Guild of Shepherds & Collies

Get a Grip on Christmas

Getting a Grip on Christmas with Your Dog

get a grip


Every holiday season, it’s a tradition to invite family and friends over to have a feast, drink, have a good time, tell stories and laugh. We, as humans, anticipate these special times of year because of the comforting associations we have with the smell of dinner cooking, cookies and cake baking, presents coming from every guest, music, dancing, and laughter.

However, for some dogs, some of these things that we learned to love (key word being LEARNED) can be terrifying and horrible. Especially if your herding breed dog was a rescue that possibly felt overwhelmed at one or more times, or never exposed to this much stimuli inside a house before. Your amazing dog can turn into “Cujo” very quickly and you’re clueless as to why. Herders tend to be more sensitive overall, so we must take extra caution and be aware of a possible poor situation.

On the other hand, there are dogs that get way too excited when guests start coming through the door; the smell of the turkey on the counter and kids running around playing can be fun for the dog, but not so fun for your guests.

Here are some holiday tips to make the holidays easier on your dog.

Proactive Measures

There is no excuse not to take your dog for a big outing before guests come. This MUST be done, otherwise you’re going to have chaos in your home. Let’s focus on:

  1. getting the dog out and about for some fun play, running around.
  2. when you come back in and start preparing, give the dog an enrichment toy (that dispenses treats if they work at it), or possibly play a game of treasure hunt throughout the house to work the intelligent mind. (Watch the Treasure Hunt video by Pamela Johnson.)
  3. Let the dog NAP before people come over. The last thing we want is an overly tired, overly aroused dog.
  4. Think ahead and buy the dog a big bone to sit down and gnaw on (in another room if you’re worried about resource guarding). This creates a focus point for the dog while lots of stimuli is going on around him.

 For Dogs That Enjoy Human Company

For these dogs, we’re really focusing on self-control and management.

Of course you want your dog to enjoy the company just as much as you do, however, for a dog, enjoying company may include jumping on them and not giving any personal space, which not all guests enjoy.

NO JUMPING – Greeting Your Guests

Try this exercise with each guest that comes in the door.

  • Put your dog on leash
  • Ask your dog to sit by the door
  • Step on the leash so there is a tiny amount of slack
  • Open the door and allow your guests to greet you and your dog

Your dog will not be ABLE to jump up, with you standing on the leash, he or she is prevented from jumping, so everyone can say hello to your dog, he can get all his greets in politely. Once the dog has calmed down let him off leash and keep an eye out if he becomes too intrusive.

Please watch my video here demonstrating this technique

Settling Down

Teaching your herder to relax can be incredibly beneficial, because we know that when a herder gets too excited, especially with things that move, nips can happen! So, we can teach our dogs how to be relaxed around fun stimuli by teaching them to settle in the presence of stimuli.

This can be achieved by following the steps below:

  1. Ask your dog to lie down (you may need to leash super excitable dogs)
  2. Feed the dog a treat, wait, feed another.
    1. If you wait too long, the dog will get up
    2. Next time don’t wait so long before feeding the treat

The treat is to reinforce calmness and keep your dog’s focus on something during the beginning stages of training. Right now you’ll be treating A LOT (this is normal), but as time goes by, the dog will predict the pattern: “Oh! I just lay here and treats rain from the sky.” Now we can start spacing the treats out longer and longer, through small steps. Don’t jump from a treat every 5 seconds to every 30 seconds or the dog will think he or she is doing something wrong and not want to abide any longer.

For Shy/Nervous Dogs

These holiday events can be dangerous for shy/nervous dogs, due to the unfamiliarity and close proximity to triggers.  To better understand how to help your dog, you must better understand what they are going through. Your intentions may be all in good faith when you bring your dog to socialize with guests, but your good intentions may be torture to your dog.


In order to prevent disasters from happening, you must understand stressors. Stressors are certain stimuli that cause your dog different amounts of stress, for example, the presence of a single person may cause mild stress and make your dog uncomfortable, but multiply that by 10+ people and your dog is highly stressed and more likely to react with the fight-or-flight response. And because the dog is in a home that has corners, your dog is cornered and will most likely bite if accidentally provoked by harmless intentions from your guests.

Please see my video on Understanding Aggression - Stressors


If you choose to have your dog out, or he cannot be put away (the dog will destroy the room and scream bloody murder) and there is not enough time to train your dog to be separated (which can take months for some dogs), then you must keep your dog by you for the entire evening. Yes, this will make your evening much less enjoyable, but it’s your responsibility when you first brought this dog home; you cannot just ignore the dog in his or her time of need.

You need to watch for signs that your dog is becoming stressed, nervous, anxiety and trying to flee. Watch my videos on body language to better understand your dog and know how to spot these and prevent problems.

Understanding Dog Body Language Part 1

Understanding Dog Body Language Part 2


For dogs that are more unpredictable and/or if you have guests that are unpredictable, then management is your only option at this time.  This means putting the dog away from your guests so they can enjoy themselves and your dog won’t be highly stressed by constantly looking over his shoulder. Buy a special puzzle toy and prepare yourself with help below:

  1. Frozen KONGS (stuffed with a mixture of what your dog likes)
  2. Suitable bone/bully stick (if your dog can be left unsupervised)
  3. Dog Puzzles

And periodically check in on your dog by spending 10 minutes with them for some attention and a refill of KONGS.

If this is your only choice this holiday season, then please take the day before and the day of to prepare and be organized with your dog. Take your dog out and make him or her VERY tired so that all your dog wants to do is sleep in a quiet room.


Article By:
Kris Crestejo, CDBC
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