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Working with Energetic Dogs

Kristina McKenzie |

Training high energy dogs should always be a fun process. It can definitely be a challenge, but it can also be very engaging and fun for both the dog and handler! Training your dog consistently and in a positive atmosphere can lead to an incredible bonding experience which can greatly enrich your life and theirs.

The Basics

The challenge we faced with owning a high energy dog was in learning how to channel their energy by teaching them to focus and not get distracted by everything in sight. I started taking my dog, Draco, to puppy classes and working towards his AKC STAR Puppy certificate and his Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test. It taught us both some very valuable basics like:

    • sit
    • stay
    • down
    • come when called
    • heel

The more engaged I was with the training, the more Draco became engaged and focused. By creating a positive atmosphere, the training sessions became more fun and productive for the both of us.


“I would highly recommend working with your dog on a

daily basis to reinforce these basics which will also really help

you in bonding with your dog.”




Understanding your dog’s drive is very important especially in the early stages. Most dogs are highly driven by food, but some are more motivated by toys like squeaky toys or rope toys. Being aware of what motivates your dog and using it while training can have a big impact on the productivity of the session.

Toy drive is great for dogs with high prey drive who are also very motion sensitive. Border Collies like Draco are attracted to movements very much like a cat would be attracted to a string or a cat toy. Games are a great way to use your dog’s drive and focus them on a fun activity.



Games & Toys

Name that Toy is a great game to make your dog think and challenge them mentally. We started with five toys and slowly added more as he got better at the game. Each toy had a name and every time I’d play with him I’d say the toys name. Over a period of time with consistent training, he learned each of his toys’ names. I started off using treats and food as a reward, but I quickly transitioned to just using toys.

Tug is a great game to teach biting puppies. First, you take a tuggy toy and get them to play tug with you. As they are tugging, say “drop” or “out”. Right when the puppy drops or disengages, you immediately reward with a treat! This will teach them to have an awareness of your hands and body. In other words, you are training them to bite down on a toy and not your hands, fingers, or clothes.


“These exercises are also very important safety measures for your dog. If they had something in their mouth that could be dangerous to them, you can just say ‘drop’ and they would release it.”


Fetch is another great training exercise. When first introducing fetch to your puppy, we recommend taking a toy, tying an 8-15” rope to it and then throwing the toy and luring it back in like a fishing line. The advantage to having the toy on a lure is if the puppy gets the toy but gets distracted while bringing it back, you can always pull the toy back to you. You do not want to get in the habit of your dog dropping the toy out of reach and expecting you to come get it. Your dog should always bring the toy to you. Until your puppy is consistent with this, I highly recommend keeping with this exercise.

Good Training Habits

I love working with Draco because I’m as excited to train with him as he is to train with me. If I’m not in the mood, I keep it basic and short instead of ruining the training session by not being able to engage in the activity as much as I should and creating bad habits. I always work in stages and go back to basic commands if my dog gets lost in a particular exercise.

“Never overdo a training session.”


I keep it short and fun and end on a good note. This makes training more enjoyable for both you and your pup. If you have the time, energy and willingness to learn how to work with your dog, a high-energy dog will be a lot of fun to train and work with. If you have a destructive dog, put ALL the toys up and only take them out for playing when you initiate the game. We have many toys that have retired just from rough play, but not from being shredded out of boredom.

Have rules and be consistent about enforcing them. As an example, when you tell your dog “All done” meaning playtime is over, end the game.

Toy & Treat Recommendations

We love ZippyPaws toys and love the variety of squeaky, tuggy and especially Burrow toys they have. I love to rotate the toys. Doing so engages the dogs’ brains a little more by changing it up from time to time.  It’s the same with treats. Try new treats as one might entice your dog more than another. As I noted earlier, some dogs may be more food driven and others more toy driven. It’s up to you to find out what works best for your dog.

Working with Multiple High Energy Dogs

I got my second Border Collie, Gemma, at the beginning of this year. Although my dogs are the same breed, their personalities are very different.  They each have their toys that they like or dislike.  As an example, Draco’s favorite tuggy toy is a plastic ball whereas Gemma’s is a rope toy. Having Gemma is also great because Draco enjoys the company and can be a role model and help Gemma learn her tricks.  An older trained dog can definitely help to teach a younger puppy.



Consistency, Discipline, and Lots of Love

These are the three basic principles I have used when training and building relationships with my dogs. They have greatly enriched my life in more ways than I can count and I hope that some of these tips will enhance and improve your relationships with your own dogs.

About the author: Kristina McKenzie resides in Florida with her two active Border Collies, Draco and Gemma. She’s loved and grown up around animals her whole life and rode horseback rode for 15 years, but stopped and got more involved with dogs. She’s been hooked ever since!

Find her on Instagram: @bordercolliedraco

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