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statue of dog with wings
figure 1  


bird dog. (verb) To follow closely.

1. To those who are interested in flesh-and-blood dogs, a bird dog is one trained to assist in bird hunting, specifically a pointer, setter, or a retriever. The larger metaphorical use is as a verb, to bird dog. It means, as the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, “To observe or follow closely; monitor.”reference 1 Roget's seems to imply a more surreptitious quality to the following or trailing, suggesting surveillance as a synonym.reference 2

2. In politics the nature of “following” is less literal. William Safire tells us that in that context it means “to ferret out facts, or to follow through on a project until successfully completed.”reference 3

two people shaking hans in front of a house that has a for sale sign on it
figure 2  
3. In the world of real estate, it means to collect a finder's fee on real estate deals.

Vivian Marino provides a direct definition in her New York Times real estate column, “there are opportunities to ‘bird dog’ (or let other investors know about specific properties and collect a finder's fee on their deals).”reference 4

1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth. 2000. Accessed August 26 2001from http:// 61/43/ B0274300.html.

2. Roget ’s II: The New Thesaurus. 2001. Accessed August 30 2001 from http:// 62/73/ B0157300.html.

3. Safire, William. 2008. Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. 56

4. Marino, Vivian. 2004. Want to Invest? Join the Club. New York Times, Oct 31. Accessed Feb 13 2006 from http:// /2004/ 10/ 31/ realestate /31cov.html? ex=1139979600&en= e9ea5148e04b1ea7&ei=5070

a  man jumping at a woman, he has a tail
figure 3  
bird dog. (noun) 1. A womanizer.

Now if you are old enough, as I am, you may recall an old Everly Brothers' hit, “Bird Dog.” The verses ran, “Hey bird dog, get away from my chick... Hey bird dog, get away from my quail...” At the time this was probably just a clever lyric.reference 5 In any case, while bird-dogging is not synonymous with tail chasing, it certainly has taken on the connotations of a man sniffing after a woman in doglike fashion, following her closely, either literally or figuratively. In Paul Levine's 1995 best-selling crime novel, Slashback, the protagonist Jake Lassiter is warned that he might be a murder suspect “if you're bird-dogging this chippy.”reference 6 The comment follows Lassiter's observations about the attractiveness of a woman involved it the case.

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2. Someone who is self-sufficient. In Safire's Political Dictionary he provides an anecdote in which SecDef Charles Wilson commits a political gaffe during an economic downturn in 1954. When asked why more defense contracts were not going to economically depressed areas he replied, “I've always liked bird dogs rather than kennel dogs myself. You know, one who will get out and hunt for food rather than sit on its fanny and yell.”reference 7 To nobody's surprise, except presumably Wilson's, unemployed workers in Michigan were offended at the implication that they are howling for government handouts. By inference a kennel dog is lazy as awell, dog.

5. Sammy. 1999. Bird Dog-Everly Brothers. Mr. Music. Accessed August 30 2001 from http:// birddog.htm.

6. Levine, Paul. 1995. Slashback: A Jake Lassiter Novel. 1st ed. New York: W. Morrow. 171.




7. Murphy, Charles E. quoted in Safire, William. 55.



a man in a baseball cap and jersey
figure 5  
bird dog. (sports) A baseball scout.

I remember hearing this term applied to an unofficial baseball scout. Bird-dogs followed potential players around and then told the real scouts who was a prospect. If the tip turned out to be hot one, the bird dog might have received some remuneration for it.reference 8

8. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth. 2000. Accessed Jan 14 2008 from http:// 61/42/ B0274200.htm.

a man holding an oversized fork with a hot dog impaled on it. The hot dog has wings
figure 6  

bird dog. (food) A hot dog made of chicken, turkey, or even emu instead of beef or pork products.

Word Spy provides a couple of citations for this usage.reference 9 However, from my own inquiries, I remain unconvinced.
9. Bird Dog. 2001. P. McFedries, ed. Word Spy. Logophilia Limited. Accessed Feb 13 2006 from
http:// words/ birddog.asp.
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  diagram of the exercise bird dog
spacer line drawing of a pointer
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bird dog. (exercise) This core muscle exercise recommended by physical therapists addresses the extensor muscle group of the low back.

  • Kneel on the floor with hands firmly placed about shoulder width apart.
  • Point one arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg to the rear.
  • Hold for 5-7 seconds then return to hands and knees on ground position.
  • Repeat with the other arm and leg.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 is a common garden winged dog, a kind of gargoyle. It was chosen as a bit of a visual pun and is not related to the discussion of the term. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 shows a real estate deal going down. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 3 is a more metaphoric image of a man in doglike pursuit of a woman. does not give the source, however the theme and the style are reminiscent of James Thurber. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

Figure 4 is an iconic lone wolf. Of course, wolves, like dogs, hunt for their food in packs. Humans similarly form bonds of interdependence, say in the form of a national economy. The image of the lone wolf reinforces a misleading image of self-sufficiency. Even the Lone Ranger had a personal assistant. © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 5 is Mike Harris, a genuine St. Louis Cardinals scout. Courtesy of The Miracles Baseball Academy of Houston.

Figure 6 shows a man holding aloft a winged hot dog. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 7 provides a comparison between the pose of this exercise and that of a bird dog pointing.” © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation.

see also: dog (follow); heel
cf: egg-sucking dog; watchdog; hot dog (food); lazy as a dog; fire hydrant
Last updated: February 15, 2010
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