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Show some respect...

Before writing this, Selena Bray thought long and hard about posting on the internet, first on Facebook and then on Agilitynet. She insists it's not directly aimed at anyone in particular nor any specific situation. She's hoping it will resonate with people and help them understand the person in the centre of the ring better, so we stop losing our judges. After all, we couldn't do shows without them.

When a judge accepts a judging appointment, we work hard to plan, considering new options and inventive ways to maintain learning.

I know I dream up stuff and wake up to jot it down. Then when I'm properly awake, I plan around the concept to see if it might work in reality!

Sometimes we remember parts of courses which worked really well in our years of experience running courses, and we try to amalgamate the 'best bit' into a new style course.

Then there's the experimenting on our own dogs to see how the sequences work with different types and sizes of dogs. Which handling works best and where are people likely to be when handling so the judging route can be best positioned.

Sometimes, the whole concept is scrapped, and we start again. Other times the concept works great in practice!

That's just the first bit...

On the day
When we get to the actual ground and start set up, sometimes our well-rehearsed plans go out the window because of weather or ground conditions. None of this can be helped. We just have to get on with it.

When setting up, I personally measure my distances and then check individual distances twice - once to stay within the rules but also to consider the half-measured metres. For instance, if I have a lot of Grade 1-4 handlers during the day, I make sure my distances are all complete meters so our young dogs don't make mistakes with their stride and they can bloom and gain confidence while learning the game. At that point, I then measure the whole course again, giving a once over of the ground to make sure there are no dangerous dips or pegs left out, the kit looks good and all is pegged correctly. It is also a case of looking at the course from the dog's angle and making sure the lines are as lovely as possible so that young dogs especially don't struggle or bend too severely.

Then there are the handlers. Can a mobility scooter navigate around the space safely? Are there different lines for each style of dog, so it's not just a test of who can run the fastest on the longest line. Can a short stride dog gain some time by taking the shortest line, thus giving everyone a fair chance to show off their handling skills and dog's talents.

After all that, we start to judge.
While we are standing in the centre of the course, it is a lonely place. You can hear spectators' comments, which can be really off-putting when you hear negativity about the course, especially when it's just because someone hasn't seen anything like a certain sequence before. The problem is that we seem to be teaching our young handlers to moan and complain. They're our future. This problem is only going to get worse.

To be honest, it kind of makes judges think 'why did I bother? Instead of judging, we could have spent the day concentrating on our own dogs. After a full week at work, it would be nice to have a break with our families instead.

This is not just concerning my own courses. It is something regularly heard at ringside - and very loudly.

Sometimes s I see courses which I personally think are too hard for my dog or not to my preferred style, but I don't say anything negative. I walk it and decide for myself what I want from it. Then I might speak quietly or in private to those closest to me, my family or very close, trusted friends. We come up with a solution best fitting for the dog, in private. Sometimes they disagree with me and tell me I'm wrong. Surprisingly, especially in this day and age, we don't fall out with each other because we disagree. Usually I have to put my big girl pants on and go face it. Sometimes we achieve nothing from the conversation, go off on some unrelated tangent but do put the world to rights which probably shows how insignificant the worry can be. No one else needs to hear that stuff.

Some friendly advice
Unless a course is dangerous or there is a problem with the equipment which the judge might not have spotted, a quiet conversation with the ring manager or judge is all that's required. Then really it should be taken on the chin. Either don't work the dog, or find a different route you'll enjoy more, or give it a go and take away any learning. Furthermore, those who consider it wasting money, try to pick your judges, navigate to those you prefer.

For those who don't yet know the judges, ask your friends, club members and trainer. Put the world to rights in private, like we do. It's fun. Some people will prefer a style that you don't. They can then look out for those judges. Some will know the judges and what style of course suits them best. Failing all that, try the course out. Give it a go. Over the years I've found that sometimes they run better than they walk.

Anything you struggle with can be taken back to your trainer. Ask for their help and guidance to deal with the sequences you might have struggled with or tell them about regular equipment sequences which you see and haven't yet learned. For instance, sequences including tunnels under contacts aren't going away. It seems to be expected of the lower grades now, so your dog should be prepared for that prior to stepping out in the big world of competition. There are loads of games to make the learning fun when training the discrimination skill required.

I think all trainers should 'suffer' like I do on a weekly basis, but shhh... don't tell my friends I said that!

It's important to continue evolving and your dog's abilities should increase throughout each season, thus gaining an increase of grades, as improvements are made.

Above all. Let's be kind to one another and enjoy agility for what it is.

About the author...
Selena Bray's
first judging appointment was in 1995 and she admits to feeling physically sick! Her dad Alan Bray, also a judge, has supported her all the way through her judging career and has helped her better understand judging lines and the dog's line as well as sharing many helpful hints and tips along the way.

She runs Midlands Dog Training with Jamie Hitchinson for beginners to G2 and Fox Agility for G2-7 handlers.

Selena works at the National Grid and lives in Leicestershire.

Posted on FB 21 May 2024. First published on Agilitynet on 11th June 2024

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