel position.

NOVICE - STAND FOR EXAMINATION (Chapter 3, Sections 7 and 8)
The handler is to be in heel position before leaving and after returning to the dog. In this exercise the handler is the one to assume heel position. To start the exercise it is suggested that the judge be in front of and to the left of the dog. This allows the judge to observe the handler's movements and watch if the handler assumes heel position before leaving the dog. The key elements to view are the five errors of heel position as listed above. This position is excellent to observe if the dog is straight in line with the handler as the handler leaves. After performing the examination, the judge steps back away but in line with the dog's left shoulder. From here one can view if the handler returns to the heel position. The most common faults are the handler returning to a forged or lag position and it is best observed from this location.

NOVICE - GROUP EXERCISES (Chapter 3, Sections 12 &13) OPEN - GROUP EXERCISES (Chapter 4, Section 15.
The judge must be in a good location to watch all the handlers return to heel position. If a dog breaks the Long Sit or Long Down as the handler is returning to heel position, the judge will have to determine if the handler was in heel position when the dog broke. Knowing heel position and being able to observe it has a great impact on this exercise - the end result in scoring is a pass or fail depending on the judge's decision!

Anytime the dog is coming into the handler, the Recall exercise is involved. The judge needs to be in a good position to observe the dog and handler fulfilling the key elements of the Recall: The giving of the command or signal, dog's prompt response to handler's command or signal, dog moving directly to the handler, moving at a brisk trot or gallop and returning close enough to the handler. Recalls are referred to in many of the exercises in the Regulations so let's again look at a couple of different exercises and notice the importance of the judge's position as it relates to the Recall.

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