I share (yes really!) an 18 month old neutered male Irish Setter x Standard Poodle with a neighbor. He spends the workday with me at my house, as I telecommute. He often, but not always, barks when people knock on or open the door. As he lives in an apartment building and has a big, boisterous bark, we would like to minimize this behavior. I have some specific questions at the bottom.
To answer some of your questions... Does he get enough exercise?
He is tireless, but we sure do try! At an absolute minimum, he gets 4-5 30-60 minute walks a day; first-thing, when I pick him up, at lunch time, when I drop him off, and last thing. He also has a friend over to play with 2 days a week, and plays for up to 2 hours a day with neighborhood dogs. He loves to play fetch, but it does wind him up, so I prefer to take him along while bike riding or horseback riding. We haven't been out on horseback much recently, but do bike quite often, maybe 2-3 times a week. He has a pretty great life, and our area has a lot of dog parks, though as he's matured he's less interested in making new friends. Does he get enough mental stimulation?
He would appreciate more, as he loves to learn, but I do spend time working on various cues just about every day. His other owner is not inclined to do this recreationally. This week, for example, he learned to stick out his tongue mirroring me, and started to work on hiding his eyes with his paw as if in shame. He knows sit, wait, stay, down, down on your side, head down, roll over, sit pretty, wave, shake, spin (counter-clockwise), twirl (clockwise), back, bow, jump into the air like a lunatic (a favorite)... He also will target with his nose, one or both front paws, back paws. He can target either your hand or an indicated object.
We have also done a lot of "look at that" in the past 3-4 months.
More importantly, he does understand "speak" and "quiet" though he is sketchy on what quiet really means. Is he well-socialized?
To be clear, this dog has met a LOT of people. He lives in a city and was a VERY outgoing and endearing puppy. From his earliest days, I engaged friendly strangers in games of red light-green light (sitting is the green light for people to approach, standing or jumping meant they had to stop or back away). With me, he gives a polite wag and a grin to people who catch his eye. Whether with strangers or old friends, he waits for my cue to go greet them, and does so appropriately so that he can get his butt scratches.
At about 9 months he started exhibiting concern about noises in the hallway (this was ignored), and growling at random (well, to me) people on night time walks. As the months went by, it progressed to looking out the window and growling/softly barking at just about everything, plus growling at distant children or anyone doing anything unusual.
This is mostly resolved, at least when he's at my house or out with me. Whenever he got fixated on someone outdoors and started growling, I cheerfully redirected him to his crate, where he got a cookie. Now, if he's looking out the window and sees something weird, he just stands up and goes to his crate, or looks at me for direction. Yay!
Likewise, I've taught him "look at that!" so that he'll (a) seek out and be prepared for something potentially exciting or alarming and (b) look right back to me for the next cue rather than getting fixated on something scary. It has worked a treat and is such a neat use of positive reinforcement. What does he do when visitors come?
I was very careful when he was a puppy to ignore him until he sat, and once he had a bit more self-control, sat calmly. I would have preferred that everyone follow this routine, as I think he'd be a saner creature now, but I didn't have control of that and "I told you so!" isn't much consolation.
Up to 9 months or so, I could come and go from his apartment without him making a peep. He was calm and sweet as could be because I just didn't make a fuss about it either way. And I practiced.
However, as I alluded to, others did not do this. His owner did not do this. Two or three women in particular would encourage him to greater and greater hysteria, laughing when he urinated on himself. He was almost a year old the last time one of them made him pee himself. They don't think it's so cute anymore, and don't visit.
After about 9 months, when his carefree puppy days were over, he started to bark when people knocked on the door or came in. It started with just barking when it was someone unexpected, but it gradually got worse and worse until he even barked when I arrived - as I do every single morning.
So his other owner and I made a plan. We taught him the meaning of "place" and every morning, when I knocked, his owner would send him to his bed (in view of the door but not on top of it). I didn't come in until he was in place, and I didn't look at him or speak to him until he'd settled down a bit. It took months of patience and persistence, but it paid off. He's stopped barking when I arrive, and just goes right to his bed, eyes glowing and tail wagging furiously, to await his greeting.
But we need a new plan for other visitors, and I'd appreciate your help in wording this in a way his other owner can understand. She's said and done a couple of things that took me aback. She gets really frustrated by his barking, and does not believe that he does this out of genuine alarm. She will shout at him and I once saw her put a rubber band around his muzzle. I was really shocked. She also remarked with surprise that I was sending him to his crate, as if it were punishment - I don't see it that way, I don't express it that way in the command, and the dog certainly doesn't see it that way. So I am not sure how she is using her crate at home.
I'm concerned that her frustration is making things worse, or preventing them from getting better. I've spoken to his breeder, and the dam alerts her owners to everything happening in the yard - if so much as a leaf falls!
So, if our goal is to reduce the pre-greeting barkathon, what should the plan be?