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Frank Thompson (originally published in The American Field ( years ago)

I cannot improve on the late Leon Covington's comments to the Oklahoma Seminar on the qualifications for a judge. I must, however, complement his ideas with what does not qualify one to judge. This happens over and over on both the one course circuits and the major circuit. Someone decides that bird dogs might be fun. He is loaded with money, so he buys dogs and puts them with a professional trainer. In a year or two he is judging field trials. All he knows is what his trainer has told him. One cannot be told the competencies needed to judge a field trial any more than you can teach a dog to hunt. They can be developed only through experience (i.e. training developing, and handling dogs from puppy hood through shooting-dog or all-age levels.). The unqualified ones are easy to recognize. In addition to the frequent incorrect decisions that they make they:

Judges Attributes

"Guidelines to Field Trial Procedure and Judicial Practice"
Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America Incorporated.

What attributes should be sought after when selecting a field trial judge?

— The most important ingredient of a successful field trial lies in the club’s selection of qualified judges. Although it is not always possible, and often times impractical, clubs should avoid using judges from its own membership. Early, careful planning will aid in avoiding these circumstances. It should be the obligation of every club to help replenish the supply of qualified judges by encouraging newer, younger, active field trialers to engage in the role of the judiciary. This can best be accomplished by teaming these younger members with older, experienced judges and encouraging them to observe carefully, listen, ask questions, and participate in discussions. Although there is absolutely no substitute for experience, much knowledge can be gained by reading available books and articles on the subject.The attributes to be looked for in an apprentice judge, minus the requisite of experience, are similar to those of a qualified judge and are listed for both as follows:

1) He should be of strong moral character and integrity, and respected for these qualities in his hometown, business, and field trial community

2) He should be in good physical condition with the stamina to ride and see all the entries in the stake through to their proper conclusion, and possess keen eyesight to see all of the action as it transpires.

3) He should be of even temperament, blessed with common sense, possess an alert, analytically decisive mind, and have sufficient conviction in his abilities to stand up for his decisions.

4) He should be a good horseman and have full knowledge of the outdoors and an understanding of the behavior of game birds and dogs, and have a rich background of practical bird-hunting experience.

5) He should be familiar with the proper procedure of training and breaking bird dogs and must have successfully run dogs in field trials, and should have “broke” dogs of his own.6) He should have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the A.F.T.C.A's “Guidelines to Field Trial Procedure and Judicial Practice.”

7) He should have experience running both all-age and shooting dogs to better understand the difference between these dogs and the different standards of each of these stakes. This knowledge should be applied when decisions are rendered.

Judging Responsibilities

"Guidelines to Field Trial Procedure and Judicial Practice"
Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America Incorporated.
Field Trial Judge Responsibilities

What are the responsibilities of a field trial judge?

The responsibilities of a field trial judge are varied and unique. They can be divided into two main categories. One is to oversee the proper running of the dogs, and the other is to render an unbiased decision based entirely on performance in that stake. A field trial judge is a person selected by his peers with the expectation that he will discharge these responsibilities with an irreproachable degree of honesty and fairness. In order to meet these expectations and discharge these responsibilities, a field trial judge must strive to meet the following objectives:

1) A judge should give 100 percent attention to every entry, until such time he is convinced that the entry would be incapable of placing, whereupon he out of courtesy should inform the handler. The decision to pick a dog up is the prerogative of the handler, unless the dog or the handler has committed a fault serious enough to merit disqualification. (Examples: interfering with a brace mate such as: refusing to back, fighting, trailing, knocking and chasing birds.) It is not sufficient reason for a dog to be ordered up during a heat if the judge finds the dog’s performance to be boring or uninteresting.

2) A judge must keep foremost in his mind the selection of the best dog or dogs to win the trial and he should endeavor to find the best overall performance for the placements.

3) A judge, while judging, should be “all eyes" to observe as well as possible all the action personally, and everything transpiring beyond his observation, reported by other people, other than the other judge, must be disregarded.

4) A judge should ride at a reasonable pace and be in a reasonable place to see. A judge cannot judge what he does not see and he should always know, never guess or assume. A judge is not obligated to follow a handler at all times, but he should ride and take advantage of the terrain, such as a hill, to see what the dog is doing. Laying back with the gallery and following in horse tracks on a course is not an acceptable performance of a judge.

5) A judge, along with his companion judge, should set the pace of the running which should be at a reasonable hunting speed.

6) A judge should be observant of all factors influencing fairness and equal chance of the running of a trial. For example, weather conditions deteriorate and are too inclement to allow the dogs a fair and equal chance in the competition, the running should be halted until conditions improve. No trial should be run simply to get the trial over.

7) A judge is the official timekeeper and should have a timepiece (stop-watch or time elapse watch) to accurately control the time.

8) A judge should make certain that the dog to be named winner has run an acceptable race according to the standards of the stake he is participating in. Without this, no amount of bird work should be considered.

9) A judge, when accepting a request to judge, should be sure that there are no constraints upon his availability and time which would prevent a fair and equal opportunity for every entry to run in the stake.

10) A judge should not be prejudiced to one type or breed of dog and should never prejudge a dog based on past performances, as every trial is a new contest.

11) A judge should conduct himself as a gentleman in the field as well as at evening social gatherings, as respect begets respect.

12) A judge is in control of the field trial during the running and should make certain the running is conducted properly to the A.F.T.C.A. Rules and Regulations and adhere as closely as possible to the A.F.T.C.A. “Guidelines to Field Trial Procedure and Judicial Practice".

13) A judge should judge in a positive vein, looking for favorable qualities in a dog, rather than negative judging for minor faults to eliminate a dog.

14) A judge should take good notes which will help in all circumstances after the fact before final decisions are made. Leaving details to memory results in leaving much to chance.

15) A judge should always, whether judging an All-Age Stake or Shooting Dog Stake, reward quality over quantity.

16) A judge should, throughout the trial, maintain rapport with his fellow judge and stay in constant communication concerning the performances of the dogs, and along with the companion judge decide the top dog at the conclusion of each brace.  


Frank Thompson (originally published in The American Field ( years ago)

What do I expect from a field trial club when I pay an entry fee for a one course trial? There are many facets of running a field trial that should be included in a comprehensive answer to that question. Time and space permit me to address only two aspects of the question - perhaps in a later article I will address some of the others.

What has recently disturbed me has been judicial behavior and grounds. Coloring my comments are traces of the all-age - shooting dog debate that has been addressed on these pages many times in the past. I shall not elaborate on the differences between the two; there are differing opinions on the differences. At the risk of over- generalizing I suggest that there is a general consensus that a distinguishing difference is range or boldness and speed. Accepting this position poses problems for the one course trial.

Given a 30 minute course, the all-age will cover more ground (perhaps less thoroughly) than the shooting dog, or looking at it from the opposite direction, on a given piece of ground the all-age will cover it faster. It follows logically that the same course should not be used for shooting dogs and all-age dogs if the heats are stakes are of the same length of time.

A true all-age dog will use up a 30 minute shooting dog course in about fifteen or twenty minutes (probably finding a bird or two while the shooting dog may have a half a dozen finds on the same course). The solution to this is to have a course that requires a good shooting dog at least 45 minutes to complete. This would permit the all-age stakes to have heats lasting 30 minutes on the same course. I am tired of being ordered up at 15 or 20 minutes, in a so called all-age stake, because my all-age dog has run out of course while his brace mate , running at shooting dog range and pace, is allowed 30 minutes. The alternative of hacking him or slowing him down is unacceptable; speed is part of what it is all about.

A 30 minute heat poses the additional problem in all-age competition because many all-age casts will require the dog being out of sight more than the allocated 10 minutes. If a club chooses to have a 30 minute course it should require an all-age dog 30 minutes to complete. This is what I expect for my entry fee.


Frank Thompson (originally published in The American Field ( years ago)

 It is generally considered appropriate for judges to give some guidance to newcomers. My first field trial was in the early fifties, so I consider myself a newcomer and need to learn a great deal more about the sport. For my entry fee I don't expect my dogs to be judged by someone with less than a decade of experience and who knows even less than I. At least I'm aware of some of the previously stated ideas. I should be helping them rather than them trying to help me by passing misinformation or lack of understanding to me.

The first item on the above list leads to a major irritant - judges riding in an all-age as if they were judging a shooting dog stake. Assuming that more speed and more of a straight out and ahead pattern separates an all-age dog from a shooting dog, how can a judge expect to see what is going on if he paces himself as if he were judging a shooting dog stake? A shooting dog handler should be expected to show his dog at regular intervals and at appropriate without fast riding on either his or the judges part. The judge should set a slow pace, a flat-foot walk - not a running walk, and he should not be expected to ride fast to see the dog. It should be the appropriate pace for bird hunting in that part of the country.

"The Field Trial Shooting Dog" in Field Trials by William Brown should be read for more detail on this matter. The all-age stake is a completely different ball game. The term "race" is more appropriate here. This is an animal that is away with a full head of steam, fired up, looking for a distant objective with game, bound and determined that he will get there first, before any other dog or person. He has the "bit in the mouth" and is very close, right on the edge of being over the hill, a run-off almost. The pace is torrid. He will cover the course in much less time than will the shooting dog. There is no way that such a dog can be fairly judged if the judge rides at a shooting dog pace. I feel that I have really been "ripped" when I turn to point out my dog on the horizon, and the judge is a quarter of a mile behind, perhaps even gossiping with the gallery. For my entry fee I expect a judge who will ride hard enough to see my dog. If one is not willing to do this, then he should not be judging an all-age stake. A club is doing a disservice by having judges that will not ride differently in a shooting dog and a all-age stake. There are many that will disagree with my positions in this article, but there are also many who will agree with me.

There are enough different kinds of stakes today for everyone to find his own thing. Those of us who believe in what I've said about a judges behavior in all-age stakes find this our "cup of tea" - this thing we call all-age. If this is not your "cup of tea", fine, then stay away, don't participate and for goodness sake don't take on a judicial assignment in this kind of stake. We don't want our standards polluted by what you are looking for any more than shooting dog stakes should be polluted by all-age ideas - something that does occur to often. There is, in this sport, something for all tastes.
In conclusion, for my entry fee I expect appropriate grounds and a judge that will ride at an all-age clip, otherwise, the club should NOT offer all-age stakes .

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