Attentive, athletic, energetic, single-minded. These are some of the many qualities that come to mind when you think of Border Collies. These same characteristics also explain why Collies make great working dogs. Moreover, Collies are ranked as the most intelligent dogs in the world for a range of achievements such as opening car windows or having a rich vocabulary of words. Ironically, Border Collies also exhibit one behavioral trait that is not associated with a high level of intelligence: they run around in circles, a lot. Among human beings, running around in circles is a phrase that comes loaded with negative connotations such as wasting precious time, engaging in an unproductive activity, and being slow to think. But for dogs, especially Border Collies, this bizarre behavior is a lot more than just an aimless activity, as explained further below.
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The Root of the Behavior
Running around in circles is a behavior that has been observed in most Border Collies, leading dog experts to rate this behavior as normal for this dog breed. In fact, it is thought to be a genetic trait that allows Border Collies to communicate when they are bored. The frequency and intensity of this behavior varies depending on the environment in which you are raising your dog and how much you exercise him. It might be more frequent if you raise your dog in an apartment, though for a dog as active and agile as a Border Collie, even a small backyard might not be enough to give him the exercise he needs. Due to their breeding, they are accustomed to running at high speeds to control herds without getting exhausted. As such, if your Border Collie doesn’t have room to achieve these same speeds, he will start running around in circles because he needs to burn off excess energy.
Some experts also think that running around in circles is a sign of obsessive behavior arising out of boredom, personality, or behavior learned during training. According to Dr. Nicholas B. Carter, the positive traits possessed by Border Collies are a double-edged sword because they allow them to pick up bad behaviors just as fast as they pick up good ones. This means that when Border Collies are trained to herd by running in circles, the behavior will eventually develop into a compulsion and they will perform it repeatedly even when they are not herding.
Veterinary behaviorist Valarie V. Tynes also points out that physiological reasons might be behind your dog running around in circles. In a dog that gets enough exercise, this behavior may be caused by problems with the anal glands, parasites, pain in the tail or legs, or an itch in his hind area. In an attempt to itch or soothe his hind parts, your dog will appear to be running in circles since he cannot reach these parts.
Encouraging the Behavior
Running in circles is nothing to be worried about if your pooch is healthy, parasite free, and happy. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t fuel this behavior no matter how amusing it is as it could develop into an obsession. Instead, seek healthy and safe alternatives for burning off energy, such as by exercising your Border Collie frequently or by making his environment more exciting. If you live in a place where your dog doesn’t have much room to run freely, look for a dog park around you or enroll him in canine sports. Exercise routines and skills learned in obedience training classes will also give your dog the workout he needs. Additionally, if you cannot make time to walk him daily, get someone to walk him.
Behavioral training is also necessary if you want the behavior to stop. With appropriate behavioral adjustment, your Border Collie can be trained to stop running in circles especially when he is in the house. If you suspect that the behavior is fueled by physiological reasons, take your dog to the vet for tests and diagnosis. Note that sometimes, your dog can engage in harmless tail-chasing, so if you suspect this to be the case, it is best to leave him be.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Even after training and exercise, your pooch might ignore your commands to stop running around in circles. In his book "What's Wrong with My Dog?" veterinarian Jake Tedaldi explains that running in circles may be a result of neurological causes. Ear infections, seizures, and trauma are associated with neurological disorders and cause dogs to move in circles. A clear symptom of a neurological disorder according to Jake Tedaldi, is when your dog runs in one direction but finds it difficult to move in the opposite direction. Neurological disorders, if left untreated, can result in aggression or death hence the best way to progress is by taking your dog to the vet and if necessary, a dog behaviorist.
As discussed above, running in circles is normal for Border Collies most of the times because of their genetic disposition. A good run in the park or some structured exercises in a canine training class will do the trick if all your pooch needs is a workout. However, be prepared if this behavior is an anomaly to rush him to his veterinary professional immediately.