They Put the Fish in the Ocean!

1 Nov

Reflections of this past year!

I had been thinking about becoming an AKC Agility Judge for some time.  Probably for close to 10 years. Why did I wait so long?  I’m not really sure, but I always came up with some excuse not to do it that year.  It was a concert weekend, to expensive to travel, had to work, etc.  Had I really wanted to do it, I would have made it happen.

Fast forward to 2018. The New Judges Seminar was going to be held in Minnetonka, MN – less than 15 minutes from home.  Well if I was going to do it, this would be the year. No excuses.  The initial application came out in September, but once again I sat on it.  I sat on it until February when a good friend ask if I had filled out the application. I had to confess that it was still on the kitchen table.  I was hemming and hawing and I really don’t know why other than maybe I was afraid to FAIL. It’s no secret that the pass rate for first time participants in the seminar isn’t really high.  I remember my friend saying don’t do it unless you really want to do it!

Obviously, I really wanted to do it because I’d been thinking about for 10 years.  I sat down that evening and filled out the application and got it in the mail.  There was no turning back now – I was all in.

I started lurking on the Facebook Group, got a copy of the guidelines copied and bound, updated Clean Run Course Designer and started reading the regulations.    Then I started designing courses – LOTS of courses.  In the four months from when I signed up to the seminar, I designed almost 50 courses.  Those are the ones I actually kept and had someone look at – I probably threw away just as many.

Really…Again…Before Breakfast?

The first one I did and had someone review came back with loads of RED.  I’d never had so much red on an assignment in my entire life.  I felt like a failure – but then I realized something.  Something that I tell my music students all the time but never really applied to agility – If you don’t FAIL and make MISTAKES, you won’t LEARN.  Moving forward, I wasn’t so concerned with making mistakes and failing, but not making the SAME mistake again.

I learned how to check my courses, how to make sure everything is “legal”.  I had a newfound respect for all the judges out there now that I realized just how much work goes into designing a course for any given weekend.  Let along sometimes more than 20 courses for a weekend.   I learned that the worst mistake you could make on a course design was to “kill a dog or handler”.  You can’t have them jumping into a pole or you can’t let the handler decapitate themselves on the upside of the teeter!  SAFETY it was the name of the game while at the same time creating a fun and unique course.  I also sat with a timer and tried to design legal, safe courses in 45 minutes or less.  It took me some time to realize for the seminar I didn’t have to LIKE the course I designed as long as it was legal.  I wanted to make nice flowing courses and  I’d come up a course that my imaginary dog would run beautifully but there were not enough side changes or options.  Back to the drawing board I would go.  Sometimes I could change something and sometimes I would delete and start all over!

I read, re-read the guidelines, rules and regulations and the judges blog.  But I also learned that with our everchanging sport that you had to be really careful of dates.  I got a couple wrong on the open book test, but I had looked up EVERY answer.  What I hadn’t realized is that you had to be aware of publication dates.  Something in the guidelines, may have been updated in the rules and regs, something in the rules and regs could have been updated by the blog.  It was our responsibility to know the most current rule.  Once again, I felt like I failed as no one told us about this, but because I got a couple wrong and realized my mistake – I was much more aware of these publications and their dates going forward.

The three weeks prior to the seminar, I went to every agility class possible at our school and practiced judging.  AKC required us to judge an ACT test or an A-Match.  I’d done that a couple times, but each time I did an ACT test it took me some time to get into the groove of judging.  At the practical during the seminar, you don’t have a few dogs to get in the grove, you have to be on from the first moment.   Just like it would be a real trial.

The weekend of the New Judges Seminar is intense, very intense.   It is a well put together seminar to test your every ability that you would need as a judge. I felt I was very well prepared, but yet I made some stupid mistakes along the line as the timer ticked.  I got caught up in the clock ticking and didn’t always pay close enough attention to some of the little details.  Lesson learned – I always had just a little bit of extra time.  The whole weekend was a metal game of keeping it together in a very intense environment!

It all turned out well as I passed and got my first assignment!  I got my courses designed and back with a few brilliant changes on them. Add those changes to the list of learn from someone that has been doing this a lot longer than I have and try not to do that again!


Last weekend finally came and I judged my first trial Novice and Open classes!
Was I nervous?  Yes.
Was I confident?  Yes.
Did a make a couple mistakes?  Yes.
Did I learn from my mistakes?  Yes.
Did it overall go well?  Absolutely!
Am I excited about my next assignment?  Most definitely!

First assignment! Halloween weekend 🙂

What did I learn most about this process over the past year?

  • It’s ok to “fail” as long as you learn from your mistakes!
  • Preparation…You can’t be too prepared!
  • Design courses – lots of courses, set a timer and don’t let the clock get the best of you!
  • Talk to other judges and the field reps. They’ve all been there!  I didn’t come across one person in this journey that wasn’t willing to answer questions (and there were many) or look at one of my courses.   Everyone was very supportive and all were more than willing to help.
  • Follow the Facebook group, learn from everything that is posted. Learn when one of the mentors comments on how a particular sequence isn’t legal or something needs to be changed.  Figure out how to change it so make it work.  If you didn’t get something pass one of the mentors, don’t think you’re going to get the same mistake past a rep at the seminar!  Course design is like a puzzle, a very complicated puzzle.  But when it all comes together and you get something that works, you know it!
  • The reps really want you to succeed. But you have to do the work, lots of work, lots of hard work!  Passing isn’t served up on a silver platter just because you showed up!
  • Be confident but leave your ego at the door!
  • If you make a mistake and you will, own it and learn from it!
  • TRUST Yourself!

Lastly be prepared to be completely exhausted after the seminar and your first assignment. Monday morning  after my 1stassignment, I was trying to explain why there were some packaging and UPC changes and it came out a stuttering “They put all the fish in the ocean”.   We all laughed and it was at that point I realized how crazy intense this journey has been!

Thank you to all that have made this journey this past year into a reality…you know who you are and I’m so grateful to all of you!



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