How to motivate a Border collie during training

How to motivate a Border collie during training

Education & Training

Training dogs successfully requires an adaptive, individual approach that takes into account a wide range of different factors, such as the dog’s intelligence, energy levels, age, lifestyle, past training experiences, and even what is going on around you at any given time.

However, perhaps one of the strongest factors that dictates a lot of these traits and so, the right training approach is the breed of the dog in question, and dogs that share a common breed also share a range of core personality traits that together, help to make them who they are.

This means that how you would approach the training of any two different dogs in order to get things right will in large part depend on their breed – and when it comes to training the Border collie, these dogs really are in a league of their own in terms of both intelligence and energy levels, and require a very adaptive, bespoke approach to achieve success.

In this article we will share a short synopsis of the core Border collie traits that their trainers need to take into account, and then offer some advice on how to motivate and engage a Border collie to train them effectively. Read on to learn more.

The core traits of the Border collie

So, what do you need to know about the Border collie in order to be able to train one successfully? First of all, this is the most intelligent dog breed in the world bar none, which means that the Border collie can theoretically learn more skills than any other dog.

However, this doesn’t mean that training a border collie is always easy, because very smart dogs tend to have a short attention span, get bored easily, and often, learn so quickly that they switch off and become unruly because you’re labouring a point that they already picked up on some way back!

Added to this, the Border collie is a hugely high energy dog, which can make training them and engaging their concentration a challenge. It is almost impossible to wear a dog of the breed out entirely, but they should be exercised before training begins to take the edge off their fizziness so that they can concentrate.

Channelling that energy in positive directions is required here, rather than hoping to wear the dog out so that they listen more effectively.

Finally, Border collies are at their hearts herding dogs, and they will naturally display a propensity to herding behaviour, such as running in circles and attempting to round things up. Once more, you need to harness and channel these traits rather than fighting them, in order to succeed.

How to motivate a Border collie during training

Mental engagement

If you can’t catch a Border collie’s attention and make them engage with you, your training will go nowhere. This means that your training needs to be designed to make the dog think, pay attention, and see value in following direction, which in turn means that whatever you are doing or asking the dog to do needs to be more interesting than anything else going on around you.

You have to be interesting to the dog, and give them a reason to look to you rather than looking around, which means that you will need to be fairly active, and incorporate facial expression, eye contact, body language and tone of voice cues for the dog to follow, and provide a mental challenge for them to tackle.

Keep the dog guessing

A Border collie will tend to pick up on what you want quickly, and this is not always a good thing – because if they pick up the wrong thing, this can be hard to undo. Additionally, they will often begin to pre-empt what you are going to ask them to do next and begin executing that movement as a follow-on to the last one, so you have to keep the dog guessing.

For instance, don’t always use chain commands in the same order or run the dog through a fixed repertoire such as sit, down, stay, come – change the order and keep the dog guessing so that they have to identify and follow each command instead of running through a set routine.


A Border collie, much like a child that is smarter than the rest of their children in their class, will soon get bored and switch off if you keep labouring the same point over and over beyond the point where the dog has gotten to grips with it.

Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of repetition in order to reinforce and refresh commands, but when the dog complies first time, move straight on. Don’t keep having them execute the same command over and over when they’ve gotten it right, otherwise the dog will either get bored, or question whether or not they are indeed doing it right and might try something else!

Upping the complexity

The sheer range and complexity of commands that an engaged Border collie can execute is huge, and so to keep the dog working and to really let them show what they’ve got, you need to plan for your training to become progressively more complex, incorporating new commands, more challenging commands, chain commands, and the fine-tuning of existing skills.

If you don’t plan for this in advance, your dog will likely get ahead of you and be left at a loose end whilst you struggle to think up what to do next.

Making the dog problem-solve

Problem solving is something that Border collies are adept at, and this provides valuable mental engagement for them too, and so setting your dog a challenge is a great way to keep them keen on training.

Whether you set them to find something you have hidden or how to work their way out through a home-made maze, anything that makes the dog think will be highly rewarding.

Treats and rewards

On which note, training treats and rewards are a valuable part of training for all dogs, but Border collies are actually not as motivated by food rewards as most other breeds – for them, the training and mental stimulation itself is its own reward.

However, don’t forget to praise and encourage your dog as you go along, and give them a treat or a toy for a job well done.



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