Ep. 5 The Ideal Official
Are you an official with a Scent Work competition organization or have you considered applying to be one? Do you realize just how crucial you really are to whether a trial is a success, or a complete and total failure?! Are you aware that competitors, trial hosts and organizations have lists of things they WISHED officials would do, and not do? In this episode, we will discuss all of that, to help YOU be the best official you can be...and not end up on the "do not hire" or "do not trial under" list.
Welcome to the Scent Work University All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we'll be talking about all things Scent Work. We'll be giving you behind-the-scenes look as far as what your instructor or trial officials may be going through. We'll be giving you training tips, and we'll just be discussing everything that goes along with doing Scent Work with your dog, whether you're interested in competition or not.
In this episode, we're going to be talking about what it would mean to be an ideal official at a Scent Work trial. In other words, what you would be able to do if you were officiating your trial to ensure everything went well. All right, let's get started.
Before we get started, I just want to take a really quick moment to introduce myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I am the Owner and Lead Instructor for both Scent Work University and Dog Sport University. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to connect outstanding trainers with as many dog owners as possible.
Both SWU and DSU are designed to provide quality, convenience, and flexibility. We hope that you'll check them out to see if there are any online programs that may be suitable for both you and your dog. Without further ado, let's dive into the podcast.
When it comes to Scent Work trials, there are many people who are responsible and can contribute to the overall success or failure of that trial. One of the most important elements of a Scent Work trial are the actual people who are working as officials at that trial. Now, depending on the organization you're competing with, there can be a variety of different officials, or there may just be one. It really depends on the organization.
But across the board, there are some things that almost every single competitor can say, "Uh, it's going to be that kind of official." It just ruins the entire experience. In our prior podcast, we were talking about what officials would consider an ideal competitor to be. In this podcast, I want to flip that on its head, and to talk about what competitors would consider an ideal official.
Likewise, I also want to do this from a standpoint of an organization overall, so that everyone can kind of have a better understanding of what it is that officials should be expected to do, what they're expected not to do, and what the thinking is behind it, not only from a competitor perspective, but from an organization perspective as well.
Now again, this podcast is not meant to demoralize anyone or to make anyone feel lesser than, or anything like that. This is simply supposed to be something that we can sit back, listen to, and analyze, "Am I approaching this the right way? Am I doing what I need to do?" Also, if you are an official, something you should always ask yourself is, "Do I enjoy officiating? Am I doing it for the right reasons?" If the answers to either of those questions is, "No," then you are going to negatively affect a trial, and you're also just going to make yourself miserable.
Officiating is extraordinarily difficult. It is not an easy job. It's very trying, it's tiring, and it really does take a lot out of you at the end of the day. I don't know of many officials who can officiate all day or even better, a weekend or a multi-day trial, and come out of it afterwards and just feel completely refreshed and everything is great. A lot of us need at least a day to recover, if not more, because you're giving so much of yourself when you're officiating.
If things aren't put together properly, or if it's not going well, that's going to amplify the negative effects, and you could also be potentially ruining the experience for a whole slew of people with their dogs. It could also look badly on the trial host, and of course, it can look badly on the organization itself.
These are the kinds of things that we want to try to avoid as best as we can. The purpose of this podcast, again, is not to try to make anyone feel bad, it's just to point out some of the pitfalls that you want to try to avoid, and also just to have an open and honest conversation that maybe you just need to take a break from officiating for a while if you've been doing it consistently, non-stop for months or years. Maybe officiating may not be for you, or maybe this will reinvigorate you to say, "I really like officiating, and now I'll make sure that I really step it up, and I am the best official I could possibly be."
Those are kind of the things that I'm going for as far as a theme for this podcast. I am an official. I also oversee officials. I understand how difficult this is, so I'm coming at this with a lot of empathy and understanding, but there are things that we need to talk about as a community within a community, to ensure that we're doing the best that we can.
As we did with our prior podcast, I just want to start off with some things that competitors, when they encounter something at a trial in regards to an official, they go, "Uh, it's going to be one of those days," so that we can discuss them, and so that we can avoid doing that in the future.
The first is officials who come across as extraordinarily robotic. What I mean by this is you have a competitor, and they've gotten themselves all together, they have the routine, they're all organized, and they're pretty excited, albeit they're probably nervous and a little jittery, but you know, they have done their homework. They know the rules, their dog has the training, everything is perfect.
They come up to the start line, and they have that nervous energy, but they're still kind of excited, and they're getting ready for their search, and maybe there's a gate steward. Maybe the judge isn't the person who is giving them the information, and this person is warm, and welcoming, and everything is fabulous. They're asking, "Is the competitor okay? Do they have any questions? Make sure you have fun." Everything is fabulous so far.
This little person goes waddling up to the start line, and they're so excited, and they look up, and they see the stone-faced, stiff, broad-shouldered, intimidating person standing in the corner who says, "Go when ready." All of that fun and joy just leaves them, because this robotic, angry looking person is the one who holds all of their Scent Work dreams and hopes in their hands, and it looks as though they are not happy that you are even in their search area at all.
This is something that officials have to work on, in that you can still be a judge, you can still be objective, you can still do your job without coming across as though you are this completely inhuman, robotic, even worse yet, angry and judgmental person. That's not the goal.
Again, we have to remember that we are officiating sports. This is a game. We are not trying to determine if these teams can go out and search a disaster site to find survivors. That's not what this is. We are not certifying teams to go out and search for dead bodies, or bombs, or drugs, or fugitives. That's not what this is.
They're finding birch, anise, or clover, or other target odors. This is a game, and these are civilians with civilian dogs. This is not the same as certifying a professional team who very well could be doing life or death searches. That's not what this sport is.
As an official, we have to have the same standards that are put forward by the organization of you need to have a certain amount of training, we need to ensure the way we set up the search area is correct. All that is fine, but that doesn't mean that we should be looking at these people as though, "And you are lesser than ... Don't you dare make a mistake." That's not how this should go.
I have to say, having certified and worked with a number of officials for a couple years now, I would say the mass majority of them are coming at it from the right approach at least on the outset, but as soon as you put that clipboard in their hand, the smiles goes away, they get really tense, and I think a lot of people it's just concentrating. They're trying to make sure that they don't miss anything, that they're doing their job properly, but it does affect the competitor.
We need to try to avoid that, because we could be effecting the search in ways that we didn't intend, so that the result at the end isn't accurate, and that doesn't help anybody. Again, from a competitor perspective, and I've had this happen to me, where I've come to a search area, again, being an official, being a known official, being someone who oversees officials, and I've had officials just completely bark at me. It's like, "Really? Are you sure that's the best thing to do right now? I'm being pleasant as pie, there's no reason for you to be snarky, or snappy, or just mean or angry. What is the problem?"
You have to be really careful about that as an official. I understand completely that it can be very difficult as the day goes on to keep that super friendly, professional, not snarky or snipey thing going. Let's just be blunt. There are going to be competitors that are just unpleasant, and I get it. I've had them.
I've had people who have for all intents and purposes, ruined my day, and what I've had to do is just stop the search for just a couple of minutes, maybe one, two, three minutes, go take a walk, breathe, maybe eat a donut or something, collect myself, and then come back, because it's no one else's fault. That competitor was unpleasant. These other competitors haven't done anything, and it's my responsibility to be professional from the moment I get out of my car, to the moment I get back into my car.
There are no time in between those two events that I can just throw professionalism out the window and just be a jerk and say like, "Well, the world has wronged me, I shall wrong everyone else as well." That doesn't work, because not only will it negatively affect the trial, you're making the organization look bad, you're making the trial host look bad, and you're also making yourself look bad.
The first thing that I would say that competitors dread for officials are officials who are very robotic, and then that can also be construed as officials that are very mean. Now, I'm going to be covering when we are actually mean a little bit, but just know that if you don't take that time to create that human connection, that you can come across as being mean, even though you're not trying to be.
So just be careful about that. A smile, a ... anything. I'm not asking you to be their therapist, I'm not asking you to be their friend, and no, you shouldn't show any preferential treatment or anything like that, but just letting them know that you are actually a person, and that you recognize that they are actually a person, and not just a sack of meat that's going not be walking through your area, and you're going to be dinging them for everything they do wrong.
Just let them know that with how you carry yourself that this is a game, and that you are a person and a human being who is going to be judging them fairly. That does wonders for a trial if you can do that. I've seen trials where officials struggle with that, and just the whole atmosphere is just gross. I've seen trials where officials are amazing at making that connection with competitors, and the atmosphere is so much better.
So again, I would just urge all of my fellow officials to just think about your approach, and see if there are ways that you can maybe tweak things if you happen to know that you get really stiff, and robotic, and you kind of shut off when you're trying to do officiating.
The other thing that competitors dread when they are talking about officials, are officials who don't know the rules. This is a huge problem, and this isn't just something from a competitor's side, there's a huge problem for the trial host, there's a huge problem for the organization, and it's also just a problem for you as the official. Where this comes up is where you're in the middle of doing a search, and something happens, and as a competitor, you know, "Well, because this happened, then so-and-so is supposed to happen," or, "This is supposed to happen over here," or whatever.
You have an expectation, because you know the rules, and suddenly the official is saying, "Oh no, you're done. Goodbye." You're like, "Well, wait a minute. That's not the way the rules read." Then when you try to follow up, the official is adamant, like, "No, that's not correct. Off you go."
Now you as a competitor are now deemed as a complainer. You have to go talk to the trial chair, and if they happen to pull up the rules and the competitor is now correct, now you have to go into this whole kind of scenario of a competitor of, "Do I really stick to my guns and ask for a re-run? What is it that I do?"
Now the trial host is in a really sticky situation of, "How do I make my competitor, who's paying me, happy so they actually want to come back, and they're not complaining? How do I also do this so that it's in the confines of the actual overall rules for the organization? Because if I don't do it well as the host, the organization may not want me to host trials anymore."
All because this official didn't understand the rules for what it is that they're officiating, there is now this huge problem. I say this because many officials are officiating in multiple venues, which is wonderful, I am not saying that's bad, it's not, but it's also really super confusing. Many of the organizations have rules that are similar, but also slightly different, and there are other things that are just completely and totally different.
If you are officiating at a trial, I urge you, regardless of how long you've been officiating, regardless of how long you've been an instructor, a professional, what have you, literally read up on the rules for what it is that you are officiating, what you're responsible for, the day before the trial, ideally even the week before, so if you have questions, you can ask whoever it is that you have to ask.
Don't just go off of memory, don't just assume, because there are slight enough differences that can get you into serious trouble when you are just going off of memory in the heat of the moment. I'll give you an example.
I was working in the score room for a trial, and I get a score sheet back for one of the games, which allows for multiple false alerts. You can call two false alerts in one of these games, and on the third, you would then as a competitor be disqualified.
But I get the score sheet back, and it says, "One false alert," and then a time, and that's it. If you were to look at this, it looks as though the competitor called a false alert, the judge said, "Sorry, no," and then they just ended the search, which is incorrect.
I then had to bring this up with the overseeing official, which is in USCSS the Chief Search Designer, or CSD, and pointed this out, and she said, "Oh no." She went and talked to the judge who did not realize that this was the case. They then had to go and talk to the competitor, who had to talk to the trial chair person, and they all handled it very professionally.
They were very kind, and worked well with this competitor, who decided that they were just going to just take the end cue. They were like, "That's fine. My dog is tired. I know for next time, it's no big deal." The trial host refunded that competitor for the run, and they were like, "Look, we're even going to refund you your money. Don't worry about it."
Even though this was handled about as well as it could have, considering, it could have been completely avoided if that judge had read up on the rules for that game. Now, does that mean that this judge is a terrible person? Of course not. Mistakes happen, that's fine, but you have to take your responsibility as an official very seriously, and that means that even if you're officiating for a organization for a certain period of time, if you are doing officiating in other organizations, do yourself the favor and read up on the rules before you actually go to that trial. It just helps.
There are significant enough differences and similarities that can get you into a lot of trouble, and depending on the organization, they may not be so understanding if you do make that mistake, because it can have such big blow back on the organization itself. So again, from a competitor's standpoint, it is super frustrating when the person who's there as the professional, as the face of the organization, they don't seem to know what the rules are for the actual trial itself. That is really frustrating.
It can have a lot of negative connotations and results. I mean, you could have a competitor lose out on cues that they actually earned, and depending on the organization, if they had entered in subsequent trials assuming that they would have had those cues, that could be a really huge problem. They could be out a lot of money, where they wouldn't be able to change their entries or anything else. That's a nightmare.
You have to really be careful about this. Please, please, please, make certain as an official that you are reading up on the rules for the organization actually officiating for, before you actually go to that trial.
The other thing that competitors dread as far as officials overall are officials who are coming at this from the standpoint of, "I am the best thing since sliced bread." Now, this is going to rub some people the wrong way, and I'm going to apologize in advance. Whatever you have achieved in your training, and in your competition, or even in your professional career is commendable, and it does deserve respect, and for us to tip our hat to you, but it ends there.
You being an official is not an opportunity for you to toot your own horn. You being an official is not an opportunity for you to then project to everyone just how amazing you and/or your dogs are. That's not the point. Just know that when you do that, you're going to be turning off about 95% of the people who are listening to you, and that doesn't just include competitors, that includes other officials, trial hosts, and quite frankly, I think even trial staff, like trial organization staff.
It's just something I know for me personally, it really irks me when someone is taking the time when they're actually on the clock as an official, to go on, and on, and on about how they've achieved this, and they've achieved that, and they've achieved the other thing. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't.
We are assuming that you have the expertise for this organization to have approved you as an official. Does that mean that's guaranteed? No, let's just be blunt. It depends on the organization, and it depends on the individual, and it depends on how much digging that organization does, and people can lie and whatever else. There's only so much an organization can do, but more often than not, they've done their due diligence, they've checked, they know that you have a certain level of expertise. That's assumed, otherwise you shouldn't be an official.
You don't need to project that. You don't need to tell the world, "I am the best ever." Because at a trial, I can pretty much guarantee you that first of all, there are other officials who are probably pretty well accomplished as well, and you may actually have some competitors who are really super accomplished too.
Worse still, you have baby competitors who are just starting out, that can take all that projection that you're doing in a way that deflates them horribly, where now they think, "There's no way that I can do this. Look at a lot this stuff that this person has achieved. I'm never going to get there. You know what? This is too stressful, I'm just not even going to do this anymore."
That would be horrible, and I can tell you, it's happened. I've had to talk people back into playing because they heard someone go on, and on, and on about how great they are. They're like, "I don't have any of those skills. I wouldn't be able to be where they are." It's like, "It doesn't matter. Are you having fun with your dog?" "Yeah, I guess."
"Well, then great. Keep focusing on having the fun, and you can go as far as you want to. You don't have to go to nationals, you don't have to have every title under the sun if you don't want to. Do this for what is good for you and your dog." They're like, "Oh, so that means I don't have to stress myself out to get the highest title, even though I would be miserable the whole way?" "Of course not. Of course you don't. It's your dog, it's your journey. You can do whatever you like."
Just realize that as an official, you are being hired to do a job. It is nothing more, it is nothing less. You are there as an employee. You are there to do something. You are not there to tell everyone about yourself. It's not a marketing opportunity. That's not to say that there aren't people who maybe at the end of the trial who say, "You know what? I was really impressed with the hides you set today. Do you do workshops? Do you teach classes? I would love to work with you."
That's happened to me a lot, and that's happened to other officials too, particularly judges that make that human connection. My god, I've seen more competitors walk up to judges at the end of trials going, "I really liked you. Do you do classes or seminars? Would you be able to come out to our place? We would love to have you." That's great, and they didn't do that by saying, "I'm the best." They were just professional, and doing their job, and doing it well. That's all you have to do.
I say this because it can really make everything really gross, and it's really super stressful as someone who works on the organization side to get those kinds of complaints from trials, because it shouldn't be happening. It has no place, so it's a fire that really should never have existed in the first place.
So again, if you are an official, make certain that you're not even inadvertently walking into the territory where you're talking about, "Well, I did this, and my dog did that, and we're just the best." It has no place, just make sure that you don't do that.
Now, I want to make a little bit of a shift from the competitor standpoint of, "Oh god, the official is doing that, oh no," to what trial hosts may be dreading with their officials. The first is the lack of communication. This should not be happening. If a trial host has contacted you asking if you're available to officiate, please be courteous and respond to them no later than seven days after they've contacted you.
Ideally, it's a lot faster. Now, I get that many of us are so incredibly busy. We have classes, we have seminars, we're trialing, we're competing, we may actually have lives outside of Scent Work. Who would have thought? That's fine. That's why most organizations will give you that seven days, but please respond to them, and do yourself a favor and respond in writing.
You can absolutely talk to them on the phone, but follow it up with an email. A little bit of CYA goes a long way when a host goes, "I never heard from blah, blah, blah," and you could say, "Oh, well here's my follow up email to our phone conversation. I won't be able to officiate, I'm so sorry." Or, "Oh no, I said I would, and we had talked about it. Here it is. This is not starting off on a good foot, but maybe we can fix it."
There's courtesy, and then there's also just making sure that you are making your life as easy as possible. Even after that initial communication, you need to be in a communication with these people consistently leading up to the trial, as well as the trial itself, and then even after the trial if there's any other paperwork, or issues, or any other loose ends that need to be tied up.
Please don't fall off the grid. Don't just disappear, and don't not answer emails or phone calls. Again, this is a job. This is not just something like, "Oh well, you know, I guess I'll get to it when I can." No, you are being paid or compensated in some way to do this. You have to act professionally, and again, I'm saying this being someone who is incredibly busy, but if someone contacts me, I do everything in my power to get back to them as quickly as I can, at the very least at the end of that day if I'm really completely swamped.
Also just make sure that you are prioritizing what it is that you need to respond to. For instance, if you have a trial coming up and you get a message from your trial host, and it's like, "Help, we need help," and then you get another message from a friend that you just saw yesterday, and they're like, "Oh, look at this cute cat video," maybe you reach out to the trial host that needs the help. It's just like you have to know how to handle yourself so that they don't feel lost and they don't have the support that they need.
On the same lines as having good communication is making certain that everyone is on the same page as far as what it is that you're doing, so whether or not you're just doing judging, if there are different officials for judging and actually setting hides. If for the organization that this trial is for, maybe you have to do both. Maybe there are going to be multiple officials at that trial, so maybe you're only going to be responsible for certain things, for working in certain search areas, for instance.
Make certain all that is really laid out in detail, in writing, in a contract, that you and this host sign. This is not just frivolous paperwork, this is to ensure that everyone is on the same page, because if you just go off of verbal, first of all, one of you may forget, which would be a problem when you get to the trial and suddenly everything is different.
It also ensures that for the trial host, that they have it in writing of, "Okay, I'm going to have Sally Sue, and she's going to be doing these five things, and oh, we're going to be adding on this and this. Wow, she looks a little overwhelmed. Let me get another official." It just helps everyone realize what it is that each person has to do, and whether or not they need to bring in more people.
You can also say, "Hey, by the way, you have me trying to be in two different places at once. I'm not going to be able to do that. You need to bring somebody else on." The more transparency that you can have, the better it is for everyone.
The other big thing about trial hosts, one of the more common complaints that we get, is in addition to the lack of communication, is a lack of organization, meaning that this official seems very frazzled, disorganized, and kind of all over the place. That's a problem.
Even if you are quote unquote, "Just a judge," and there is no such thing in my opinion as, "Just a judge," judges are really super important, even if they're not setting hides, you still have responsibilities as an official, and one of those is to be organized. I think anyone who has been an official for any period of time can have a good understanding of just how complex a Scent Work trial really is.
The fact that any of them go well is actually pretty amazing. It's a really complex moving system of parts. If there's a problem with one of those moving parts, it effects everything. As a judge, you have to try to be as organized as possible, so if you happen to know an issue, it doesn't snowball out of control, which can happen pretty quickly.
This is even magnified when you are placing hides. You have to absolutely be organized when you're placing hides, because you have to be organized not only in how you actually set your odor, but also with how you plan. Do you know that your searches are going to be set up in such a way that allows for efficient and safe flow? What happens if a competitor had the option of not entering everything, and they're only entering into the second search? How are they going to get there? Is that going to cause any issues?
You have to think through all this stuff, which requires organization. You can't just show up at the trial site and say, "Okay, we're just going to wing it." That doesn't work. You have to think these things through.
In the same vein of being organized, making certain that you know what you're responsible for, and not just assuming that someone else is going to take care of it. What I mean by that, is particularly for people who are setting hides. Are you the one who's applying the odor? Nine times out of 10, I would say that that should be the official's responsibility. They should be the one providing the odor. That way you know that you've prepared it correctly, it's by the rules, all that good stuff.
But in addition to that, who is providing the warm up containers? Who's providing the search containers? Who's providing the backup containers? And are those all in compliance with the rules? If you have to go out and purchase them, who's paying for that? If you're paying for it, are you being reimbursed for it? If you're being reimbursed for it, is there a cap that the trial host has put on for how much you can spend, and are you comfortable, if you go over that cap, covering the difference?
I mean, these are all important details that all goes down to being organized, but if you just show up and go like, "I'm here. Let's slap some odor on, hope for the best," no. That's naughty to do that.
The other thing that trial hosts really dread with their officials are people who are only interested in doing the absolute bare minimum. Now, I would say that this is a bad thing across the board. I think that anyone could say, "Yeah, if you're just skating by, that's not good."
What I mean by this, is officials who come in, maybe they're totally pleasant with all the competitors, they are organized as far as getting themselves all set up, they've officiated their search. We'll say that this is an organization or a set up where you can just be a judge, where you're also setting hides, but in this trial, you are only responsible for one search.
If you are doing all this officiating, everything is great, this search is now wrapped up, and you just leave, that's a big problem, because first of all, no one else is supposed to be touching the odor. Second of all, this area may be used another day for a different search, or even later on that day. Depending on the organization, maybe they allow for nested searches, so now they're going to be adding in another hide.
Even if it's something that you personally are not responsible for, you are still on the clock. Help. Help these people get everything wrapped up so that they can all leave. Remember that trial hosts more often than not are renting space when they're doing trials, which means that every hour that they go over what they agreed to rent the space for is costing them a lot of money. As the trial goes on, less and less volunteers are going to be there. There's just going to be less bodies available.
As the official, you are responsible for your trial search area. That is your responsibility. Even after your last competitor is done, you should still be prepared to go in there and clean up. I have to say that for all the trials that I have overseen, or participated in, or worked at for a variety of different organizations, this isn't that big of a thing, in that it's not a big issue. More often than not, trial officials just automatically do this, but there have been some times where we go through and the search area is the exactly the same, and it's hours later.
I'm like, "Well, where are you?" And the person's just sitting in their car. It's like, "What are you doing?" "Oh, well it's hot." "I don't care. This is your job, come out and help us." Just make sure that as an official, that you are not doing that. You have to follow through, again, that timeframe. You are on the clock from the moment you get out of your car, to the moment you get back in your car, not to just sit in it in the parking lot, but like to drive away. That's when you're on the clock to be an official.
I now want to make another shift from the dreads of a trial host to the dreads of an organization, of the types of things and feedback that we get back from officials that just makes our hair stand on end and our skin crawl. The first is we'll get complaints both from trial hosts and from competitors, "I don't think your official has any idea what they're doing." That's not good feedback. That's not helpful at all.
There can be a number of different reasons why this can happen, and some of it may just be completely out of the control of the trial official. Let's all be blunt. Mother Nature sometimes is just impossible to work with. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much effort you put in, things just don't go the way that they should.
Even in those situations, it's your responsibility as an official to explain that to the competitors as well as the trial host as best as you can without making excuses. Just explain what happened in the space, and maybe even what adjustments you tried to make to accommodate that. That's best case scenario.
Worst case scenario is where as an official, you are not making the delineation between setting hides that are for trial, where again we are testing training. A standard has been set by the organization, regardless of what organization it is, and they have said, "Competitor and dog must be able to do A, B, C, and D in order to pass this search." You, official, go and design that search to meet that standard. That's your job. That's all you're doing.
That is entirely different from setting up a training hide where you are teaching someone and their dog how to develop those skills. Those are two entirely different things. More often than not, when searches don't go well, it's because it's not a trial hide, it is a training hide. That's not appropriate.
As an organization, that is extraordinarily frustrating, because I know for myself, we have these discussions when we are first certifying our officials, when they go through our course, when they do our official mock trial with the United States Canine Sense Sports. We do all this stuff, and then still, we'll end up with a complaint from someone. It's like, "Guys, you're killing me."
Look, it doesn't happen often, but it happens sometimes, and it can't. I know first-hand how difficult that can be to walk that line. I personally have a very hard time taking off my trainer hat and putting on my official hat, which is why I don't officiate that much anymore, in addition to the fact that I can't move, and I can't stand, and I can't do all the physical stuff.
I know that as a hide setter, I can have a lot of difficulty not just setting a training hide, particularly for upper levels. You have to know how you can meet the requirements while not over-facing the team, and this bleeds into something else, that as an official, it is not your job to try to fail people. That is not why you are officiating.
For the organizations, and at the level that I know of them, and I'm not an expert in all of them by any means, from my understanding, none of them have been designed with the premise of taking cues away from people that they otherwise should have earned, that an official should walk into a space expecting to take points away from people. That's not the way that I understand any of the organizations in the United States have been designed.
As an organization, when we receive results for trials, and the cue rate is abysmal just across the board, that's a problem, because especially at this point in this stage of the sport, there are a lot of really experienced people and dogs, and for those organizations that require everyone to start at the bottom level and work their way up, if you have 40 dogs at a trial, and 25 of them are elite level dogs, and they're entering at a novice level trial, I am assuming that most of those dogs are going to be getting that cue.
I mean, that's just simple math. That's just assuming that unless everything went left, they have the training, they have the background, they should be able to get that. If those dogs can't get that hide for a novice level search, that's a huge problem.
Now, there is a way that you would be able to work on this, and this is something that again, feeds into what I think frustrates organizations, is as an official, you have to hone your craft. You have to practice. This isn't something that just means that you have to just go out and officiate non-stop. The same thing that I try to tell people, don't just trial non-stop as a competitor, you have to train.
You have to train yourself as an official too, and that means holding those mock trials are super important. Figure out what works, and what doesn't in a safe environment that's safe for everybody. You get to hone your craft, and the competitors get to practice, which they desperately need, and everybody wins. If you're just constantly putting yourself out there to officiate and you're never taking the opportunity to improve yourself, it's not going to go well.
It's just something that I would urge any official to do, that if you are officiating on any kind of regular basis, please take the time to go and schedule some mock trials for people. It'll make a world of difference. First of all, it will really help your clients and these competitors. They'll help you too, to see what works, and to see what doesn't, and to hone your craft.
The other thing as far as an organization side that can be very problematic is officials who are constantly questioning the rules. Now, I want to say this carefully. I don't mean someone who reads the rules and says, "That doesn't make any sense," or, "I have a question about the rules," or even, "I am playing devil's advocate about the rules," or, "I want clarification about the rules." That's fine. Bring that up to the organization, and then see what the reasoning is, and then see if they'll be able to fix stuff.
I'm talking about officials who in the middle of a trial are bashing the rules, or are bashing the way that an organization is set up, or saying anything negative even about not maybe that organization, but another organization. Oh, don't do that. Please don't.
The dog world can already be gossipy enough, and it can be very cliquey. That's not the place to do it at a trial, particularly as an official, because you are speaking for the organization. On the one hand, it wouldn't make any sense for you to be speaking on behalf of the organization and then in the same breath be taking down that organization. It's like, "Well, why are you officiating then?"
It's even worse if you're then standing up as the official and saying, "Well, I'm officiating for organization A, but organization B, C, and D are terrible, and this is why." That has no place at a trial, and as an organization, that is a ton of blow back that the organization gets from people who play at those other organizations, and they should. There's no reason why everyone should be in their own little box.
We want more dogs playing, that's the whole point. We want to play more. If there are people who want to participate in the trial that you're officiating for organization A, but they also compete in organization B, C, and D, that's not bad, that's okay. That's a good thing. It's not like a team thing or a loyalty thing for you to say that those organizations have no idea what they're doing, because they probably do.
Maybe you don't agree with them, and that's fine, but it doesn't have any place in a trial. Again, just from an organization's standpoint, know that if you are to do that as an official, it causes a ton of problems, and it can also cause problems for you personally, so just try not to do that.
Okay, once again, we've reached that point in the episode that you're saying, "Fantastic, you've made me feel terrible." I hope I didn't. Again, these are just pointing out some of the extremes, some of the largest issues that can happen, but I have to say, and I'm very happy about this, that for the organization that I work with, we have upwards of 107 judges, I think, nationally right now. We have something like 20 CSDs, something around there, so there are a lot of officials for this organization, and I have to tell you that I don't get that many complaints, which is nice. I have to say, I don't mind. It's not like I'm waiting for more.
The vast majority of people who are entering and applying to be an official are doing it for the right reasons. They have the expertise, they have the background, and they're going about it completely fine. The point of this episode, and the point of this podcast, is to point out to you what you should try not to do, and things you should try to avoid, or things you can do to try to improve, and things you can do to try to help yourself.
Just to reiterate, be organized, know the rules, communicate with your trial host, communicate with your competitors as far as creating that human bond, the human connection. That really does make a difference. Make sure that you're not just walking in there as though you have solved all the world's problems. People will respect you on how you carry yourself. You don't have to go in there with a resume.
Make certain that you are keeping up on your own craft. Give yourself the opportunity to do those mock trials, to officiate outside of a sanctioned trial environment. It will help you. It will also help the competitors and the community at large.
The other thing that I would urge you to do if you're an official is to do everything that you can to remember what it feels like to be a competitor, so make sure that you are competing with your dog, even if you just run them in mock trials. Remember what that feels like. Try to put yourself in the shoes of what these people are going through. Remember what it feels like to go through your very first trial, so that you can be empathetic, because that will help you.
It will also help prevent burnout, that if you're able to really view every single search with enthusiasm, and joy, and even, "Oh, they didn't get it, but they were trying really hard." That can help you as an official not feel so overwhelmed, and not be so exhausted at the end, and also, it prevents burnout. I have to tell you, that if you're approaching this the wrong way, you can absolutely begin to dread officiating. It will just turn into a real chore. Not even a job, it's something that you dread, which is terrible.
Always re-evaluate things. If you are getting requests to officiate, and you're kind of sitting on responding to them, you're like, "Well, you know, I don't know," maybe you need to take a break, and you're allowed to take breaks. You are a person, and a human being who has a life, you have your own dogs, you have things that you want to do. It's okay.
I would rather as an organization, an official contact me and say, "You know what? I've done a bunch of trials lately, and I really need to take like six months off. I just need to focus on some other stuff." I would so much rather that they do that than to keep signing up for trials because someone asked, and then not handling themselves well. I also want to make sure that they're happy.
Lastly, just know that at any point in this process, you may determine that, "You know what? I liked officiating to begin with. I took a break and I went back to, and you know what? I just don't think I enjoy it." That's okay too. You're allowed to change your mind.
If you decide that you don't want to be an official anymore, just let the organization know. That's okay. This is a job, but it should be one that you enjoy, because you have such a huge influence on the trial. This is something that you're passionate about as far as Scent Work, which most of us are. I would hate for you to sour your passion because you're doing something that maybe wasn't a good match for you to begin with.
These are just some things to keep in mind. Again, I'm hoping that I didn't leave anyone in the fetal position crying. That wasn't the point. I have a lot of empathy, and I have a lot of understanding, and I have a lot of respect for people who step up to be officials, because this is a very difficult job. It requires a lot of you, and without officials, we can't have trials, so you are so incredibly important, and you are appreciated.
Competitors who see a official who is professional, and trying, and earnest, and organized, and is just a good person to work with and be around, they love those officials, and when they see their name on the premium and they go, "Yes, I'm going to have a great trial."
If you don't do those things, and they see your name on the premium and they go, "Uh, this is the only one coming up. I guess I'll give it a whirl," or they won't enter that trial. When you're doing those things, you're hitting all those bases, it really is a gift that you are giving these people.
I hope that helps to understand just how important you are, and the things that you can do to make things successful for yourself, for the competitors, for the host, and for the organization. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you found this podcast helpful. Happy training, and we look forward to seeing you soon.
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