The Border Collie is a high energy working breed. Border Collies were bred to work and run all day long. They have been bred to herd sheep and that is a challenging job. It requires a lot of stamina and thinking to be good at it and the will to work for a handler. Aside from their high physical exercise needs they are a highly intelligent breed that needs to be kept busy and challenged mentally.
So, how much exercise does a Border Collie need? The short answer is a lot more than the average dog. They need both the physical release of pent-up energy and mental exercise and activity to stimulate and keep the mind busy.
For physical exercise, the absolute minimum required is 30 – 60 minutes of walking and running a day, preferably off the leash. In addition, you need to provide mental challenges to keep their minds stimulated. For more on this read Mental stimulation for Border Collies and Herding breeds. Providing more mental stimulation is probably more important than increasing physical exercise only. In fact, mental exercise can tire a dog just as well as physical exercise.
How to exercise a Border Collie or Herding Breed Dog
The three main ways to exercise a Border Collie or Herding dog are:
- Daily Walk
- Purposeful Activity
- Mental stimulation and enrichment
We will look at each of these three categories in turn. These recommendations relate to a healthy adult dog. The exercise needs for a puppy are different due to the fact that they are still growing and developing. See the bottom of this article for details of how to exercise a puppy.
For older senior dogs from around 7 to 8 years of age on the volume of exercise needed will decrease. However, it is still crucial to provide sufficient exercise to maintain a healthy weight and to keep muscle and tendons supple and strong. See the bottom of this article for more on the exercise needs of an older Border Collie or Herding dog.
Herding dog behavior problems
Lack of activity is the main reason why people find it difficult to handle their Border Collie dogs. Failure to provide for their physical and mental needs will make them restless and agitated which may lead to several bad behavior problems such as chewing furniture, ripping clothes, excessive barking and nipping. Also, being a herding dog if they are bored they will look for something to herd such as the other family pets or people. Read “Herding dog behavior problems” for more information
Ways to Exercise a Border Collie
The key to providing adequate physical exercise for your Border Collie is to be consistent and regular. It is better to provide some activity on a daily basis than to do very little all week and give them a massive workout at the weekend. This is more likely to cause injury and be less beneficial overall.
The daily walk is essential for all high energy breeds like the Border Collie or a herding breed dog. This is not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your dog to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds and smells they come across.
The length of the walk is only limited by your time and energy as a working dog like this can go all day long. Ideally, the minimum should be 45 to 60 minutes daily. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows. A gentle walk around the block simply will not be sufficient.
If your Border Collie or Herding dog has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park off the leash are ideal. Alternatively, you can use a retractable leash to allow them more freedom while maintaining control. In general, working breeds are obedient and usually have good recall if trained.
Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.
You can add extra resistance to the walk by using a weighted vest or dog backpack. It is recommended that no more than 10% of their body weight be added. This is more than sufficient to tire them and strengthen their muscles without overworking them. Other ways of increasing the resistance on the walk are to walk on sand or include uphill sections in the walk. For more on stair exercise for dogs see here.
These breeds are energetic, strong and have bucket loads of stamina. Ideally, you need to find activities that can burn energy in a short period of time and use these skills. This can include high-intensity games and strength training is recommended to keep their muscles in peak condition. By keeping the muscles strong they will support the joints and tendons preventing injury.
These are some of the recommended activities and exercise ideas to play with your Border Collie or Herding dog. These activities aren’t just about burning pent-up energy. They are also a way to provide enrichment by giving your working dog breed jobs to do.
Running, biking or skating with your Border Collie
The faster your dog is moving the more energy they will release. Try running, biking or skating with your Border Collie to really get them moving. Just be sure to build up the distance and intensity of the activity over time to prevent causing injury to your dog. Read “Running with your dog” for more on this.
If your Border Collie loves water swimming is a strenuous activity and an excellent way to tire them quickly. Ten minutes of swimming is equivalent to an hour-long walk. If they are not a confident swimmer ensure you put a lifejacket on them and supervise them while in the water. Swimming is a low impact exercise and helps to build muscular strength making it a good injury prevention activity.
If you don’t access to a pool, river or the sea there are many canine hydrotherapy centers around that can provide swimming facilities for your dog.
For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.
Find activities that burn energy fast in a short time period.
There are many games you can play with your dog that use energy including
Fetch – throw a ball or toy a dozen or so times when you have a spare minute. To increase the intensity throw down hill or stairs
Automatic ball launcher – an automatic ball launcher will throw the ball for your dog. If you have a dog that loves chasing balls one of these is an absolute must. Once they know how to drop the ball into the launcher they can quite happily ball fetch by themselves. Read “Automatic ball launchers for dogs” to learn more
Add resistance to your dog’s workouts. This can be achieved in a number of ways
Add weight to your dog by using a backpack or weighted vest. The general rule of thumb is no more than 10% of their body weight. This prevents injury or strain to their back or joints.
Walk or run on terrain that gives extra resistance. Examples of this are running on sand or in shallow water. Also, incorporate walking or running up stairs or up hills.
Frisbee – throwing a frisbee will really get your dog moving
Flirt Pole – a flirt pole is like a big cat tickler with a stick, rope and a lure or toy attached to the end. Move the lure around in circles or in all directions along the ground and your dog will chase it. Works with the dog’s natural prey instinct so it will provide plenty of mental stimulation too. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon
Tug of War – play a game of Tug of War with your dog. Make them crouch and pull back using extra energy.
Spring Pole – a spring pole is a rope with a spring with a toy or lure on the end that is attached to a tree or beam. Encourage your dog to grab the toy and pull. They will play tug of war by themselves.
With a little imagination, there are countless quick easy games like these that will go a long way to releasing that pent-up energy.
Use a dog activity monitor
A dog activity monitor allows you to measure how much exercise, activity and rest your dog is getting. It is much simpler to manage and increase if required your dog’s exercise if you know how much they are getting. For more on this read “9 Reasons to use a dog activity monitor”
Set up an agility or obstacle circuit in your backyard
You can set up obstacles such as tunnels and jumps and when you have a spare five to ten minutes run them through the course a few times. See dog agility equipment on Amazon.
Alternatively, try Urban agility. This is when you use natural obstacles you come across on your walk. This may be things like jumping up and then off of a park bench. Or jumping a fence or climbing up on a large rock.
Make use of a treadmill
Walking on a treadmill is not going to be a substitute for going for a walk, but a least it will provide some release of physical energy. Once your dog is trained to walk on the treadmill you can fit in any other small tasks you have to do while they walk. Obviously, you will need to stay nearby and supervise for safety.
Self Playing Dog Toys
There are a variety of dog toys that your dog can use to play by themselves. These are great for times when your dog is home alone, you don’t have the time or you are otherwise occupied. This way your dog can still get some physical activity and mental stimulation without your direct involvement. See “Self Playing Dog Toys” for some ideas.
Dog toys that move on their own
There are many dog toys available that shake, rattle, roll and move about on their own. This activity would be best as a supervised and control game as a dog like the Border Collie could destroy these types of toys. See “Dog toys that move on their own” to learn more.
The dog moving dog toy that I highly recommend for all herding dogs is the GoBone.
The GoBone is the ultimate motorized dog chase toy. Just touch the GoBone and it will keep your dog entertained for up to 8 hours. Alternatively, you can use the app to control the GoBone yourself. This makes for a fun game for both your dog and you. The GoBone is tough and made from durable materials. However, if your dog does chew it you can get a replaceable exterior cover.
To make it even better for your dog you can place treats inside the wheels. Even more reason your dog will love one.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs whenever possible. This not only helps to release physical energy, but it also provides socialization and a mental release for your dog.
Consider involving your dog in one of the many dog sports available such as agility, lure coursing, dock diving and many more. It is not necessary to compete as a serious competitor to reap the benefits for your dog. Alternatively, you can do these activities yourself with your Border Collie in the backyard.
A dog sport that was created specifically for herding breeds is called Treiball or Push Ball and originated from Germany. This is like sheep herding without the sheep and uses large balls, similar to a Swiss ball used by people to exercise. To learn more about this fascinating sport check out the video below.
Herding balls for dogs
If you don’t have an organized Treiball club nearby you can use a herding ball to play this game at home. Herding balls are an excellent way for herding dog breeds to burn off energy while catering to their natural herding instinct. It is like cattle or sheep herding without the cattle or sheep and is similar to the herding dog sport Treiball.
These breeds were bred to chase and control moving objects. Teaching your dog to play herding games will actually reduce their desire to herd people and other dogs as herding breeds often do.
This video shows how to teach your dog how to move and herd the herding balls.
Recommended Herding Balls
The Jolly Ball was the original herding ball for dogs and is inexpensive. It is made from hard plastic and is virtually indestructible. However, some dogs are able to scratch the surface with their teeth or claws which can leave sharp ridges on the toy. It can also be filled with water or sand to add weight to give more resistance to the workout.
View Jolly Balls on Amazon
The Jolly ball also comes in a range of sizes from 4 1/2 inches to 14 inches so you can choose the size that is best suited to your particular dog. A further option is the Jolly Soccer Ball if you want to be able to kick it yourself. This ball floats on water and will not puncture.
Virtually Indestructible Ball
The Virtually Indestructible Ball is super tough and is slightly more expensive. It also comes in a range of sizes to suit your particular dog.
View Virtually Indestructible Balls on Amazon
Mental exercises for a Border Collie
Providing for your dog’s physical health through exercise is good and very necessary, but channeling your dog’s mind is equally as important.
Read “Mental stimulation for Border Collies and Herding Breeds” for more on this and to learn about the six types of mental enrichment and mind stimulation.
Here are some of the recommended ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your Border Collie or Herding breed dog.
Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the highly intelligent cattle breeds to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Due to their high intelligence, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.
In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your dog to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.
Teach new commands and tricks
Learning new commands and tricks is an excellent way to challenge and stimulate a dog’s mind. It also provides quality time with your dog and helps build and strengthen your bond.
Chewing is a natural instinct for dogs and has many benefits including keeping them busy and occupying and stimulating their minds. To learn more about the benefits of and the best chew toys see here.
Best toys for Border Collies
There are three main categories of dog toy: Chew toys, interactive and puzzle toys and plush toys. If you understand the three main categories of dog toy you can develop a strategy to use the various toys to develop your relationship, teach important skills and behaviors and help to make your dog calm, balanced and happy.
For more on the three types of dog toy read “Secrets to maximize the benefit of your dog’s toys”
Scenting and tracking nose games
Scenting and tracking nose games are an excellent way to provide that very important mental enrichment and mind stimulation that dogs truly need to be calm, well behaved and happy. When a puppy is born they are blind and deaf but their sense of smell is fully intact. The newborn puppy relies on this sense to decipher the world they have entered and it will continue to do so for their entire lives.
The nose rules the brain and the portion of the dog’s brain that is dedicated to examining scents is 40 times larger than that of humans. Scientists estimate that the dog’s brain can identify smells 1000 to 10,000 times better than humans. You can combine this extremely powerful sense of smell and a dog’s natural desire to hunt with their love of toys, food, and exercise to play many games.
You can have fun together, exercise your dog’s brain, and expend some of that pent-up energy all at the same time. Being a social animal, playing is very important in developing relationships and bonding.
For 12 scenting and tracking nose games you can use with your hyper high energy dog click here.
Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Border Collie to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.
Enrich their environment
Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.
Border Collie exercise-induced collapse
Is it possible to over-exercise your Border Collie? Over-exercising any dog can have severe consequences such as muscle, tendon and joint injury, overheating and heatstroke and even collapse. It is important for a dog owner to know the signs to watch for to prevent over-exercising their dog. Read “Over exercised dog symptoms” to learn more about this.
Indoor games for Border Collies
If the weather is bad outside there are still many activities and games you can play with your Border Collie inside to release pent-up energy and stimulate the mind. To learn more read “Entertain a bored dog inside“
Border Collie home alone
There are obviously going to be times when you will need to leave your Border Collie at home alone. This should not be a problem as long as they have plenty to keep themselves busy. For ideas on this read “Entertaining a dog home alone.“
How much exercise does a Border Collie or Herding breed puppy need?
The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult dog. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.
Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. An activity that is high impact on the joints should also be avoided.
The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.
Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.
As your puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.
The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.
Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.
For more on exercise for your Border Collie or Herding breed puppy read “How to exercise your puppy”
How much exercise does an older Border Collie or Herding dog need
As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.
Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.
Conclusion – How much exercise does a Border Collie need?
Border Collies are high energy and highly intelligent working breed. They require a minimum of 30 – 60 minutes of physical exercise daily, but preferably more. Due to their high intelligence, it is crucial to challenge and stimulate their minds. This is probably more important than just physical exercise. A Border Collie that is bored will look for ways to keep themselves busy. This can lead to severe behavior problems such as digging, barking, destructive behavior, nipping and even aggression.
Let us know in the comments how much and what types of exercise your Border Collie is getting.
At what age can you take a border collie running? How far and how often is an ok amount? Thanks!
A Border Collie’s growth plates don’t completely close up until after about 12 months of age. I wouldn’t recommend running long distances until after that age or any other high impact activity. Consult your vet before starting a running program with your Border Collie just to get the all-clear.