The origins of signal scoring by Peter Lewis
Agility had to learn how to run competitions and much of it was impromptu trial and error. History of other training competitions dictated that scores would be written down by a judge or someone helping him by his side. As the very first few were male judges who were not going to move around much it was acceptable to have a secretary but obviously impractical. That’s how it was in the very first demonstration and at that time there was really no serious thought of making it into a competition.
When the second demonstration came around Peter Meanwell, widely recognised as the leader of the original pioneers, asked me if I would be his secretary. Peter was a great friend of mine from our competition time together in working trials so I was never going to say no. As it was at Crufts it was also an added incentive to play an active part.
Most know that the original course was a figure of eight shape with a table in the middle which acted as a start and finish point and also for a five second pause halfway around the course. Although Peter and I stood in the middle in the area of the table he did move much more than a little for better viewing positions and therefore I needed to keep out of his way. That was easier said than done for if I was writing down a mistake he had called out to me I might not see him move and therefore I could easily be in his way.
Of course we managed to conclude this second Crufts demonstration without incident but from that experience I realised that dog jumping, as it was called at that time, was even then too quick for the way we were trying to produce a list of the best scores.
Fast forward a little and we had what was going to be called agility with official rules and I had been part of the body making up those rules. Unfortunately our remit was to keep the rules simple and minimal so not much could be done to tidy up the many loose ends that had so far reared their heads.
What was good was that agility was going to become an official new dog training competition and a group of us from across the country were determined that it would succeed. To make this happen we had to convince the deadly serious to the faintly interested to hold agility competitions. This helped to build a nucleus of a circuit so that we would regularly be able to pit ourselves and our dogs against others. In the end there were enough of us but, for two or three years, it was a case of trying to add more shows to the circuit.
One of the great helps was Pedigree with their Olympia qualifiers and semi-finals, for the lure of the big time on TV attracted many to having a go. Then those lucky clubs that held shows of excellence were given an Olympia qualifier which usually guaranteed high entries.
During this period I had been a successful competitor at agility and therefore, like many others, I was expected to judge as well. After all we started with no known judges so someone had to do it or there would be no events. The trouble was that the few competitors we had at that time wanted to work their dog so it was quite a sacrifice to give up entering to be the judge.
My agility judging career began and I was lucky in that I was a championship judge of both obedience and working trials so making decisions was not new to me. What was staring us in the face was that agility was fast and going to get faster, so decisions had to be taken much more quickly than the other two dog training competitions I have mentioned. In obedience there was maybe a couple or three seconds spare for most decisions. In trials sometimes even more, particularly when nose work was being judged for there was much more time. In fact at that period some trials judges would not even tell you your dog’s nose work score out on the field, preferring to make notes of what happened then to mark those happenings in the evening.
While I do not expect it happened, I thought that method of scoring was an opportunity for the judge to arrange the marks in an order of his choosing rather than make instantaneous decisions without fear or favour of anyone.
Therefore when it came to making decisions as an agility judge, after one or two abortive attempts at other methods I determined that it was impossible to have a secretary with the judge for they were always in the way. Instead I thought of the sports which used signals, with cricket being the classic. Then I decided to use what we latter termed as a scribe at the side of the ring and that I would raise my hand each time there was a fault. For refusals I would hold up my closed hand to indicate that ten faults should be deducted (the penalty in those days) and for other faults such as non-refusals the hand would be held open. Well it became so popular that the same system is still used around the world today.
For eliminations we used a whistle at first but multiple rings eventually put a stop to that. Instead we signalled the elimination with crossed arms over our chests and, subsequently, allowed the eliminated dog to finish the course for we felt it to be fair that they should have their money’s worth and that was also the quickest way to get them out of the ring and the next one in.
Of course this all became instantaneous decisions, which was what I and obviously others were after. What was amusing was in a subsequent year a photograph of me with my hand up as the dog clearly touched the down ‘A’ ramp contact was published. This was done maliciously. However, it was a round I remembered and the dog was charged for missing the up contact not the down, but he went from one side of the ramp to the other too quickly for any judge to differentiate. However, the penalty for missing the up was correct.
We started to refer to the secretary as the scribe and by this time most judges used a special scribe pad that I devised to go with the signalling system. It could be hand held and easily filled with fault detail and the time the dog took on the course. Our next improvement was to move the scribe to the side of the ring. Eventually we realised we could save time if we used what was termed a two-pad system with the next dog’s number and details on the top sheet of the second pad so after the first dog had finished the two pads were swopped with the used one going back to the scorer.
All in all these improvements dramatically sped up the number of dogs that could be judged in an hour. Therefore faster judging was also the result of the judge signalling. Additionally, being alone in the ring allowed for better spectator viewing rather than a secretary close to the judge and, of course, additionally in the judges and spectators way.
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