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Obedience training helps calm a hyper dog

Dear Matthew: My husband and I have a golden retriever mix. She is about 6 years old, and we adopted her from the local animal shelter.

She is very hyperactive, and when we take her for a walk she pulls the leash as far as she can and even chokes herself. Is there any way to break her of this habit?Also, sometimes she gets really hyper and just follows me around the house panting, especially if it is treat time. She knows every night at around the same time she gets a treat, although she starts getting excited earlier and earlier. Thanks for your help! -- L. in Arlington, Texas

Dear L.: You shouldn't be too surprised when your retriever gets excited around treat time -- and when she starts moving "treat time" earlier and earlier into the day.

The best way to solve this problem -- and the problem of her pulling on her leash -- is through proper obedience training. And don't think just because your dog is 6 years old she can't learn basic skills. One of the biggest myths of dog-training is that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. You can.

So, first and foremost, I recommend becoming involved in a training program with your dog. While laying the groundwork for proper behavior, then you can target the hyperactivity problems and expect better results.

For instance, the "heel" command is the key to controlling your dog while you're on walks. When you're taking your dog on walks and she starts pulling you in one direction, turn the exact opposite way and say "heel!" Let your momentum jerk your dog to face the new direction. After practicing this drill for a while, your dog should begin to anticipate your moves -- lest she once again get an unpleasant jerk.

You'll be more apt to solve your dog's treat-anxiousness once she's mastered the "sit" command. Before you give your dog any treats, tell her to sit, and wait a few moments until she calms down.

The goal here is to teach her that the only way she gets her snack is if she behaves. Pretty soon, I bet your dog will stop running around demanding a treat, and instead start sitting next to you, looking dutiful and obedient -- waiting for her meal.

Dear Matthew: My parents and I own a mixed, 2-year-old neutered male. My question is my parents want him to bark whenever there is someone at the door. Our dog rarely barks inside.

How can we get him to bark when there is someone at our front door? All he does is go to the door, get excited and whine. My parents mainly got him for protection reasons. Please help us. --Jen in Phoenix

Dear Jen: Be careful what you wish for. If you teach your dog to bark whenever there's someone at the door, he may be inclined to start barking even when there's no one at the door. Or when he sees someone across the street in the middle of the night.

Then again, it sounds like your parents' dog has a personality type that is more submissive and less protective. If they were looking for a guard dog, they probably chose the wrong animal.

Nevertheless, you can try to teach your dog to bark at strangers near the door -- the trick is to find what your dog does bark at, then create that situation while someone is at the door.

For example, if you've found that your dog barks whenever he hears a bell, try giving a friend or neighbor a bell, and have him ring it while standing at your door. If this encourages your dog to bark, immediately praise him and lavish him with love. Wait a few minutes, then try the drill again.

Unfortunately, this isn't a guaranteed solution -- you'll probably have to experiment with a lot of different techniques before you find one that works. Good luck trying, though!

Matthew Margolis is the host of "Woof! It's a Dog's Life," a dog-instruction series airing every Saturday on your local PBS station. Read all of Matthew Margolis' columns at the Creators Syndicate Web site www.creators.com, and visit him at www.matthewmargolis.com. Write him at 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045.