McNab Dog

A McNab is a breed of working dog that was developed in a ranch in Mendocino County. Breeds of dogs have gone extinct for a variety of reason most common of which is when the dog becomes redundant. This breed has existed for centuries because of its admirable working abilities. The breed was developed in the early 19th century by Alexander McNab, a Scottish sheep farmer that has settled in California. The McNab dog is a hardworking breed that is utilized as a hunting companion. The breed is an excellent deer and wild boar hunter. However, the breed was developed by a sheep farmer thus a McNab is more highly valued as a herding dog. The McNab dog is also called McNab Shepherd, McNab Herding Dog, McNab Border Collie as although the dog is an excellent hunter, the breed is highly valued for its work on cattle and sheep ranches. McNabs have become a favored herding breed of farmers and ranchers not only in Northern California where it has originated but also in the great central valley and up and down the California coast.

A McNab Shepherd is a medium sized breed of herding dog. This breed was primarily developed to be a working dog. However, unlike most working breeds a McNab has a rather pleasing appearance. This breed’s athletic body is covered with a predominantly black or red smooth short coat with white markings. A short coat is more ideal for a herding dog in California where the weather is hot and dry. Additionally, a short coated herding dog will not easily pick up burs, foxtails and other coat stick-on. This well-put on breed is characterized by its cat-like feet that enhances its agility.

McNabs are intelligent and hardworking breed. The dog adapts well to training. Did you know that a well trained McNab would easily understand the hand gestures of its master? This dog immediately responds to the shrill whistle of the shepherd. This breed though abhors heavy handed treatments. If you want your McNab to respond to your training methods you have to lavish the dog with praises and use positive training methods.


On the McNab ranch in Mendocino, black and red coated dogs are circling the nimble footed sheep. Season after season, these dogs will respond to the whistle or to the orders of a McNab to hold, to gather, to herd and to drive flocks of sheep. These intelligent dogs were trained to respond to the motions of the shepherd’s hands. These are the McNab dogs… a breed that was developed to work the sheep, the cattle as well as other animals.

The McNab dog varies in appearance. These dogs were developed from Scottish Collies thus a black or red coat with white markings would be common. This is a short coated breed. Alexander McNab have probably opted for short haired collies over long haired ones when he chose dogs to be brought to California knowing that the scorching California sun would be trying on a long coated breed. A McNab is a medium sized breed. This dog generally measures from 15 to 25 inches at the withers although some males are noted to be much taller. These dogs weigh from 25 to 50 pounds. A McNab dog has a sharp shaped head. The muzzle has a white blaze that runs from the black nose up to the space between the eyes to the head. The almond shaped loose eyes that vary in color from copper, hazel or brown has an alert expression. This breed usually has a patch of white hair in the neck and on the chest. The short furred tail is commonly white tipped. One or more feet are covered with white hair as well. The breed is noted for its cat-like feet that enhance its speed and agility. A McNab’s medium sized rather pointed ears are pricked. Ears of some specimens may flap over. This breed can have a naturally bobbed or a long narrow tail.


Unlike other herding breeds, a McNab is noted to have a warm and even tempered personality. This breed tends to form a strong attachment to one person but the dog is generally friendly to all the members of the family especially to the children. It tolerates other dogs in the family although it must be remembered that a McNab is a hunter. The dog would need to be socialized at an early age to lessen its aggression towards other animals. The dog is very protective of its master. A McNab will consider his master as well as the master’s family and possessions as his, thus they would need to be protected at all cost. The dog will never tolerate strangers. The dog will not only bark and bare it teeth. If necessary, the dog will bite to protect his master and his property. Being a medium sized breed, a McNab should do well in apartments however, this breed dislikes being idle. An apartment or a cramped living space is definitely not for this breed.


A McNab dog is generally a healthy breed. This dog can live up to 15 years as the breed is free from a lot of genetic health issues. The short coat would not need extensive grooming. Brushing the coat once a week will be sufficient to remove dead hair and to maintain its good condition. These grooming sessions would be more of a bonding time between dog and master. Frequent bathing will not be necessary either so as not to strip the natural oils that moisturize the coat. However, if you own this dog you to realize that being a working breed it would have high exercise requirements. If no space is available where the dog can run and play freely, you need to take the dog on long daily walks. This will ensure that the dog will not develop destructive habits.


Dogs that belong to the working group are purposely developed to perform a variety of tasks. These breeds are highly valued by their owners as they are depended on to haul, to rescue, to herd, to drove, to hunt and to perform many other tasks. Herding dogs for instance can do the work of several ranch hands. These animals will work tirelessly expecting no payment other than a pat on the head and praise from the master. The McNab is one of these working breeds. This small to medium sized athletic dog is most sought after by hunters. This breed is utilized throughout Northern California to hunt wild pig, deer, rabbits and squirrels. This breed though is acclaimed for its prime herding ability. McNabs are commonly seen in cattle ranches although these dogs will not baulk at herding sheep, horses, llamas and other animals. Owners of these very dependable working breed have to thank Scottish Alexander McNab for developing this outstanding working dog.

Enticed by the news of the bountiful West, Alexander McNab, a sheep farmer opted to leave his sheep farm in the Gampian Hills of Scotland in 1866. McNab and his family crossed the Atlantic to settle in the Mendocino County of Northern California. The family built a ranch on 10,000 acres of lush land noted for its warmer climate. Being a sheep farmer, McNab knew the importance of a good herding dog. However, the Scottish Collie he brought from Scotland died a few years after setting foot on American soil. This Scottish farmer found local working dogs wanting in herding abilities. In 1885, he purposely returned to Scotland to obtain dogs he was accustomed to working with. Peter and Fred, the two Scottish Collies were purchased. Fred has natural heading abilities. Peter was utilized as a head and a drive dog. These two dogs became the foundation stock of the breed that was eventually recognized as McNab dogs.

Peter and Fred were mated to female dog believed to have been brought by the Basque sheep herders. Not much is known about this breed although the bitches were described as medium sized, pricked eared and tight coated dogs. These dogs of Spanish origin must have been an outstanding breed to have caught the interest of Alexander McNab. Years of selective breeding have established the breed. The McNab is not a fancy looking breed. For generations these dogs have worked in the hillsides of Mendocino heading or heeling sheep. This breed has existed for well over 100 years but it is relatively unknown and not recognized by any kennel club. This can be considered as a blessing in disguise by McNab owners. Recognized by a kennel club, the dog has to fit a specific breed standard. It is highly probable that the breed will lose the original and true conformation and temperament of the dog developed by Alexander McNab over a hundred years ago.

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