A Personal Introduction to the McNab Dog Breed (McNab Border Collie)
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wow, what a ridiculously handsome dog. What is he?"
Earl is a McNab—sometimes referred to as a "McNab Border Collie" or a "McNab Stock Dog." Around here, we have other names for him, such as "our little boy" and "Early Pearly" and an assortment of pet names so sweet and doting that I would blush to admit them. We love our Earl.
McNabs Are a Well-Kept Secret
Most people haven't heard of McNabs. Those who have still might not be able to identify them when they see them; they might guess a Border Collie cross or (gasp!) a mutt. We like it that way; whenever a breed becomes popular, they are at risk of several hazards:
- They might become overbred by unscrupulous breeders, without concern for quality or the animal's welfare.
- They might be purchased by people who will keep them in a home or environment for which a particular breed is very ill-suited.
- Perhaps they'll be bred for breed "type" to the extent that they'll be inbred, line-bred, and ultimately deformed in a relentless quest for overly exaggerated "typey" features.
We're happy that the McNab is a well-kept secret. On the other hand, I love our McNab and want to share a little bit about this amazing dog with you. The best way I can do that is to introduce you to Earl.
How We Adopted Earl
About three years ago, my future husband and I spent a week on a cattle drive in New Mexico. I admired one of the cattle dogs along the way and asked the cowboy who owned her to call me if she ever had pups. She was a Border Collie, and she was an extraordinary dog—smart, athletic, and capable. With our three dogs getting on in years, it was a good time to introduce a puppy.
Serendipity intervened. The day after we arrived home, my husband was outside cleaning up the horse trailer from the trip. He came in and called out to me, "You have a visitor!" He said it was a cowboy who knew me and mentioned his name. Delighted to know an old friend had stopped by, I hurried out to visit.
My friend, Mark, told me he was delivering puppies in the area and thought he'd just stop to say hello. We chatted in the shade of the barn for a bit, and he tipped his hat and said he'd better head back to the ranch. I finally couldn't resist asking, "Can I see those puppies?" He took us to the puppy box in the bed of his truck and opened it to reveal three black and white imps. They were cute—as puppies always are. One was a female; one had a mid-length coat; and one was a short-haired male.
The McNab Personality: Smart and Independent
I'd never heard of a McNab, I must confess. Mark explained a bit about them:
- They were bred for working cattle, not sheep, and they are more independent.
- If you show them their job, they'll figure out exactly how to do it, rather than being blindly obedient.
- They don't slink down low as Border Collies do.
- They work out wider, away from the animal, rather than getting in real close.
- I like big dogs, so perhaps that's why Mark told me they mature at about 80 pounds.
I asked him what he was asking for them and then turned to my beloved with my most beseeching eyes. "Can we?" Without hesitation, he said, "Let me get a check. Do I write it for one or all three?" (Is it any wonder I married this man?) I held up the short-haired little boy puppy and said, "This one!"
50 Pounds and Scary-Smart
That's how Earl arrived. Other than the fact that Earl is a mid-sized dog who matured at 50 pounds, Mark was right about everything else. Earl is definitely an independent thinker, and it was comical to watch my husband calling out to him, "Earl! Don't process—just come!" during training sessions. Earl is scary-smart, and he figures most things out long before we even think about training him. For the most part, he trains himself. Sometimes, he trains us, too.
The Reputation and (Brief) History of the Breed
If you research McNabs, you'll find a lot of people who rave about them as uncannily good stock dogs. Their brains and independence have earned them a fine reputation among ranchers.
You'll also learn that they're named after a California rancher named Alexander McNab, who brought stock from Scotland in the 1800s to develop exactly the line of cattle dogs he needed for his rugged terrain and wily cattle. You won't find anything in most breed books about them, though, and they're not even a footnote in the AKC standards book. I hope it stays that way.
The Characteristics and Temperament of McNabs
They Are Sensitive
McNabs are not only smart dogs, but they're extremely sensitive, too. They're the sort of dog that'll do their best to please you, and they will crumple like a used tissue if you raise your voice. Earl was so sensitive as a puppy that I couldn't use the word "no," around him, even in a soft, gentle tone; he knew what it meant, and it devastated him.
If I said "no," he'd think it meant "never," and sometimes I only wanted it to mean, "Not right now." He couldn't differentiate. Early in his time with us, he was at the barn with me and I casually said, "No, Earl," to him when he got into a stall. I didn't want him to get stepped on. From that day forward, he believed he wasn't allowed at the barn.
. . . and Noise-Sensitive
Earl is noise-sensitive, too. He doesn't like clicking or snapping or clanging noises. Wind and thunder send him hiding in "his" closet. McNabs aren't for noisy households or for people with anger management issues. They require owners who understand that these dogs are doing their damnedest to be great dogs.
They Are Sweet
McNabs have a sweet nature and become strongly attuned to the others in the household. Earl makes his "morning rounds" every day—he waits for my old black Lab to awaken, and then he leaps off the bed and gives him kisses. He gives a similar greeting to my small-but-feisty warrior princess, a Papillon, and—last but not least—he gives me my morning kisses, too. He likes to snuggle up against me so I can barely move, and he rests his head on my legs. He loves his stuffed toys and brings one or more to bed every night, so he can sleep touching them.
They Are Energetic
McNabs, like their Border Collie cousins, are highly energetic. This can easily translate to neuroses if they are confined and not given the constant, daily work they require. They aren't meant to be chained or kenneled or kept in a tiny apartment while you're at work all day. They need space to run at full tilt and to be active even in the house.
Please don't try to make a McNab into a poodle or a Shih Tzu. It would be an act of cruelty upon this active, busy, work-oriented dog. Besides, they shed 24/7/365, and they will ruin your couch.
They Need to Keep Busy
We don't have cattle (yet). Because Earl doesn't have a herd to round up and chase and sort, we spend hours a day keeping him busy. He plays tug of war with the other dogs, goes running once or twice a day with my husband, and accompanies me on most of my trips around town. Most of all, he plays ball—literally, for sometimes hours a day. Not only must my husband throw the ball for numerous sessions daily, but every visitor to the ranch must throw the ball. Earl also plays the hose game, chases lizards, and goes hiking and walking with me.
For the owner with a lot of property and plenty of time to spend trying to keep up with a busy McNab, they're astonishingly good dogs:
- They don't want to roam; they know where home is, and they come when they're called.
- They are sociable if kept with other dogs, but they're shy with new dogs.
- They also have some primitive-dog traits—Earl has a fetish for rolling in stinky things, and few things delight him like a fresh mound of manure. This is where the "hose game" comes in. Few dogs have baths as often as Earl does.
- Fortunately, Earl sheds so frequently that his coat is clean and shiny at all times—we often joke that he turns over a new coat daily.
A Warning on Ivermectin
Anyone who is fortunate enough to have a McNab in their life should also know that McNabs are Ivermectin-sensitive dogs. This means that they often suffer serious side effects if given the remedy and preventative parasite control, Ivermectin. The most popular heartworm drug is Ivermectin-based, so make sure you discuss Ivermectin sensitivity with your veterinarian before administering.
Is a McNab the Right Dog for You?
Or, Are You the Right Owner for a McNab?
McNabs aren't for everyone. Not everyone deserves a McNab, actually. Those who are lucky enough to be owned by one are special people:
- They understand that dogs have excellent hearing and don't need to be yelled at in order to hear.
- They accept that these physically tough dogs are keenly sensitive and can easily become fearful.
- They realize that these are active and energetic pups who need frequent and regular high-speed activity.
- They understand that it is cruel to spend dozens of years breeding an animal to be very good at specific things, then try to fit them into a lifestyle in which those attributes aren't welcome or encouraged.
McNabs are unique and interesting dogs. As unexpected as Earl's arrival was in our lives, he has been the perfect dog for us. Rarely does a day go by that he doesn't invent a new antic or adopt an odd new habit. He's always thinking. We're so fortunate that he's found his way into our lives.
More About Our Dogs: McNabs and Papillons
- The Many Ears of Earl the McNab
Everyone who knows the McNab dog is well aware of their very expressive ears. These unique ears have a perfect fold that allows great versatility. Many are "one ear up" dogs. Here's to the ears!
- Information About a McNab Puppy
Oh, you lucky dog—you've got a McNab puppy. Be ready for the ultimate puppy experience, complete with scary-smart behavior, utter happiness, high energy, tons of spunk and just enough naughtiness!
- The Papillon: A Guide to Being Owned by One
When you first see a Papillon dog, you may dismiss them as fluffy little lightweights. Behind the scenes, Papillons rule the earth. Move over . . . Papillons pull the real strings around here.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Marcy J. Miller