Introduction to a McNab Puppy

Molly, on the long drive to her new home with us.
Molly, on the long drive to her new home with us. | Source

Puppies: Cuteness in Common

Unlike human babies, all puppies have cuteness in common (I'm only partly kidding about the baby wisecrack). Any healthy puppy will boast spunk and curiosity, wags and whimpers, playfulness and their own special form of destructiveness. They'll have bright eyes, warm pink puppy bellies, and that amazing phenomena that causes we dog lovers to instantly sigh in bliss: puppy breath. There's that special way they have of trotting so that their paws lightly slap the floor -- yes, it's a pitter-patter-paw sound, and it's pure music.

From there, though, puppies have infinite variation. There are short puppies, tall puppies, big-pawed puppies, fawn-legged puppies, curly-coated puppies and puppies with coats so fine they are more like baby seals. There are puppies with big attitude, puppies with less attitude and puppies with so much sweetness they'll raise your blood sugar level just by resting their head on their paws. Best of all, there are McNab puppies.

What's So Different About a McNab Puppy?

McNabs are bred to be working dogs -- stock dogs, specifically. Bred to cover vast sections of land while herding the wilder types of cattle, they remain primarily working dogs on working ranches rather than over-bred show dogs. They have been carefully selectively bred for specific traits, both physical and mental, that suit them to their environment and their job. Thankfully, they remain non-AKC, thus discouraging that bane of registry dogs: breeding for "typiness." They're bred for performance. As a result, they may not always fit a narrow "breed standard." Instead, they're form-to-function, and they're often crossed to other stock dog types to produce specific traits that a breeder or rancher desires.

Here is an introduction to the breed: A Personal Introduction to a McNab Dog What makes a McNab puppy unique, though, I'll focus on here. Because unique, they are. Certainly they come with all the standard puppy features, but they have several options of their own. For those of you who may be having your first joyful experience with a McNab puppy, there are some things you should know.

Watch out, folks, she's going wide!
Watch out, folks, she's going wide! | Source

Independent Thinkers

McNabs are bred to be independent thinkers, rather than wholly submissive followers of the human-given direction. That doesn't mean they're untrainable; anything but. In fact, it's often said that McNabs train themselves. They learn by watching and they'll stun you with how quickly they pick up on things you didn't even realize you were teaching them -- which is often good, but can be a double-edged sword. Stock dogs in general are prone to being visual learners, as dogs will often be placed with experienced dogs to learn the business. McNabs clearly do so, but they'll also learn by watching you. This means you must be cognizant of the fact that any moment you are with your McNab, you're essentially training them. Just like when handling a horse, you're either training or untraining -- so make sure you're aware of what that signifies.

Now, about that independent thought: McNabs tend to be problem solvers. Rather than staring at you constantly and waiting for your command, they'll often figure out the job and then do it for themselves -- sometimes, not exactly the way you thought it should be done. They're highly intelligent and sometimes they'll do the job better than the way you planned. They are also bred for working cattle rather than sheep, and not as feedlot dogs but as dogs on large spreads. That means they "go wide." What this means to you is that when you call your McNab, he may not run straight to you. Our Earl will often run away from us when we give him a direction. For example, I'll say, "Earl, let's go to the barn," and as I walk straight to the barn, Earl will run off and take a roundabout route to get there. He always beats me there, though. He is following that fascinating genetic code that tells him innately, "Earl, there might be stragglers in the brush. Go the long way round and bring 'em in."

Little Molly McNab is but eight weeks old as I write this. Already, this tendency is clear in her. As she chased Earl about yesterday, she often ran out and around an obstacle rather than paralleling him. (The cats haven't figured this out quite yet.) She is already the independent thinker and clearly makes her own decisions when we are rambling the ranch.

Molly and one of her favorite toys, a gift from Aunt Barb.
Molly and one of her favorite toys, a gift from Aunt Barb. | Source
After a good romp with the pink pig, Molly crashes.
After a good romp with the pink pig, Molly crashes. | Source

Aiming to Please and Quick to Learn.

McNabs are famous for their desire to please their owner and perform their jobs well. This translates to an oft-keen sensitivity. Though physically tough dogs with courage and stamina, they require a gentle and oft-permissive hand in raising and training them. One word can devastate them. We learned that with Earl and are constantly aware of it as we raise Molly. These are not dogs that need to be yelled at, but rather guided; you don't break them, you shape them.

They are ridiculously quick learners. Molly was ranch-bred and had not been indoors up to the point we picked her up six weeks ago. She had not been in a crate; she had been in a fabulous puppy corral with plenty of visual stimuli and fresh air. We crated her for much of our 500+ mile drive home. She was quick to realize that the crate was her refuge, not her prison, and she settled in for a happy nap when we'd place her back inside. On puppy breaks (where we used great caution not to expose her to areas other traveling dogs had left their mark -- and bacteria and viruses) she stayed with us, came when called, and did not so much as consider romping off to meet strangers.

On arriving home, the little girl went out every two hours throughout her first night. She had no accidents in the large home crate. We made sure she was allowed to continue her outdoor exploration after doing her business -- we didn't want her to learn to hold it when she went out, as the smart dogs quickly figure out so they don't have to go right back in. When we returned her to her crate, we gave her a treat each time (and of course she had her many crate toys).

By the very first morning, Molly was already running to the door when she needed to eliminate. She has had many accidents -- puppies do that! -- but she has always made a good-faith effort to get to the door. Sometimes her little bladder just couldn't keep up, but her mind was always in the right spot. It helps that she spends much of the day outdoors with me.

Equally impressive was how quickly Molly learned to sit. I began to teach her by holding a training bit in front of her nose while gently saying, "Molly, sit." She fell back on her plump rear end as she reached for the treat. That was all it took, and I'm not exaggerating: since then, she has happily plunked that puppy booty down at one word of "sit" as I hold the treat out. That night, I mentioned to my husband to say, "Sit," to her when she wanted to go back into the house. He did so in a quiet voice; she sat; we opened the door and she proudly walked through. They do learn that quickly. As such, we both talk to the dogs in conversational tones as we're doing things throughout each day. Earl has an impressive vocabulary, and Molly is already well on her way.

Molly McNab switched to the "off" position.
Molly McNab switched to the "off" position. | Source

The McNab Lifestyle

In addition to the going-wide tendency, and the independent thought process that makes a great stock dog, McNabs are also going to want to work hard, play hard and herd cats. Yep, herd cats. More on that later. They require a great deal of exercise and intellectual stimulation. They are not intended to be apartment dogs and it is a cruelty to limit their range and activity. If you are an urban apartment-dweller with a sedentary lifestyle, please do not acquire a McNab puppy. Established breeds are bred for very specific drives and instincts. It is a great cruelty to deprive a dog of a lifestyle and activity that they are bred for (unless a legitimate substitute for that lifestyle or activity can be offered). There are so many incredible dog breeds available; please consider a dog that complements your lifestyle rather than making your dog "fit" into it. I promise there is a dog that is already tailored to your circumstances! It may not be the McNab.

Cattle dogs want to run. They want to round up other creatures. They want to leap over things, roll in horse manure, and chase. They may nip at heels and at noses. A conscientious and committed breeder will screen the potential buyer and make sure that they will provide the acreage, lifestyle and philosophy that will allow their McNab to thrive. Many will not let a dog go to a non-working home -- and bless them for that. McNabs love to work.

The McNab puppy has two speeds: full "ON" and full "OFF." They play hard with great bursts of romping energy and then they will sleep soundly. Their schedule is, "Play, eat, pee, sleep, repeat." Unlike many of the breeds that tend toward obesity, McNabs will often prefer to leave their meal in order to play. We often must sit beside Earl, our five-year-old McNab, until he finishes eating -- if we leave the room, he runs to be with us, fearful he'll miss a chance to run or go do livestock chores. We take extra care to ensure that Molly gets her meals and then has a chance to rest her tummy. McNabs love their treats but are not food motivated as Labradors or Golden Retrievers are. We free-feed dry food plus give regular feedings of top-quality canned food, as well as offering plenty of fresh carrots and other vegetables. It is not normal for a healthy, young McNab to have a weight issue. If one does, something is likely very wrong indeed in their lifestyle or feeding program.

Molly McNab doing her McNabercizes.
Molly McNab doing her McNabercizes. | Source

Runners, Not Roamers.

We were careful to choose McNabs as "our" dog breed based on our lifestyle, needs and preferences. One trait we had to have was a dog that was not a roamer. We live adjacent to Tonto National Forest, filled with hunters, recreational shooters, dog-eating coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, dirt-bikers and off-road drivers. It is a hot and arid place dotted with cactus and spiny plants of great variety. Dogs that stray do not last here. I cannot have the heartbreak. Neither do I want to be roaming the streets at night yelling for my dog, as many of my neighbors do. I can no longer have a dog that chooses to roam.

McNabs, even as puppies, are inherently non-roamers. That's not to say that there aren't naughty errant Mcnabs out there; I'm saying that it is not a breed trait. They recognize their home and property boundaries through some strange Mcnab ability all their own. From her first day here I took Molly to the barn with me for chores, as Earl did Earl things around the property. Whenever Molly lost sight of me, she'd head back to the front porch and there she'd wait -- just as Earl has always done.

Earl Playing Gently with "His" Puppy, Molly

Molly Wrestling with Willie the Cat

The Angsty McNab

McNabs are sensitive dogs. I repeat that again and again because it's critical information. There are tough and obstinate breeds of dog who fare well with heavy-handed, loud, rough handlers, and there are sensitive dogs who succeed with gentle, quiet, thoughtful owners. The McNab requires a kind and gentle owner who will not destroy their wonderful motivation and psyche.

Earl is a highly-sensitive dog, keyed in to my own emotional state to such a degree that if I sigh in mock exasperation, his ears drop and he runs to me with a worried expression. If we tell Molly the McNablet "No" in even the quietest voice, Earl moves toward us with the worried ears on. He cannot stand conflict or scolding -- and we are happy to avoid both. We realize we have a nurturing, kind, acutely sensitive dog and we cherish that. I've known cowboys who had outstanding stock dogs that ultimately traded them for different breeds; they were too abrupt and harsh, and the dogs didn't work well for them. A Catahoula or Kelpie is better suited to a more aggressive handler, while a Mcnab or Border Collie is sure to be devastated if spoken to the wrong way. Naturally, individuals within the breed vary greatly; however, as a general guideline, don't choose a McNab if you're one of those folks who think all dogs are naturally deaf and you can only speak to them in a shout.

If you are handling a McNab puppy, it's a good idea to have varying "degrees" of commands. For example, rather than just "No," it's wise to teach them, "Not now," or "Gentle," or "That's all." If you want a dog to work livestock one day, don't yell "No!" the first time they give chase -- after all, no means NO. The more sensitive dogs may never want to work livestock again if you do so. Instead, put them on hold with a "not now," or "wait." They're smart enough to know the difference. You can even incorporate the command into feeding by holding them back from the food and saying, "wait" before giving them, "Okay!" and releasing them to eat.

A Few Other Traits You May Observe in Your McNab Puppy

Again, there are variations within every breed and line. These are general observations about Mcnabs.

  • They're not noisy dogs unless they've been made neurotic by poor handling, excessive confinement, etc. McNabs, even the puppies, generally only bark when there's a darned good reason to do so. Their barks are also easily interpreted: Earl, for example, has a specific bark that we only hear when there's a rattlesnake nearby. He will not bark at the trash truck, people's vehicles that he recognizes, or other routine occurrences -- but he will bark when a stranger drives up.
  • They're not dig-happy. A McNab is not going to tear up your turf or bury his bones like hounds will do. If they dig, it's for a specific reason -- as in when it is so hot they need to scratch out a cooler place to lie down.
  • They're not aggressive dogs if handled and socialized properly as puppies.
  • They shed. Lots. Give them salmon oil on a daily basis. I feed "coat booster" appetizers that contain the salmon oil and other nutrients (see link to top right for the one I feed.)
  • Although puppies do chew, especially when teething, I've observed my McNabs to be far, far less prone to chewing things that don't belong to them (bad chewing!) than other breeds I've had. Give them plenty of toys, tell them what's theirs and what's yours, and they'll usually leave your things alone.
  • They're herders, and will often want to run right in front of tires and wheels of oncoming vehicles. Use caution!
  • McNabs are gentle dogs and although not necessarily protective, they're nurturing. On our rambles, Earl is always cautious to look back and ensure the older dogs, puppies and slower humans are okay. He won't forge ahead and leave me or the older dogs behind.

For McNab Owners and Prospective Owners

Do you currently have a McNab dog?

  • No. I'm researching the breed and considering them.
  • No, but I'm planning on getting one!
  • No -- just stopping by here.
  • Yes. I have one or more Mcnabs.
  • No, but I've had them in the past.
See results without voting

Tips on Raising Your McNab

Here are some tips for raising your own McNab pup.

  • Provide appropriate mental stimulation. McNabs are thinkers. Talk to them, take them places, show them things.
  • Don't be overbearing or forceful.
  • Speak and give commands in a quiet, conversational tone.
  • Praise well and often.
  • Offer abundant exercise -- but not to such strenuous excess that your puppy will develop a growth disorder such as epiphysitis.
  • McNabs are often ivermectin-sensitive dogs. Discuss alternative wormers with your veterinarian.
  • Realize your McNab is watching everything you do and picking up on your feelings and behaviors.
  • Do not keep them closely confined in small spaces for great lengths of time.
  • Be consistent. If something is never acceptable, don't ever allow it. It will only confuse the dog and be unfair to them to later discipline them. If something is sometimes acceptable, offer a unique and consistent command for when it is appropriate.
  • McNabs tend to be noise-sensitive. Expose them to a variety of noises early in their puppyhood. Do so in a positive, upbeat manner. Don't "teach" them to be afraid by being overly coddling. When your McNab is frightened, don't feed his fear by acting as if he has good reason to be frightened -- get happy and upbeat and go about your business so he realizes everything is just fine.

Froggy Isabella approaching Molly, about to give a smack down and establish boundaries.
Froggy Isabella approaching Molly, about to give a smack down and establish boundaries. | Source

Now, About That Cat-Herding Thing.

When we first acquired two tiny kittens last year, Earl (already a four-year-old) was devastated. He was terrified of those two bundles of fur -- even though he would eagerly chase off the large bobcat that hangs around the barn. He'd never seen a kitty before we brought the youngsters home. Now, he adores his kittens and is gentle and loving to them -- and he plays with them.

Molly the McNablet, though, had been around adult barn cats since birth. No fear for her! However, our two now-year-old kitties had never seen a rambunctious puppy. The paw was on the other foot. Froggy Isabella promptly laid down the iron-law-of-the-paw and smacked Molly in a presumptive first strike, whereas Shotgun Willie decided Molly was a new and wonderful playmate. Molly herds Willie, nipping at his rear end, and even ambushes him as he sleeps, pouncing on top of him. As for Froggy Isabella, she has established the necessary boundaries and Molly quickly learned to accept them. All is well and good in the McNab-kitty chaos world in which we live.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

All rights reserved. No part of this article, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author. Links to this page, however, may be freely shared. Thank you for linking, pinning, tweeting, +1'ing, sharing, liking, and otherwise helping grow my readership. Most of all, thank you for visiting and reading this article.

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Speak! 26 comments

dearabbysmom profile image

dearabbysmom 2 years ago from Indiana

Molly is adorable! I really enjoyed reading this. The whole time I kept thinking, "Wow, this looks and sounds like my border collies," then I read that McNabs share ancestry with border collies. So that makes sense! Very interesting, and informative. I always enjoy learning about another herding dog breed.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Thank you so much, Dearabbysmom! You know, I think that if a person loves the herding-type dogs, they appreciate all the herding-type dogs -- not just "their" breed. If McNabs hadn't found us first, we'd have a Border Collie, too. Thank you for saying hello!

Best -- Mj

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I love this hub, MJ! It was fascinating to read about a breed that I knew little about. I love my dogs dearly, but I must admit that none of them have shown the intelligence of McNabs. Molly looks and sounds like a lovely girl!

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Alicia, thank you so much! Little Molly is definitely her own dog already. This week we discovered her persistence and her independence -- and we love both of those things about her, although they're a double-edged sword. Thanks for taking time to meet my Molly!

Best -- Mj

Toni Brock profile image

Toni Brock 2 years ago

I found your article! :) What a wonderful family. Molly is so totally adorable as I knew she would be. Great tips that we all need to be reminded of frequently. Oh, please keep the stories and photos coming. The video of Earl and Molly playing was such a treasure.

Take care,


MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Toni, I'm so glad you found the new article. Thank you for admiring our sweet little Molly. I'm hoping to get a better video of the little tyrant with her Uncle Earl soon. She is sleeping beneath me as I write this -- I dare not move the chair forward or back. They are such loyal pups.

Thanks again,


Cyclocat profile image

Cyclocat 2 years ago

Marcy, Excellent article about my baby girl :-). Glad she likes the pig. It looks like it is still intact too! Amazing.


MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Hi, Auntie Cyclocat and Hermie --

"Your Molly" most certainly enjoys the pink pig and the Duraball most of all and they're holding up well to her barracuda teeth. She likes picking up the Duraball and then dropping it on the floor to hear it bounce, while she is more cuddly to the pink pig.

Thanks for stopping by!

Best -- Marcy

SmartAndFun profile image

SmartAndFun 2 years ago from Texas

Awww, so cute! Congrats to you on the newest member of your family! That video is adorable!

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Oh, thanks so much, SmartAndFun! We are having the times of our lives with little Molly and her big attitude. I'm so glad you took a look! Puppy breath is for sharing, after all.

Best - Mj

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Molly is a real cutie. You managed to point out how a McNab needs to have "No" mean "No". Sometimes Bandit is confused because my husband says "No" and I ignore the rule.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Traveler, it strikes me as funny that these black-and-white dogs are so smart about black-and-white speech! They require nuances, don't they? I'm using a lot of "not now" and "wait" commands with Molly (hmmm, as I type this I see she's walking away with a piece of paper in her mouth -- gee, is that "no," a "maybe," or a "only if you're going to use that for a paw-painting" moment?) She's already figured out that "no" means "no" unless my husband is anywhere in the same zip code, in which case there are no rules, none, ever. I've always been big on consistency. Then I got married and realized it's impossible when two very different individuals raise a puppy together!

Best wishes -- Mj

Toni Brock profile image

Toni Brock 2 years ago


I just laughed out loud reading your last post. So funny! It almost the exact opposite in our house. I, admittedly, am the wet noodle at our house. Fortunately we still have great dogs. They are so smart, they have figured out what is ok and when its ok :)

Thank you for your wonderful hubs,


MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Toni, training dogs is easy. Training a husband has been an entirely different endeavor. The cats, however, have had no problem training him at all -- they lift a whisker and he jumps up to do whatever they bid.

And those McNabs … they are smart enough to just "get it." Love goes farther than anything else!



sassypiehole profile image

sassypiehole 2 years ago from the ATL

And I thought OUR dog was cute... I think I want one of THESE! We have a Corgi mix. She is super sweet and great with our 6YO, but will take off in a hot second if she sees/hears a squirrel, FedEx truck or the mailman. She almost got run over by a bus once when she took off after it. I love that the McNab is not a roamer. They say "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," but maybe yours can teach ours a thing or two! ;-)

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Lisa, I have always loved Corgis! They have wonderful spunk and such a big-dog personality. I've never had the pleasure of owning one, though. Roamers are too stressful for me now and I can't run as fast as I used to. I had a foxhound from the time I was 12 until I was 28, and what a roamer she was -- over the six-foot wall and off she'd go. I adored her but oh, those memories of running along the roadside, leash in hand and tears on my face -- I still recall my constant panic each time she'd scale that wall and take off right before my eyes.

Thank you for visiting and saying hello!

Best -- Mj

sassypiehole profile image

sassypiehole 2 years ago from the ATL

OMG... Sadie is our dog and she is pretty good about staying in the backyard, but a lot of times when I take her for a walk, she will jump out into the street if she sees a mailman, etc. She's pulled it right out of my hand a couple of times and last week she took off in the woods near our house. *Sigh* But she is the sweetest, happiest dog I've ever met and we love her dearly!

Thanks for your comment on my page as well... It truly meant a lot to me! I haven't been on here much (try to do one a week, but sometimes it's hard as the hubs take me a lot longer to write than my other (less serious) blogs. Glad I found you! ;-)

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Lisa, I know exactly what you mean about those sweet, happy, naughty dogs. My mother and I were reflecting on dogs we'd had and she commented what a good dog Bonnie (the foxhound) was. I laughed, commenting to the effect of, "Bonnie was the worst dog I've ever known. She dug up the yard, killed my chickens, peed on the carpet, buried my grandmother's socks, jumped the fence and ran, climbed the pine tree and got into a fight with a raccoon, and got sprayed by a skunk …. but I loved her with all my heart and miss her to this day." Even the worst criminal dogs like Bonnie are part of us -- she was my closest companion from my teenage years to adulthood.

So happy to connect with you! I hope you'll be here a lot -- I'm looking forward to reading all of your work that I can.

Best -- Mj

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

These are very cute dogs. I'm pinning this to my Dogs and Puppies board.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks so much, Ologsinquito! I appreciate that. It is such a unique breed and I love showing our McNabs off to people.

Best -- Mj

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I don't think I could bring myself to BUY a dog when there are so many in shelters on death row!

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Good for you, Rebeccamealey! I've loved the dogs I've rescued, as well.

Best -- MJ

KL Klein profile image

KL Klein 2 years ago from California

My brother has a McNab-Pitbull mix that was rescued as a puppy. I'm not usually a huge dog fan, but that dog is amazing, and super smart. He knows the names of all the family members, and can be told "Go find [name]!" and he'll go outside and track them down. It's impressive.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Hi, Krissa! I'm glad your brother's dog won you over. That ability to distinguish people by name is classic McNab. Our Molly will fetch my husband, run to various parts of the ranch (I.e., barn, arena, chicken coop, etc.) on command. It amazes me how she recognizes just what I'm telling her. Now she's learning hand signals -- equally impressive.

Thank you for commenting!

Best -- Mj

Bob B. 2 years ago

Hi, MJennifer. Have been looking in now and then but, so far, I've missed any images of Molly McNab since she was quite young. Since my McNab, Sook, was a year old when we got him, I missed his half-grown stage and all the semi-klutzy, hyper-cuteness as different parts seem to grow at different rates. As I recall, Molly's ears seemed waaaay ahead of every thing else in the last photo I recall.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 2 years ago from Arizona Author

Hi, Bob! I've recently taken some new Molly photos and will try to update both my McNab blog (The McNab Pages) and article here this coming week. You're right, her ears remain in the lead in the growth-race but she's filling them a bit better these days. She's mostly butt right now! And attitude -- wonderful, spunky sweet attitude. I like the way you describe "semi-klutzy, hyper-cuteness" -- that pretty much describes our Molly! Check back in later this week and I'll see if I can get the new pics edited and added! Hope you and yours are all well --


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