Mental Stimulation for Border Collies and Herding Breeds

border collie run

Providing mental stimulation and enrichment is crucial for all dogs. This is especially true with Border Collies and other herding breeds.

Dogs that were bred to herd are highly intelligent and athletic and failure to occupy them both physically and mentally can lead to severe behavior issues. This can manifest itself in behaviors such as destructive behavior, digging, escaping and even aggression. To learn more about how to deal with herding breed behavior issues see here.

Mental exercise can tire a dog as much as physical exercise and Border Collies and herding dogs need as much mental exercise as they do physical exercise. You can give your Border Collie two hours of physical exercise and they could go for another two hours. To learn how much exercise a Border Collie needs see here. Alternatively, If you have a Blue Heeler or Cattle dog, see here for how to exercise them.

By providing your Border Collie or herding dog with as much mental exercise as you do physical exercise you will tire them faster and prevent boredom.

The 6 categories of mental enrichment for dogs

Mental stimulation and enrichment for dogs can be categorized into six types. Some activities may fit into more than one category.

Social enrichment

border collie play

This provides the opportunity for your dog to spend time with other dogs and animals, and people often in different environments. Dogs are social animals and off-leash play with other dogs improves their skills at interacting. It also reduces the chances of developing reactivity and fear-based communication issues. Social interaction helps build self-confidence and trust.

This social enrichment can be achieved by going for trips to new locations such as the beach or the pet store. If your dog is left at home for long periods of time you may even consider sending them to doggy daycare. See Is Doggie Daycare good for dogs to learn more.

If doggie daycare isn’t an option for your dog there are still many ways to keep your dog entertained when they are at home alone. See here for suggestions.

Cognitive enrichment

border collie 2

This provides the opportunity for thinking and problem-solving activities that challenge the brain. Give your dog challenges like a puzzle or interactive toy is probably one of the best ways to provide cognitive challenges for your dog. With a Border Collie or herding dog, it is best to select puzzle toys that provide a true challenge. See Top puzzle toys for dogs for suggestions.

Learning opportunities such as teaching new commands or tricks is also a great way to challenge their mind. Teaching your dog the names of each of their toys and having them bring them to you is a great learning game you may want to try. It is not true that an old dog can’t learn new tricks.

Physical or environmental enrichment

This is anything that enhances your dog’s living space. Adding new things to your dog’s environment can help to keep things a little more interesting.  This can be anything such as a mirror, a digging pit or physical items for them to investigate.

For more environmental enrichment ideas see here.

Feeding enrichment

By using your dog’s nose and brain, you can encourage them to use their natural hunting and foraging skills at meal time. You don’t have to feed your dog in a bowl. By putting their food in a puzzle food dispensing toy or hiding it under a blanket your dog will be happy to work for their food.

One of my favorite ways to provide feeding enrichment is to use a Snuffe Mat. A Snuffle mat or rug is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it. If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon.

For more food enrichment ideas and activities see here.

Toy enrichment

Toy enrichment is obviously providing your dog with toys that can occupy them and give them a challenge or arouse their curiosity. Giving your dog new toys from time to time will be of great benefit to providing mental stimulation and enrichment. For the best enrichment toys for dogs see here.

There are different types of dog toys that can provide stimulation for your dog including puzzle and interactive toys, chew toys or toys that cater to their natural instinctive drive. In the case of herding dogs, this would be toys or activities that are like herding to them.

Herding Balls

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.

You don’t have to join a club or compete in Treiball to provide the benefit of this activity for your dog. You can simply use a large ball and play this game at home or in the park with your dog. See Treiball equipment on Amazon.

Puzzle and Interactive Toys

Puzzle toys are probably the best way to provide mental stimulation and a challenge for a highly intelligent breed like the Border Collie. Due to there intelligence, it is important to select puzzle toys that they can’t figure out to easily. For suggestions see Top puzzle toys for dogs.

Chew Toys

Chewing has many benefits for dogs. This not only includes cleaning their teeth and keeping them occupied. When a dog chews it releases endorphins to their brain. This results in a calming and natural feel-good vibe.

Dogs are generally categorized into three types of chewer. To learn more about the three types of chewer and the best type of chew toy for them see here.

Self Moving Dog Toys

Dog toys that move on their own arouse your dogs’ curiosity and encourage their engagement. There is a range of toys like this from simple balls and plush toys that vibrate, bounce, roll and make sounds to the more advanced gadgets like the GoBone.

To learn more about dog toys that move on their own see here.

Self Entertaining Toys

Self-playing dog toys are ideal for occupying and preventing boredom for the times when your dog is home alone. See Self-playing dog toys for suggestions.

Enrichment Box

Another good way to provide a really good challenge for your Border Collie is to make them an enrichment box.

To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle done with when they are finished.

You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?

Sensory Enrichment

Sensory enrichment is anything that stimulates your dog’s five senses which are sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Any sort of nose work would be included in this category. For some suggested scenting and nose games for dogs see here.


Mental stimulation and enrichment are crucial for Border Collies and all herding breeds. These breeds are highly intelligent and if not challenged will become bored very quickly. This can and most likely will lead to behavior issues such as nuisance barking, destructive behavior, or even aggression.

Physical exercise alone is not sufficient as these are working dogs and can go all day long. Mental exercise can tire a dog just as much as physical exercise. By providing your Border Collie or herding dog with as much mental exercise as you do physical exercise you will tire them faster and prevent boredom.


  • Joseph Coleman

    A lifelong writer and proud dog dad. Joseph started this blog dedicated to helping other dog owners find accurate information on how to keep their pets at their healthiest through exercise and nutrition. His passion for all things canine shines through in his writing, and he believes that every dog deserves the best possible care. If you're a dog owner looking for reliable advice on how to keep your pup healthy and happy, be sure to check out Joseph's work.