I had two big insights into Pixel's behavior this weekend. On Friday we were at a conformation show in a place he'd never been, surrounded by complete strangers and tons of dogs he didn't know. I wasn't surprised that he instantly fell into playing with the other Farmdogs there - like does seem to find like - but the only other dog he growled at was a Berger de Picard and for some reason he's decided he doesn't like the entire breed, so that wasn't anything new. But he was eagerly trying to get to greet all of the other dogs, didn't care about the other dogs in the ring with him, and was a goofy, wiggly boy to all of the people he saw. He didn't once growl at any of them. And I think the reason why he was such a different boy was because new buildings with lots of strange dogs and people = lots and lots of treats. If he's feeling protective, it could also be because he doesn't feel like he needs to guard or be alert or work or whatever in a new place, but he does do his growlies in other new places, so I don't think that's entirely it. So now I know I need to up the treats in non-dog show places to make him happy there, too.
The other thing I realized was this morning. We walked to the bus stop with the neighbors across the street. Pixel has known these kids since he came home and they spent every school morning with us last year. He sees the kids and starts his growling. I told him he was an idiot and made him walk away from the kids. He did, then one of the kids got closer, so he turned and was growling again, but I really looked at his body language which was quite loose and relaxed. His tail was making big friendly movements as opposed to short, tense wags and he was actually pretty wiggly. So I think somewhere along the line he got the idea that he's supposed to greet new people not at dog shows with growls. After calling him back a 3rd time, he finally went up to the boy quietly and I praised him. Unfortunately by this time the kid didn't want to pet Pixel (and I don't blame him), so Pixel didn't get more reward, but now I know how to set him up to get the attention he wants by showing the behavior I'd like to see.
Wish I knew what goes through these critter's heads sometime!