Field Trial Judging

Field Trial Judging

What the Judges Look For

(From Field Trialing with the Basset Hound published by BHCA and available from the Country Store.)

There is a written standard for judging performance in the field, which describes all these desirable and undesirable qualities. It is to be found in Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedures for Basset Hounds, Procedure 5, Standard for Judging. This booklet is available from the American Kennel Club (51 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010). You will want to read it more than once since every sentence tells a great deal.


1. Desire

1. Quitting

2. Searching ability

2. Back tracking

3. Pursuing ability

3. Ghost trailing

4. Accuracy in trailing

4. Pottering

5. Proper use of voice

5. Babbling

6. Endurance

6. Swinging

7. Adaptability

7. Skirting

8. Patience

8. Leaving checks

9. Determination

9. Running mute

10. Independence

10. Tightness of mouth

11. Cooperation

11. Racing

12. Competitive spirit

12. Lack of independence


The Basset must first have the DESIRE to pursue the game (he should approach the pursuit eagerly and keep it going with determination). To go with this enthusiasm, he must have a keen nose. Once he is trailing, the closer he stays to the scent of the trail, the better his chances to keep contact with it. He should be making progress as fast as he can while still maintaining contact with the trail. Thus he is making a CONTROLLED PROGRESS and adjusting the pace to the difficulty of the trail. While he is making progress on the trail, he will give tongue, and when not going forward on the trail he will be silent. Should he lose the trail scent, he should remember the point of loss and work from there, at first close to the loss and then gradually searching further afield to regain the trail.

A good hound will work independently of his bracemate at points of loss, but will also cooperate with him by claiming a find at once and harking (going to his bracemate) quickly when the bracemate signals a find. He should be competitive with his bracemate, but not so jealous that he interferes with the steady progress of the chase.

Speed does not necessarily win--for it must be a controlled speed. A hound can run faster than he can trail game, but good hounds concentrate on keeping control of the line and pace themselves so that they are able to stay on the scent. The hound must be diligent and determined to overtake the game. He must be accurate, that is, able to keep control of the line consistently, to realize the loss of the scent at once, to be honest, to tongue on all progress and to be silent otherwise.

The hound so far described is not going to quit. Quitting is the worst fault at the trials and will blow the chances for your hound. When quitting is caused by overweight or poor health bringing on fatigue, it may be remedied, but if an inborn tendency, it may be impossible to correct. Backtracking (unless only momentary) is also a bad fault, since it is another failure to accomplish progress in the pursuit of the game.

Other faults slow the chase. "Pottering" describes a hound that doesn't get much done and does not show enough intention or desire to progress. At the other end of the spectrum are hounds that upset the chase by uncontrolled speed, over-competitiveness, skirting, lying, cheating. The speed demons overrun the turns in the trail much farther than they should; the over-competitive hound covers a great deal of territory, hits the line far ahead, not permitting the bracemate to follow through consistently. Skirters cut out ahead of bracemates, constantly intercepting them. Liars call the bracemate to points where there is no line (ghost trailing). Cheaters have the line but won't claim it as they should and so don't give the bracemate a chance to get in there and move the trail onward. When a hound has to contend with these faults in his bracemate, he must be independent and calm to make a good showing and deserves a great deal of credit if he is able to handle the situation.

Most of the judging at trials is done on the "checks." When a hound loses contact with the trail and must work to find it again, it is called a check. It is in these situations that the intelligent actions and aptitudes (and some of the faults) will show up most dramatically. The best hound will not only cover the distance covered by the rabbit, but will also solve the problems created by the rabbit and be able to overcome a variety of scenting conditions. The field trial basset is judged on his overall performance of this task and the best are those that get the most done in the best manner possible. We are dealing here with a kind of proportion (as we do also in physical conformation). We want a hound with desire and determination, balanced with steadiness and adaptability.

You are going to have to watch and compare quite a number of braces of bassets to get a solid idea of what the virtues and faults in running look like. There are varying opinions as to which traits are inherited and which ones are developed through training. Desire is certainly a quality that can be bred in (or lost) and is instinctive (not necessarily for the reward of a "kill," but to a very great extent just for the thrill of the chase). Training may often overcome some running faults, but not always, and it is best to take into consideration whether or not the undesirable behavior is the kind that can be modified by experience. The hound will be reinforced by success in trailing and this will help to establish solidly good habits. On the other hand, running with hounds of bad habits, especially when a hound is just starting, may lead him astray for a long time, if not forever.

As in other sporting activities, not all judges have the same opinion about what constitutes a good performance. They all judge by the official written standards, but, like most rules, these are subject to interpretation. Jim Hazelwood, a noted beagle authority and judge, says judges fall into four groups:

  1. NEGATIVE: They count mistakes; a dog doesn't have to do anything just as long as it doesn't do anything wrong.
  2. SUPER CRITICAL: They believe that a dog must run a rabbit, but that this can be done by doing it right, never sacrificing quality for quantity.
  3. CRITICAL: They believe that a dog must run a rabbit, try to do it right, but they will excuse mistakes in the interest of keeping the run going.
  4. RUN RABBIT RUN: They believe that a dog must run a rabbit.

As you go to trials over a period of time, you will find that judges do seem to "look for different things." That this is so is something one just has to accept. If you have a good hound, he will be recognized sooner or later. Remember also that one can never judge a run from the gallery, or by how it sounds.

Of course, the judges' decisions on any given day are final and should be accepted in a spirit of sportsmanship.