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Dog won't retrieve in cover

My dog hunts fine but when bird is shot dead and falls into cover the dog wont find the dead bird. If the bird is still alive but wounded the dog will find the bird. My question is why wont my dog hunt dead?

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to answer your question.

It's difficult to evaluate the situation without more information but I'll give it a go.

Question: Does the dog possess a 'natural instinct' to retrieve? For example: He should be interested in getting thrown objects that interest him such as a tennis ball, or a frozen bird, or bumper covered in feathers, or maybe a freshly killed bird thrown on to open ground that is easily seen by the dog (a sighted retrieve). --If the dog is not interested in any thrown object in which he clearly sees the object laying on the ground after being thrown, you may have one of two situations going on.
  1. He just isn't interested in retrieving at all, no natural instinct. The fix: force training to retrieve if old enough. OR
  2. Immaturity and lack of experience on birds. With Brittanys, we like to wait until after two hunting seasons on lots of birds because some Brittanys will decide that they don't want other dogs retrieving a bird they pointed and thus will start retrieving on their own out of jealousy. Others just need time to figure out that a quail with blood smell is a cripple and to go ahead and retrieve it without being told. They also need to figure out that Flush + Gun Fire + Find Dead command = Lost Bird that they need to find for you.

Another Question: Are you implying that the dog will retrieve if he sees it fall but not in heavy cover? If so, you simply need to go back to working on the natural retrieve at home then add the 'blind retrieve'. The blind retrieve is when the bird is shot but the dog did not see it go down and doesn't know to look for it. You have to give the dog a command and teach it to him that he understands to mean "We've got a bird down somewhere in here, please find it". We use the command "dead" for sighted retrieves (most dogs will go pick up a bird immediately without being told if they see the fall of the bird). We use the command "Find Dead" for blind retrieves. Again, we've taught the blind retrieve at home and the dog understands this to mean that the bird is somewhere nearby and to look for it. Dogs learn in steps. He needs to understand that Flush + Gun Fire + Command to Find Dead = a shot bird that is lost nearby and that it's his job to look for it.

As for pointing a live cripple, this is very natural for an inexperienced dog. He assumes it's another 'find' and thus points it. This is where yard work and developing the natural retrieve comes in. If you have taught him properly that 'dead' means that the bird is dead or wounded and you give him the command "dead" when he tries to point the cripple, he will understand that it's o.k. to go ahead and leave point to retrieve this bird without waiting for you to flush it.

It all goes back to yard work and developing the natural retrieve...kinda repeating myself aren't I? Why? Because you gotta teach the fundamentals in yard work. Yard work is critical as it is the Foundation that you will build upon for the rest of his life. Developing the natural retrieve is a component of yard work and should be integrated as such.

Whatever the reason for not hunting dead, you need to back up to your yard work and start trying to develop the natural retrieve. There are some good books that talk about developing the natural retrieve and force training to retrieve that can be ordered here at There is some additional info at my web site. Good luck.


Dave Jones, HMC, USN, Ret.
Chief's Brittanys
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Guided Upland Bird Hunts, Gundog Training, Started Gundogs, and Brittanypuppies
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