Do we ditch the judges? That is the question many of us have been pondering for the last few years. I have been trialing actively for the last 7 years or so and have experienced mostly judged trials, mostly in ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America). I have noticed things have changed a lot in the last five years or so. And these changes have pushed me to contemplate alternative trialing opportunities. I have actually done more than contemplate, I have started to play in the time and points arena.
A few years ago, I met with one of my mentors and big time Border Collie trainer of winning dogs and one of his clients. I was at the time working on a time and points version of trialing for ASCA. I wanted some outside input. I was feeling uneasy about breaking away from judged programs. The three of us sat down to lunch. I asked, “Tell me all the bad things about time and points trials.” My mentor paused and slowly said, “Well sometimes the dogs can run the stock too hard.” The other gentleman, a winning trialer agreed.
I then asked, “Now tell me all the bad things about judged trials.” I barely got the words out when they both started in on a litany of issues. Both of them talking over each other…The issues were all the same ones I was experiencing and observing. So it seemed pretty clear to me that I was actually on the right track with what I was seeing.
So a few of us got together to put a time and points program together for ASCA. It went no where. It looks like it might be getting a new chance soon, but we will see. There are too many issues in ASCA to really make a program like that shine. We need something new and untarnished.
I have run a couple of time and points trials now. And I have struggled a bit, as I knew I would. It is always hard to try something new. I knew in advance I was going to suck for awhile. I accepted that and I am embracing the suck right now. I am learning. The flow and rhythm is different. I also know that I will get past this awkward phase and succeed soon enough.
I have watched literally hundreds of time and points runs, mostly border collies. I haven’t seen one incident of stock abuse. I have seen good dogs and bad dogs. It always comes down to training and instinct. The best trained dog wins the day, almost always. I do have to say I did see a rodear (horseback) run once where the wild dog who had little control and little training beat the trained dogs because he made the hardest obstacle worth the most points, because he was running tight. The only obstacle I can think of where a tight running dog would do the best. But for the most part the best dogs win. And just in case you want to use this example to support the judged trials’ case, don’t. I have seen plenty of judged runs where the best dog didn’t win.
I recently hosted my first MSSA (Mountain States Stockdog Association) trial here weekend before last. I noticed a few things. Most poignant was, during my last cattle run, I was running Copper, of course. He messed up and was a bit wild at the start, so he missed the first fetch panel. I slowed him down and made him finish is correctly. Then he laid down a beautiful run. It occurred to me during that run, that I was just out here working my dog. We were getting judged only on the work we completed. We only got points for the obstacles we finished and no one was judging how I was running, or if my dog was obeying, or working the way the judge liked. There are no biases. There are only facts. There is no cheating. Everyone can see what you did or didn’t do. Judges’ friends don’t get higher scores, the dog’s style doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what the dog accomplishes in the event.
So, do we ditch the judges?
Another benefit of the time and points trial- anyone can judge. I don’t have high judges expenses. Also, I was able to get stock set up and loaded with my dog and run my dog and nobody took pictures and threatened to disqualify me. I judged and ran my dog! Nobody cared. Someone else just stepped in and judged my run. Nobody griped about the stock. Nobody tried to count pens and get a special set of stock or avoid a set they didn’t want. Everyone was grateful to run and have fun! Trialers embraced the obstacles and we even made a change to an entrance of an obstacle during the walk through to make it more realistic! It was a trial that counted towards finals, but it felt more like a fun day.
I don’t think time and points resolves all of the issues in the trial program, but it sure fixes some of them. The playing field is leveled. The dogs are given points for work they accomplish. The best trained dogs usually win. The costs of the events are much lower.
I am going to continue along this adventure and see where it takes me. I am hoping some of you will join me in the process. It’s time to step up. Our dogs are worth it. The world needs to see well trained talented Working Australian Shepherds playing with the big boys!