A dog should see the world and realize it is a safe, fun place. The best age to start socialization is as soon as possible. There is a saying, "A young, green tree is easy to bend and shape; an old, established tree is nearly impossible to break." Confident dogs are happy dogs that are created through proper socialization. It is essential.
Socialize your dog with as many different people as possible. When I say "different", I am not just referring to a couple friends and family. Expose your dog to people of different races, colors, heights, weights, and ages. Let them meet people who are handicapped and people who wear different types of clothing. Your dog should be exposed to hundreds of different people within your first few months of owning it. It's important for your pet to trust people.
Besides people, dogs need to be exposed to as many different locations as possible. Some dogs are very comfortable in their own homes, however, become nervous when placed in a new location or environment. In addition, it is also important to expose your dog to everything in your environment. You will sometimes see young pups afraid of umbrellas, garbage cans, plastic bags, loud buses, flags blowing in the wind, etc.. These are all things that a dog needs to become accustomed to and learn are harmless.
Dogs naturally want to explore, and this should be encouraged as long as the activity is supervised and safe. Many times dogs will show apprehensiveness and fear with new stimuli whether it be a person, place, or object. When the dog is afraid, you may notice several things- the fur between its shoulder blades and hips standing on end, a deep growl or bark, and/or avoidance of the new stimuli. A common mistake made by dog owners is that they will pet their dog say, "It's OK. Good boy. It's OK!" when their dog is showing avoidance and barking. It is a mistake because they unknowingly are praising their dog for being afraid which only encourages that behavior! The owner should only praise their dog if it is moves forward and approaches the new stimuli to investigate even though it is afraid.
The easiest way to overcome a fear is to associate the stimuli with something positive that the dog is familiar with. For example, have strangers give your dog treats if the dog is nervous of new people. If the dog is nervous of a new location, but loves to play ball or tug-o-war, play with the dog in that location. If your dog does not have a high interest in food or play be sure to read our articles on feeding and playing with your dog.
esides associating with the positive, dogs usually can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If it is concentrating on the toy or the food, it is difficult for the dog to focus on the thing it is afraid of. Do not force your dog into the "scary" situation through any type of compulsion, like dragging them by their leash directly towards the thing is it nervous about. That tactic is like teaching a child how to swim by pushing him into the pool and often only increases their fear.