After spending ten years looking for the perfect breed of dog to be a therapy dog, I decided on a McNab Shepherd. The McNab is a herding dog, which can actually make for a very good therapy dog because of their attentiveness and sweet nature.

When we think of therapy dogs, most of us think of domesticated house pets. Many people focus on specialties areas with their dogs, such as herding, agility, hunting, and therapy. In the strictest sense, a therapy dog is a dog trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a facility setting, such as a hospital or a retirement home. However, having a dog for compansionship is also known to have a therapeutic effect, so our dogs can also serve as our personal therapy dogs.

According to research, time spent with a friendly pooch can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety and depression, and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin. So even if your dog doesn’t visit hospitals as an official therapy dog, he or she can be your therapy dog in the privacy of your home.

I chose a McNab Shepherd as a therapy dog because herding dogs are very in tune with their owner. With the right breeding and training, herding dogs can be naturally calm, friendly and affectionate to strangers. They are also easy to train in basic obedience and able to adapt to novel experiences.

Like other herding dogs, McNabs have been bred for generations to work closely with humans, and they form powerful bonds with their owners. They are very loyal and loving dogs, who love to spend time with their owners and are great with children.

Herding Dogs

Perhaps the oldest and most traditional use of dogs is herding. The herding dog, sometime referred to as the stock or cattle dog, was developed by ranchers to help manage and direct herds of cows or sheep. The herding dog typically would move the herd of animals out to pasture and — then later — back to the barn again.

Some people claim that the history of herding dogs stretches back to Bible where, according to Genesis 1:26,  God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Perhaps the only caveat about using a McNab Shepherd as a therapy dog is understanding that they need a good deal of exercise. Though exercise needs are based on a dog’s age, breed, size and overall health, dogs should spend between 30 minutes to two hours on an activity every day. Breeds in the hunting, working, or herding groups, such as the McNab, need the most exercise.

The McNab Shepherd

Many ranchers consider the McNab Shepherd to be the ultimate herding dog and indeed the breed was designed for that specific purpose. It is somewhat pure luck that McNab Shepherds also excel at hunting, guarding and sports. With the right bloodlines, the McNab can also make an excellent companion because they are gentle and socially active. These characteristics make for the perfect therapy dog.

Like other herding breeds, McNab Shepherds have the natural ability to control the movement of larger animals by circling around them, barking at them, and nipping as needed. This special talent combined with their high energy and strong work ethic makes them a rancher’s priceless tool. Because they work so closely together, ranchers and farmers develop a deep bond with their herding dogs.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) acknowledges 25 breeds as herding dogs, a designation they established in 1983. The AKC actually offers an instinct test for herding dogs which is intended to access a dog’s ability and trainability with regards to herding. The test also lists the rules and regulations that for what is required of a herding dog. Training refines the instinct but if it’s not there to start with you won’t be able to train a dog to herd.

All herding dogs share the characteristic and ability to herd animals that are much larger and very different from themselves. Like hunting breeds, herding dogs are born with an instinctive tendency to herd and most will demonstrate the desire to herd within a few months.

If you want to let your herding dog explore some of her natural instincts, you and your dog can partake in herding trials. These events are intended to simulate the traditional tasks of herding dogs, such as moving and directing livestock. Typically herding dogs revel in these events, running alongside the livestock, guiding them by barking and even a little nipping.  By encouraging your herding dog to enjoy his or her inborn skills you can deepen your bond.

Herding Dogs as House Dogs

Many people wonder if they adopt a herding dog (like a McNab Shepherd) will they also need to expose the dog to livestock to keep her happy? Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. Most herding dogs definitely need a fairly high level of activity as well as a job to do. Additionally, some herding breeds, like Border Collies, tend to have such a strong herding focus that it can overshadow their companionship qualities. Many people consider the McNab Shepherd to be the best herding dog, but this may have something to do with the fact that many McNabs are also great companion dogs.

If you have a herding dog and you want to use him or her as an official therapy dog, consider official certification as a therapy dog. The AKC has a Canine Good Citizen and there are classes that prepare dogs for therapy dog visits. Most classes include a therapy dog evaluation at the end of the class. By doing a little training and homework, you can turn your herding dog into the perfect therapy dog. And if you’re looking for the perfect breed of dog to turn into a therapy dog, look into a McNab Shepherd. You won’t be disappointed.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

For more information on McNab Shepherds, visit and

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Barker, S.B., Barker, R.T., McCain, N.L. and Schubert, C.M., 2016. A randomized cross-over exploratory study of the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college student stress before final exams. Anthrozoös, 29(1), pp.35-46.

Hartnagle-Taylor, Jeanne Joy; Taylor, Ty (2010). Stockdog Savvy. Crawford, CO: Alpine Publications.

Holland, Vergil (1994). Herding Dogs: Progressive Training. New York, NY: Mcmillan.

Limond JA, Bradshaw JWS, Cormack KFM. Behavior of children with learning disabilities interacting with a therapy dog. Anthrozoös 1997;10(3-2): 84–9.

Mallon GP. Some of our best therapists are dogs. Child & Youth Care Forum Apr 1994;23(2): 89–101.

Renna, Christine Hartnagle (2008). Herding Dogs: Selection and Training the Working Farm Dog. Allenhurst, NJ: Kennel Club Books (KCB).

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