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Although this article was written some 10+ years ago, the over arching principle of how a judge discerns and discriminates, awards and withholds points remains valid and interesting reading to those who are new to the sport.

A Judge’s Viewpoint, by Don Harrison

Standing on the side lines a few weeks ago watching a handler go through his heelwork routine, I over heard a conversation, which went something like this.

“The dog is ‘crabbing’, that will cost him a point or two”……..
“That left about turn at the top was wide that is another point gone”…….
“He has not done enough paces during the change of pace” …..
“He should have done at least 10 and he has only done 8 paces”……..
“Did you see that right turn?”
“The dog was ‘lagging’, there goes another point”
“The about turn at the far side of the field was wide and the automatic sit was very slow, I bet the judge will hammer him for that”
“Did you see the way the dog is lagging in the group? That will be another point gone.”
“Look the handler has praised his dog in the wrong place there goes another point.”

In my mind I added up all the points that this group of spectators had deducted from the handler and the total deduction, was around fifteen points. Now, as there are only ten points allocated to ’The Heel Free exercise, this poor handler would have finished up owing the judge five points, and the guy has only just started his obedience round!

So, from hearing that conversation, I thought, perhaps I could put together an article that may help to explain to any one, who is new to the sport, how a judge arrives at his final score. Certainly, all the comments made were correct, in that every mistake is noted and may be commented on in the judge’s critique, although a judge would find it very difficult to explain how he managed to deduct 15 points from a 10-point exercise!

The main difference between the scoring in Schutzhund and, say Obedience is that in Obedience a judge will watch the handler and dog, and every mistake is penalised. As I understand it, from a ¼ of a point upwards and the total score is the amount of points left at the end of that particular exercise.

Whilst points are taken away in Schutzhund, the judge will also look at the overall performance, and give that particular exercise a grading. There are five gradings in which the judge has to abide by, and in each grading there is a band of points that the judge has to allocate, I will give you an example, with the heel free exercise which is probably the easiest to explain.

  1. Excellent (V) 10 Points
  2. Very Good (SG) 9 to 9.5 Points.
  3. Good (G) 8 to 8.5 Points
  4. Satisfactory (B) 7 to 7.5 Points.
  5. Insufficient (M) 0 to 6.5 Points.

The abbreviations in brackets are the first letter of the German word meaning the same, and this is probably the letter you may see in your score books indicating the overall grading you have achieved during the trial.

Right, let’s get back to this poor guy, who is doing his best, and has just been crucified by the spectators. Fortunately most judges will take a more rounded view, and as I have already stated the judge will have been making notes during the exercise and deducting points accordingly. Then at the end of the exercise he will add up his points which give him a total, but, more importantly, in his own mind he will have been watching the overall performance, and deciding if the points lost were due to enthusiasm or lethargy from the dog. Asking himself was the competitor trying to get the best from the dog or was he/she just plodding round the field and going through the motions?

With all these thoughts in mind the judge will assess the ‘heel free exercise’. It should be now, fairly obvious even to the very inexperienced, that because of all the faults mentioned above the judge can’t possibly award full points or a (V) grading, nor can the judge award a Very Good (SG). Using the same logic, grading of (G) is out of the question, so, at best the judge would probably give a grading of Satisfactory (B) or, if the performance was really bad, an Insufficient (M).

Another consideration the judge would take into account, if this was a club trial and a Schutzhund 1 round or is it a Schutzhund 3 round at the Nationals, as most judges would certainly be more liberal and forgiving during a Schutzhund 1 round. So if we assume that it is a Schutzhund 1 club trial and the mistakes were made by a very enthusiastic dog the judge may decide to grade the round as Satisfactory, in which case he must give points between 7 to 7.5. If he felt there were just too many mistakes, he could take the grading down to an Insufficient, in which case the points would then be somewhere between 0 to 6.5.

I hope you can see that the judge is restricted by the rules as to what points he can take from any one exercise, and, indeed, the judge still has to justify his decision in the critique he must give at the end of each phase. It would have to be a very bad round indeed for a judge to take all the points during the ‘heeling exercise,’ no matter how bad the round was unless, of course, the dog left the handler and he/she was unable to get the dog back, in which case the judge would have no choice but to take all the points.

I will now try to explain how a judge marks a few more of the exercises in the obedience phase. Starting with ‘The Sit in Motion’ which also has 10 points allocated. Even if the points allocated are different, the Gradings are the same going down from Excellent to Insufficient. The ‘Sit in Motion’ like all other exercises is broken down into various elements. I personally break it down into four main elements:

  1. Development or Build Up
  2. Sit in Motion
  3. Return to the Dog
  4. Finish

The development and the actual ‘sit’ being the most important, though in order to obtain the full 10 Points and an Excellent grading (V) the handler would need to get everything correct. So, firstly the judge would look at the development.

  • Did the handler take the correct basic position?
  • Were the paces prior to the sit correct? (10 to 15)
  • Was the dog in the correct heel position? Now most importantly, was the actual ‘Sit in Motion’ fast or did the dog go into position quite slowly?
  • Is the dog restless and inattentive in the sit?
  • Did the handler give the dog any kind of body signal?

I hope you can see there are many things a judge has to consider before coming to a decision.

For the first scenario, let’s assume that ‘The Build up’ is correct, ‘The Sit in Motion’ is fast and without any indication of handler help, the handler is correct in leaving the dog and correct on his return waiting the required 3 seconds before finishing the exercise. In which case the judge could give maximum points and a grading of Excellent (V). Any deviation from this and the judge can and, indeed must, take points, which would in effect, reduce the grading.

Let’s now examine the same exercise where everything is the same, except the dog adopts the wrong position, for e.g. say ‘The down’ instead of ‘The sit’. That would be an immediate 5-point deduction. The judge has no choice here he must take minimum of 5 which straight away takes the exercise down to a grading of Insufficient and a score of 5 points and that is assuming every thing else is correct if there are other mistakes the overall score would be reduced even further.

We will now look at ‘The Down with Recall’ again. There are 10 points allocated. However there are more elements to the exercise. Mainly six, and again, in order for a judge to award the full points, every part would have to be completed in the correct manner with speed, and precision:

  1. Development or Build up
  2. The Down in Motion
  3. The wait
  4. Recall to handler
  5. Present
  6. Finish

Deductions are made accordingly for incorrect development, downing slowly, restlessness, slow recall or slowing down on the recall to the handler, a straddle legged stance by the handler. Incorrect present, and incorrect finish. If the dog stands or sits it loses 5 points then the remaining errors are marked out of 5. I will deal with these deductions in more detail in the next exercise, as the same principles apply.

So, here again the judge has many things to consider before he/she can allocate points and, as you can see there are many things that can go wrong for even the most experienced handler.

I will now deal with ‘The Stand in Motion’ as with ‘The Down with Recall’ there are slight differences in Sch2 and Sch3, which I won’t deal with here, however the judge will be looking for the same things.

Incorrect Development

In all exercises I can’t emphasis to much how important it is to get the build up correct, if you don’t it will most certainly be penalised, and it seems silly to lose points simply because you have miscounted on your paces.

I have seen even the best handlers get their paces wrong in big competitions and, whilst the odd pace here or there is not going to carry a heavy penalty it is just as easy to get it correct as incorrect, so practice the development in all exercises to ensure there are no mistakes. There is a recognised build-up in all exercises. So it is important to get the procedure right.

Stretching Commands

Whilst this does not seem to be a common error and, indeed I think it would have to be pronounced before a judge would penalise it is something you should avoid and always give your commands in a brusque and clear manner.


After the dog has taken the position it should be alert and waiting for the next command. Whilst not actually moving, dogs that are distracted, and are generally presenting a lack lustre position could possibly be penalised not necessarily losing points, though overall it would almost certainly detract from the overall picture.

Moving towards the Handler

If the dog does not take the position, or moves from position, this would carry a heavy penalty, depending on how many paces the dog took towards the handler. e.g. A dog just taking a couple of small steps would not lose as many points as a dog who did not take the position at all and followed the handler all the way.

Taking the Wrong Position

Should the dog adopt the Sit/Down, there is an immediate 5 Point deduction and the grading is then reduced to Insufficient and the whole exercise is marked out of 5 instead of 10 points. Here again you can see how important it is to get all the positions correct.

Slow Recall / Slowing Down

Either of these faults can result in a deduction. The dog should recall fast or happily stop quickly without slackening speed.

Incorrect Present / and or Finish

These faults are really self explanatory in that the dog should sit straight and close to the handler until given the command to heel at which time it should go to the heel position quickly and sit correctly. Any deviation from that is incorrect.

Straggled or Splayed leg Stance

This is something that many handlers are guilty of and could be classed as handler help and could detract from the overall picture, and possibly a point loss or at the very least a comment in the judge’s critique. Try to remember to stand with your feet together during recalls.

Handlers Moving

This is something I have seen creeping in on one or two occasions, the handler leaves the dog in the down or stand runs down the field for the required 30/40 paces turns to face the dog then moves position apparently to line up with the dog before the recall, this is incorrect and would be penalised.

We will now have a look at the retrieve exercises. There are three in total and in all carry a total of 40 points, so if you haven’t got a good retrieve, you can kiss goodbye to winning any trial. For the purpose of this article, I am just going to deal with the retrieve over the 1 Metre Hurdle, as the same rules apply to all the retrieves. There is a total 15 points allocated for this exercise and it is here where you can lose mega points, if things go wrong.

I will give you the rules as they are written, we will then, explore one or two scenarios of which there are many; to go through them all I would need a full magazine trying explain them,

Retrieve over 1Metre Hurdle

The handler and dog must assume the basic position in front of the jump. From a straight basic position the handler throws the dumbbell (650g) over the hurdle. The command to jump may not be given until the dumbbell has stopped moving .The dog must sit calmly off lead next to the handler until it receives the command to jump and retrieve (The command to retrieve must be given whilst the dog is jumping)

Upon command, the dog must jump over the hurdle, run quickly over the jump to the handler. The dog must sit straight in front and close to the handler. The dog must hold the dumbbell calmly in his mouth.

Until the handler, after a pause of about 3 seconds, gives the release command and takes the dumbbell. The dumbbell is to be held quietly in the right hand with the arm stretched out along the right side of the body. On the heel command, the dog must quickly go to the basic position, straight beside the handlers left side with the shoulder aligned with the handler’s knee.

(The handler is not permitted to change position during the entire exercise.) This last phrase is something you should keep in mind at all times as movement from your position could cost you up to 10 points so remember to keep your feet planted firmly in the original position, If you hope to be awarded full points and grading of excellent, read and memorise and adhere the above rule.

The exercise is broken down into 3 parts each of which is given 5 points, to make up the total of 15


Right I will now give you a couple of instances where you will lose points, to save repeating myself please assume that every other part of the exercise is correct.

The dog touching the jump one way will result in a 1-point deduction and a reduction in grading down to Very Good (SG)

The dog touching the jump both ways will result in a 2-point deduction and another reduction in grading, down to a Good (G)

The dog jumps clean picks up the dumbbell then either drops or mouths can be penalised up to four points

During ‘The Present’ the dog mouths the dumbbell or the handler snatches the dumbbell from the dog without waiting the required 3 seconds again, depending on how badly the dog mouths this could cost you four points and in both cases you would finish up with a grading of at best a Satisfactory (B).

The dog jumps clean, picks up the dumbbell, comes round the jump, would result in a 5 point deduction, even if the rest of the retrieve was perfect

The dog jumps clean, fails to pick up the dumbbell but returns over the jump and presents correctly would, again, lose at least a 5-point deduction.

The dog goes around the jump, picks up the dumbbell cleanly, returns around the jump presents correctly, you may now be thinking that the dog would lose 10 points for failing the complete the jumps but would be awarded 5 for retrieving the dumbbell. If you thought that you would be wrong. The rules here are quite specific, in that the dog must complete at least two parts of the retrieve exercise in order to gain even a partial score. So the point loss here would be all 15 points which can make a big hole in your total score, Even if the rest of your obedience round is perfect the most you can be given would be 85 points and a grading of Good (G)

I hope you can now see how important the retrieve exercise is. I could go on forever with different scenarios. Unfortunately time and space does not permit.

Let’s now go on ‘The Go Ahead and Down or Send Away’ as it more commonly called. Thankfully this exercise is a little simpler to explain in that the build up should be between 10/15 paces and on command, the dog should go out very fast and straight, then down instantaneously on command.

Points will be lost for incorrect development, lack of speed from the dog, deviation to the side, distance is to short, restlessness from the dog prior to the pickup, the dog failing to go down quickly on command or extra commands, if the dog fails to go down on the first command, many judges will immediately deduct 3 points which straight away takes the exercise down to a grading of Satisfactory. Any other commands would then take the grading down to an Insufficient so again I cant emphasis too much how important it is to have that control over your dog, many competitions have been won and lost on this exercise.

Long Down under Distraction

This is probably one of the most under rated exercises, though if you get it wrong you will lose a massive 10 points in one go, as there is much more to the exercise than putting the dog in the down position. Just because your dog stays in the down for the required length of time does not guarantee your 10 points. I have seen many handlers give away silly points simply by incorrect development. This is the only exercise where the development starts at different places and at different times, mainly, at the start or at the end of your obedience round depending on your draw. Many handlers prefer to do the down secondly and after their obedience round, in the belief that the dog will be more settled after doing some obedience. Whether they are correct, I don’t know but it is better to be prepared for either eventuality. Remember, that if drawn first for the down your development starts from when you leave the judge after reporting in, so ensure that even here your heelwork is correct.

When you get to the designated spot, your dog should sit automatically, then after a 3 second wait or at an indication by the judge you can give the down command, after a further pause you leave the dog without turning round to a spot indicated by the judge. Then at the judges signal which is normally after the other competitor has completed the A frame you return to your dog and after a 3 second pause, or at judges signal, you give the sit command, the dog must sit quickly and straight into the basic position. If the dog is slow or needs a second command or handler help, you could be penalised. If the dog anticipates the command to sit this again could be penalised, so you can see there are many errors where points can be lost apart from the actual down so you must train accordingly.

I have tried to give an insight into where you can lose points, and how a judge looks at the various exercises I certainly have not covered everything as that would be impossible. Good Luck !

Please remember that this article was written a few years ago, so there may have been some rule changes that I am not aware of as I am no longer involved in the sport although the spirit of the article will still apply.

Don Harrison.

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