Image By Phillip Simmons

Judging UpDog Freestyle Showcase – The Human Perspective

I judged the first ever UpDog Freestyle Showcase this weekend. What a fantastic event!


For those of you who don’t know,  UpDog is a new disc dog organization that features several fun games to challenge dog and handler and develop and proof strong disc and dog sport skills while creating a clear developmental path for growth and greater understanding of the game of disc with a dog.

It is a contest for the 21st century featuring physical and digital Achievements and “Ups” in addition to on-field medals for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. Each team’s on-field exploits are recorded for posterity and can be accessed via mobile device for UpDog members.

On the first day of 2015, Updog held it’s first Disc Dog Freestyle event, and I had the opportunity to sit in the judges seat. I’d like to share my thoughts and reflections of what I consider to be a rather historic event.

Two Distinct Events

UpDog Freestyle Showcase features two distinct events highlighting two distinct perspectives of a disc dog performance. The first round is the Criterion Round and it is judged like most other contests out there with 4 judges each looking at a different aspect of the game: Dog, Human, Team, and Execution. It’s pretty standard with a USDDN framework kind of feel.

The second round is a Performance Round which adds an additional “celebrity” judge and focuses on the performance as a show, vibe, feeling, or stunning performance. Focused criteria is thrown out the window and each judge gives a score, 1-10 in quarter point increments, based upon the totality of the routine, on the spot, immediately after each routine. The high and low are dropped and the three remaining scores are tallied up. This scoring seeks to judge the totality of the performance combining the vibe, showmanship, and technical merit into one gut check kind of score.

Performance First

Image By Phillip Simmons
Image By Phillip Simmons

As a judge, the performance round was amazing. Watch it, enjoy it, and throw a score. The ability to use costumes and props only adds to the fun and carefree nature of this entertaining round of freestyle disc, which we experienced while watching the show. Being given a break on the single minded focus of honing in on your part of the routine and being hyper critical, as a judge, was a big relief. Having some of the pressure taken off is welcome. It really was a bunch of fun sitting in the judges chair, even at the end of the day. The high and low being tossed out are huge for allowing the judges to just throw a score instead of putting a ton of thought into it. This part of judging, a true emotive response — how a round feels or makes people feel — is hard to get at. I think the performance round of UpDog does a good job of trying to capture that spirit via a judges panel.

It also seemed to be quite liberating to some teams. I’m sure that many teams will field a similar round of freestyle and will not be wearing costumes and such, but the opportunity to do so is sure to bring some people into the freestyle world and will make everybody smile. Crazy disc doggers being creative is a wonderful thing.

Criterion Round

There are 5 categories that the Human Judge is looking at when judging an UpDog Freestyle event (Level 2).

Athleticism & Showmanship

  • Handler incorporates, speed, leaping, breakdancing, spinning, etc into their routine to highlight their own athletic ability (This should be done in conjunction with the dog and should not detract from the “team” aspect of freestyle)
  • Handler “Entertains” the crowd/judges through:
    • Creating drama with strategic pauses
    • Interaction with crowd by eliciting applause, laughter, etc.
    • Hitting tricks on specific beats of the music
  • Handlers may score a 5 in this category by excelling at either athleticism, showmanship, or a combination of both. They do not necessarily need to excel at both.


  • Handler incorporates throws, sequences, team movement, tricks, etc. that are not performed by any other team.
  • Handler’s creativity sets their team apart from others.

Throw Diversity & Difficulty

  • Handler rarely repeats the same grip/release
  • Handler integrates difficult releases/grips into their routine
  • Handler delivers difficult throws at various distances to their dogs (For example: All long tosses should not be backhands.)

Throw Placement & Flight

  • Handler delivers throws that showcase their dog’s strengths (leaping, quick turns, speed, etc.)
  • Handler places discs in flight that allow the dog to “intercept” the flight of the disc, rather than a simple linear pursuit path
  • Disc plate is approximately parallel to ground during flight. Disc should not be careening to one side or another in flight unless purposely thrown that way. A poorly thrown, difficult toss should not be rewarded over a well thrown backhand. Just because a catch was made by the canine, does not necessarily indicate that the disc was thrown well by the handler
  • Throws are delivered so as to maximize the number of catches

Tricks (0-10pts)

  • Handler executes movement and throws allowing for high level “tricks”
  • Tricks may include: Vaults, overs, stalls, flips, dog catches, fishes, etc.
  • More points will be awarded for handlers exhibiting a high level of trick diversity, success, and difficulty

Highlights & Improvement

  • Judges able to deliver information on what elements were highlights or what needs to be improved upon.

A Complete Assessment

The criteria from the Criterion Round allow for a judge to fairly assess and score a human’s performance on the disc dog freestyle field. The separation of throwing creativity and throwing ability and intent (10 points total) is quite welcome, allowing a judge to better assess a human’s throwing ability and intent, and giving a handler more and better feedback for personal development and improving performance. Other than that, as a human judge, UpDog is pretty standard. No experienced judge should have any trouble giving a fair assessment of a human’s on-field skills.

A Moment or Three to Breathe

Probably the best thing about judging the UpDog Freestyle is the two shots at the Sweet Spot that take place immediately after each competitor’s time is up. The single disc portion of the event is 2 untimed shots at the Sweet Spot, the center of the field, for points. This gives the judges plenty of time to tabulate scores and give some meaningful feedback to the handler without feeling rushed.

I can’t stress how nice this was as a judge. Never once did I feel rushed to provide my scores. Nobody ever needed to ask,”Ron, are you ready?” That time to breathe will be of huge benefit for large events.

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