The Dog Agility Judge’s Path

Posted on 05/30/16 21 Comments

Swagger DW finals

This weekend something bizarre happened. My otherwise reliable agility dog Swagger suddenly did the exact opposite of what I cued him to do. It was like he was hearing conflicting cues and chose to listen to someone else.

It wasn’t until I looked at my video (something everyone should have… videos of their runs) that I could see what really happened.

Watch the video and see what I mean… but before you watch please know, I am posting this with the blessing of the judge who understands this is not meant to be a blame and shame session but rather an educational one.

Now I am happy to say this doesn’t happen often, but it has happened to me once or twice before. In each of the past cases it happened on a dog walk contact… the judge moved in close to see the contact then ran away to get clear of me… the motion of the judge moving away took the dog with him.

Dave Bozak is the judge in this video, and he is a very well respected and experienced agility judge. I am grateful to Dave for allowing me to post this video for all to learn how any judge, even the most experienced judges, can influence the cues an agility dog is receiving.  Swagger ran near the beginning of this class however several other dogs, including Linda Mecklenburg’s experienced dogs, acted similarly to Swagger. I am happy to say that Dave did alter his motion so as to not influence other dogs after those of us that ran near the beginning of the class.

Fascinating stuff… you can not only see how strong motion can over ride well trained verbal cues (seriously important that one supports the other) but you can also see the extent of our dog’s peripheral vision!

Editors note. The reverse would also be true…if my dog was going over a jump heading towards a tunnel and my body cued a turn away…the dog would follow the body however if the judge starting yelling “Go tunnel, go tunnel” it would be a case of a verbal cue over riding the physical one. 🙂 Cues need to be consistent for our dogs!

Today I am grateful for Dave Bozak, who knowing very well how much this video would be viewed, still gave me his blessing in order for others to see.


  1. Ric says:
    Monday, June 13, 2016 at 7:39pm

    I’ve always wondered about this type of judging. I know some organizations require the judge to be that close. But for me, the few times I’ve run in those organizations, the judge was constantly in my way or getting between me and my dog and obstructing our communication. I have fast dogs and I use lots of layering and sends and there were many times collisions of me and the judge were narrowly avoided. I find judging in this style to be intrusive, distracting and ultimately unnecessary. In my opinion, judges can see all they need to from the edge of the course. There is really just no need for the judge to have to be that close and move that quickly. This is one of the many reasons I compete in the organization that I do.


  2. Andi says:
    Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 6:46am

    Had a run recently where the judge stood right next to the A-frame. I just knew my dog was going to stop at the top and investigate the guy’s head for a while. ?


  3. Steve says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 8:08pm

    Susan thanks for sharing! It’s unfortunate it happened, but you’ve made it into a great learning experience for us all!

    As far as clothing colors go; I’d speculate, along with everyone else :), that color wouldn’t matter. I think the dog is responding to the motion of the “judge handler” switch from one side toward the other behind them. I bet it would be reproducible irregardless of clothing. After all, “motion is a primary cue”. 🙂


  4. Dr. Laurie Coger says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 6:55pm

    Another thought — is this another reason for electronically monitored contacts (or even video?) Then the judge can stay stationary at an ideal position for previous or subsequent obstacles?


  5. Dr. Laurie Coger says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 6:53pm

    I was struck by how the judge’s movements and Susan’s synched — a perfect storm of her pause, his fast steps rolling in behind her. I don’t think it could have been better executed if they planned it! Completely understandable that Swagger read it as a rear cross. And how about that recovery — well done!


  6. Sandi Leonard says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 2:23pm

    Another factor can just be proximity. Earlier in his career, one of my whippets had a very large “proximity bubble” around him–you could easily push him away from an obstacle or out the far side of the weaves just be moving into that area, about 12 feet or so. More than once, we had a judge station themselves 8-10 feet on the far side of the weaves and he would pop in towards me at that point–he just didn’t like people that close to him. We’ve fixed that with lots of close-in work, front crosses, etc but for a while it was a consideration of mine to give strong verbal cues for him to continue on the path.


  7. TS says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 1:57pm

    All of the folks with high-drive and high-confidence dogs have just learned what those of us with shy nervous dogs have always known! I always have to watch the judge and know where they are and hope to know what they will do because my dog will be startled/scared by them. There are couple of very good judges that I will not show under because they move quickly and/or “hide”. Judges that hide are very hard on dogs that are shy. While shy dogs don’t inadvertently follow judges signals, they will alter paths and/or just watch the judge and not the handler.


  8. Pat Martin says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 11:12am

    Last fall I had a judge with a bad backache. She put her hands on her lower back and grimaced while she stood next to the Aframe. Several dogs ran past and I am sure that was why they did.


  9. Bonnie says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 10:13am

    I have seen this happen before with dogs that come out of the tunnel and see the judge moving and lock in on the judge’s movement (who is also fairly close to the handler). Good to watch runs before yours to see how the judge is moving on course in an attempt to avoid that from happening.


  10. DianneF says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 8:24am

    As a fairly new judge this is really helpful to see. I was also thinking this week about how I haven’t seen a judging move that was very common in the 90s of the judge racing up behind the dog on contacts to get a better look. That move was a lot of pressure on many dogs too.


  11. Maureen says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 7:37am

    I’d guess it’s Swagger confusing the two dark tops in his peripheral vision. The judge crosses behind Susan, and more importantly what looks like on the extreme edge of Swagger’s peripheral vision. Dogs don’t see colour the same as we do. Looks like he picked up the judge’s dark top instead of Susan’s. Begs the question – should judges all be wearing readily identifiable shirts – like refs in a hockey game? Or handlers wear something that’s easy for the dog to pick up?


  12. Jackie Harris says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 7:28am

    Loved seeing this. I always thought it really wasn’t the fact that the judge and I had on the exact same colors one day when my ACD turned off my path to go up the DW. It was comical when she reached the top plank and the judge was right there at eye level. Her look was priceless, as she stopped, stared into the judges face then slowly turned around to look for me! She was quite embarrassed at her mistake:)


  13. Sharon says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 6:39am

    I was wondering if it was the white pants on the judge.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 6:55am

      May have played a role!


  14. Paul Hinchley says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 4:52am

    This is a really great example of unintentional influence from the Judge, this happened to me when I was judging some time ago . I am pleased that I noticed this effect after two consecutive dogs flicked away unexpectedly at the same point ( my judginging path seemingly the cause ). I was able to offer reruns , and an adjustment to my path cured the issue. Judging high speed complex courses with decisions being made in milliseconds is a real challenge , I applaud Susan and the Judge for sharing this learning.


  15. Lisa says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 2:18am

    Great to watch and man, who would want to be a judge where such high speed dogs are running. I had a judge yell so loudly (no mike was available) as my dog ran onto the dog walk in gamblers that one year on, my dog will not focus with that judge in the ring and if he sees him, he becomes very alert. We can’t predict everything but what a beautiful recovery 🙂


  16. Imke says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 2:05am

    Interesting! And thanks to the judge that he allowed you to show it and gives us the possibility to share these experiences!


  17. Stefi says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 1:47am

    Thanks for sharing I am just starting my agility judge road and it was very good lesson. Thanks also for Dave everyone can happen things like this.


  18. Kody Bailey says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 12:31am

    Fascinating,thanks for posting.


  19. Peggy Cobb says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 12:06am

    It would be interested to look at the coloring of the other handlers. Was the coloring of their tops seen as the same color as Dave’s. I’m wondering if this may have started the dog’s thought process and responding to the pressure. Were the dogs that acted similarly large dogs that visually saw Dave’ top as the same color as yours. Both tops were colors that dogs see the same as humans. If smaller dogs didn’t respond the same would it have been that they were seeing different pants?


    • Gabby says:
      Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 12:22am

      Interesting thoughts Peggy! And possibly very likely


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