The single most important part of training is socialization!! I cannot stress this enough! Whether you are bringing home a puppy or adult dog you must get them out and meeting new people, seeing new situations, and most of all bonding with you.
Now, many people assume that socialization means bringing your dog around other dogs. While this is an important part of socialization, it is only the tip of the ice berg. In today’s world we want to bring our dogs every where with us, meaning they are going to need to encounter things that are not “natural” for them such as cars, people on bikes/roller blades/skate boards, loud music, bright/flashing lights, and so much more. These are all things that dogs will need to get used to.
In puppies the ideal socialization window is 8-14 weeks of age, this is the prime time to bring your puppy to as many places as safely possible. Now, it is also very important to start slow, make sure not to do too much too fast. Start when places are quiet and calm and then work up to larger events and places. I would not recommend taking your 8 weeks old puppy to a house party full of people. Start with just going over to a friends house, then slowly have more people come around every time you go. I started by taking Qwerty to work with me (perks of working in a vet clinic), then I could have him meet people and other dogs at slow times. We eventually worked our way up to bringing him to stores that allow dogs and most recently I have started to look for dog friendly events and patios to bring him to. We were even lucky enough to participate in some parades this past summer, which was a really fun way to get out and seeing new and exciting things! Go into the city, go out in the woods, try and go to sporting events and parks where there are children. Every day take a short field trip somewhere new, I promise both you and your dog will enjoy it (especially if you bring treats along and praise them when they are behaving!).
Some people say that you cannot socialize an adult dog. I do not believe this, I do how ever know that it will take longer and much more patience to socialize an adult dog. It is just as important for adult dogs as it is puppies. The biggest mistake people make in socializing adult dogs is going too quickly. You must first establish a solid relationship with the pet at home, they must be able to trust you before they go out in to the scary world. Even if you have trained hundreds of dogs it is not a bad idea to go to a few classes with them, Organized doggy play groups, and other dog friendly activities that are supervised by professionals. Qwerty, my husband, and I have done a few classes throughout this year to establish our bond with him. Once you have reached a level of complete trust, then start bringing your adult dog places that they have never seen before, but just like with a puppy go slow, offer many different treats and praise. Never force a dog into a situation they are afraid of, slowly build up to it over time.
If you are having trouble with a fearful dog, my biggest recommendation would be to contact a professional trainer. They are experts in helping people bring out the best in their dogs. I have been trained in how to train dogs and I still bring Qwerty to a professional. Its a great way to get out, meet other dogs and people in a controlled setting, and get some help in areas that I struggle.
Overall the important thing is to expose your dog to as many different situations, people, animals, sounds, noises, ect. as possible, to make sure that you have a happy well rounded pup!