Many years ago I was asked if I wanted to judge a Hunt Test.  I declined and the person asked me why.  I told them that after each event there was another person who hated that judge for failing them.  Never mind the failure was either with the dogs’ performance or handler error. Let’s explore the topic of judging from both the handler’s viewpoint as well as the judges.  I will begin by saying judging is a thankless job.  It takes a lot of time and effort and no matter what you do, some people are going to be unhappy.

In conversations with many people 3 characteristics of a good judge are: 1. Fair   2. Knowledgeable about dogs, rules, safety, handling and bird placement. Ideally these judges have trained their own dogs or worked closely with a professional and are current with the sport.  One additional factor that would be too much to ask for is that they have actually hunted. 3. A pleasant and friendly personality.

 By fair I mean does the judge take into consideration factors that may adversely affect a dog’s performance.  Setting up tests where the dogs will eliminate themselves rather than a sharp pencil. I remember judging with an excellent judge and we found ourselves in a situation where we had 6 dogs whose work was borderline.  We first agreed that if we dropped one of the dogs, we would have to drop the other 5.  We decided to bring them all back for the next series.  They all failed the test.  We did not drop them, the handlers picked them up after it was apparent they were not going to pass the test.

Knowledgeable about dogs and the rules of the game.  Let’s use the example of going back to an old fall to demonstrate this point.  An inline double has been set up with a long bird thrown first and then a short one on the same line.  The dog is sent and picks up the first short bird.  He is sent again for the long bird but stops when he gets to area of the short bird, puts his nose down for a second, makes a small circle and then takes off for the long bird.  Should he be thrown out? No. He is just honoring his nose because he just stopped for a few seconds to check out the scent but demonstrated memory and marking by going for the long bird.

Another example is switching.  Let’s use another double to discuss what constitutes a switch.

 A bird is thrown to the left first and then another bird is thrown to the right.  The right hand bird is picked up first.  The dog is sent for the left hand bird.  He begins his hunt.  He stays in the area of the fall and continues to hunt but cannot come up with the bird.  This is where the judge has to demonstrate patience. Give that dog extra time because he has demonstrated marking as well as perseverance.

Examine the photo below.

The next dog runs the double, picks up the right hand bird {M2} and is sent for the left bird {M1}.  He goes to the area of the fall, hunts for a while but begins to expand the area until he ends up very close to where he picked up the right hand bird.  According to an AKC representative that constitutes a switch.  He does not have to go all the way back to where the right hand bird was retrieved. He is out.  I have used this example of switching because if discussed by a group of handlers you will find a strong difference of opinion.  That is why I wanted to get the definition from an AKC rep.

Another dynamic that occurs and I have never been able to propose a solution is the issue of human nature.  Here is the situation.  There is a double header going on concurrently with 2 Master Hunt Tests.  So you have the same 60 dogs running under 2 different sets of judges on the same day on the same grounds.  At the end of the event in Flight A 55% of the dogs receive a qualifying score. In Flight B only 15% pass. Solve that one for me.

In closing I would urge anyone who can become a judge do so.  After going through the hoops it takes to become a Master Judge your knowledge of the regulations and guidelines and appreciation of the subtle aspects of dog work will make you a better handler.

Happy Training
John Schulte