Dan's Journal

2010 Cocker National

I didn’t see the incident in question. But I got the story from a number of people who did. Apparently, the winning dog spit out a bird at one of the gun’s feet and had to be handled to, or coaxed back to the bird, in order to finish the retrieve, and eventually to win the trial. Many who observed felt that this should have kept the dog from a placement, if not put it out of the running all together. For many, the situation could only be explained by blatant favoritism on the part of the judges. It was even termed a ‘tragedy.’

The situation created an animated discussion of ways to prevent this from happening in the future. It was suggested that an alternate judge, or a 4-judge system would help to insure the integrity of the placements as well as to make sure that the title of NFC would hold merit. Each dog would be scored by both judges, which would require everyone to be more honest and accurate (one would hope). True, it would obviously cost more money and eliminate the judges pool at a much faster rate, and there was some stink that if a judge is selected for the national based on experience, merit, and reputation, then why the need for another set of eyes watching to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up? The counter-argument is that an extra set of eyes is a good idea, especially given the number of dogs that each judge has to look over and the length of time they are watching the dogs work. Interestingly enough, every time an idea was presented, there was a great deal of objection, and it’s been a struggle to move the process along in any meaningful way. Essentially, nothing was done and nothing has changed,

So, fast forward to the 2010 Cocker Nationals where after two years of ideas and discussion and little or no agreement, we get more or less the same result as the so-called ‘tragedy of 2008.’ Though maybe not as big of a tragedy since the dog in question didn’t win the trial and was not awarded the title of NFC, it is nevertheless a situation that has no place in a legitimate field trial. The issue has to be addressed.

There were two instances at the trial where a handler verbally corrected the dog, put the lead back on the dog, and then walked back up to the line and was allowed to continue working. In the most blatant instance, the dog flushed a bird and then broke on the shot and fall. The handler, yelling and running after the dog, took the bird away from the dog, placed the lead on the dog, and began the ‘walk of shame’ in front of the gallery to take the bird back to the judge. Out of nowhere Super Judge appeared with his magic pencil and asked to see more. Unbelievable! (I love positive judging. Without it, there’s really no way an inferior performance like this could land a dog in the placements.) The sad truth is that this dog and handler went home with someone else’s ribbon, a big head, and more than likely a story to tell that is incomplete, because the truth would undoubtedly raise some eye brows. My initial reaction was to lead a revolt of the gallery, waving an AKC field trial manual over my head and shouting, “C’mon everybody! Let’s kill the bastards!’

In my dreams! Unfortunately, my timid demeanor prohibited me from acting on this impulse.

As a handler, it’s hard to see everything that goes on at the trials that the judges see, but when you do see a dog that clearly violates the rules you can’t help but remember, especially when you know the dog and the handler. When you see something bad happen you feel sorry for the handler and dog, maybe not for long, but we’ve all been there and it’s part of trialing. At the same time, when a dog breaks, or otherwise commits an unpardonable sin, you naturally take that dog off the list of dogs to beat. So you can imagine the disappointment and dismay when you see things like this happen and the dog continues to run, and in this instance receives a placement at the end of the trial.

The other issue I had was with the number of dogs receiving a certificate of completion. Nearly one-third of the dogs entered did so. If the National is intended to separate and reward the best dogs and their abilities, how do you explain this? Were the dogs that good, or was the agenda skewed just a bit? It was as if we would forget what we saw if they just let everyone keep playing. I received two certificates of completion, when to my mind I really only deserved one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to place it on my results page and take credit, because this is what sells pups, right? (If your intention is to purchase a puppy from Absolute, please stop reading here. We certainly wouldn’t want you to believe that our dogs are not spot-on perfect every single time.)

Emma, a champion, and who by all rights is a great representative of the breed, had a terrible trial. It happens, and it happened. It began in the 1st series and then became slightly less impressive on each of her next runs. As I said, she’s a great dog, but was terrible this weekend, but not terrible enough apparently to prevent her from completing the trial. Did the fact that she’s a champion influence the judges, causing them to give her the benefit of the doubt? I can’t think of another explanation. Some handlers might appreciate this, but for me, I want the best dogs that day to complete the trial and win the placements, whether they are mine or someone else’s, but preferrably mine.

Spencer, on the other hand had an ok first series, followed up with 4 of the best series possible (in my eyes, which admittedly can see things differently than the eyes of the guy keepin score). He was showing the things that the dogs are bred for, and he did it without breaking the rules. He was unbelievably fast, efficient, and surprisingly responsive for the level of intensity he projected on the course. Yet he got nothing for it. (Kennel blind, you say….Absolutely). Fair enough, I’m a little upset about that, but even more upset by what I saw with other dogs and issues that apparently went unnoticed or were purposely ignored by the judges for reasons unknown to me and to everyone else who followed the action closely. Where was the integrity and willingness to make the tough but fair calls during the most important trial of the year?

In my opinion there should be just as much or more criticism surrounding the judging of this Cocker National as there was for the trial of 2008. The current judging standard is counter-productive to the end goal of ‘bettering the breed’ of this great little dog. I think that the ECSCA really needs to re-visit the options available to maintain the integrity of the Nationals. I’m not attached to any one solution, but it’s time to take a hard look at finding a solution, both for the sake of the breed and field competitions in general.

6 Responses to “2010 Cocker National”

  1. Steve Lemanski says:

    I’m sorry that the trials went the way they did unfortunatly I was not able to get to the trials though I wished I had, things like this are happening all over the world in all walks of life (it’s not what you know but who you know) we like to see the best but it very rarely happens all we can do is the best we are able and hope we get the appropriate credit,I am glad that you are able to see the faults in your own dogs(although I think a good trainer is always more criticale of there own dogs)as this will make you the trainer you are striving to be and the breed will be better for it keep positive and don’t let the politics get you down.your dogs look fantastic they have that certain something special look in their eyes good luck in the future Steve

  2. Chris Dartt says:

    Hey Dan-
    You can speculate as to the reasons for the judging calls for 2010, and disagree with placements and/or lack of, but I think you’ll agree that this National was “politics free” and there was no personal favoritism demonstrated by these judges. That is certainly a step in the right direction.
    Judgement is now and always will be an opinion – and with 70-something dogs over 3 days and 5 series, there are certain to be gallery calls that do not match what the judges sees and decides on the course.

    • Dan Murray says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the journal entry. This wasn’t a see and decide issue. There were a number things that happened with this bird that should have removed the dog from the competition.

  3. Lynn Miller says:

    Hello friends, I think one of the drawbacks to the internet these days is that all communication is committed to the written word. My father warned me years ago to think long and hard before committing thoughts (especially negitive) to paper. The written word is forever and the damage done is hard to fix.
    I want to thank all of you who allowed Chuck and I to judge such an important event as the Cocker Championshp. I am not going to answer the content of Dans journal (there are answers) but I will say that Chuck and I did our very best to find the best four dogs. I assure you all there was no politics or favorites. We both were on the same page throughout.
    I must admit to you all that I was quite distressed when I first read this but after thinking about it, feel that the real tragedy was not the disrespect shown by questioning the judges integrty, but was the disrespect shown to the 4 dogs and handlers that placed, including the man that taught Dan everything he knows about dogs.—Lynn

    • Dan Murray says:

      I’d have to disagree with your hesitation to put words on paper, the truth is the truth whether it’s positive or negative.
      Please take the time to read the journal again. In the entry it states that the dog in question was not the winning dog, but if it were, it would make no difference.
      The dog and handler being referred to are well aware of who they are and what happened. It’s no secret.

  4. Randy Breske says:

    Hi Dan
    Not sure if you remember me but I met you several years ago at my first hunt test in ND. I always appreciated that you took the time to talk to me and give me some good advice. I got the sense you were honest and forthright. So when I read your post regarding the 2010 cocker championship I gained another level of respect. Consider this I don’t have a cocker and have never run in a field trial but within a couple of days I had about the travesty at the cocker championship. As someone who aspires to someday run in field trials a incidents such as these are very disheartening. So I admire your courage to stand up and speak out against perceived injustices. I have been involved in numerous organizations and have found often times everyone knows about a problem but nobody will admit it. It is like a big pink elephant sitting in the middle of a room and everyone acts like it isn’t real until one person comments on it. Then the issues can be addressed and progress can be made. I commend you for speaking out and voicing your opinion.

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