Tales and tips from the hunting dog trainer

From the age of eight, Helena Lyckoskog knew she wanted to work with dogs. Now a passionate hunter, blood tracking judge, dog trainer and breeder in Sweden, she spends her days training her clients’ dogs as well as her own (a Weimaraner, a Drentse Patrijshond, a Basset Hound and a Dachshund/Basset). Here she shares an insight into her professional life and some secrets to training even the most hopeless of hounds.

My days start early. All four dogs like to get their breakfast, go out into the fenced garden for a while and then sleep a few hours longer. Meanwhile, I take the opportunity to get some administrative work done and look over the various projects I have started. Then it’s time for exercise and activation of all the dogs. I always combine the walks with elements of obedience. When we get home they are given a meaty bone to chew on which usually sees them sleeping heavily and satisfied.

“I often get dogs here who the owners say are ‘hopeless cases.’ But they aren’t.”

I have daily training sessions and blood tracking trials at home. To train dogs is always a challenge, that’s what makes me love my work. All dogs are different, each one has different needs with different experiences in their life. Heritage and environment also play a role. Being able to read a dog and shaping a training session for one specific individual is what separates a good instructor from an instructor who may not always succeed so well.

It is mostly hunting dogs who come to me. The owners want to get the dog to come when called or to become a skilled tracking dog.

It is something special to be able to reach a dog. I always start with just observing, both dog and owner. What is it that makes the communication between the two not work? What are the requirements? What is the dog focusing on? What is the owner’s vision?

“To train dogs is always a challenge, that’s what makes me love my work.”

It is obvious to want an obedient dog who always listens but not everyone is prepared to do what it takes to get there. I often get dogs who the owners say are ‘hopeless cases’ but they aren’t – the right way to work with them just hasn’t been found yet. When the owners see that the dog can evolve with an effective training method it creates motivation to continue.

Motivation is the key word. Dogs will do anything if they get ‘paid’ for it. This is their drive and motivation. You need to find a reward that motivates the dog – is it playing with a fox skin? Is it raw meat? Is it for you to be on the ground, playing with them?

I usually explain this as a pair of balances, in one dish there sits a hare, in the second one, the owner. What kind of reward would the owner have to use to get the dog to choose to come to them instead of choosing the hare? Then you understand how much it takes to succeed.

Combining training with clear body language, consistency and using appropriate exercises to explain what I expect is how I manage to get a good relationship with my dogs.

I have always wanted to work and fill my days with things that make me feel good. As an 8-year-old I was dreaming about working with dogs, not as a veterinarian or so, but as an instructor and dog breeder. I would live in a red house close to nature with my dogs. Today I live in that red house.

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