Photo: Brian Aghajani
Whenever a Schutzhund trial rolls around, that crucial question emerges: "Who wants to be trial secretary?" Well, don't all raise your hands at once! Either no one volunteers, or the same person who is ALWAYS trial secretary sighs, raises their hand, and takes one for the team with a resigned “I’ll do it.” But I tell you: the rest of us are missing out!
THE UNSUNG HERO OF THE TRIAL
As competitors, we fill out the registration form and send in our registration fee, work hard to prepare the dog for a trial, and then show up on trial day with our scorebook and our dog, ready to go. We rely on everything else to be ready for us, so that all we need to focus on is ourselves and our dogs. The host club takes care of the judge, the tracking, the tracklayers, the obedience field setup, the protection setup, the helper, the group, the cap pistol, the paperwork. In truth, it is the trial secretary who technically is responsible for ensuring that all of this is done! The trial secretary is the true unsung hero of the trial.
The trial secretary is the one responsible for:
Reviewing the trial entries to ensure that the dogs are entered for the correct title/level
Completing all the trial paperwork properly
Creating the trial schedule
Notifying all parties, including the judge and Regional Director, of the location and start time no later than three days before the trial
Finding tracking fields and suitable tracklayers
Securing all things needed for the trial, including proper equipment, field for OB and protection, tracking flags, tracking articles, cap pistol, group members for obedience
Ensuring the helper has the proper classification and proper protective equipment
On trial day, the trial secretary’s job is to serve the judge and keep the trial moving in an orderly fashion. This means they cannot take on any other roles such as competitor, tracklayer, helper, etc. During a trial, the trial secretary’s duties usually include the following:
Providing the judge with the correct paperwork for each dog/handler team
Ensuring scorebooks, helper books, and trial score sheets are filled out correctly
Gathering all competitors together for handler meetings, ID check and temperament tests, etc.
Ensuring that all competitors are aware of the trial order and know when they are up
Keeping the trial and all participants on schedule as best as possible
Ensuring that group members and the person with the cap pistol are ready to go for obedience
Ensuring that the field is set up and marked properly for the correct phase of the trial
Taking care of the judge and assisting as needed
There are many other related duties that trial secretaries often take on in preparation for the trial. These may include:
Requesting approval for the event through the governing organization (this is required, but can be done by another club member)
Creating and posting the trial flyer and entry form (also required, but can be done by another club member)
Securing trophies and awards
Setting up the judge’s lodging, transportation, meals, and judge's gift
Securing a location for the judge’s dinner
Providing gifts for tracklayers and helpers
The trial secretary can and should delegate some of these responsibilities to reliable club members; it truly does take an entire club to put on a successful trial! Yet the many duties relegated to the trial secretary make this a daunting and important position, and many people hesitate to volunteer. However, serving as trial secretary is an invaluable learning experience that all handlers should consider doing at some point.
Taking care of the judges. Carrie Anderson multitasks to assist judges Michael Caputo and Vadim Plotsker during the 2017 WDC. Photo by Brian Aghajani.
WHAT BEING TRIAL SECRETARY TEACHES YOU
1. You learn the trial rules really well.
Talk about a crash course in understanding the trial rules! When you are trial secretary, you learn all the little rules competitors often don’t think about ahead of time. You learn how and why to mark the field properly for obedience and protection, which in turn teaches you how to set up your dog correctly for exercises like the retrieve, the long down, the escape bite, etc. You learn about the different reasons a handler/dog team can be disqualified or terminated. You learn about sportsmanship, about checking in and out with the judge for each phase and at each level, about who does field first and long down first, about what happens in a round robin for obedience, and more.
2. You learn how to trial better.
You experience the entire process from a behind-the-scenes view, from registering to checking in, to the temperament test and ID check, to preparing for tracking to drawing for the track, and more. You interact with and watch numerous dogs and handlers at every step of the trial; this allows you to see more and experience more, without the stress of trialing.
Through the trial secretary experience, you gain a better understanding of how the trial is run, of what’s expected of the handler and dogs during the trial, plus the knowledge of how everything works. Now when you go to trial, you already know how it will go at the tracking field, obedience field, and protection field. This allows you to focus more on your dog, and less on “Oh goodness! What am I supposed to do next?” By having been through it and living to tell the tale, you gain wisdom, deeper understanding, and a little more confidence.
3. You learn better sportsmanship.
You know firsthand just how much work and effort goes into running a trial. This generally has the effect of making us more empathetic, patient, and understanding when we go to trial ourselves (although sometimes you get frustrated because you know how something should be run, and it just isn't happening. In this case, offer to assist!).
You also experience examples of differing levels of sportsmanship when you are trial secretary. You realize how amazing it is when competitors are easy-going and easy to work with, quick to offer a kind word when you make a mistake. And when you have to put up with petty complaints, you realize how nasty and negative these can sound, and how much it reflects a disregard for all the hard work you’ve put in to making the trial run as smoothly as possible. It makes us think twice about what we say and how we handle ourselves at a trial. When we have taken the heat from handlers or club members during a trial, we understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end; hopefully this encourages us to be more gracious as future trial participants.
Being trial secretary also helps you pay attention to the little things that display good sportsmanship and preparation. You now know what it’s like to be the secretary trying to scan the dog who won’t hold still and whose handler can barely control it; so, you train your dog to sit calmly and politely to allow itself to be scanned for the microchip. You’ve watched team after team report in to the judge, and perhaps even had to remind them to report out at the end or stand up for their critiques. Chances are good that you will then remember the proper etiquette on trial day.
4. You learn what judges really look for.
As a trial secretary, you get one-on-one time with the judge. It’s like having your own personalized seminar! You learn what the judge is looking for, and have the opportunity to ask questions. Not only do you see the judging and score sheets firsthand and hear the critiques, but you can talk with them later about the performances. When you are transporting the judge to the hotel or airport or tracking field, use that time to engage in conversation.
Being trial secretary is your VIP pass to the judge, and puts you in a unique place to learn from the judge’s experience, wisdom, and perspective. And if you are trial secretary for more than one trial, you start to see the differences and similarities between judges and their experiences. This time with the judges may become your most favorite part of being trial secretary; you learn about the history of Schutzhund, about the German Shepherd Dog and other breeds, and about the trial experience, and what you learn can help you become a better trainer and competitor.
5. You learn the importance of correct paperwork.
The trial paperwork is the official record that the dog has trialed and earned a title, so it needs to be done correctly. Handlers may get annoyed at having to fill out all the information required on the registration form, and may think it is no big deal that their handwriting is barely legible, or that they don’t have the dog’s registration number on hand, etc. But when you fill out trial sheet after trial sheet that requests this information for ALL dogs and handlers entered, you realize how crucial it is to have complete, accurate, and legible information that does not require you to hunt down handlers to verify missing info. Whenever the handler hasn’t done their job properly with their paperwork, it creates more work for the trial secretary, and can potentially create a problem with the governing organization if the incorrect information is submitted as the official record of the trial. After going through this record-keeping process, you now understand why it is so important to fill everything out correctly and legibly when you register your own dog for a future trial.
6. You learn the importance of being prepared to trial.
As trial secretary, you see it all: the good, bad, and ugly. You see handlers who are clearly well prepared, and you see handlers who don't seem to know even the first thing about trialing a dog. You also experience the frustration when handlers forget their scorebook, or don’t have the dog’s registration number correct, or can’t find the dog’s microchip, or aren’t familiar with the rules. You learn the importance of being prepared to trial, not just in the actual phases, but for everything that comes beforehand. After your trial secretary experience, you will be the handler who has everything neat, prepped, and ready to hand over to the trial secretary when you check in at your next trial. You’ve been there, you’ve experienced it, and you’ve seen how amazing it is when a handler knows what to do and how to act (and conversely, how frustrating it can be when they don’t, even when they have had the opportunity to learn).
7. You learn to serve and give back to the sport.
Schutzhund/IPO and the organizations that host it should be built on service, and most of them are. Everyone volunteers their time, energy, and skills; even within the largest of the U.S. Schutzhund organizations, the United Schutzhund Clubs of America, all those officer positions are elected volunteers. People who are passionate about their chosen breed and passionate about IPO, and who are willing to engage in various acts of service to support what they believe in: these are the wonderful faces of IPO. Being trial secretary allows you to give back to your club, your organization, and your friends in the sport. It is a valuable act of service.
So next time your club is having a trial and you aren't entered, speak up and volunteer to be trial secretary. You can do it! And to trial secretaries everywhere: THANK YOU!