Several times throughout the year, I receive phone calls from people who are inquiring about the McNab. Many times these people have heard of the name, but know little about this unique canine, and thus ask the age old question, "What is a McNab?"
I am thrilled to share with you my knowledge and personal experiences with the McNabs in my life, as well as a short version of the McNab origin.
First travel with me in spirit, back in time to the Gampian Hills of Scotland, year 1866.
Allow me to introduce you to a man by the name of Alexander McNab. Alexander McNab and his family raised sheep in Scotland, but longed for a warmer climate and enticed by the news of the West, set out across the Atlantic to America. They ended up settling in Northern California, Mendocino Co to be exact, and built their new ranch upon 10,000 lush acres, and gave their new homestead the name of the McNab Ranch.
Alexander McNab originally imported one Scotch Collie from Scotland, however it died a few years after arrival. Apparently, Mr. McNab was not satisfied with the type of working dogs he found locally, and in 1885 he returned to Scotland for the sole purpose of importing the type of dog(s) he had been accustomed to working with. Mr. McNab purchased two Scotch collies, Peter and Fred. While Fred stayed in Scotland to complete his training, Peter joined Mr. McNab back to California, and Fred joined them later.
Fred was a natural head dog, and Peter was a natural head & drive dog. It was said that these two male dogs were bred to female dogs of Spainish origin, which were brought to this country by the Basque sheep herders. I have searched (and continue to search) to find out the type of dog the Basque may of brought with them to California, and my findings were contradicting. A Basque researcher informed me that most Basques did not come to this country with native dogs, but used working dogs that were available to them in their area. However, another individual who grew up near a Basque community told me that some Basques did bring dogs over to America from their native land, and the type of dog in question was described to me as a medium sized, tight coated, brown dog with pricked ears. From this description the first thought which came to my mind was that of the Kelpie, however the Kelpie is very different than the McNab, and without going into great detail over the origin or characteristics of the Kelpie, we will move on and assume that whatever breed of dog the Basque shepherds were working with, they must of certainly been keen animals to of caught the eye of Alexander McNab! The story from Myrtle Brown states that both Peter & Fred were bred to these dogs which were used by the Basque shepherds, and over time and careful selection their offspring were given the name of the McNab shepherd. Written documents also read that some of the collies which were imported were not bred to these Basque dogs, but rather to other collies of the same origin (Scotch Collies). Both males and females were imported and on (at least) one account a bred female.
Mr. McNab perfected his breed of dog; one that could head or heal.
Over time the McNab family brought over several collies from their homeland Scotland. Some of these collies were red and white (described as Fox Collies) while others were black and white. Their coats were of short to medium length in order to better suit the warmer California weather. The McNab is not a Border Collie, however they share the traditional collie markings, as well as the same original grand daddy - the Scotch Collie.
The McNab shepherd worked the sheep on the hillsides of Mendocino for generations. Little did the McNab family realize then that their dogs would still be working livestock in California today -- well over 100 years later.
So, what was it that has kept the McNab such a secret from so many for so long? Originally, the McNab Shepherd was strictly used on the McNab ranch, and were later sold to ranchers nearby. They were bred for function and not looks, so therefore they were not a fancy looking collie type and not a desirable looking show dog. The lack of attention given beyond the stock yard and ranches in Northern California, in part kept the McNab a bit isolated from the rest of the world.
The McNab to this date is not recognized by any kennel club, and this is a great blessing to the breed. The day breeders start breeding the McNab for a club standard is the day we will loose the true essence of the original McNab. The McNab is registered through the National Stock Dog Registry, where pedigrees can be recorded and preserved.
Today, the McNab is growing in popularity as more and more McNabs are popping up on the agility course, Fly-ball teams, and even on search and rescue teams.
There has never been a formal *standard* written for the McNab, however informally I give you a standard which is shared by myself as well as by other knowledgeable McNab breeders, historians and McNab aficionado in California.
Height: 15 to 25 inches at the shoulder. Some males may mature taller.
Weight: 25 - 50 lbs. Some males may mature heavier.
Coat: Short to Medium -never long.
Coat color: Black with white markings, or red with white markings or occassionally
tri colored. Never meral.
Ears: Pricked, also a variety of sets in between - some even flop over.
Tails: Long however some old lines throw a natural bob. (Tail docking was NOT originally traditional, and is not encouraged by many breeders - especially myself).
Eyes: Almond in shape and loose.
Eye color: brown, hazel, or copper. Never blue or marbled.
Shape of head: Sharp
Feet: tight - cat like on their feet.
McNabs have always come in a variety of 'pajammas', meaning ear sets, coat length (however never long), and coat colors - except meral.
The McNab Dog by Donna Seigmund & Alvina Butti. I am eternally grateful to the work that both Alvina and Donna have accomplished in providing written documentation of their personal interview with the late Myrtle Brown, as well as other McNab research they have surfaced so diligently. It was their document that gave me my starting place towards further reseach regarding the McNab and the core to their origin by way of the Scotch Collie. Both of these two ladys, I tip my hat.
Collie in Mendocino by LuLu McNab - 1894 - Overland Monthly - page 481
Herding Dog: Their Origins and Development in Great Britian by Iris Combe -1987
The History & Description of the Collie or Sheep Dog in his British Varieties by Rawdon Lee - Published 1890
In depth conversations & interviews with Alvina Butti, Roy Ordway, Art and Jackie Goldsmith, Rocky Bounds, Billy Prewitt, Linda Rorem, Walt Freeman, Earl McKee, Ira Reed, Alan Cyde, and many, many other old (& some not so old) wise & wonderful ranchers of Northern & Central California. I thank you all for your time and for sharing with me your McNab knowledge and memories of the good ole days of ranching in California.
Posted 2003. NO PART OF THIS ARTICLE MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM, WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION BY THE AUTHOR. Thank you.