Introduction to a McNab Puppy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
More on Earl and Molly
- 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!
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Marcy J. Miller