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Home / Action Center / Bird-dogging Your Member of Congress

bird-dog (bûrd'-dôg), v. To follow, monitor and/or seek out a subject of interest, such as a public official, with persistent attention to get answers to questions or influence the subject.


When to bird-dog

You are likely to find your member of Congress at home in state or “in district” while Congress is in recess, as in August, and sometimes on weekends or during other local events.  There are ways to discover when and where you might find your senators or representative making a public appearance:

1. Visit the congressional calendars for the House and Senate.

2. Check the member’s Web site and subscribe to the member's email list.

3. Call the member’s district office and ask where the member will be making upcoming public appearances.

4. Subscribe to state and local party email lists. These groups promote their favorite candidates/elected officials, especially in an election year.

5. Ask well-connected party activists to put you on their email list. 

6. Look into other media sources such as newspapers and newspaper Web sites.


Tips for successful bird-dogging

Be assertive.  Members of Congress have very busy schedules and usually take only a few questions from audiences during public appearances.  In order to be heard, be sure to get in line or raise your hand immediately when it’s time for questions.  You also don’t have to wait for public speeches or town hall events to talk to your representative.  A quick question during a meet-and-greet session or other public appearance also is effective.

Be polite.  Constituents that are rude or insulting will not be taken seriously by most people, nor have their questions answered by the member.  It is possible – and necessary – to be assertive and polite at the same time!

Be direct.  Don’t give a long explanation of your question.  While you will want to set up your question, the goal of bird-dogging is to force an elected official to respond to an important issue on the record.  The longer your explanation or comment is, the easier it is for a politician to dodge your question.

End with a very specific question.  Politicians love avoiding difficult issues, so make sure to ask a clear and specific question to ensure that they address the issue you are interested in.  If you feel like your representative didn’t answer your question, politely ask it again.


Bird-dog today 

Learn what important questions Public Citizen Activists are asking their members of Congress now.


Share your experience

Public Citizen and others are interested in what you learned from bird-dogging your members of Congress.  Can you videotape or record your bird-dogging? You may share your experience and tips for bird-dogging by emailing us at action@citizen.org or by posting a comment on our Watchdog Blog.

If you’d like more information, please contact Glenn Simpson at action@citizen.org (please put “bird-dog” in the subject line).


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