As a dog trainer your job is more than just teaching a few tricks. You're an investigator, a counselor and problem solver among other things. At least I hope that's what we aim for.
Part of being a problem solver is identifying all possible variables that are preventing the dog to live and learn to its fullest potential. You're also working with people, so as an additional bonus you get to be a coach and sometimes even a marriage counselor.
There are a few things that will make you a better dog trainer. These things are primarily KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE. Enough can't be said of how important these two things are. If you're fairly new to dog training, don't be alarmed, it'll come with persistence and patience.
I want to add another thing that WILL make you a better dog trainer however. And that is TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.
Here's what I mean:
"I don't know know what's wrong with the dog."
"The owners are obviously making this harder for me, they don't cooperate."
"This dog already has too much of a learning history with these behaviors, we can only do so much."
"You can't save every dog. This is probably one of those cases we can't fix."
"It was the previous trainer who messed this up. Now I have to deal with his mess."
If any of these sound familiar it means you've been in the field long enough to recognize this language either from you or your peers.
Now don't get me wrong! I find myself saying these things too! it's part of being a dog trainer. You need to be realistic about the case and client you're working with. The above sentences are not wrong.
Here's what happens though if you're not careful. You eventually form an attachment to those lines if you don't watch it. Once you do, it's harder to think creatively because we focus too much of our energy on why the problem is the way it is. Kind of like an overweight person who says: "I'm big boned."; "It runs in my family." Or a jerk who says things like: "This is me, that's how I am."; "I'm just very blunt." All these things may be true but if they attach themselves to those sentences it will stop them from trying to fix the problem, right? You can be blunt and polite, you can be big boned and fit.
It's the same trap for dog trainers.
*You don't know what's wrong with the dog? Well, try your best! We don't always know why dogs do what they do. It's unrealistic to expect to know every detail of every dog we're going to work with, or why they do what they do.
*Are the owners not cooperating? work on your communication skills! Learn to talk TO people, not AT people. The problem is not always the owners. More often than not, it's how we communicate with them. "But how do I improve my communication skills?" Read! take classes at your local library! find a group of people that can help you with this. Dale Carnegie and John Maxwell have excellent books on communication and leadership. Check them out!
*Is there too much of a "learning or reward history" with the wrong behaviors? Well, what will change it! What can you do to improve on that? Are you going to have to take a longer approach? are you going to have to communicate this to the clients? Older dogs can learn new tricks you know. It doesn't matter how long of a learning history this dog has, you have to do what you can to help this owner and his/her dog.
*"You can't save every dog." You're absolutely correct! Some dogs are just way too far gone. This however doesn't apply to most dogs. This is a small group of dogs you're going to encounter working with clients. You can't fix it? Ok, how can you make it BETTER? If you can't fix it, don't focus on "I can't fix it." Focus on "How can I make it BETTER?"
*"It was the previous trainer, I don't know what he/she did and now we have to undo everything." Well guess what? That trainer is no longer working with that dog. You are! It's on you now, not the previous trainer. It's your dog, your client, your case. Whatever shit sandwich the previous trainer made for you, you now have to eat and ask for seconds. But you do it because in the end you're passionate about what you do. You can point the finger at the previous trainer, the owner, etc. You can point the finger all you want. At the end of the day it's your responsibility to help this dog and this client any way you can.
Taking responsibility will help you think creatively, trust me! I've had to force myself to stop saying things like "It's genetics"; "that dog is just not thinking". By telling yourself that none of that matters and that you have to take care of things you put yourself in the mindset of "How can I make this better?", "What can I do right now with what I have?"
It's small, but it will help you!