Dokken's DeadFowl Trainers - The Most Lifelike Training Aid for your Retriever

By: Mark Mazour
Dokken DeadFowl Trainer - All photos by Kjos Photography

In dog training, the whole idea is to create a repetitive situation so that the dog will learn effectively. In order for the dog to actually transfer the knowledge to a real hunting situation, we strive to mimic field conditions as much as we can. Then, the dog can quickly adapt while still remembering the lessons they learned in the training yard.

From starter pistols to dummy launchers and bird scents, most dog trainers acquire a lot of gear to simulate field situations. The problem came with the actual birds themselves. Until recently, the only option was to use real birds or training dummies.

To properly train gun dogs, it is necessary to train with some real birds, but maintenance of a bird pen and bird bills can add up to a lot of work and money. Therefore, most trainers opt for dummies for day to day work with the occasional live bird session worked in. Dummies work great with a few exceptions. First, they lack the look and feel of a real bird. Second, many dogs pick up bad habits since the dummies can be easily held by the ends or middle and do not promote a proper bird carry.

This is what started the wheels turning for Tom Dokken, professional trainer and owner of Oak Ridge Kennels. At his kennel, Tom and his staff work with hundreds of dogs per year and were looking for an economical solution to teach retrievers to eliminate head and neck holds on birds and develop a proper body hold.
Puppy with proper hold on Dokken teal

Teaching the Proper Body Hold
After four years of prototype testing with hundreds of dogs, Tom came up with Dokken's DeadFowl Trainer. With a free-swinging hard plastic head and plastic feet, the dog's only option is the correct body carry. When I asked about his design, Dokken replied, " Dogs will always pick up something soft before they pick up something hard. We made the body out of soft, heavy-duty foam, and after one try, the dog will naturally pick it up in the middle."

During the retrieve, the trainer also discourages bird damage. Dokken added, "We wanted to let the dummy teach the dog. You don't want to discourage a young retriever with too much pressure from the handler." Many dogs will shake a bird hard, especially after a water retrieve, but if they try it with the DeadFowl, they will get a quick rap to the snout from the swinging head. With my own dog, it only took once for him to learn. The correction is instant, which is essential for a dog to associate their behavior with the correction. "As long as the dog carries the DeadFowl correctly, it is fine, but if they try to carry it by the end or shake it, they will have an instant reminder," Dokken said.

Dogs of All Sizes Love it and So Do Trainers
My dog used to get pretty wound up about orange retrieving bumpers, but it all changed when we started with the DeadFowl Trainer - he found a new favorite. When he sees the DeadFowl Trainer he literally goes nuts. To him, rubber bumpers are a thing of the past. I think they have him fooled to an extent. In his eyes, it's still not as good as a real mallard in his mouth, but it's a heck of a lot closer than an orange tube.

Originally only in duck sizes, the DeadFowl line has now expanded to include a blue-wing teal, quail, grouse, chukar, and mourning dove models that have the same lifelike coloration, but are in the size for younger dogs and pups. I have found that the sooner you can get a pup excited about real birds, the easier it is to train them in the future. Real birds need to be incorporated into puppy work, but the new smaller models of the DeadFowl allow you to work with a lifelike bird in everyday training, without the expense of a daily bird bill.

Dog owners and trainers are quickly taking a liking to the DeadFowl. For one, they make training easier. An eager dog is always easier to work retrieving drills with than a complacent one. Also, they are just plain fun to throw and use.

The Dokken Goose teaches your retriever what to expect

The DeadFowl Goose to Teach Honker Haulin' Tactics
Teaching any dog to retrieve large Canada geese is always hard, especially with the smaller breeds. Using real geese for training is cost prohibitive, and until the DeadFowl goose, the only training came when hunters dropped a real honker in the dekes.

Then, the usual situation was the dog blasting out of the blind for the retrieve, but upon reaching the downed bird, the dog becomes perplexed at where to grab these giants. Many an owner have sent their new "champ" after a honker and ended up looking like a "chump" when the dog became so confused that they ran back to the blind. It's not the dog's fault; they've been conditioned to small dummies and are just not expecting a bird that big.

Due to the weight and length of a Canada, the first retrieve usually results in a none too stylish wing or neck hold with the dog dragging it back and sometimes dropping it along the way. My Labrador retriever picks up geese every time, but he always seems amazed at their size. The first goose of the year always results in a little hesitation as if to say, "Am I really supposed to pick up this?"

With the DeadFowl goose, dogs are immediately taught the correct body carry on a goose. Tom added, "The main motivation for the design was that we had so many owners coming to us stating that their dogs retrieved ducks well, but they just wouldn't touch geese." By training with the goose, dogs quickly learn the weight to expect when picking up a bird of this size. With this large of a bird, they also develop the necessary neck muscles to carry and swim with birds that can reach the 15-pound mark. If a dog is not prepared to carry a bird of this size correctly, injury can result, especially with an angry wing-tipped gander.

Dogs Love the Dokken DeadFowl

Durable and Affordable
Being a pro trainer, Tom Dokken depends on his equipment to stand up to rough duty daily and can't afford to be replacing training aids all the time. He took that all in mind while designing the DeadFowl Trainer. The heavy-duty foam body stays afloat every time, even if your retriever has a case of hard mouth and punctures the body. The DeadFowl is designed to hold up to a professional kennel's use and can definitely hold up to yours.

Compared to live birds, the Dokken's DeadFowl is literally cheap, and you don't have to feed it or clean the pen. Buy them separately or you can take advantage of the great kits Cabela's put together with the Dokken Waterfowl Kit. They also have a Dokken Pro Training Kit including three mallard dummies, one pheasant dummy, four pheasant wings, one waterfowl shark wing, four power-throw grips, one waterfwol scent injector, a lead, check cord, and whistle. Or to start your pup right, they have a Dokken Puppy Kit including two teal dummies, four pheasant wings, waterfowl scent injector kit, check cord, lead, and whistle. If you're dog likes to retrieve, or if you are starting a new pup, you need to try these out. Your dog will love them and so will you.

Editor's Note:

If you buy a Dokken DeadFowl Trainer, consider purchasing the additional Power Throw Grip. I added a couple of these to my DeadFowl units, and was amazed at how far I could wing 'em! You can really extend your range with this inexpensive add-on. Another good addition is the DeadFowl Injector Kits allowing you to give your already realistic-looking DeadFowl Trainers the realistic scent of dead birds. This scent is easily injected inside the dummy and won't wash off after repeated uses.