If you've ever owned a Border Collie, you know that they are rarely still. They are indeed a breed that likes to be on the move! Border Collies seem to elicit strong reactions from people. Either they love them, or they hate them, but it is impossible for most people to remain neutral. The truth is, our modern dog breeds were largely bred with a purpose in mind. Nearly all of them, including Border Collies, were designed to fulfil jobs in life. Many of them would assist their owners with important tasks. Yet today's dogs rarely are "worked" as they would have been in days of old. Unfortunately, this leaves many breeds feeling frustrated and anxious. As a result, behavior quirks begin to abound, and owners can become perplexed about what to do to help their dogs. It is always helpful to take the time to research a breed's history before selecting one to share your home with you and your family. The Border Collie is one such breed. They have big energy requirements and are dogs that need a daily job in order to feel fulfilled.
The Root of the Behavior
Border Collies, much like Border Terriers, get their name from the fact that the breed was developed along the border of two neighboring countries, Scotland and England. This breed was designed to assist its owners with animal husbandry work. Border Collies belong to the herding group and were largely working dogs in their original homes. They were primarily used to herd livestock animals with sheep being the animal of choice. Border Collies are renowned for their keen intelligence and drive to work. They are ideal candidates for obedience training and thrive when given the opportunity to exercise both their minds and their bodies. Because of these traits, they are highly prized by professional dog trainers for their easy trainability. However, Border Collies are not dogs that will be satisfied simply being lap dogs. This breed is characterized by its high drive and intense energy levels. Dogs who spent their days in a pen herding sheep would need vast resources of strength and stamina to keep the herd together. As such, these dogs are incredibly athletic and excel at dog performance sports which showcase their flexibility and acrobatic prowess.
For a breed as intelligent and driven as the Border Collie, a sedentary lifestyle would be akin to torture. Many people love the appearance of the Border Collie but are ill-prepared for the exercise needs of the breed. Because Border Collies are not just highly energetic, they also require a great deal of mental stimulation to truly thrive. It is not enough to simply take a Border Collie for a daily walk. Some sort of activity which also engages the brain is equally as necessary. Like most breeds bred for specific jobs, Border Collies will make their own fun if their physical and mental needs are not met on a daily basis. Most often, this "fun" turns out to be things that their owners don't like very much at all such as digging, chewing, nuisance barking, and spinning. Some Border Collies will exercise their natural instincts by attempting to "herd" you and your children! They will even nip at your heels if you balk at their attempts to "round you up." Border Collies left to their own devices can also become obsessive and neurotic. This is normally not a temperament issue at all. This is simply the end result of a dog's needs not being properly met, and frustration resulting because of it.
Encouraging the Behavior
Why do Border Collies spin? There are several reasons to explain this very common behavior in Border Collies. The first possibility is taken directly from the dog's original purpose. In order to herd sheep or other livestock, it would be necessary for the Border Collie to circle them continuously to gather then keep them in the same position. This behavior is natural for Border Collies. They were selectively bred to encourage it. If your Border Collie is circling you or your children, it is because it is an instinct that is hard-wired into your dog and has been for centuries. He is merely doing what feels right to him. The act of herding requires a certain amount of obsessive behavior in order to effectively fulfill the desired role. Because of this, Border Collies are already more highly strung than some other breeds, and this is a trait that was valued by farmers. In days of old and with food scarcer to come by, farmers could not afford to feed and house animals who were not contributing to the household through their jobs. As a result, Border Collies who were successful workers would be bred to other Border Collies who exhibited similar qualities. In this way, the breed could continue into perpetuity and be refined to be the most effective herding dogs possible for their owners.
Dogs who engage in repeated spinning behaviors may also have tremendous energy stores that are not being effectively depleted. Border Collies are not as easily able to tolerate periods of time where their exercise requirements are not met. If mental stimulation is also lacking, the dog may begin to entertain himself through various activities including destruction and spinning. Excessive mouthing, biting, and vocalization can also become problematic. The good news is, if your Border Collie is engaging in any of these behaviors, the remedy is simple. Give him a job to do, and you will have a happy dog on your hands! If working your dog is not an option, you might want to consider an activity like agility, fly ball, or other dog performance sports that allow your dog to work out his energies and intelligence in a positive way. These sports not only benefit your Border Collie; they are also helpful for you. You get to bond with your dog in a fun activity and get some added exercise as a bonus. You can get fit and have fun with your dog all at the same time.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In some cases, Border Collies suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. It has been estimated that less than 2 percent of the breed are afflicted by this condition. If your Border Collie receives the appropriate exercise needed to properly expend his physical and mental resources yet still engages in repetitive spinning, it is possible that your dog requires veterinary attention to rule out obsessive-compulsive disorder. Rarely is this the case, but it is still worth considering. Dogs who suffer from this condition can receive treatment in the form of behavior modification and psychotropic drugs to help level out the brain chemistry and reduce anxiety and nuisance behaviors in your dog. This should only be considered if all other resources have been attempted without remedy.
There is no shame in giving your dog a drug if necessary. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a medical condition requiring chemical intervention to help your dog. Dogs who spin obsessively are suffering, and they need compassionate care to find relief. Of course, it is also possible that your Border Collie spins for the pure joy of motion. Some dogs will run in circles as an expression of happiness. You may even notice your dog spinning to chase his tail, just before a visit to one of his favorite places, or upon your arrival home. It is important to note that if your dog engages in obsessive activities that he should never be scolded for it. Anxiety is often the root of the behavior, and harsh corrective action can have the opposite of the desired effect. Patience and routine is key to helping your dog cope with stresses he may be feeling that result in spinning.
Your Border Collie's spinning got you seeing circles? If so, you are not alone! Spinning can be a very normal response to pent-up energy but to keep your Border Collie a happy boy (or girl), make sure to find ways to channel his mental and physical energies positively on a daily basis. Fido (or Fifi) will thank you for it!
Written by a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/05/2018, edited: 01/30/2020