Everyone knows what dog agility is, right? That sport where a dog, handled by a person, needs to cross an obstacle course that involves jumps, tunnels, boards, seesaws, slalom, and many other obstacles.
Okay, and what is a dog agility judge? And what does he do?
When you go to watch a dog agility competition next time, pay attention to that person in the middle of the ring, raising his arms, and with a whistle in his mouth. That is the judge.
The dog agility judge is one of the most important figures in the sport. It is his responsibility to not only provide a good show for the public, but also to create challenges for the dogs and handlers, without putting them at risk.
The judge's work begins at home, months before a competition. An agility judge's hardest job is in front of the computer. A job that can last weeks, where he develops the courses where the duos will run. Depending on the federation and type of championship that the judge will work, there are more than 15 courses that he needs to develop for just one weekend. Each of them, with their characteristics and demands. For example, on the same day, he needs to judge a course for beginner dogs, and for dogs that run in more
advanced categories such as Master Series, Biathlon, or Premier. There are also speed runs such as Speedstakes or Steeplechase.
Each course must be created following rules and regulations. Furthermore, the judge needs to create exercises within these courses where dogs and handlers feel challenged, always respecting the level at which the duos are competing. Not too hard for beginners, not too easy for Masters.
With time and experience, you learn to handle the challenges. But there is always a little discomfort and concern when creating a course on the computer. Will it work on the competition day? As I said, experience as a competitor and also as a judge will help you understand what can and cannot be done when creating a course.
After that, the competition day arrives. It is the judge's responsibility to be nearby when the courses are being built by the course builders, the people who, with the maps created by the judge in hand, build the course. Any obstacle that is out of angle, or different from the map, can distort the course and confuse competitors when running. Also, bad angles lead to accidents that can put dogs and handlers at risk when running.
With the course built and ready for the competition, the judge still needs to measure the course and calculate the Standard Time, that is, the maximum time that handlers have to complete that course without being punished. Once all this is done, the competitors are allowed to walk the course and then, compete with their dogs.
During the competition, the judge needs to be careful to call for fouls or refuses. It may seem simple to call a foul when a dog knocks over a bar. After all, everyone can see that a dog knocked a bar, right? But what happens when the dog passes at very high speed over the A Frame or the Dogwalk? The judge needs to be well-positioned and attentive to make sure that the dog has touched the contact zone (those areas with different colors on the boards).
And about refusals? The judges' nightmare! Dogs cannot refuse obstacles! In other words, they cannot divert, stop in front, go under, or simply slow down when approaching an obstacle. Difficult situations that the judge needs to be aware of and make a decision in a fraction of seconds.
In theory, a well-prepared course will please dogs, handlers, and the public. I say IN THEORY, because believe me, competitors love to complain (I was a competitor, I know that). They complain about the surface, the angle of the jumps, the number of tunnels, the distance between obstacles, among other things. As a judge, you have to learn to deal with this. Be in a good mood, make a joke here and there, and if necessary, ask a competitor to settle down and walk away. After all, you are the judge there!
I like to be a dog agility judge. I have been a judge for many years. Since I retired from competitions, judging events still keeps me connected with the sport that I love so much.
Marco Magiolo is a bestselling author, trainer, and speaker. Connect with Marco on social media and subscribe to future newsletters and updates.