How can you tell if a dog is well-balanced? When you go to pick out your first puppy, how can you be sure that you’re not bringing home Cujo?

From an early age, there are signs that will indicate what a dog’s temperament may be, including its energy and instinctual drives. I often hear, “He seemed really calm when I picked him up, and now he’s growling and biting my 4-year-old.”

Aggression tendencies can also be assessed from an early age. To ensure you don’t come home with or are faced with Cujo, follow the below simple tips:

1. Food/toy possessiveness. To get a general gauge of a dog’s overall prey/food drive, I like to take a piece of fresh meat when I first meet a dog. I observe if the dog can even determine that I have the meat BEFORE I give it to them. If they don’t even detect it, I can assume a fairly low prey/food drive. If their nose is connected to my pocket instantly, I assume a high prey/food drive. I will then drop the food on the ground and practice a “leave it” command. If the dog shows some hesitation to eating the food, good. If they rip off my arm lunging to consume the food, beware. You also can complete this test with a squeak toy, soft toy, or bone.

2. Dog on back, face-to-face. I also like to observe a dog I first meet with the “on the back face-to-face” test. The most submissive position for a dog is on its back. To test this, I will gently follow the direction that the dog’s shoulders are in, and roll them over.

Most dogs should just submit and roll over for a tummy rub. If the dog growls or attempts to bite you, beware. I also will do this same exercise in an infantile “on back hold” in my arms to observe the dog’s reaction.

People often ask me, “What is the calmest, low key temperament dog breed you’d recommend?” I reply, “Get a snake.” Whether it’s a Yorkie or a German Shepherd, dogs will have high-energy and a natural prey drive.

Dogs will develop calm-submissive behaviors over time with the proper training and maturity. There are those occasional dogs that are predisposed to high-energy patterns, but with focus and exercise, they can grow to become manageable and domesticated.

• Mark Siebel is owner of DOGGIE STEPS Dog Training, LLC. He has trained more than 400 Valley dogs, speaks regularly at local schools about the importance of dog safety and ownership, and donates time to youths wanting to learn more about dogs. Siebel is a member of the Arizona Professional Pet Sitters Association and Australian Shepherd Club of Arizona. Contact him at (602) 318-0122 or

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