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by Lori Herbel

Judging a herding trial is a tremendous responsibility. Consistency and fairness are the top priorities of the day, and the ability to comfortably make sensible split second decisions under pressure is a necessity. In order to help carry out this responsibility, a judge needs a trustworthy assistant by his side that he can trust to accurately record the events of the day.

Don’t let the job of the judge’s assistant, or scribing as we call it in herding, be intimidating. Scribing is actually one of the best ways to get a herding education. Spending eight to ten hours a day standing next to a judge and listening to the critique as the action unfolds before you is very enlightening. As a matter of fact, all new judging applicants are required to scribe, or apprentice judge, three times for the class/course for which they are applying.

While there are many jobs that need filled at a trial, often the job of scribing is the most difficult to fill. To do the job correctly, a scribe should devote the entire day, which is often difficult, or may be undesirable for many people. However, for consistency purposes, it is best to have one person scribe throughout the entire event, or at least through the finish of all of the competitive trial classes.

Scribes should not have any dogs entered under the judge during the event they are scribing. This is a conflict of interest, as this not only requires the judge to use different scribes throughout the day, but it is also unfair for one competitor to stand alongside the judge and gain knowledge of their judging practices when other competitors are not presented with the same opportunity. This situation can also cause an ethics issue, as disgruntled exhibitors can always proclaim that the scribe only received the score they did because of the relationship they established with the judge in their scribing role.

A scribe should also not co-own any dogs that will be shown under the judge that day, or be personally connected to any of the handlers that will be entered.

Within this article, we will explore the job of the scribe, explain the paperwork and hopefully, help encourage people to step up and offer to take the job at their club’s next trial.


Familiarize yourself with the scoresheets ahead of time for the different classes. This is actually a great idea for anyone who is participating in the program, whether they ever intend to scribe or not. To understand the program fully, you need to understand a little about the judging process.

There are five different scoresheets in the AKC herding program. There are separate scoresheets for each of the competitive courses – A, B and C. Herding Tested (HT) and Pre-Trial (PT) each have their own scoresheets as well.

At the top of each scoresheet, the basic information is the same for each class. This information includes the club name, date, entry number, breed of dog, class, name of judge, and type of livestock. There is also a line for the event number. This information should be filled out in advance by the Trial Secretary.

Trial Scoresheets

Trial judging is done obstacle by obstacle. Each is assigned a point value. In order to qualify, a dog/handler team must retain at least half of the points for each obstacle, plus retain at least 60 of the 100 available points.

Each obstacle is listed separately on the scoresheet, followed by the assigned point value. Next to the point value are two lines (comments and deductions) for recording point deductions as they occur during that obstacle. Another column (points deducted) is made available to record the total number of points deducted from each obstacle.

Three-quarters of the way down the scoresheet is a line labeled “deduction for misbehavior”. This is a “catch-all”, or miscellaneous category for errors. Judging for a trial run actually begins when the dog enters the working area (arena or open field). The approach from the initial gate to the handler’s post is a part of the judged run, even though the elapsed time of the run has not begun. Point deductions that should be recorded here can include the dog fouling or marking the course on the way to the post, the handler not being able to get to the post with the dog in an efficient and timely manner, or the handler entering the working area with the dog still on lead.

At the bottom of the sheet is a line for total points deducted, and boxes for the judge to indicate whether or not the run was a qualifying one. Additional lines are available should the judge decide to make any comments, and the last line is for the judge’s authenticating autograph.

Now let’s walk through a typical day for the scribe.

A Day In the Life of a Scribe

Hopefully you have made arrangements with the club in advance and everything is all set. Your judging schedule in hand, you see that the first event of the day is a Handler’s Meeting at 8:00 a.m. Plan to arrive at the trial site 30-45 minutes early, and familiarize yourself with the facility. Study the location of each of the working areas, and make a mental note of the class order for the day.

Check in with the trial secretary, and let her know that you are on site, and available when needed. Greet the judge, introduce yourself and let them know you will be their scribe for the day.

At least ten minutes before the first handler’s meeting, check back in with the trial secretary and request the scoresheets for the first class. You will need a clipboard, and access to two or three pens.

Attend the handler’s meeting. Listen in as the judge conducts the meeting, explains the course and what is expected of the exhibitors. The handler’s meeting should cover all aspects of the course – from how the livestock will be set out before the run starts, to what the judge expects at the re-pen.

Once the handler’s meeting is concluded, check in again with your judge and ask if there is anything in particular he or she wants to go over with you regarding your job for the day. Any questions you can think to ask should be asked before the event starts. Additional questions that may come up during the day should be asked as soon as they come up.

Be ready when the first dog is ready. Record the time the class starts on the first scoresheet. As the handler approaches the gate, double check that the entry/armband number and the breed of dog listed coincides with the entry number of the scoresheet you have in front of you. If the next handler is not ready and waiting at the gate and there is no appointed ring steward, call out the entry/armband number.

Listen carefully. It is important that if a judge calls out a deduction, it gets recorded in the proper area of the scoresheet. Recording a deduction on the wrong line can cause a qualifying run to be recorded improperly as a non-qualifying run. As the judge gives deductions, acknowledge each one verbally, with an “okay”. This confirms to the judge that each deduction has been recorded properly and allows him to keep his eyes on the action.

Some judges will give reasons for deductions, such as “3 off-line”, “5 missed obstacle”, or “3 split”. Ask the judge ahead of time if they want notations abbreviated alongside the deductions. Three offline can be recorded as “3 ol”; five missed obstacle can appear as “5 mo”; three off for a split can be recorded as “3 sp”. While there is no official list of abbreviations, try to use notations that will be easily deciphered later by the judge and exhibitor.

Other judges will not give reasons, but will only call out deductions. Often a judge does not have time to break down the deductions, and in some cases things are happening so quickly they are forced to combine deductions in order to keep up with the action. In either case, it is important to acknowledge that you heard the point deduction so that the judge knows each one has been recorded.

The judge should announce when the scoring moves from one obstacle to the next, such as, “now we’re on the Y Chute”. This is important because each trial run should be judged consistently with the scoring of each obstacle beginning and ending at the same place for all exhibitors. This also helps the scribe stay ‘in tune’ as it is impossible to watch all of the run and record properly on the scoresheet at the same time.

If there is a question about the scoring, ask as quickly and simply as possible. Questions such as “Was that 2 points off on the Y Chute?” or “Which obstacle did you want that last point to come off of?” are much easier for the judge to address immediately. Don’t ask unnecessary questions, and refrain from talking to the timer or anyone else standing in the judging area.

Make your marks clear and consistent. If the judge calls out a deduction of 3, record it as such, don’t make three single marks instead. Exhibitors need to have the option of going back and reviewing their scoresheet to understand the judges calls.

Scoring can be deducted in half-points, such as “one-half” or “three and a half”. Decide ahead of time how you will record the half points clearly so that they aren’t mistaken for full points off. Don’t put commas between points off as each comma may be mistaken for a point off.

If time allows as the run progresses from one obstacle to the next, tally up the finished obstacle deductions. If time does not allow this to happen comfortably during the run, wait until the run is over and do the tallying then to avoid confusion or mistakes.

Once you have the points deducted from each obstacle, check to see if the exhibitor lost more than half the points on any given obstacle. If so, make a note next to that obstacle. Circle the points off, or write “NQ” next to it. This helps avoid mistakes, by lessening the chances of letting a non-qualifying run slip through the system. It is also helpful to the handler to see where the NQ happened during the run as soon as he sees the scoresheet.

Judging on the obstacles ends when the re-pen gate clicks. However, judging of the run itself does not end until the dog exits the work area. Listen carefully in case the judge sees an error that needs to be added in under the “deduction for misbehavior” category. While you’re waiting, you can double-check your math (the secretary should also double check before posting).

Record the elapsed time, and hand the scoresheet over to the judge for double-checking and a signature. If this is the last dog to run in the class, record the Time Finished at the bottom of the scoresheet. Tuck the scoresheet into a safe place or hand it to the runner for transport to the secretary’s table.

Scoresheets are made in multiples, either with carbon paper, or the ever-popular NCR (carbonless) paper. Make sure that you are pressing hard enough to go through to the last sheet, but also make sure you only have one scoresheet at a time and are not marking through on all of the scoresheets. The markings on thecopies will usually darken with a little time.

If a mistake is made, don’t panic. If you accidentally recorded points off on the wrong obstacle, correct it as soon as possible and when the run is over, explain the problem to the judge and have them initial the change.

As each class ends and the next begins, make sure you have the proper scoresheets ready. Make sure you have the right scoresheets for course, the class and stock.

While the layout of Course A and Course B always remain the same, Course C does not. If you are planning on scribing for Course C, make sure you familiarize yourself with the course layout for the trial at which you will be scribing. This course has certain elements that it must contain, but they are not necessarily worked in the order in which they are listed on the scoresheet. Following along on the C Course scoresheet can be more challenging at times.

Scribing at the Testing levels requires much less work on the scribe’s part. The judge is in the arena with the testing level runs and is simply considering whether or not each run meets the minimum requirements for that level. The scoresheet is filled out by the judge after the run is over and the dog has left the working area.

Your job as a scribe for these levels is back to the basics. Have the class scoresheets ready, and double check the entry/armband numbers and breed listed as the handlers enter. Record the class start and ending times, as well as the elapsed time for each run.

As each testing run is concluded, have the proper scoresheet ready to hand to the judge, who will mark the appropriate “yes” or “no” boxes as well as the qualifying or non-qualifying box. Make sure the judge signs each sheet, and hand the completed scoresheet to the runner.

That’s it! While you can see scribing is not rocket science, it does require an investment in time, as well as concentration and good listening skills. An in-depth knowledge of judging, or even herding, is not necessarily required.

Scribing is like getting a free education. It should be a sought-after job. Don’t be afraid to volunteer to scribe at your next trial. The club will appreciate it, and you’ll go home with more experience and knowledge!