"Dead Bird" Used as a Command Instead of a Cue

By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs

Often we hear people say "dead bird" to let the dog know that he is about to be sent on a blind retrieve. In our training program we teach the dog that "dead bird" is an enforceable command. It tells the dog not to move his eyes away from the direction he is looking even if there are other places that he would rather look.

If the dog does look away from the line, he receives a mild e-collar correction and then the handler realigns him. In this way he is taught not to look at distractions or to try to avoid looking at a place he does not want to go.

In order for him to understand that the e-collar correction was for looking away from the line he was given, the following training steps need to be taught:

  1. Sit Straight

    The first step is to get a good initial line by having the dog sit straight in the heel position. Our article in Retriever Journal Feb/Mar 1997* describes how we train the dog to sit straight.

    However, even though the dog's spine is lined up straight, it does not mean he will go in that direction. In fact, he is more likely to go where he is looking. So, after the dog is sitting straight, be sure he is looking in the correct direction. This is when "push-pull" is used.

  2. Push-Pull Drill

    With the dog at heel, use the push-pull drill to teach him to move his eyes to the left when you move your left leg forward (push) and to move his eyes to the right when you pat your left leg and move it back (pull). See our article in Retriever Journal April/May 1997* for more about the push-pull drill.

    To teach your dog to do the three-bumper push-pull drill, sit him with his spine lined up with the center pile of bumpers. Let the dog choose whichever bumper pile he wants. Then you choose a different pile. Move only your leg to get him looking at a different bumper pile and then send him for a bumper from that pile.

    While doing the push-pull drill, do not use your hand over the dog's head. Your objective is to teach the dog to respond to your leg movement. Later on, dropping the hand over the dog's head will tell him, "That's it, you have the line."

  3. Don't Head Swing on Marks

    In our article "Common Marking Problems-Part V" (Retriever Journal March/April 2000*), we described how to correct the dog for head swinging (looking away) from a mark before he should. The same kind of setup described there is used for teaching the dog not to look away from the line to a blind.

The Alignment Sequence and "Dead Bird"

When your dog is sitting straight and looking in the direction of the blind, tell him "dead bird," drop your hand, pause, and send him.

Line the dog up toward a sight blind. The sequence goes as follows; sit the dog straight, get him to look in the correct direction, tell him "Dead bird", drop your hand down over the top of his head, pause and send him.

Wait a couple of seconds after dropping your hand down before you send the dog. The delay prevents him from learning to go in response to your hand being placed over his head. The hand over his head should mean, "You are looking in the correct direction." You do not want him to believe that the hand being dropped over his head means go.

Sight blinds

We use a black and white flag to show the dog his destination during the first stage of training him to run a sight blind. The flag is used to keep up the beginning dog's confidence by showing him the destination.

Permanent Blinds

We use permanent blinds to get the beginning dog used to running very long blinds without popping (looking back at the handler for guidance). We also use permanent blinds to teach the dog to carry a straight line when faced with hazards that would normally push him off line.

Sight blinds and permanent blinds are temporary prompts that aid in the development of a dog's ability to run cold blinds. If a beginning dog won't look out at the flag on a sight blind, or toward the known location of a permanent blind, move up closer to the bumper pile. As a general rule, cut the distance to the pile in half each time you have to move up. Soon the beginning dog will have enough confidence to go to these known locations.

When the beginning dog is faced with hazards, even on known blinds, he will sometimes try to avoid being sent toward the hazard by looking away from the direction you want. Even at this early stage of training on blinds, you can use the dog's understanding of the command "Dead bird," to correct him for looking away.

Giving Corrections

Once the dog will look out consistently toward a pile, you can start using an e-collar correction if he looks away. Use a mild nick of stimulation if the dog looks away after he has been told "Dead bird". Then use your leg to get him to look in the correct direction. Give the dead bird command to remind him to stay focused, drop your hand, pause and send him.

The Training Setup

Set up a mark and a blind. Have the thrower in close (about 30 yards) and placed an equal distance off to one side of the line to a blind. This set up increases the likelihood that the beginning dog will take his eyes off line because he will want to look at the thrower for a mark rather than lining up for the blind.

Change this set up by picking up the blind using the presence of the thrower only as a distraction. Also, reverse the order by first picking up the mark and then running the blind.

Because it is easier to push the dog's focus to the left, (when heeling on your left) start by setting the drill up with the thrower placed to the right of the line to the blind. Next, set the sequence up so that the thrower is on the left of the line to the blind.

Finally, send the dog to the blind between two throwers. More difficulty can be added by having one thrower fire a shot ("dry-shot") or throw a mark first. Then have the dog leave that attraction to run the blind.

Don't forget to use a blind that incorporates the hazard of a long land entry into the water. This is a picture that many beginning dogs will try to avoid by not looking in that direction.

Practice the variations described until the dog is looking straight out at the blind and not trying to look at the bird throwers. You also want him to look straight out at a water blind when a long land entry is involved before you progress to cold blinds.

When running the dog on cold blinds we start by setting them up without the diversions we used on sight blinds. We also temporarily omit the diversions and hazards we used on permanent blinds.

The dog's first cold blind should be set up to enhance his momentum. Only after the dog is running cold blinds with good momentum will we add hazards.

Remember that a major part of being able to run a good blind is your ability to get the initial line. To do so, you need a dog that will follow your direction and look straight ahead for you. Using "Dead bird" as a command will help you get that all-important initial line.

* Past Retriever Journal articles can be found in the retriever section of the Dobbs' Training Center Library on our web page, www.dobbsdogs.com.

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