In the early 1800’s Scotsman Bruce McKinsey moved his family moved from the cold damp climates of Northern Scotland to the Grampian Hills of Central Scotland. With him and his family came his specially bred Scottish working dogs, those dogs became known as “Colleys” (named after the Colley sheep they were responsible for)
These same Colleys were also referred to as “Fox Shepherds” the breed, relatively unknown, was said to have survived in Scotland for centuries, however very few, if any kept records mention them as Fox Shepherds.
The McKinsey family moved nearby Alexander McNab and as they shared the same livelihood, the two became friends. After spending countless hours together working the sheep in the fields and watching how McKinsey’s dogs worked the livestock, Alexander eventually acquired a female Scottish Colley from Bruce and named her Flora.
In 1866, at 47 years of age, Alexander McNab emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to Northern California. His wife and children followed, arriving by cart to set up housekeeping in a log house in the fields of the main valley of Ukiah, a ranching community in Mendocino County. It was there that McNab established a large sheep ranch, homesteading a 10,000-acre parcel in the valley.
McNab had brought his Scotch Colley, Flora, from Scotland and she became the first official dog on the ranch. After Flora’s passing, the McNab family attempted to herd sheep without the aid of a dog.
One fall afternoon in 1885, the McNabs tried to bring in their 3,000 sheep without a dog. Just as they reached the corral gate, one of the wethers took off towards the mountains and the entire flock followed.
That same night, the McNab family decided that they would have to either abandon the sheep business altogether or return to Scotland and retrieve new shepherd dogs. The next day, Alexander McNab packed a bag and set off for Scotland.
After reaching Scotland, McNab went back to the Grampian Hills where he acquired two black and white Scotch Colleys from his old neighbor, Bruce McKinsey. The two dogs were Peter and his elder half-brother Fred. Fred was initially left behind in order to complete his training, while Peter traveled with McNab to California on an emigrant train, hiding under the seats whenever the conductor entered the car.
When McNab returned to Scotland to retrieve Fred, McKinsey tried to back out of the deal, but McNab managed to leave with the dog. Peter would work either on the lead or behind while Fred was strictly a lead dog.
Once Peter and Fred began working on the McNab Ranch the local ranchers took notice of how differently the dogs performed compared to the dogs they were used to. As interest in McNab’s dogs grew, more and more ranchers wanted one of their own.
Alexander realized that he needed to expand his number of working dogs, but another trip to Scotland was not an option. McNab had observed dogs owned by the migrant Spanish Basque sheep herders, liked the working styles of the brown herding dogs and purchased a couple of the dogs from them. The exact breed of the Basque's dogs remains undetermined to this day. This was the very beginning of the McNab Shepherd.
Alexander was very pleased with the results of this breeding as the pups developed into dogs that would head or heel, so pleased in fact, that he called them “McNab Shepherds”
In 1901, the elder McNab passed away. His youngest son, John McNab, a successful attorney and stockman, took over the ranch and changed his father’s breeding program.
Instead of using the Basque's dogs, John L McNab returned to Scotland and brought back several more Scotch Colley dogs. The dogs that came from his breeding process garnered a great deal of interest from local ranchers.
The McNabs had developed an upright, loose-eyed dog that would both head or heel in a forceful manner while using both bark and bite, all desired qualities in a herding dog. John L McNab regularly sold dogs to local ranchers, who clamored for his quality bloodlines. Unfortunately, no registry or bookkeeping of any kind were kept to trace the McNab Shepherd’s ancestral lines back to Peter and Fred the pups that they had sired.
The dogs became known for their distinctive look which typically meant a black dog with a white stripe between the eyes (also called a “Bentley Stripe”), a white ruff (simulating a collar around the neck) and a tail with a white tip.
Refinement of the McNab Shepherd continued and in 1915 two additional dogs were imported from Scotland. The dogs were red in color; a male named Clyde and a pregnant female Bessie. Bessie whelped three weeks prior to her arrival in America and there were three surviving pups ultimately named Gyp, Jet and Tweed.
Ed and Mertle Brown eager to get a McNab, had been on a waiting list since 1895 and the Brown's purchased Jet. The Browns went on to breed Jet but never out-crossed him, breeding him strictly to Scottish Collies imported directly from Scotland. Once again getting away from the line of dogs Alexander created.
The importations by the McNab family were mostly the short-haired type, although there was at least one long-haired dog, a male named “Reddy” who was brought over in the early 1920s. The final dog to be imported was Bess in the 1940s. By the mid-1940s, the McNab Shepherd was the sheep dog of choice on the North Coast of California, an area also called the Redwood Empire.
One of the stories that John McNab liked to tell was about how he herded sheep through Ukiah on horseback with his McNab Shepherds by his side. As he told it, he would have the lead dog pick up a stick from the ground, turn around and face the sheep, and then place the stick on the ground again and leave it until it was time to start again. Ukiah residents would stand on the sidewalks watching in amazement as the dogs worked.
As the McNab dogs became more popular in Mendocino County, the ranchers desire for the breed and lack of availability had it's downfalls. It was not unusual for a rancher to breed the dog McNab has sold to him to their working dogs creating numerous McNab crosses. Through much of the early 1900s the local ranchers considered virtually every dog with a short black and white coat and small feet to be a McNab, particularly if it had good herding abilities.
We all love the traditional Black & White McNab and the Red & White colored dogs have gained in popularity. What is seldom seen but has becoming more commonplace in the McNab Shepherd World is the Blonde & White aka Yellow & White colored dogs.
This Blonde & White is not a “new designer” color, nor is it a “bred for” color for the McNab Shepherd. So, where does the blonde come from?
Well, I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Fales, who was 77-years old at the time of this conversation. Bill has all kinds of verifiable McNab Shepherd history dating back to the early 1900’s.
So, Bill's story goes on to tell about his Great Uncle, George Putute, who was a Ranch Foreman for the Corvill Company during the 1930’s. He lived in Three Cabins, California. It was well known with the locals that George had a yellow female McNab. This dog was kept on his property, and when she gave birth the pups were sold for $15.00 each, a pretty high price back then until you realized what George had.
These McNabs pups were different, they were a little taller than the average McNab back then, they also had a longer tail and when working kept their noses in the air rather than on the ground. The peculiar feature that these McNab Shepherds had was in their color, it was a beautiful golden yellow and White!
It wasn’t the only known McNab-Coyote pairing. The Beckmans, who lived out in eastern Humboldt, had also trapped a pregnant female Coyote and had raised her pups. He kept 3 pups out of this litter 3 half coyote – half McNab dogs and he had also raised one full coyote.
Another yellow McNab was owned by Clarence Buttigieg, who was hauling livestock to San Francisco for the ranches. Clarence had made a stop at the McNab Ranch where he was given a yellow McNab Shepherd pup by John L. McNab himself! Clarence named his pup Dude and he proved to be every bit as good on livestock as his Black and white brothers.
There was more than a few blonde McNabs working in the back country outside Humboldt. There have been Yellow McNabs seen in dogs from Blocksburg, California, Apple Valley, California, Marana, Arizona and if you twist back the hands of time, it was a well-documented fact Forest Homer McNabs would produce a blonde pup, however, Forest kept almost all of his yellow pups.
By the early 1970s, the McNab family and their sheep were gone from the McNab Ranch. The original 10,000 acres that was the original McNab Ranch was eventually subdivided into several parcels. Today, there are three Wineries located where the ranch once stood in what is now called the “McNab Valley.” Although the McNab Ranch is gone, there are numerous breeders and enthusiasts throughout the world who are committed to preserving the tradition of the McNab Shepherd.
Alvina Butti The McNab Dog
Eunice and Bud Williams; Recollections about McNab Dogs
Lulu McNab; The Collie in Mendocino
(From Overland Monthly, May 1894)
Gaye LeBaron; The McNab Shepherd is a Homegrown North Coast Dog; Santa Rosa Press Democrat 1998
Melanie Leigh; The California McNab Shepherd
Myrtle G. Brown; The McNab Shepherd
Wayne L. Foster; The McNab Shepherd Story and History as I know it.
Al Tostado; A Dog Detective Does a Scotland Yard Job
Facts for Farmers – 1869
John Henry Walsh; Scotch Collies A Manual of British rural sports By, 1856
The Field Illustrated 1915: The Scotch Collie
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