Field Trial Judging
Editor’s (Karoleigh Nitchman) Note. Dr. Alvin H. Nitchman of Hurtsboro, Ala., has successfully competed in field trials since he joined the English Setter Club at age sixteen in 1930. Several multiple champions have carried the Nitchman colors during the past fifty years, notably among them Ch. Pantagleize, Smart, Melita and Pork Roll. He is still an active breeder, amateur trainer and handler. Dr. Nitchman was elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1980.
K: To begin, how about telling me what you think to be the single most important thing a judge should do.
A: Keep his eyes open.
K: You mean on the dog?
A: Yes, there are too many people judging who look down at the ground, or if they are talking to somebody, they turn and look at that person. A man has to learn, if he is going to judge, to keep his eyes on the dog and to continue to keep his eyes on the dog even though he may be talking to someone.
K: What are the judges’ other responsibilities and what are the club officials responsible as far as running rules are concerned?
A: Well, in my opinion, the club can make any rules or qualifications, standards, it wants. I think that’s a good thing—that a club should have a standard.
K: And so the club instructs these judges as to what they should be looking for?
A: Yes, and it’s the club’s (officials) responsibility to acquaint the judges with the standard that they would like to have the dogs judged by. Now, if a judge doesn’t care to judge under that standard, he should refuse the assignment. Once a judge told me, “I heard the standard but I have my own standard.” Then he should not have accepted the judging assignment or he should have announced the standard he intended to judge by.
K: For the sake of the poor handlers out there trying to win the dog trial by having their dogs adhere to it?
A: Right. If they read that standard and the club professes to be looking for a dog to fit that standard, then the judge should, to the best of his ability, try to adhere to it.
K: What about the question of running in the rain or other foul weather—whose decision is it?
A: The ultimate responsibility would belong to the judges, but it could certainly be shared with the club officials to decide if conditions are not favorable enough to give each entry his fair shot at winning. Too many times they’ll just run on to get the trial over with and the dog doesn’t have a fair chance and is running under conditions that a dog couldn’t possibly win under.
K: Give me your famous quote about that—hurrying up the trial.
A: Well, it’s true. I always say if you came to go home, you should have stayed there.
K: I’ve often heard you complain about dogs not being given the same chance as others.
A: As far as possible, each dog should be given the same opportunity to win. One time I was at a trial and I was to run a dog in the first brace. Well, in order to get the trial over with that day, instead of running a single brace the next morning, the club officials wanted me to put down my dog at 7:00 a.m. rather than 8:00, the time they had been starting. There was frost on the ground at 7:00 and the sun was just up. I told them that I understood that they wanted to get the trail over and I didn’t want any special favors, but I did want the same chance as everybody else had. When I explained how I felt, they agreed with me. More than anyone else, the judge has to see that everyone gets his chance, but often, it’s the judge who wants to go home.
K: So if they’ve been running seven braces a day and one day the club officials say, “today we’re going to squeeze in nine,” it’s the judges who should say no?
A: Right. The judge has the final say.
K: Okay, well what about the pace of the trial—what does the judge have to say about it?
A: The judge sets the pace and if the pace is too fast, it’s the judge’s fault and nobody else’s. If the handler wants to be a mile in front of the gallery, the judge should send a marshal to tell the handler to slow down. Many men say, “Well, if we just don’t follow him, he’ll get the idea,” but that’s wrong. There are two handlers and that front belongs to both of them. So if the judge just doesn’t follow and one handler rides way out, the handler has to as well, whether he wants to or not, and that’s not giving him a fair chance to show his dog the way he would like. If the judge just sits back and refuses to follow, he penalizes both dogs instead of just the one the handler is pushing.
I think the handlers today ride too far to the front. The handler comes out and maybe he only rides the braces in which he runs a dog. He races up on a little hill or rise and he’s a half mile to the front, and he sits up there and points his dog out. Well, he can’t be so foolish as to think that the judge who is riding eight or nine hours every day is going to gallop his horse to the top of that hill.
K: Do you think a lot of the problem with judges knowing or not knowing when to decide a thing like that is they are unsure of exactly what their responsibilities are?
A: True. But very seldom is a judge going to say anything to anybody because he doesn’t want to make anyone mad. Usually he just goes along at whatever pace the handlers set, galloping his horse when the man points his dog out, taking the easy way out. Now I think that when a dog points, the judge should hurry and get there in a reasonable length of time, particularly in a pheasant trial where the pheasant is not going to stay put. But I think it’s foolish to gallop to a stand. The dog is suppose to be broke.
K: So far, from what you’ve said, the judge’s real job is to see that everyone gets an equal opportunity to show his dog. What about the lost dog? The handler you’re braced with has lost his and is bellowing around the country trying to get him back.
A: Yes, well in field trials we don’t have many rules, but I think when a handler leaves the gallery, he should keep his mouth shut. When he gets way off to the side and continues to make a lot of noise, he’s got a good chance of taking my dog with him. That’s interfering with your bracemate—like riding off and taking your bracemate’s dog. Most handlers will stop and let you call your dog (mainly because that’s the way they want to be treated).
K: On the subject of interference, what about judges ordering dogs up?
A: The only time a judge can order a dog up is if that dog is interfering with his bracemate—and interference means trailing, fighting, flushing and chasing birds, refusing to back—in these cases, the dog should be ordered up. If a dog makes a mistake, many times a judge will say, “Well, you can go on and run him, but he’s out of consideration.” That’s not right. If the dog refused to back or chased, he should go on the rope right then. If you see him refuse to back, he’s not going to back when you’re not there and so, if you let him run on, you’re eliminating his bracemate’s chances to have a point honored and that could cost him the trial.
K: How about a judge coming and saying to you, “You’ve been down for forty minutes and we don’t like your dog and we’re not going to consider him. You can run him if you want to, but you may as well take him up.”
A: Well, that’s up to the handler. If the dog doesn’t please the judge and he doesn’t intend to place him, that’s it for the dog.
K: But he can run his dog on. He paid his money; doesn’t he have the right to be out there for his full time if he’s not interfering with his bracemate?
A: He has every right to run his dog the full time. George Hardin, when he was marshalling or judging, and knew the judges didn’t like a dog, would say “Course to the right, dog truck to the left.” Many people think that just because they are judges, they have the right to order a dog up just because they don’t like him. They do not.
K: Is that in the rule book?
A: According to Bill Brown, interference with a bracemate is the only reason for which a dog can be ordered up.
K: When a judge is judging a field trial, what do you think he should be looking for? Should he have in his mind a picture of the ideal performance and judge according to that?
A: Of course every judge has an ideal that he is trying to attain when he judges a field trial, but that doesn’t mean he is always going to attain that ideal. If, as a judge, you think you have dogs that are adequate but there are other dogs who might possibly do the job if you gave them another chance, run a second series. You can call back dogs you think can win if, in your opinion, it will improve the quality of the stake.
K: What about withholding a title?
A: In my opinion, if you have an adequate number of dogs, a representative entry, the dog that wins should win the title. I don’t think a judge should withhold a championship title unless there aren’t many dogs in the stake or unless they’ve run dogs a second time and have nothing at all. Dogs can’t help it if the conditions are poor.
K: There are so many championships now. It’s not as if there were only ten championships in the whole country and the judge withheld the title because no dog seemed of high enough caliber. Okay, the judge knows basically the kind of dog he’s looking for. How close a watch should he keep on the handler?
A: The judge is being shown the dog. I think a judge should ride at a reasonable pace and in a reasonable place but I see judges who ride in the horsetracks where a course is laid out and don’t deviate at all. The judges should take advantage of the terrain, ride up on a hill to look so that he can see what the dog is doing, but I don’t think he should follow the handler all the time. He should just try to be in a place where he can see what’s going on.
K: You have often stressed that it’s the handler’s job to show the judge his dog. How about assumptions? Suppose a judge sees a bird in the air and the dog in the vicinity. Should he assume the dog knocked the bird?
A: One time I was running a dog in the pheasant championship, and a bird flew off, high in the air, right to left. After a while, my dog came in the same direction and the judge said to me, “Do you see what I see?” “Well,” he said “you see the pheasant and you see your dog…” I said that I couldn’t see that the dog had made the pheasant fly just because she happened to be coming in the same direction. She wasn’t under the bird but he assumed she had flushed the bird and was chasing it. He just assumed that and threw her out of the stake.
K: How about if the dog had been gone for a while and someone in the gallery says he saw the dog chase some birds?
A: If the judge didn’t see it, he has to forget it. You can’t judge on assumption.
K: What about if you’re running a dog and you’re ten minutes into the brace and your dog has a find, you flush the birds and your dog gives a jump?
A: That’s a matter of personal preference. Some judges think that’s a terrible mistake and throw the dog out. But the dog could go on and have six perfect finds.
K: How about the other way? The dog had five perfect finds and gives a jump on the sixth one?
A: Home Again Mike the (1960) National Champion had pointed sixteen or eighteen perfect coveys of birds but put the last covey up and chased it. They still named him National Champion. It creates a controversy because most people think he’s out then. But those three judges thought that his entire performance was the best and they didn’t throw out their top dog for one mistake. Some people judge a field trial on the mistakes a dog makes. That’s wrong, they ought to choose a dog on his good qualities, a dog who stands out for many reasons. It’s possible to swallow a small mistake.
K: You’re saying not to throw dogs out to come up with the winner but to pick out the one who pleases you the most—it should be a selection rather than a weeding out. What about the year you and Bob Lindsey named Builder’s Addition the Master’s All-age Champion?
A: Yes, well he had six finds and jumped to shot on one of them but he was the dog we liked. He had it all—ran a great race and pointed his birds just right. It all depends on how the dog makes his mistake too. If, when he’d given his jump, he’d though he’d made a terrible mistake and laid down or rolled over and said his prayers, we couldn’t have used him. But he made a jump and just stood up there like a bull. So that jump didn’t matter to me or the other judge. He was the best dog, Maybe if there had been another dog we liked as much, we may have faulted him for it.
K: I remember there was a handler who gave you a really hard time for that placement.
A: He asked, “Why should we bother to break dogs then?” But what I said to him was that he wasn’t judging. I was. And that was the way I saw it. He’s entitled to his opinion.
K: What about this business of going to the judges after the trial and asking them about the placements?
A: That’s alright. Anybody ought to be able to come to a judge and ask, as long as he asks in the proper way and isn’t abusive. You can discuss the stake then.
K: What about discussing the trial during the running?
A: No sir. That’s a mistake. While the trial is going on, the judge should keep his own company, not go out drinking with the boys and should keep his mouth shut. I don’t think a judge should discuss the stake with anyone during the course of the trial, except the other judge, not the club official or the reporter.
K: What if a handler ran a good dog and is done running and asks the judge if he should go home or stick around?
A: That’s alright as long as the handler knows that if the judge tells him to stay it just means his dog is under consideration.
K: Everyone complains about judges. How do you get good judges? Should everyone have to judge?
A: When you judge a trial, it certainly changes how you think. Every professional ought to have to judge if only to give him a little different insight on what the job is. He’s used to looking only at his dogs, and then, through rose colored glasses. But when you have to look at everyone else’s and none of your own, you come out with a clearer perspective of the whole game.
Alvin and Karoleigh Nitchman with Champion Elhew Strike
Champion Pork Roll
Alvin Nitchman was a knowledgeable dog man and a highly successful amateur field trial competitor. Many of the dogs he bred, and/or trained and won with made an important contribution to the pointer breed including Ch. Smart, Ch. Pork Roll and Ch. Elhew Strike. He died on February 17, 2000.
Photos and Interview courtesy of the American Field Publishing.