People are great!
This is just one of the exercises you can do to help your dog make positive associations with people. Over the years as a dog trainer I have seen a lot of success with this simple exercise. This is of course just one piece of the puzzle but a good one to start working on if your dog isn't sure about new people or is a bit scared. The goal of this exercise is for your dog to make positive associations with people, whether it's seeing people, people approaching, people coming into your home etc. We are changing the way your dog thinks about and FEELS about people they might not know. Instead of being uncertain, possibly nervous, wanting to flee or even barking that unsure bark your dog will welcome interactions with people because good things happen when they see people!
Most Common Mistake
Don't force interactions. Don't force your dog to tolerate being pet when they are clearly uncomfortable or scared. The most common mistake I see is dog owners force interactions! That will NOT make your dog feel any better, if anything it will make them feel helpless and they may shut down causing worse issues down the road.
Think of it this way, you're terrified of tarantulas so to help you get over your fear we will lock you in a box with 100 tarantulas. I don't think that would help you get over your fear.
Flooding simply does not work so don't do it to your dog. Outdated, old school training advice.
Go at your dog's pace and watch their body language! Reward small successes, even if that means it's them sticking their head out further, not barking or taking tiny steps forward.
What to reward with?
Be prepared! I don't care how much your dog loves that one treat at home, you need to step it up. I use meat, yes real meat for this exercise. So if you need to go buy that bag of frozen chicken, ground turkey or beef and prep ahead of time, do it. Treats are great but the quickest way to change this behavior really is to step it up and to reward with meat.
The "Say Hello" Exercise
You start out by saying "say hello" to your dog as the other person offers the reward. It is important for the person offering the reward to NOT try to pet your dog initially. Make sure to go over this before you start. The moment your dog starts approaching the person to get the reward you need to start marking this behavior. This is where you praise your dog (yes/good boy/good girl/clicker, whichever is your positive marker), you praise your dog as they are approaching not when they are coming back to you. If they are too scared to approach initially then have the person toss the reward onto the ground and you still praise the heck out of them as they are going to get that reward. Practice with family, friends, a neighbor and ask some strangers on the street.
Body language matters and our dogs are experts at reading us. Depending on the severity of how scared your dog is, if someone is looking at them, maybe the person is trying to talk to them or they are leaning over towards the dog, triggering barking, make sure that person stops doing those things which the dog can view as threatening. Instead, the person should toss the rewards without looking at the dog, without leaning over, usually I will squat down or stand sideways without making eye contact. Do that until the dog is ready for more.
Be patient, change doesn't happen overnight.
The best thing to do in order to get a personalized plan for your dog when dealing with any behavioral issues is to consult a professional behaviorist or dog trainer who has experience in behavioral work (preferably positive reinforcement). Contact me for referrals.