One of the essential responsibilities of every tracking judge is to observe everything that goes on in the field. It is important that judges do not place pressure on the working team by being so close that their proximity to the team influences the dog or handler in any way. Dogs need to be trained to accept that people will follow along while they track. Handlers need to be able to read their dog and follow the dog’s lead without cueing off of the judges.
At the start: The AKC Tracking Regulations state that judges will instruct the handler to approach the start flag from a distance of 50 yards for TDX tracks, and at least 30 yards for TD, TDU and VST tracks. As a judge, you want to set them up for success by giving them the space to collect their nerves, perform their regular start routine, and allow the dog to take scent from the start article without contamination.
On the track: While it may be possible to see an entire track from a single vantage point, it is virtually impossible to evaluate a marginal or failing performance from a single, stationary point. Judges should maintain a discreet and constant position behind the handler, either on the last completed leg of the track, or at least 40-50 yards on a long leg. This is a recommended MINIMUM and you should leave more room when there is an unobstructed view of the team. If judges are too close, they make it very difficult for the team to back up should the dog need to work through a scenting problem. This is a critical tool that may be key to a passing performance.
At corners: The position of the judges should not “give away” the direction that the track may go. Judges should stay on the track and not venture into a still-unused part of the field showing the handler that the track does not go into this area. It is also imperative that the judges not move until the dog and handler have committed to a new direction, and are well down the new leg of the track. Movement by the judges as soon as the dog takes a new direction will indicate the direction of the track to the handler.
“Observation without influence” should be the goal of both judges and people laying blind training tracks.