Thoughts After Judging by Joel Levinson

I recently had the opportunity to judge for Ted and Janna Ondrak at a match for the benefit of some of their students who were about to enter their first trial. The idea was to give them an opportunity to run under trial conditions, so that they had an idea of what to expect. Most of these students were entered in the upcoming Terv Trial, to be held at SFVHA facility in April.

My first thought is it was good to see how far a lot of these students have come. As most of you know, I also train my dogs at Ted & Janna’s, so I get the chance occasionally to see some of the students out there training. I’ve also judged at the classes in AHBA test levels. These students definitely showed that the work they’ve been doing is starting to pay off.

I am, BTW, a licensed judge in the AKC and AHBA systems. That night, both courses were set up to be run at the started level. There were 8 dogs in attendance. Three had what would be considered qualifying scores during that run. The biggest comment that I could make to the students was to work on outruns. In my opinion, during a trial, the outrun sets up the entire run. If your dog comes in fast and tight, and splits the stock, this is how the sheep will view the dog. If, on the other hand, the dog is wide, and comes in without disturbing the stock, the stock will view the dog in that manner, and go along with the program in a much nicer smoother manner. We discussed this issue between runs, and set up for a second AHBA run. I was pleased to see that every dog’s score improved from the first run. The second time, five of the eight dogs had what would have been qualifing scores and even the NQ runs were much better. The outruns were much improved, because the handlers got in there and HELPED their dogs by pushing them out. In AHBA started, this is allowed.

The other issue I’d like to comment on is lines. Most of the people were confused on what this means in a trial. In both AKC and AHBA trials, what we are judging is how the stock moves through the line of the course. Notice I said the STOCK. The dog and handler do not have to follow the line the way the stock does. I judge the line the stock takes. A deviation from the line is a points off deduction for being off line. (Typically 1/2 to 1 point per head that is more than 12 feet off the line of the course in an arena trial). Also, moving through the line of the course means not going backward on the course, so you’ll lose points for retreating, etc. This was, I know, confusing for the participants, but I believe that by the end of the evening they all had the idea.

A comment that was made by most of the participants I’d like to pass on. While I was judging, I was calling out my deductions to my scribe. The other participants were standing close by, listening. The comment that was made was how much they learned by watching the runs and listening to the deductions I was making. I agree with this. One of the best learning experiences you can have is to scribe or keep time for the judge at a trial. This will give you some good ideas about what a judge is thinking about during the runs.

Above all, when you are out there, DON’T PANIC! The biggest thing that most new handlers do that creates problems for them is what I call ‘Handlers post anxiety’. Just go out there, and remember – you are doing this because its fun for you and your dog!

© 1997, by Joel Levinson This article originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of “Sheep Thrills”, the SFVHA Magazine. Reprinted with permission of the author.