Border collie mental stimulation: 9 tips + brain games

Keeping your border collie mentally stimulated is crucial for their stress levels, happiness, obedience, and behavior in general.

Unfortunately, many owners aren’t sure how to do this, but this article will change that…

Over the years I’ve tried many different mental stimulation activities with my border collies.

And now, I’ve finally boiled it down to a list of the best exercises and activities.

border collie mental stimulation

Why Border Collies Need Mental Stimulation

Before running through the list below, let me quickly explain exactly why mental stimulation is crucial for this breed.

Border collies are incredible thinkers and have honed their impressive IQ from centuries of working and herding with their farmer owners.

A collie’s brain craves challenges, tasks, and problems to solve. Without this in their daily routine, border collies quickly become bored, frustrated, and anxious.

For the world’s most intelligent dog, not receiving sufficient mental stimulation on a daily basis, is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, I know!

Sufficient mental stimulation helps collies in the following ways:

  • Improves trainability
  • Improves obedience
  • Improves overall behavior
  • Increases happiness
  • Reduces aggressive tendencies
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Reduces hyperactivity
  • Creates a calm and sensible collie

If you’re like me, I knew all about how important physical exercise is for collies, but I wasn’t too familiar with mental exercise. Yet, it’s just as important (if not more).

Okay! Let’s get right into it below.

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The Best Ways To Mentally Stimulate Border Collies

Below are the best tips and methods I’ve found over the years to truly work a collie’s mind.

They are a mixture of brain games and activities. Owners can try whichever ones they want, and will likely find their favorite after just one go.

1. Find The Treat Game

Hands down the game that my collies love the most. Find the treat game is simple yet fun, scalable, and incredibly stimulating.

The reason this game is so stimulating is because it involves using their sense of smell to solve the challenge.

A Border collie’s sense of smell is well over 10,000 times stronger than ours. And when they utilize it, their brains go into overdrive.

👉 Playing the game:

It’ll it take a few tries for your collie to understand the concept of this game.

  • Start by grabbing a tasty treat and getting your collie’s attention
  • Instruct her to sit and stay in front of you
  • While she is watching you, go and place the treat under a pillow or cushion in the room
  • Ensure she remains still while you do this
  • Step away from the location
  • Wait a brief moment before giving her the “find it” command
  • Hopefully, she goes straight over to the correct place and retrieves the treat
  • If she’s confused, help her to the location, then repeat the game using the same hiding place

That is how to set this game up for the first time.

The way to make this more complex is to get your collie waiting in another room while you hide the treat in an unknown place.

This way, she’ll really need to use her sense of smell around the room to find the treat.

My collies absolutely LOVE this game. They sniff around like crazy with their tails frantically wagging while they find the treat.

Once learned, this is a super easy way to increase your collie’s daily mental stimulation.

2. Prioritize socialization

This was one I wish I started sooner. Socializing your border collie is perhaps the most powerful form of mental stimulation.

For dogs, nothing beats sniffing, playing, chasing, and interacting with another dog.

This is hands down one of the most stimulating activities your collie can engage in.

Not only will socialization prove to be great mental stimulation, but it’ll have a significant impact on their friendliness, approachability, and overall temperament. All for the better!

👉 How to increase socialization:

One of the easiest ways to increase socialization is to visit the dog park more often! Your collie will definitely appreciate this.

Allow for more interactions with other dogs and give your collie time to mingle, sniff around, and engage.

Inviting friends over with their dogs also works. Assuming your collie will tolerate another dog being in their home, its a great excuse to catch up with friends!

Interacting with more people also counts as socialization. So the next time someone compliments your collie and wants to engage, allow it and let your collie enjoy every second of the attention.

Related: When Do Border Collies Calm Down

3. Puzzle toys

Interactive toys or “puzzle toys” aren’t just regular dog toys. These typically involve a simple or sometimes complex challenge that rewards the dog with a treat when solved.

One toy we’ve tried with our collies is the Star Mark Bob a Lot ⭐, after trying several styles of puzzle toy this seems to be the best.

It’s essentially just a hollow ball with a small trap door that allows a treat to fall out when rolled in the correct direction. So yeah, this is easily made using a plastic bottle, avoiding the need to purchase anything.

What’s also great about this toy, in particular, is that it’s a set-and-forget toy. Meaning it’s perfect for times you need to leave the home but want to give your collie something to do.

While not the most complex puzzle toy, it certainly keeps our collie’s attention for a solid hour.

4. Advanced command training

One way to keep your collie obedient and mentally stimulated is with command training.

Basic commands include:

  • sit
  • stay
  • come
  • paw
  • drop
  • down

Unfortunately, it’s common for owners to stop command training once the command is learned.

It takes a collie no more than one day to master “sit and stay”. But that doesn’t mean we should stop practicing it.

Involve treats, make it a game, and your collie will benefit greatly.

👉 How to make the training more advanced?

With sit and stay it’s easy. You can either increase the time you make your collie wait before giving her the “come here” command. Or increase the distance you walk away.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as your collie is engaged during the activity, then it’s providing her with valuable mental stimulation.

Be sure to involve toys, treats, and give plenty of praise.

Psst. Collie owners might wanna check out Brain Training for Dogs website. This is one of the most popular online dog training programs for clever dogs like collies. The results are quite amazing.

5. Take your collie to new places

Exploring new environments proves to be extremely stimulating for dogs. Let them sniff around, observe and hear new things.

Being in an unfamiliar place triggers multiple senses and will get your collie’s mind working overtime.

This includes bringing them out in the car more often, hiking in new places, or visiting different dog parks for their daily exercise.

This is one of our favorite things to do with our collies.

If we’re venturing out of town we’re sure to bring our collies along for the ride. Sometimes we plan ahead and visit a new dog park.

Sometimes, all it takes is bringing your collie with you on errands.

Of course, I do not advocate leaving your collie in the car for a long time, but if you’re not going to be more than 5-10 minutes in the store, just crack a window, and that will be fine (assuming it’s not a hot day).

6. The Shuffle Cup Game

Another fun game to try with your collie is the cup game.

Take a couple mugs or red plastic cups (something you can’t see through) and place a treat under one of them.

Let your collie watch you do this.

Slide the cups around between each other, stop, then let your collie figure out which cup has the treat under it.

At first, your collie might not get the game, but after a few tries, the concept will become clear. Check out the video below!

7. Agility course

Most owners know how good border collies are at agility courses. They usually come top in most dog competitions around the world.

Why not try this at home?

You can either make your own agility course (or just invest in one like this) and place it in your yard.

I’ve done this in the past, and despite taking about a week to learn, our collies loved it.

At first it was chaos (funny chaos) as our collies we sprinting around aimlessly but after a while and some slow guidance, they got the gist of it.

I wouldn’t say this works for everyone, but if you have a large yard this is something fun that I recommend any collie owner at least try once.

8. Hide and seek

Yep, this game isn’t just for kids! It’s actually a super fun game to play with your collie.

If you have more than one dog it’s even more entertaining.

You can play this game at any moment throughout the day when your collie is least expecting it.

When they’re chilling in another room, you can hide behind a door (not too difficult) and call your collie a few times.

This gets the game going immediately and will put your collie’s mind into work mode. They’ll be trying to smell you, hear you, and look for you.

It’s an awesome game I recommend any owner try with their collie.

Just don’t do what I did and take it too seriously, there’s a fine line between entertainment and frustration. Hiding in the laundry bin can prove too difficult for some collies!

9. Food scattering

If you don’t mind a little slobber and mess, this is another simple way to engage your collie’s mind.

Instead of providing kibble all in the same bowl ready to consume in a few minutes, try scattering the kibble around.

You can either scatter it straight onto the floor or separate it in different bowls in different places in the room.

While this isn’t the most complex way of stimulating your collie’s mind, it’s more entertaining than consuming everything in the same place.

Some collies may not like this, but if yours does, then it’ll act like a game rather than just dinner.

We have hard floors so we don’t mind scattering the kibble on the floor. And yeah, I mop the floors a lot more often now!

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How Much Mental Stimulation Do Border Collies Need?

As much as possible is the simple answer to this question.

No set amount of mental stimulation is recommended, and all collies will crave a different amount of mental activity.

I try to give my collies at least 60-90 minutes per day (not all in one go) of mental activities and engagement.

This may be broken down into 10 minutes of command training, 10 minutes of the cup game, taking them out to hike in a new place, and another quick session of hide and seek.

It’s always random…

There’s no rule as to how much mental stimulation is enough. It’s mostly down to trial and error.

As long as you start providing something, your collie will benefit greatly.

Owners will know they’re giving enough when they witness their collie’s behavior improving.

Seeing your collie more relaxed, well-behaved, friendlier, and contented will indicate their daily routine is just right for them.

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