Border Collies earn high marks as a fan favorite dog. Friendly, intelligent, and intensely loyal, the Border Collie is a devoted friend who is well-suited to family life if his physical and mental needs are met on a daily basis. Many people love the distinctive good looks of the Border Collie and assume that they can add one to their family and train the dog to suit their lifestyle. While this may be a viable plan with other dog breeds, Border Collies are not a breed predisposed to enjoying life as a couch potato.
Since Border Collies were purposefully bred to be working dogs, they easily fall into nuisance behaviors if proper physical and mental stimulation is not provided to engage his body and his mind. This can result in digging up your newly planted petunias or even circling you and your children while nipping at your heels in his attempts to herd you into the correct position in the house. Border Collies are high drive dogs who can fall prey to obsessive and even neurotic behaviors without a savvy owner to help positively expend his energy reserves. If your Border Collie engages in regular digging behaviors, there is definitely a reason for it.
The Root of the Behavior
Border Collies are an intensely athletic breed with the brains to back up the build. This breed is characterized by his intense and focused gaze known amongst breed aficionados as the "herding eye." Border Collies trace their history to the time of Roman rule in Great Britain. Roman soldiers needed to procure a bountiful food supply to provide for their men. As such, they traveled to Great Britain with a vast "army" of livestock. As it became apparent there was a need for a dog suited to gathering and maintaining the livestock in one central position, the Roman occupants applied their hand to breeding a dog suited specifically to this purpose. The resulting effort was the earliest ancestor of today's modern Border Collie. As years gave way to a Viking occupation of Great Britain, different herding dog variants were brought to the great nation and were bred to the Romans' dogs in an effort to create the ideal herding dog. It is from these breedings that emerged the Border Collie we know and love today.
The "Collie" portion of the dog's name is derived from a Scottish word that was used to refer to dogs who herded sheep. "Border" was a reference to the area from which the breed originated as a herding dog employed as a livestock guardian on the border of the neighboring countries, Scotland and England. An earlier name attempt the "Scottish Sheep Dog" proved to have no staying power with "Border Collie" becoming the official breed designated name. If your Border Collie loves to dig, he most certainly is not alone. Digging is a very common dog behavior, and many breeds enjoy engaging in it. However, just because Fido is having a grand time turning your yard into an area that resembles a landmine test site doesn't mean that you are a fan of his favorite pastime. Dogs love to dig. It feels good to them. While they seem to derive great pleasure from burrowing their paws into the earth, they are equally at home digging at their dog beds, your couch, or even your carpet. For your dog, digging is a grand thing to do. It just might be his favorite activity after barking at the neighbor's cat. Unfortunately, this activity might be fun for Fido, but this nuisance behavior wreaks havoc with your yard and can also lead to future obsessive and neurotic tendencies in your dog.
Encouraging the Behavior
Since Border Collies are purposefully bred dogs intended to work, they are natural problem solvers. One such problem a herding dog would encounter is a way to stay cool during his work day. Since abandoning the sheep in favor of a cool place to rest his weary paws was not an option, he had to put his brain to the test and devise a strategy that would allow him to do his job AND find some respite from the heat. And just like that--VOILA! A solution emerged. Digging a hole then laying in it afforded the Border Collie the opportunity to keep an eye on the sheep and remain cool at the same time. Though your Border Collie has no need to herd sheep at home, his instincts may compel him to dig a hole to lay in. This behavior is hardwired into your Border Collie. He is merely following what nature tells him he must do. Border Collies left to their own devices regularly get themselves into trouble. They are not a breed to sit patiently on the couch and wait for you to come home.
In the absence of fun things to do, the Border Collie creates his own fun, and invariably, you're not going to like what he has been up to. With this in mind, your Border Collie might be digging because he is bored. If there isn't anything else to do, might as well go dig a hole. After all, he has been meaning to find out if he could indeed dig a tunnel to China from his backyard in Southern California given enough time and opportunity. Alternatively, your dog might have caught wind of a scent and is digging to investigate it further. It is also possible that at some point you have come home to your dog's frenetic digging and inadvertantly reinforced the behavior by smiling or laughing as his crazy antics. Dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement, and any activity they engage in that provides the desired response is likely to be repeated again. And when it comes to Border Collies who can verge on the obsessive, you've just granted him a license to dig an entire railway system to the Orient. With nuisance behaviors, it is always best to refrain from any visible positive reaction to the behavior, no matter how comical it might seem in the moment.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your Border Collie's digging is driving you crazy, there are things that you can do to help discourage the behavior. As with many nuisance activities, avoidance is a powerful strategy for eradicating digging. By restricting Fido's access to your yard, you render him incapable of continuing his digging expedition to China. While this is an excellent strategy to reduce this unwanted behavior, the reality is that you will have to allow Fido into the yard at some point to do his business. However, without the unlimited time to devote to his project, he may soon tire of it and move on to something else. It is also possible that your Border Collie is digging. because he is bored or frustrated. In the absence of a job to do, he has created a very satisfying one of his own.
To reduce the behavior, it is wise to purchase a toy box filled wit a variety of different items selected to engage Fido's Brain and body productively. Thankfully, it is not necessary to buy Fido a few sheep to throw in there to appeal to his herding sensibilities. Simply head to your nearest toy store and pick up a selection of toys in various shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. You can also include bones, chew toys, and Kongs which can be filled with various high value food rewards to keep your Border Collie's tongue and jaws at work. Puzzle toys also afford your dog a great opportunity to put his brain to the test. Alternatively, you can keep your Border Collie occupied by sending him to a reputable doggy day care a few days a week or employing a dog walker to come and take him for a good run. This allows Fido to run off some pent off energy wile taking in some new scents.
Yes, Border Collies love to dig. This behavior is quite normal and natural for our dogs, though often not appreciated by their owners. To help stave off Fido's digging attempts, provide him with some positive alternatives to help engage his mind and body productively. Your garden and yard will thank you for it!
By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 01/30/2020