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Hi everyone,

Rhubarb the black lab/GSD/collie/mystery mutt is now 6 and half months old. He was neutered about 8 days ago as was recommended by our vet (yes, I did lots of reading and research and I decided the benefits outweighed the risks at this point - this is not the point of my post but just offering as info) and is a compact 32 lbs. We have kept him limited to controlled walks since his neuter surgery and he's been doing very well considering that I was preparing myself for a lot of pent-up frustration due to the sudden lack of activity.

He seems to be maturing every day - very good at choosing to be calm during the day, has learned to settle on his mat very well, decreasing his mouthing when excitement, etc..however, I've noticed more barking and it's confusing me. He never barks at anyone outside and has very little leash reactivity unless he sees a dog he knows (at which point he goes wild with excitement to greet his dog friend) and we're working on that with good progress. He has been very vocal since about 14 weeks - lots of happy growling, barking and whining when he's excited when I or my partner come home. It's always accompanied by very relaxed body language and also happens when he sees someone or a dog he knows.

However, we generally don't have a lot of activity in the house. We typically have a visitor every other week or so, on average. The other night we had a male friend come over to stay the night and Rhubarb greeted him with a chew stick in his mouth and his typical happy growling and some jumping up (we are also working on this...). He would settle down on his mat as my partner and I and our friend sat at the kitchen table. However, he would suddenly sit up, look at our house guest, and bark while looking directly at him. If our guest gave him any attention, Rhubarb would jump up and paw/mouth him. Based on this I think it's a ploy to get attention and also some confusion. He would still follow commands to 'down' or 'sit' and would take treats and go back to relaxing - however 15 minutes later he would suddenly get bored and bark and jump again.

I think this is a bit of confusion on his part on having a visitor he's never met before suddenly spending an extended amount of time in his space - his body language does not really signify fear or aggression (he doesn't stand up, back away or lunge while barking) but he will 'aggressively' try to play by jumping or mouthing if his barking gets any attention. In the morning, Rhubarb noticed our guest sleeping on the couch and covered his face in licks - but once our guest got up and sat down for coffee, Rhubarb laid down beside him alternating between a settle and a bark/jump/mouthing behaviour.

I know the best way would be to instruct our guest to ignore him, which we did, but it's very difficult to ignore a loud bark and our guest wavered several times. I know that improvement in this context would require more control over the situation and it's just not always reasonable to expect your guests to follow your precise instructions. We crate him at night and during the day if we leave him for a couple hours and would like to avoid using the crate for time outs in these situations - would a baby gate be better? Anyone experience the same barking behaviour from over-excitement/confusion?

FYI - he's very good at training, we practice NILIF (sitting before exiting/entering, good impulse control before getting fed, etc...) - I'm just confused at what he's trying to tell me sometimes!
 
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