McNab Dog: A Cat-Like Dog

McNab Dog sitting in hay
Emily Young
Written by Emily Young

While looking for a dog, you’re probably thinking about a couple of things. You’re thinking about the size and energy level—these are important things to look at. Well, if you’re looking for an intelligent, physically active, and loyal breed, then the McNab dog may be exactly when you’ve been looking for. Not to mention, this dog comes with the added unique feature of being cat-like.

In saying that they are cat-like, we’re referring to the anatomy of their feet and the fact that they like to groom themselves and keep themselves clean. Their cat-like feet give them a boost on agility and dexterity, and their clean-loving nature means they are easy to take care of.

Aside from their cat-like nature, they also exhibit exemplary herding dog characteristics, such as being loyal and active. In short, you’ll get the best of both worlds if you choose to adopt a McNab dog.

Want to know more about this curious breed? You’ve come to the right place. From personality to physical features and from grooming needs to feeding needs, you’ll find all that you need to know about the McNab breed in this article.

Breed Characteristics

McNab Dog lying on ground

  • Adaptability: High; but not for apartments

  • Trainability: Good

  • Health and Grooming: Good; low maintenance

  • All Around Friendliness: Good

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance

Dog Breed GroupHerding Dogs
Height15 - 25 inches
Weight25 - 50 lbs
Lifespan13 - 15 years

The McNab breed has been around since the late 19th century and was developed by Alexander McNab who was trying to breed a herding dog that would be able to handle the rough conditions of Northern California. The McNab breed is still being used for herding to this day.

The McNab breed is an intelligent, well-mannered, and physical dog, which is ideal for either herding or as a family dog. They get along great with other animals and children as they’re highly social animals. Though, during their puppy stage, they do tend to nip the backs of feet as this is an instinctive trait.

However, everything with a McNab can easily be corrected as they’re extremely easy to train. They adore listening to their owners and following commands. Their intelligence is not to be taken for granted as they require mental stimulation on a daily basis.

This is a small to medium-sized breed that has an unusual feature. Their feet at cat-like, which provides them with the agility and speed that they have.

This also means that they’re not ideal for apartment living as they need large spaces to run around in. Though, if you’re into sports, then you’ll love the McNab as whatever you do, they’ll gladly follow. You can do activities with them such as agility, frisbee, obedience training, and herding.

Main Highlights

  • They were developed by Alexander McNab who was looking to create the ultimate herding dog that would be able to handle rough conditions.

  • Though they may inspect strangers, once they feel comfortable, they’re extremely friendly towards people.

  • McNab dogs are well known for how easy they are to train. They listen exceptionally well to commands and obey their owners.

  • They are highly intelligent and active dogs and love to be mentally challenged with games and tasks.

  • The breed is not recognized by any major kennel club. However, they’re highly popular around the world.

  • Some of these dogs carry the MDR1 gene which makes them sensitive to specific drugs.

  • They like to control the movements of larger animals by either nipping or barking and circling them.

  • They’re known for their cat-like feet that provide them with great agility.

Breed History

McNab Dog puppy sitting on grass

The McNab breed is said to be developed by Alexander McNab during the late 19th century. It was believed that he developed this breed after he left his native homeland of Scotland and purchased a 10,000-acre sheep ranch in the Mendocino region of Northern California.

It was because of this that he spent time looking to develop a herding dog which would be able to handle the harsh conditions on this ranch. Thus, McNab decided to cross the Scottish Collie that he brought with him from Scotland with the nomadic Basque Sheepdogs that were around his ranch.

With time, it was proven that these dogs were optimal for herding. Thus, Californian ranchers started to catch on and get one of their own ranches. Since then, the breed has continued to expand, and the McNab breed can be seen throughout the United States and Canada. In addition, you can also find this breed in Germany and as far away as Japan.


The McNab is a small to medium-sized dog that weighs between 25 to 50 pounds depending on the gender. They have triangular ears that either stand up or flop to the side.

The distinct feature of the McNab is their tail which is usually boobed or long. Another feature is their cat-like feet which gives them their agility. Their eyes are usually brown, copper, or hazel, and are almond-shaped.

Personality and Character

McNab Dog in snow

The McNab was originally developed to be a herding dog and still is one to this day. Thus, their herding instincts run very deep in their blood. They’ll naturally try to herd any animal which comes in front of them, even in the home. Though, they’re usually extremely well-behaved.

They’re somewhat laid-back and are not obsessive like their cousins the Border Collie. But, they’re highly intelligent and need to be mentally stimulated. If you have a large backyard or a farm, this is where they’ll thrive.

They need daily exercise, but the great part is that they’re very easy to train as they love to learn new things. So, if you incorporate games into their training, it’ll be easy to teach them.

If you don’t have much time to spend with them or you live in an apartment, they’re not the right dog for you.

See Also: Best Dogs for Apartments

A great feature of theirs is that they hate being dirty. Like cats, they spend time on themselves making sure that they’re properly groomed and clean, so they’re easy to maintain around the home.

If you’re looking for a family pet, the McNab is one of the best breeds as they’re loyal, protective, intelligent, and friendly around everyone. All you need to do is make sure they have to space to run around in.

Health and Potential Problems

McNab Dog standing on ground

Just like humans, every dog has their own health problems. For some, they may have passing and minor conditions, while for others, they can be more serious. Though, overall, the McNab breed comes with very few health issues.

If they do develop a health problem, it will most likely be either one of these:

  • Hip Dysplasia: occurs when the ball and socket joint are malformed. This results in dislocation.

  • Epilepsy: is a neurological disorder that produces seizures.

  • Von Willebrand’s Disease: a genetic disorder which is caused by missing or defective clotting proteins.

  • Cherry Eye’: is a disorder which causes the gland to prolapse and pokes out from the eye. It’s typically a red fleshy mass.

  • Primary Lens Luxation: is a disorder that causes weakening zonular fibers in the eye.

If you’re getting your dog from a breeder, make sure they provide you with proper documentation showing that the parents are healthy and fit. That way, you can eliminate some of these health issues right away.

Care Features

McNab Dog's head

Like most dogs, the McNab loves to run around and exercise. Of course, unless your dog is properly trained and responding to commands, it’s best to allow them to go off-leash in fenced-in areas.

They prefer areas with lakes and rivers or larger fields where they can freely run. If you only have a leashed option when it comes to exercise, then they require long, daily walks.

Since they’re agile, the breed does very well with mental games and agility activities such as frisbee. Sports which involve tracking, herding, and obedience are also favorites for them.

If you like jogging, they’ll love to jog beside you as they love spending time with their owners. Regardless of what you do with them, they’ll enjoy every moment as long as they’re by your side. The McNab breed loves to be physical and to be mentally stimulated.

These dogs should be socialized from a young age and trained as well. During their younger years, you may notice they nip at the heels. However, this can be trained as it’s an instinctual action.

See Also: Basic Dog Obedience Training

Feeding Schedule

Like all dogs, you should focus on providing your McNab with high-quality food whether it is dry or wet. It’s important that their diets consist of the proper amount of carbohydrates, minerals, proteins, and vitamins.

Naturally, the size of their meals will depend on their age and level of physical activity as more active dogs require more energy, thus, need more food. Though, generally, you want to feed your dog two meals a day—one in the morning and one in the early evening. If you can do three, that would be best.

Treats are okay, however, make sure you don’t give them too many and that they’re made of high-quality ingredients. In addition, always make sure they have access to a fresh, clean bowl of water throughout the day.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

McNab Dog with a toy

The McNab breed has a short or medium length coat which never becomes long. Their coats are typically black with white markings or red with white markings. On occasion, you’ll find them tri-colored.

In order to keep their coats fresh and shiny, you’ll have to brush them on a regular basis. This will also remove any dead hairs from their coats. In addition, by brushing them, you’ll build a bond with your McNab as they love attention. Plus, by brushing, you’ll be able to see if they have any sores, injuries, or fleas.

You’ll have to bathe them on occasion, however, only when they start to smell which may occur towards the end of the month. The McNab breed tends to spend time grooming themselves as they don’t really enjoy getting dirty.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

The McNab breed does very well around children and members of the family—including other pets. They’re highly protective dogs; thus, if you have children, they’ll make sure that nothing happens to them.

Because of their laid-back nature, they’re not as high strung as their cousin the Border Collie. Thus, they don’t have obsessive qualities. So, though they’re protective, they’ll never do anything reckless.

They love to be around the family, so, once they understand who the members are, they’re loyal to them. They also do well around other animals, just as long as you socialize them and give them time to adapt.

Wrap Up

McNab Dog standing in grass

The McNab is one of the best breeds if you’re looking for a family dog. They’re extremely loyal, even-tempered, intelligent, and well-mannered. Around children, they’ll easily become their new friends, and with other pets, they won’t have any problem getting along with them.

Though, the McNab does require exercise both mentally and physically. Thus, if you don’t have a lot of time to spend taking them out on walks or runs, this isn’t the breed for you.

The herding instinct is very strong within them. However, they can be easily trained as they love to listen to commands and obey their owner. In addition, they love to groom themselves as they hate being dirty. Thus, they’ll take some of the work off of your back. So, if you’re looking for a low maintenance dog, here it is.

As you can see, the McNab is a loyal and intelligent breed. They love being outside, around their family, and will try to herd any animal that walks in front of them.

Do you think that the McNab breed is for you? Do you already live with a McNab or would you like to adopt one into the family? If it’s the latter, you’ll need to come up with a name for your new friend. We think you’ll find this article on country dog names a wealth of inspiration when it comes to McNab dogs.

About the author
Emily Young
Emily Young

Emily is originally from China where she graduated from The University of Hong Kong with high distinction learning about fashion and design. During university she opened her own magazine about Dog Fashion as dogs were always in her heart. She was surprised, when she moved to a beautiful British Columbia 10 years ago, to see many great Boutiques with dog's designer clothing and desire of pet owners to make their babies look nice.