Mental Exercises For Border Collies

9 Mental Exercises for Border Collies

Border collies are working, herding dogs with sharp minds and powerful instincts. They’re considered the smartest dogs in the world and get bored easily when not sufficiently engaged and enriched.

But how can you entertain a dog that’s this intelligent? Here are some mental exercises for Border Collies and what you should know about them.

What Are Mental Exercises For Dogs?

Mental exercises for dogs are any activities, games, toys, or interactive experiences that can stimulate thinking and problem-solving in dogs. They’re somewhat akin to puzzles for humans!

These mental exercises have to be tailored to the individual dog’s breed, with different activities for different levels of intelligence and jobs. 

Difference Between Mental and Physical Exercises

Physical exercises train a dog’s body, exercising their muscles, agility, and strength. Mental exercises, on the other hand, are simply about working out their intelligence and brain.

These exercises often require little to no physical activity and can be done anywhere. 

Benefits Of Doing Mental Exercises With Your Dog

The American Kennel Club states that dogs need mental stimulation. It’s not an optional add-on for a dog so much as it is a mandatory part of their lives.

Benefits of these exercises include:

·      Reduced Boredom

A Border Collie has a lot of energy and mental acuity, and that means they get bored when they don’t have a way to use those abilities. Too much boredom can cause misbehavior in dogs, as they have a lot of extra energy to burn.

·      Improved Behavior

Dogs who regularly exercise their brains are better at regulating their physical responses.

They have an easier time being around other people and dogs, retain training information more easily, and are generally well-behaved compared to dogs who don’t exercise mentally.

·      Reduced Stress

Mental exercises can be calming for a dog with as much energy as a Collie. It gives them something methodical to do and can distract them from stressful circumstances.

·      Prolonged Brain Health

Like humans, dogs face brain deterioration as they age.

Older dogs are especially at risk of memory loss and cognitive issues. Regular mental exercise can prevent severe degeneration and prolong health!

9 Mental Exercises For Border Collies

1.   Teach Tricks

As an especially intelligent breed, Border Collies absolutely thrive when they receive training. The act of learning and honing their trained skills is inherently appealing and exciting to them, keeping their brains active. 

Of course, you likely already do standard, crucial obedience training with your dog. Tricks can add even more variety to the commands and concepts your dog knows.

Some Border Collies can perform a hundred different tricks!

All you need to do this are a clicker trainer, some treats, and a bit of patience. You’ll train tricks the same way you do normal obedience training for basic commands like “sit” and “stay”.

Simple tricks that you can teach include “spin”, “speak”, “jump”, “play dead”, “shake hands”, or “bow”. However, there are also more involved and elaborate tricks that can be taught.

For example, Border Collies can learn how to bring you the mail or how to put their toys away. They can also be taught a performance routine or to run an athletic course.

2.   Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are awesome ways to keep your Border Collie’s brain exercised even when you have a busy schedule. These toys are usually made to conceal a treat somewhere inside them.

A dog must interact with the toy in the right way to release the treat and enjoy it. Start with easier toys and work your way up as your Border Collie gets good at them.

It’s easy enough to buy puzzle toys from any pet store. Buy a few and give a different one to your dog every few days to rotate the toys and keep them fresh and interesting for them.

You should also vary the kind of treat rewards that they get as a reward for solving each puzzle. Even kibble can be a good reward!

You can also make your own puzzle toys if you’re crafty and want to save some money! There are plenty of online tutorials that tell you exactly how to make some great, fun toys.

3.   Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a great game to train a Border Collie’s tracking ability. It also helps to reinforce certain learned commands.

Start by placing your dog in a room. Give them the command “sit” and “stay”. Then, slowly back away from them, walking away until you’re out of their line of sight.

Once they can no longer see you, call to release them and beckon them to look for you. When your Border Collie finds you, react with praise and joy to indicate that they’ve played the game well.

Border Collie Hiding

As time goes on, make the game harder. Gradually increase the time you leave your dog in stay and the distance away from where you hide.

Take this slowly so as not to stress out your dog and always be ready with lots of praise, and even a few treats or toys!

4.   Scavenger Hunts

Similar to Hide and Seek, a scavenger hunt gives Border Collies a chance to hone their tracking abilities while encouraging exploration and their natural interest in sniffing around. 

Start by placing your dog in a room alone, then close the door to keep them in there. In the next room, hide some treats or a favorite toy of the dog somewhere that is accessible and safe, but slightly hidden.

Once ready, let your dog out of their room and encourage them to go sniffing! When they find the hidden item, shower them with praise.

Like with Hide and Seek, you can increase the difficulty of this mental exercise gradually over time.

Hide the items in more challenging (but still safe) locations or hide a puzzle toy filled with treats to give them a double workout!

5.   Shell Game

This mental exercise tests object permanence, memory, and the use of the senses. Get three different cups or similar opaque items.

Let your Border Collie see the cups. Then, take a treat and allow your dog to watch as you place the treat underneath a cup. Slowly move the cups around to mix up their location.

When you’ve moved the cups around enough, get your Border Collie to try and point out or find the treat. Lift the cup that they point to or seem most interested in. If they get the right answer, they get the treat!

Remember to start small by just shuffling the cups once or twice, and gradually increasing that difficulty over time.

6.   Red Light/Green Light

Red light/Green light is a simple game where your Border Collie stops moving when you say “red light” and keeps going when you say “green light”.

It’s a popular game among humans, so why not use it for dogs? It’s a great mental exercise, training quick reactions and general obedience.

To teach your dog this exercise, you must train both commands separately.

Start with the “red light” command. Begin by asking your dog to sit and stay. Walk some steps away, then stand and turn to face them, holding a treat. Call your dog to come towards you. 

When your dog gets close enough, raise your voice and say “red light”. Take a step towards your dog forcefully while making a stop signal with your hand. This will automatically cause the dog to stop, confused.

As soon as they stop, throw the treat in their direction and praise them. Reset and try again.

Slowly increase the distance you go before initiating the sequence. Keep doing this until your Border Collie is an expert at listening to “red light”, even at a far distance.

Next, teach the “green light” command. Simply ask your dog to sit and stay, then walk some steps away. Next, stand and turn to face them, holding a treat.

Say “green light” in a very welcoming, enthusiastic voice and motion for your dog to walk or run towards you. Once they get to you, give them the treat and shower them with praise.

Once again, keep doing this with gradually increasing distances until your dog can listen to “green light” perfectly.

Now, combine the two commands in one training session, swapping between them. Do short, quick sessions so your Border Collie gets used to the training slowly! Soon, they’ll respond well to both commands appropriately.

7.   Retrieval By Name

Dogs may have some trouble learning the extensive vocabulary of human language, but they can still learn a rather impressive collection of words.

This is especially true for Border Collies, given their intelligence! You can train them to identify different objects by name.

This leads us to our next mental exercise: retrieval commands. This means teaching your Border Collie to fetch specific items when you tell them to. This can be your slippers, the morning newspaper, their toys, or anything else.

To teach your dog this skill, begin by choosing an item that your dog likes and is already familiar with. Put this fun item next to two other items.

The two other items should not be as interesting to your dog, or simply be boring to them. Place your dog in front of these items, point towards the correct one, and say “find/get (name of object)”.

When your dog successfully picks up the right item, praise them immediately. Then, use the “fetch” command (that your dog already knows) to entice your dog to give the item to you.

Reward them with a treat. Do not reward them by playing with the item with them – treats and praise only!

Next, do this training sequence but with an additional familiar or loved object. Give your dog the command to find either this second loved item or the first loved item.

If your dog gets it wrong, simply ignore them and continue to ask for the right object.

Once your dog can accurately get the right item for you each time, add another item to the mix, and so on!

Then, start putting the items separately in different parts of the room and ask your Border Collie to get one of them. Gradually increase the difficulty of this until your dog can get any item from anywhere!

8.   Muffin Tin Game

This simple problem-solving game is enriching and engaging while being basic to set up. Just get a muffin tin and fill some cups of the tin with one treat.

Then, cover the treat up with a toy, ball, or another easy-to-move item. Your Border Collie will have to remove the ball or toy to get their treat, sniffing as they go. 

9.   Clean Up

As working dogs, Border Collies are adept at doing tasks that are similar in some ways to “work”. This includes the likes of cleaning up their toys after they use them.

It’s a form of mental enrichment that encourages activity even after play.

To train this, start by placing some high-value, loved treats in the toy box. Do this while your dog is not looking. Then, encourage your dog to carry their toy while walking next to you.

Lead them towards the box, then show them the treats inside of it. This will cause your dog to open their mouth, thus dropping the toy into the box. Say a simple command, like “Clean” or “Tidy up”, as this happens.

Once this happens, lavish your dog with praise. Continue to do the training again and again until your dog learns to grab items and drop them in the box on command.

Over time, you can lengthen the treat distribution until you only give the treat when all toys are clean.


The importance of physical exercise is rightfully drilled into all dog owners. But it’s not just physical exercise that dogs need – they need mental workouts, too.

Make sure your Border Collie gets all the mental exercise they need by incorporating some of these exercises into your routine.