Hello Lab lovers! Our 5-month-old Lab has started barking in public. Sometimes he will bark at other dogs or people, usually at a distance, not when he's actually meeting dogs or people up close. Sometimes he just barks as we're walking along, seemingly at nothing. We took him to an outdoor cafe the other day and he barked as we were entering the patio area (only a few people seated), barked when another dog showed up, and barked as we were walking out. Just two weeks prior, we were able to dine at outdoor cafes without any problems, he was always very well-behaved and quiet.
We have had him since 10 weeks of age and have done lots of socialization - different types of people, situations, safe dog meetings with friend's dogs off-leash and with strangers on-leash. He has always been calm in public, just normal puppy energy. He has played very well with other dogs of all sizes. When he barks, his hackles are usually up but he has not growled, just barks. The behavior seems to have coincided with the onset of humping (toys). His bark also got deeper around the same time. This may sound crazy, but sometimes it seems that he's barking just to use his voice (meaning, it doesn't always seem to be fear-based). This is our 5th dog but our first puppy, so I don't know if this is considered normal behavior that is part of adolescence and hormonal changes. He doesn't really bark in the house or in his crate.
He gets about an hour of exercise a day - 30-minute walk, 30-minutes of fetch and/or play with our adult dog. Should I increase the exercise? I am also going to increase his obedience training and enroll him in a beginner or puppy class. I have started counter-conditioning techniques with him that I have used with our reactive dog.
Our vet wants us to wait up to a year before neutering. I'm wondering if neutering would help? Does behavior like this get "locked in" if it isn't resolved before neutering? Should I decrease his public input for a week or so - does he need a break from socialization? Having had a reactive shelter dog, I know how hard it is to undo this type of behavior, so this is a source of concern.
Thanking all of you in advance for any suggestions.