This article was originally printed in Bayed Solid Magazine in 2004,
it was Uncle Earl’s 10th Anniversary and they finally allowed a female judge –
I’m proud to have served on the staff ever since!
“Perfect Score versus Perfect Bay”
or My View from the Judge’s Stand
by Francesca Buck
First, I would like to thank EVERYONE, not just the staff, at Uncle Earl’s for having an open mind to a female judge at the World’s Largest Hog Baying. I am proud of the seven Winnfield trophies that my dogs have won, but haven’t shown since 2001 so there were some new folks that wondered what the heck a girl was doing up there!
I started showing NALC Catahoulas back in 1990, I think my first NALC Hog Baying was around 1995. My first Open Baying would have been about that time too, at Dave & Phyllis Alexander’s Northeast Bay Pen, Wills Point, TX. I was one of the few girls in the pen back then too, but after folks got used to the idea I have had nothing but support and have made some lifetime friendships too. I love Catahoulas, (OK, really any dog or horse) especially watching them work, and that has never changed. I’ve judged quite a bit too, for the NALC, ABDR, CHDA, ACA & Open Bays, but nothing quite compares in sheer VOLUME to Uncle Earl’s!
It was an honor to me not only as a female in a mostly male sport, but also as a competitor and Catahoula trainer to judge an INCREDIBLE baying! Four days of watching several hundred bay dogs from the stand may not sound like everyone’s good time, but if I had not been judging, I would have been talking dogs or staying warm somewhere else and would have missed parts of a really awesome event. Each year, the quality of competition gets better as dog handlers in our sport perfect the art of breeding, training & showing.
After watching this enormous show from a judge’s perspective, I had mentioned to Jimmy & Sharon that I wanted to put a few thoughts in writing. I also want to suggest that anyone who has the opportunity to judge at ANY show should do so at least once, it will definitely broaden your mind after watching the ENTIRE competition, beginning to end, plus give you some very valuable training and breeding ideas to take home with you!
The points I wanted to touch on were Baying, Scoring, Handler Errors & Breeding/Health. I am giving MY OPINION of these subjects as can everyone else. The information is always changing and being fine-tuned as the competitions get tougher and trainers hone their craft. Debates go on at every baying & will for eternity but I am going to capitalize on my opportunity to put my two cents in writing!
This sport is SIMULATING what happens in the woods. If you have watched a Cutting Horse Competition, a very small portion of a ranch horse’s daily work is showcased under pristine conditions. The most exciting part of the entry is the moment when the horse uses his body, natural instinct and eye contact to DOMINATE a cow into a submissive position. Not every horse is a candidate for this event. Some horses have cow aggression that they are born with, some have a natural physical talent to herd and some just want to please and will do what you train them to do. The WINNERS have a combination of these qualities along with an organized training & healthcare program among other things.
Competition Hog Baying is no different than a Cutting Horse Competition. We are showcasing the very small part of the woods hunt when a dog has found the hog and is holding & baying him for the hunter. If the hog will not stay in a submissive position, we want the dog to do what it takes to hold the hog then GO BACK TO BAYING. This is not the part of the hunt where the hog is CAUGHT, only held and bayed. If you want to watch or compete in the part where the horse catches the cow, you go to a roping not a cutting, BIG DIFFERENCE. This is a very important distinction as it is what allows us compete in front of the public. John Q. wouldn’t tolerate a competition cow branding either, even though it happens at a ranch every day, but the cutting portion is exciting and palatable enough to allow one of the richest purses in the show horse industry.
Bay Pen judging under NALC rules is basically the same now as it was then, we had a 3 minute bay with scores for INTEREST, CONTROL & BAYING. That translates to EYE CONTACT, HERDING ABILITY & BARKING. Very simple, but effective. Is the dog making eye contact? Is he in control and is he barking? We also had about a minute to get our dogs out or you were disqualified. The reasoning for this was that you not only had to have a good bay dog, but you also had to have a handle on him. The NALC has always required it so trainers have been instilling a call out into their pup’s program very early which is really the most effective method.
Open Bayings, including Uncle Earl’s, experimented with adding extra points for call-outs, but it was difficult to train adult dogs in the middle of the game to call out plus there were a lot of woods dogs in the pen at the time, making the call out points very controversial and ultimately given up. Just because there are no extra points doesn’t mean having a handle on your dog is not important, just ask the pen help.
Open Bay scoring still has quite a few gray areas depending on the region and the pen management. Some pens want to see your dog exhibit the ability to stop the hog, some don’t want contact at all. Everyone has a different idea of drifting or loss of control of the hog. What is too rough, what is too soft? How should you deduct for a soft or rough hog?? Each bay is different, each dog is different, each hog is different.
Ten years ago, the majority of pens used an arbitrary 1-10 scoring system with 10 being a perfect score. There was still lots of argument at the end of the day as the purses and calcuttas got larger, along with the investment & value of the dogs. A whole point deduction for a stray nip was the same error as an outright, near DQ, 4 second bite. A point off for a split second drift was the same point off as a 30 foot loss of control. Lots of room for improvement!
One judge ruling is controversial if the judge is from a region that supports nipping if you are from somewhere that doesn’t, might as well go home if your dogs are trained to keep their mouth off. Ask the folks at Winnfield and they will tell you that they have run the gamut in judges and scoring, a delicate balancing act to keep the show fair while keeping the competitors happy at the same time. Plus, hundreds of hogs that CAN’T POSSIBLY all be the same quality also make it challenging to score evenly.
Through trial and error, a tenth of a point scoring combined with the 3 to 5 judge ruling system (especially for large shows) is appearing to be the fairest standard. It allows for soft and hard deductions, plus throwing out top and low scores allow a judge’s personal opinion to not sway the ultimate score.
A PERFECT BAY is something you only see a few times. I watched a two dog run at an NALC show where the team barked UNANIMOUSLY for three straight minutes at four hogs that never moved. Everyone who watched came to their feet after the whistle, it was a beautiful sight to see. But the handlers almost had heart attacks trying to catch the pair after the whistle, what a shame to still lose the bay after that! Those PERFECT BAYS are amazing and very rare, if you see one you will always remember it.
A PERFECT SCORE is a bay without error, it doesn’t matter if the hog is running or dead asleep. Did the dog do everything it could without losing control or catching? Implementing an effective scoring and judging system with experienced judges will ultimately override the fluctuations in dog and hog performance. If your dog appeals to all judges without errors, you have a winner! PERFECT SCORES win the purse, PERFECT BAYS make a good story.
WOW, I saw lots of these! What a shame to come all the way to a show, pay your fees and mess up your own run. More of a shame to be UNAWARE OF IT! From the stands, it appears that the best dogs are just let go at the gate and they do their thing, looks easy right??
Ask any of the top handlers and they will tell you that there is more than meets the eye, the same trainers don’t win consistently because they know the judges or because they got lucky enough to get a good dog or hog. They did their homework, prepared their dog and HANDLED right up to the END WHISTLE. You have to know the rules, gauge the hogs, know your dog and how to handle him in any situation. The goal is a PERFECT SCORE, you can help him achieve this in a multitude of ways, usually so subtlety that only you, your dog and the hog know it. (yes, you can influence the hog too)
I saw folks turn dogs loose at the wrong time, distract their dogs performance, give too much voice to rough dogs, not give voice to soft dogs, pair up completely ineffective teams and enter dogs that had no business in the pen at all. The competition pen is not the place to train your dog, that is what you do at home before you get there. If you haven’t witnessed your dog give a PERFECT SCORE at home, how do you expect him to magically produce one under these extreme conditions? Unfortunately, bringing an unprepared dog to this environment, without the ability to correct him at the time he is making errors, can ruin him for future bayings.
An ill-prepared dog is also a prime candidate for injury. Not only can this be distressing to the dog and owner, it is expensive and difficult for the fans to watch! Don’t forget that John Q. is also watching, if he sees a dog or hog get injured, he thinks that is the object and we are shut down. Most injuries can be avoided by PROPERLY vesting and collaring your dog while making sure that he is truly trained to begin with.
There is a very good reason that you don’t see Paint Horses at the Kentucky Derby! You also don’t see Mules at cuttings, or Arabians at ropings. They are not designed for it. Just because the baying is open to any breed, doesn’t mean that any breed is capable of being competitive. Your dog may be the best woods dog in the world but that doesn’t mean he will be effective at a competition baying. Feel free to enter him and pay your money, but don’t complain that you were discriminated against when your Shetland Pony doesn’t win the jumping contest.
I also saw a lot of HIP DYSPLASIA from where I was sitting. There is NO WAY that a dog with NO HIP SOCKETS can outrun a wild hog! If your dog runs like a bunny rabbit, with both hind legs hitting the ground at the same time, get an x-ray from your vet. You don’t need an expensive test, a good vet can tell you whether your dog has the hips to do the work. Good conformation is not just for the show ring, if a dog’s structure is inferior, he won’t be able to last to the whistle or get out of the way of slashing tusks.
The same is true for wormy, underfed dogs. BIG DIFFERENCE between SKINNY and FIT, ask a runner. The amount of energy required for bay pen work starts with good nutrition and health care. Your dog will start strong then fade out when he runs out of energy. Again, not only is this important for competition, but for the longevity of our sport. If you can see hip bones, spine and ribs, you are a candidate for an animal abuse citation and are going to draw unwanted attention from the activists who want to shut us down.
I can’t stress enough that lots of folks have worked tirelessly to keep us above reproach as a family sport in the eye of the public, please respect their work by showing up with healthy, well-prepared dogs at the show.
Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity to watch your AWESOME dogs work, I froze my buns off but it was WELL WORTH IT! I can’t think of anything I would have rather done, even without all the free concession food I could eat!