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Ask the Judge: Flawless Trial Organization

In each issue of the K9Force Magazine, we ask GSSCC Head Judge Jim Chrisp how a particular IGP exercise will be assessed. With the trial season approaching, we asked a slightly different question: How can organizers optimize a judge's trial experience? This is Jim's response.

Availability and Travel Arrangements

Trial organizers initiate the first contact with a judge via email. Judges tend to readily respond to trial requests. Once a judge has confirmed his/her availability, the organizing club notifies their country's governing body about the upcoming trial date and location. GSSCC competition schedules can be found on the GSSCC 360 website.

Travel arrangements may be made by the judge, or the organizing club. My personal preference is for the club to take the lead and confirm with me before the final bookings are made. Out of courtesy, it is best to ask a judge for their lodging preferences as well.

Prior to arrival, please provide the judge with a contact number for pick up. Having a contact person will avoid mishaps such as being left waiting at the airport. On one of my trips the pick-up person did not recognize me and left the airport with an empty car. Luckily, I managed to get hold of another club member. Still, having to wait for over an hour was not a good start.

On Location

A handlers' meeting on the evening prior to the first trial day provides an opportunity for a judge to meet and greet the trial manager, the track layers, and the helpers. Some judges also like to familiarize themselves with the tracking fields the day before the trial.

Throughout the trial, the trial manager needs to be on hand in case a judge may need anything; scoring papers may get wet, pencils may break, or a judge may like something to drink to keep him/her walking and talking. Judging is a demanding activity which requires continuous vigilance and concentration. It may be difficult for a judge to pack an umbrella if it is raining. Or a judge having traveled from a warmer climate, may not have a woolly hat and a warm jacket. At some trials a translator can be a great support for both the judge and participants. Taking care of such simple problems can make a huge difference to a judge's trial experience.

Trial schedules are time sensitive and competitors need to be prepared to walk out for their tracking/obedience/protection routine right on time. Time keeping is an important responsibility of the trial manager and tracking coordinator.

The competition day starts in the early morning hours on the tracking field. I really appreciate to be picked up well in time for a quick coffee, a bite to eat and to discuss some last arrangements.

Upon a judge's arrival at the tracking fields, the tracking coordinator has already ensured that the tracks have been laid out. The tracking coordinator can be the trial manager or one of the track layers. Some judges may want to see a map of the tracks laid, especially if the track layers are inexperienced.

After tracking, it is time for the judge and participants to have something to eat and drink. This short intermittence allows organizers to get the club field ready for the obedience and protection sessions so the trial can continue at the scheduled starting time. In addition to time keeping, the trial manager has to ensure that a number of people are on stand-by. Obedience sessions require people for the group exercise, a gun operator and a person in case the long down blind falls over, a dumbbell falls off the rack, or the jump gets knocked over.  

Prior to the protection sessions, a judge may ask the helper(s) to mark out the field. Some judges may like to have a word with the helpers to discuss what he/she will be looking for. A dedicated person is required to set up blinds which may have fallen over due to a sudden gust of wind, or dogs accidentally knocking these over.

After the trial, a relatively quiet place will help a judge and trial manager to complete score- and handler books. A trial manager is allowed to start filling out these books during the competition, but all scores and ratings should be completed by only the judge. Especially on trials stretching out over multiple days, it is a great support to have a trial manager keeping on top of the participants' administration. I once judged a two-day trial where the trial manager had left this to the last minute. We spent an inordinate amount of time in the hot sun completing score books. Not a great experience, to say the least. Internet access allows for easy inputs into GSSCC 360 (Canada only). Unfortunately, digital inputs are unavailable to foreign judges, and trial sheets will still need to be completed manually.

After Trial Thoughts

A "judge's dinner" provides an opportunity to sit down, discuss and reflect with the club and friends on the happenings of the day. The judge's dinner is not only for the judge, it is meant to be a celebration of the trial. Unfortunately, some clubs do not see the need, or have simply not thought about this. I view such an omission as a missed opportunity to get together and reminisce about learning experiences, challenges overcome, and successes achieved.   

Nothing is more nerve-wracking than racing through the airport to catch a flight. I have personally missed more than one flight due to miscalculations on travel time by organizers. Please provide ample time for a judge to catch their flight home. If there are any last expenses (parking fees or per diem), please settle these before departure.

Last but not least, it is important to remember that the judge is only human. Some trial schedules do not allow for a judge to take a break or catch their breath. Too tight a schedule may result in a judge losing concentration and unintentionally missing small details. Confrontations afterwards are unpleasant, especially in front of an audience. A well organized and managed trial can prevent such situations, fostering positive experiences for a judge, the organizers and participants.

Being an individual who enjoys traveling, I am honored when asked to come and judge at club trials. I like to see dogs and their handlers in action on the field who have invested many hours of training. Therefore, my final words always include thanking the club for their invitation and expressing how great it is to see old friends and make new ones. The 2024 trail season will start soon, and I am looking forward to seeing everyone in good spirits.


K9Force (2024, April). Ask the Judge: Flawless Trial Organization.

© K9Force WDC 2024. For permission to reproduce any article in this blog, contact

Images courtesy of Titled Perspective Photography & Blond Photography

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