I recently got a question from a friend about judging the ‘Canine Athleticism’ category that we find in almost all of the organization’s judging systems.
This is actually Apryl’s Area of expertise and we’ll hear from her later, but I have opinions on the topic and would love to share them with the disc dogging community.
Keep an Open Mind
Disc Dogs are Athletes and athletes have strengths and weaknesses. Each dog should be judged as an individual on his or her performance on the field independent of the judges personal biases like breed, structure, and other personal preferences. This is not to say that judges should not be able to apply their knowledge and understanding towards judging the canine athlete, it is just to say that the personal biases of a judge should not interfere with assessing the athletic ability of the dog.
So, let’s say a judge has played with many a BIG leaping dog, and has a preference for that type of dog. Not all dogs are BIG leapers. You can have a phenomenal athlete that doesn’t get BIG air. There is still speed, agility, style, drive and focus that can be applied to the canine athleticism category.
The same goes for judges who value any one of the athletic attributes mentioned in the above list. Just because your dog, your friend’s dog or people who you admire’s dogs’ play the game in a fashion that you like doesn’t mean that is the only way the game can or should be played.
I guess what I’m saying here is that judges should keep an open mind when it comes to judging the canine athlete.
I’ve had the privilege to play with many different kinds of dogs: BIG leaping Kimo’s, EZ Ryder’s and Si’s, Speedy Rokalele’s and Tycer’s, Smooth and Stylish Kiva’s and Kimo’s, and many other talented canine athletes. I also appreciate the various different kind of athletes in sport. I don’t see the Big Fat linemen on a football team – I see 330 pound monsters who can bench press a car and run a 4.6 forty yard dash – that’s impressive athleticism. Just because the guy doesn’t have great hands, and might not be able to reverse dunk a basketball doesn’t mean he’s not a great athlete.
That is the kind of viewpoint that judges should approach judging from. Not every dog is a fast, drivey and agile border collie or a BIG leaping Aussie. I’ve seen Newfie’s play that were stellar athletes.
Execution is Not Your Concern
The Canine Judge is judging the canine. If the dog is missing discs because he’s not driven enough to put the kill on the disc, or his bite is lacking, then that is your concern, but terrible throws or the effects of gale force winds should not impact the dog’s score.
Of course if the dog winds up unable to perform as an athlete because the handler drops the ball, the throwing is bad, or the routine can’t get rolling due to environmental conditions, the judge has to judge the performance on it’s merits, but the point remains that a dog could, in theory, get a very nice canine athleticism score without catching a disc, and a dog can have a pretty low canine athleticism score even if he catches all of his discs.
Drive and Arousal
Just because a dog is flying around like crazy, doesn’t mean she has drive. Many, many trainers mistake Drive is focus and energy applied towards work. There are many kinds of Drive: social drive, tracking drive, prey drive, bite/kill, stalking, and food to name a few. Social drive, prey drive, and bite/kill are the types of Drive most active in the game of disc dog freestyle, and are all fairly desirable. Stalking and tracking drive can be tough... for Arousal is a general excited state of being that is often mistaken for Drive. Door jumping, wining, pacing, hyper-vigilance, barking, biting and nipping, and a host of other high energy behaviors can be included under the Arousal umbrella. Arousal differs from Drive because the dog’s energy is not readily applied towards work. Arousal often gets in the way of quality....
Drive is energy, focus, and desire applied towards work. Arousal is just energy and action. They are two entirely different concepts that are too often thought to be the same.
A dog that flies around biting hands, discs, and blades of grass does not have high drive, she is highly aroused. A highly aroused dog is not necessarily going to lose canine athleticism points, but she should definitely not be rewarded for her ‘High Drive’ if arousal gets in the way of athletic performance. Good Drive does not get in the way of athletic performance.
Apples to Apples
Canine Judges should keep open mind on breeds and their relationship to other dogs of that breed (or size and shape). Comparing a Border Collie to a Newfie on a raw, objective performance level is not quite fair. It should be more like a pound for pound comparison. The Border Collie runs 38 miles per hour and jumps 36 inches in the air. The Newfie runs 18 MPH and jumps 12 inches off the ground. That’s triple the performance. Raw objectivity could mean that the BC gets 9 points and the Newfie gets 3 points. That’s not how it should work. That’s apples to oranges.
How did the dog move in relation to other dogs of his breed? How nimble was she in relation to a similar sized dog. Did she play the game with style? Did he work hard? Did the dog look good? Was she safe?
Compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. Judging disc dog freestyle is, and always will be, subjective. Comparing Newfies to Newfies or Newfies to Berners gets far closer to objective scoring and to the spirit of our game than comparing Newfies to Border Collies.
Performance not Potential
It’s not fair to give an 8.5 to a dog that you know is an 8.5 athlete, but wind conditions, poor throwing, an off day by the dog or some combination of these issues pushed the level of performance down to a 6.5. The job of a judge is to judge performance not potential.
This is pretty hard. In fact, the benefit usually goes towards the dog, which is fine, but judges should be careful that they actually watch and score what goes down on the field, not what could have or should have been.
Flailing is Falling
An old maxim in performance sports is to make the easy stuff look hard and make the hard stuff look easy. It’s a great phrase, one that I really understand as a former springboard diver and diving coach. A diver is supposed to make the easy dives look as if they are hard and make the near impossible dives seem easy.
The thing is, you wouldn’t get very far as a diver if you were flailing around on your required dives, regardless of how hard they wind up looking.
When a dog flails around in the air on a well placed disc, it should have a negative effect on the canine athleticism score. Herculean efforts to make a catch of a poorly thrown disc or a wind effected throw that require some reorientation in the air (flailing) may or may not be beneficial to canine athleticism.
Smooth and confident movement is an important part of judging the canine athlete.
Score from 1-10
Something that I personally use for my scoring of any judged event that has a 1-10 scoring system is a diving scale:
- ½ – 2: Unsatisfactory
- 2½ – 4½: Deficient
- 5 – 6½: Satisfactory
- 7 – 8: Good
- 8½ – 9½: Very good
- 10: Excellent
Wrapping Things Up
Judging is a great way to wrap your head around the game of disc. Nothing will teach you more about what judges are looking for than getting on a panel and doing the job. It’s a great teaching tool and learning experience for players.
This is the first of many discussions we plan to have on judging the game of disc. If you have any questions or comments, please share them in the comment section below.