Top Tips for Managing Border Collie Energy Levels

Although Border Collies are excellent dogs, not many people are ready for their high energy levels. They can go, go, go all day without stopping and still have energy left over by the end of the night.

Worst yet, if you do not give Border Collies a job, they will become self-employed. And, quite frankly, you won’t like the tasks they choose! They are bred to drive sheep and cattle all day on the farm, after all. Without that outlet, they have endless energy to put into redesigning your shoes, creating new doors to the outside world, and everything in between.

Thankfully, if you are equally driven, their energy levels are manageable with the right tactics. 

Here are our top tips for managing Border Collie energy levels.

  1. Running them outside every day
  2. Participating in dog sports of all kinds
  3. Exploring the neighborhood daily
  4. Having them wear doggie backpacks
  5. Completing obedience training tasks
  6. Using games to entertain at all hours
  7. Getting them to work for their meals
  8. Bringing out the lickimats to promote calm
  9. Avoiding accidentally rewarding chaos
  10. Teaching them to chill out and rest
  11. Bringing in extra help from time to time.

In this article, we are going to unpack these tactics. This will enable you to manage your Border Collie energy levels and your Border Collie from becoming self-employed. 

How to Tire Out a Border Collie

When it comes to figuring out how to keep Border Collies entertained, it all starts with tiring them out. These dogs simply need to run down their energy stores before they can even start thinking about anything else.

My Border Collies, Nyxie and Bandit, look forward to their daily runs, games, and other fast-paced activities.

By starting out their day with the following tasks, their energy levels are easily managed with different types of entertainment for Border Collies.

When it comes to figuring out how to keep Border Collies entertained, it all starts with tiring them out. These dogs simply need to run down their energy stores before they can even start thinking about anything else.
My Border Collies, Nyxie and Bandit, look forward to their daily runs, games, and other fast-paced activities.
By starting out their day with the following tasks, their energy levels are easily managed.

By starting out their day with the following tasks, their energy levels are easily managed with different types of entertainment for Border Collies.

1. Participate in dog sports

Dog sports are not an everyday activity. But, participating in dog sports definitely helps reduce a Border Collie’s high energy levels.

The training, practice, and competitive sessions all help tire out dogs as they work hard on learning and playing the games.

Excellent dog sports for this breed include:

  • Herding
  • Flyball. Have a read of the article I wrote about Flyball and my experience with my own Border Collies.
  • Agility
  • Frisbee. This is a great outdoor activity for your Border Collie. To get your dog interested in frisbee, read my how-to guide here.
  • Dock diving
  • Barn hunt
  • Treibball. Is your Border Collie mad about balls? Did you know there’s a sport where dogs drive large balls into goals? This is Treibball. My Border Collie loves it. You can find out more about here.
  • Disc dog.

Obedience trials are also excellent for Border Collies, as they help teach impulse control and strengthen their training.

A. Running

Running alone is not enough to tire out these dogs for the entire day.

Instead, I use this to scrub off their initial burst of energy and get them thinking clearly.

They usually run around for about 15 to 20 minutes on their own while playing in the yard during my morning coffee time.

They repeat this activity after eating breakfast and dinner to give them time to go potty and release even more energy.

Are you a runner or want to start running distances with your Border Collie? We have a couple of useful articles to get you started with running to manage your Border Collie’s energy level:

  • Marathon running. With some dedicated training, your dog can be more of an endurance runner over a 27-mile marathon distance. This article covers some important information to keep your dog safe, happy, and injury-free.
  • Trail running. Running trails, like running marathons, isn’t just a run in the park. It’s the next level. This article delves into the best dog breeds for trail running.
  • Training your dog as a running partner. We describe the 6 main steps to get your dog by your side when you are running outdoors. This is a great detailed how-to article.
  • The distance a dog can run. This is a handy reference article to know what distance common dog breeds can run. This is useful information to know, especially if your dog is a Border Collie.

B. Playing

Once they stop running on their own, the next part of the day revolves around a few fun games outside.

We usually play fetch with a toy, disc, tennis ball or herding ball, depending on their level of focus and drive.

Border Collie facts
My daughter throwing a tennis ball to Nyxie in the front yard

From time to time, they also chase a toy attached to a flirt pole (see the table below), which they have to immediately release upon catching it.

These games continue for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the dogs start to pant and take breaks on their own.

We often go out again later in the day for another 30 minute session after dinner.

What are the best toys for dogs to play with outdoors?

There are so many toys to choose from that it can be overwhelming to know which ones are best for playtime with your Border Collie.

We’ve got you covered here at Outdoor Dog Fun. Here is our comprehensive Buying Guide of the best 17 outdoor toys on the market that are perfect for playtime. 

Are you short on time and want to cut to the chase (pardon the pun) of the top 3 outdoor toys we’d recommend for playtime? Here you go.

RankToyDescriptionBuy
1Hero Playtime Rubber Kettlebell This all-in-one dog toy keeps your dog satisfied, no matter what type of game he is wanting to play. Best all-rounder outdoor toy (fetch, tug and chew on land or water). Check Price
2Squishy Face Studio Flirt Pole V2 Best dangle and chase pole. This particular toy allows your dog to indulge his instincts while also stimulating his mind and body. Check Price
3West Paw Zogoflex Bumi Dog Toy
Best tug of war toy. The intriguing nature of this flexible toy makes for unique games of tug-of-war while also enhancing fetch and catch. Check Price

C. Thinking

One of the best ways to learn how to keep Border Collies occupied is by engaging their brains.

As dogs have to think through a problem, they blow through a ton of energy.

While still outside, there are many thinking games we play, such as:

  • Hide and seek with treats
  • Picking up a specific toy on request
  • Red light, green light
  • Pushing a herding ball through goals
  • Putting away toys after playing.
The Red Light, Green Light game for playtime with your Border Collie to help manage their energy levels.

Once your Border Collie goes inside, the thinking continues as they work for their breakfast. They have to get their food out of a frozen slow feeder or KONG most days, though sometimes we use food-dispensing toys instead.

All these activities for Border Collies help restore calm after running around while still using up their energy.

2. How to calm down a Border Collie

In addition to learning how to keep a Border Collie busy, it is essential to know just how to calm them down. A calm dog is a manageable dog. And a manageable dog paves the way to even more meaningful interactions throughout the day.

A. Go on a long walk

A neighborhood walk is definitely tiring, but it is calming as well.

When dogs go on walks, they get to engage both their brains and bodies, helping get rid of their excess energy fast. This is especially helpful if you are trying to figure out how to keep Border Collies entertained in a small backyard.

You can up the ante even more by going on a hike and having your dog carry their own supplies in a doggie backpack. For a fun outdoor experience, consider hiking in a National Park near you. It may surprise you to know that a dog can hike 15 to 20 miles in one day.

If you live close to the areas listed below, be sure to read our comprehensive hiking guides.

B. Use Lickimats to promote calm

Lickimats are definitely part of our every day. They help promote calm and provide a distracting indoor activity to enjoy. These silicone mats have interesting textures that dogs find fun to lick.

Depending on what I have on hand, I just cover the mats in a mixture of:

  • Ground wet dog food
  • Pumpkin puree
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese
  • Mashed veggies, like peas or carrots.

Then, I put the mats in the freezer until they are solid to make them last even longer, though that is not necessary.

Bandit and Nyxie go wild, trying to lick all the food out of the grooves, which usually eats up at least an hour of their day.

You can buy Lickimats by clicking here.

C. Reward chill times, not chaos

Border Collies always love to see their family when they get home.

They dance and jump around like wild in celebration of seeing their favorite people.

Even though it is ever-so-cute, this behavior cannot be rewarded, as that will reinforce the chaos.

Instead, I ask Bandit and Nyxie to have a seat or go lie down before offering them any attention.

They also have to offer a sit before we play, so they do not bounce off the walls in their excitement.

This kind of discipline has three outcomes:

1. Tempers their adorable enthusiasm (a little);

2. Teaches them impulse control; and

3. Helps mitigate their high energy levels.

A Border Collie temperament has them on 11 out of 10 at all times. But these tactics can go a long way in reducing their tendency to run wild.

Through the years, both Bandit and Nyxie have chilled out a lot from the walks, mat time, and rewards for calm instead of chaos.

border collie energy levels
My adorable Nyxie

How to Keep a Border Collie Entertained While at Work

Although I work from home, there are times I have to leave my dogs for an extended period of time.

The crate works wonders to keep them contained, but while in there, they are bored out of their minds.

Thankfully, I have figured a few things out to keep them occupied while I am away. Feel free to use them as you try to figure out just how to keep a Border Collie busy while at work.

Use food-dispensing toys

Food-dispensing toys serve me well.

They keep my dogs fed and keep them well-entertained until I return home.

These toys have a cavity in the middle that can hold kibble, treats, and other goodies.

The outer surface has small holes that let the food escape as it moves around. They have to roll, shake, or flip the toy to release the food, keeping them bopping it around for a good portion of the day.

My favorite food dispensing toys are:

RankToyDescriptionBuy
1Kong ClassicRubber toy with hole in the middle for stuffing food inside. Vet recommended.Check Price
2StarmarkTreat dispensing chew ball. Fill the ball with food or treats.Check Price
3Planet Dog OrbeeRound ball with a hole in the middle.Check Price

Border Collie’s are very smart. In no time, they learn how to quickly get to all the food in many of their toys. Thankfully, most have several difficulty levels that make the game all new once again.

Switching out the toys regularly also helps to slow them down a bit and make playtime interesting. That’s why I’ve recommended the 3 treat-dispensing toys above. The Starmark and Planet Dog Orbee balls are great for fetch and catch as well.

If you are looking for specific treats and food to stuff your dog’s favorite treat-dispensing toy, here are some suggestions:

Setup Interactive Toys

What’s another way to entertain your Border Collie while at work? See which interactive toys your dogs love most.

My dog pack enjoys:

  • Plush animal toys that fit in a den;
  • KONGs and other stuffables;
  • Toys that hold their chews; and
  • Balls with other balls inside.

My dogs love their automatic ball launcher. This toy flings the toy across the house or yard each time Nyxie and Bandit place it inside.

Here’s something else fun and entertaining: mechanical bubble blowers.

These blowers are can be filled with a dog-safe solution, especially one that smells and tastes like peanut butter.

These dogs do not love being alone while everyone is away. If I’m away from home for more than eight hours, I bring someone else in to walk and entertain the dogs.

Use High Energy Levels to Achieve Training Success

One of the most well-known Border Collie facts is how smart they really are.

And it is true.

These dogs are wildly intelligent, often surpassing the smarts of their owners. I know mine do.

With their intelligence matching their energy levels, it just makes sense to use training to tire them out. Use these techniques below to get started.

How to train a Border Collie not to run away

Even though Border Collies attach at the hip to their people, the sight of anything taking off can send them running for the hills after it. For that reason, it is well worth your time to train them to stop bolting and have excellent recall.

To do so, work on both stay and come commands.

Reward them big time for a quick response.

Keep them in a contained area or on a long lead while working on these commands.

If they do run off, do not chase after them.

Instead, fall on the ground and call your dogs to you.

Or if that does not work, bolt in the other direction, calling their name and making a game out of them coming to get you.

How to train a Border Collie to walk beside you

Nyxie and Bandit both resisted walking at my side while on a leash. Instead, they preferred to lead the way in search of exciting things to see and do.

Upon noticing that tendency, I had to take a few steps back and teach heel in the yard before even trying to go on walks.

Working them one on one, I put them on the leash and started walking slowly through the yard. With my hand close to my hip, I told them to “heel,” and started dispensing high value treats one after another. This encouraged them to hang tight by my side — until distractions appeared, that is.

When they tried to move forward, I had them sit to return back to the right position. Then, we restarted walking while dispensing treats. Over time, simply dial back on treat frequency and value, switching to praise instead.

How to teach Border Collie tricks

Want to know just how to keep your Border Collie busy? Bring out the tricks one by one.

Collies love thinking through complex tasks. So, nothing tires their brains out more than trick training.

Excellent tricks to teach Collies include:

  • Sit pretty
  • Rollover
  • Play dead
  • Shake hands
  • Wave
  • Speak
  • Spin around
  • Orbit
  • Figure 8s
  • Dance
  • Back up
  • Bow
  • Hold
  • Open and close a door
  • Turn on a light
  • Ride a scooter or skateboard
  • Jump through arms.

Like Chase, my pack can even pick up specific toys from a group and bring them over.

They delight in searching for just the right toys and receiving a round of playtime for their hard work.

How to train Border Collie to herd

In an ideal world, all Border Collies have access to sheep, cattle, and other livestock to herd each day. Thankfully, there are alternatives, such as chickens.

Before they can participate, however, you must explore how to train a Border Collie to herd chickens.

The majority have the drive and the instinct, of course, but they are not born knowing all the commands.

Commands used to herd include:

  • Stand: Halt and await the next direction
  • Come-bye: Move clockwise around the chickens
  • Away to me: Head counterclockwise around the group
  • Wait: Plunk down until you give the next command
  • Steady: Slow down in moving the flock
  • Get back: Back up from the group of chickens
  • Look: Go back for a stray chicken.

You will need to teach all these commands one by one, often without any other animals around at first.

You can use a ball, chair, or other objects to teach your dog to move in a clockwise and counterclockwise direction, for example.

Once they are reliable on those commands, you can move onto practicing with a couple of chickens at a time.

When you finish training or herding, you can issue the “that’ll do” command to let them know they have finished the job.

Then, give your dog a treat to reinforce to come back to your side at the end of each session.

The Younger Years: How to Keep a Border Collie Puppy Entertained

With Bandit firmly in the terrible twos, it seems like just yesterday, I was relearning how to keep my Border Collie entertained.

The puppy years are a little different, as their energy levels are just ramping up. They rest a lot more often since their brains and bodies need sleep to develop.

During this time of their lives, it is best to work on:

  • Obedience training;
  • Socialization;
  • Learning the house rules
  • How to potty outside; and
  • Only chew their own toys rather than your items.

They will zonk out between activities, giving you some time to collect all the toys and puzzles you will need in the coming months.

Introduce new toys and games slowly, giving your puppy time to explore the items without feeling overwhelmed.

One new toy/game per week is plenty to keep your puppy entertained each day, especially when paired with training and plenty of attention from you.

If you have to be away from home for many hours a day, not be afraid to bring in additional reinforcements. Dog walkers, trainers, and doggy daycare providers can all lend a hand. They will help your puppy work through their energy stores and arrive back at home, ready to rest. These professionals also help as your puppy grows, especially since their energy levels will grow alongside their size and weight.

As you use all these tactics to manage your dog’s energy levels, you can keep them happy and healthy throughout the years.

The effort you put into making sure they have enough to do each day helps strengthen your bond as well.

So, do all you can to learn how to keep your Border Collie entertained to get just as much back as you put into it, if not more.


Author - Marie

With 2 Border Collies (Nyx and Bandit) and a Red Heeler (Ruby). With no livestock, Marie spends most of her time outdoors with her dogs, letting them release all their energy as farm dogs. They are fiends for fetch - even in the snow. Marie has started formal flyball training with Nyx, with the other dog likely follow. Marie is also interested in joining dock diving, sheep herding, and agility activities so that her dogs can burn more energy. All three are adept trick dogs with the ability to wave, shake hands, roll over, sit pretty, walk like people and much more. She has much to share with this community of outdoor dog lovers.

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