Combine training (teaching specific exercises that your dog performs dog! Training sessions should be conducted when you are in quiet, low-distraction settings. Teaching 'foundation exercises' should be your prime concern. Use positive reinforcement-based training. Work on keeping your dog's attention around distractions. Teach him from day one to focus on you in the presence of distraction, other people and animals. "Leave it", "come", “loose leash walking”, as well as "sit n' stay" and attentiveness are the things you should focus on most in the beginning - the foundation exercises. Practice these things at home with no distraction, then begin to add mild distraction and change location so your dog learns to behave in a variety of situations. Combine training these exercises with your socialization outings.
Remember: Training is a life-long endeavor! It isn't something your do TO your dog, it is something you and your dog do together.
The same goes for socialization.
The following tips and ideas can be applied to puppies and adult dogs – although pups under 16 weeks are best served by socialization, older pups and adults need continuous, positive socialization and experiences, too. This breed is very active, physically and mentally, as well as extremely social – for that reason, getting your Pit Bull out in public is important.
Getting your dog around a TON of people, all different shapes and sizes, as well as in a variety of situations, is important – for puppies, this is a must.
Pit Bulls as a breed LOVE people, and are happy to be around them at any age, especially when they have been taught from early on that people equal "good stuff" like treats, belly rubs and toys. Be preemptive in your socialization efforts – always look to create good interactions, and never push your dog to do anything he seems uncomfortable with. Start slow and work your way up.
Socialization with other dogs is essential, but can be more tricky given the breed’s tendency towards ‘dog-sensitivity’. If your dog has not been around other dogs from an early age, or hasn't learned to behave in their presence, you could find yourself with an adult that goes nuts at the mere sight of another dog from 4 blocks away.
Socializing with other dogs should be done in a strategic, purposeful way -- it's not about taking your dog to the dog park and just letting him run loose!
It is important to avoid physical corrections when your dog misbehaves around other dogs or people. Instead of associating the corrections with the bad behavior, the dog could associate them with the other dog or person -- this can cause fear, frustration, and agitation, all of which could develop into aggression. Instead, set your dog up to succeed by being careful how you socialize, and who you socialize with. If you do find yourself in a sticky situation, distract your dog, then retreat if necessary until you have the dog under control. Then try again under less distracting or stressful circumstances.
Socialization ops: Take your dog to places where he can have positive, controlled encounters with new people and other dogs. Visit your vet's office, even if you don't have an appointment. Take him "shopping" at the pet store. Go to the local strip mall or busy grocery store parking lot.
Take your dog to parks where you know other dogs are generally kept on leash. Are there any dog-friendly stores in your area? Pay them a visit. Matches (practice dog shows) are also a great way to socialize. Busy city sidewalks can be a great tool in socialization, training classes, bring your dog any place that is safe and generally controlled.
It's important during socialization that your dog has only positive encounters. You don't want him to think that meetings with new people or dogs will result in scary or hurtful outcomes. Keep a bunch of your dog's favorite treats on hand whenever you head out socializing. Reward for good, calm behavior. Attention on you should ALWAYS be rewarded. Sitting politely for petting and attention from other people also deserves a reward. A loose leash (don't tug at your dog!) and keeping yourself calm and relaxed (slow and deep breaths) are essential. Don't FORCE your dog to meet anyone or investigate anything. Let him act of his own accord, when he feels ready. Encourage him, and praise, but never force; Calmly encourage/reassure your dog when he is feeling unsure.
Find out why Clicker Training is a great way to teach your dog new behaviors and help him learn to love new people, animals, and situations:
Introducing your Pit Bull to another dog (known for calm behavior and friendly interactions with other dogs) should be done on neutral territory. An open area, like a park field is a good place. Take the dogs for a walk together (each one on leash and held by a different person - walking parallel). Let them gradually adjust to each other's presence during the walk while keeping them at a safe distance. It's up to you to "feel" your dog out -- how reactive is he to the presence of other dogs? Is he squirmy, wiggly, with a lower-set fast wagging tail; is he play bowing? He may be interested in a playful greeting. How about turning to the side, licking the air, or yawning? These could be signs of nervousness or stress, but a willingness to avoid conflict -- your dog should be rewarded for such gestures, and not pushed to greet the other dog. Lunging behavior, high-set wagging tail, stiff body language, and staring can seem like non-aggressive behavior, but these can be signs of a dog's preparedness to engage in fighting behavior. If your dog is behaving in such a way, avoid running him right up to another dog. Instead, keep him at a distance, practice some obedience exercises with him, and gradually acclimate him to the presence of the other dog. If your dog seems indifferent, don't force him to say hello. Pit Bulls prefer the company of their humans, anyway. The main goal of socialization is to help your Pit Bull learn to behave around other dogs, not to teach him to "like" them.
And remember, no matter how well behaved a Pit Bull seems, ALWAYS keep him on leash -- off lead play sessions (such as in a dog park) are a big NO-NO!
Calm, polite behavior around other dogs deserves a reward. It is OK for your dog to ignore other dogs! It is more important that he is controlled and well-behaved, then have to interact in a friendly or playful way with other dogs. If your dog does want to interact, that’s great. But be there to keep things safe and sane, and intervene if necessary.
If your dog gets pushy or too rowdy, distract him and get him back under control (lure the dog away from the other dog, and facing you, then ask for a sit -- you should practice this beforehand), and when he behaves, reward him by allowing him to again approach the other dog. It is important to only have your dog around other dogs that are non-aggressive and generally well behaved. A bad encounter with another dog could cause your dog to develop defensive aggression.
The key to socializing your Pit Bull with other dogs is to prevent him from engaging in bad behavior in the first place. Even rough, unruly play with other dogs can later develop into aggression and fighting behavior. This is why it is important to prevent bad behavior and reward good, calm, collected behavior.
The optimum time for socialization ends before 16 weeks. However, socialization should continue throughout the dog's life. Socializing an adult Pit Bull with other dogs can be more risky, especially if you do not know the dog's background, and training & socialization history. Caution is always necessary, and keeping your dog on leash is a must.
Very wild, unmanageable dogs may require desensitization and counter-conditioning. Instead of trying to socialize such dogs on your own, contact a behaviorist who can teach you how to teach your dog to behave around other animals.
Remember, there are some dogs that are NEVER going to be "good" with others. The best you can do with such dogs is teach them to control their impulses and help them learn "replacement" behaviors like sitting calmly, and ignoring the presence of other dogs.
Some important information on Nature vs Nurture, and proper socialization: