Facts about the animal kingdom

Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: September 10, 2020
Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs

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The American Pit Bull Terrier is a well established breed in America, although its origins are British. These dogs were used as fighting dogs until the prohibition of dogfights in 1976 and they are currently considered a potentially dangerous breed in some countries. This is in a large part due to their muscular frame and strong bite. However, this is a reactionary misconception which goes against the findings of the RSPCA, ASPCA and the AVMA. In truth, they are very affectionate, loving and particularly protective over those they consider family.

This is not the only misconception about Pit Bull Terriers and their history. This is why AnimalWised investigates whether Pit Bull Terriers as nanny dogs and what this means for the breed's reputation.

You may also be interested in: 10 Myths About Pit Bulls


  1. What is a nanny dog?
  2. Are Pit Bulls Nanny Dogs?
  3. The Pit Bull Terrier - an excellent family dog
  4. Can you leave a young child alone with a Pit Bull?

What is a nanny dog?

Nanny dogs are simply dogs which are great with children. They protect the children as if they were blood related, just as a nanny would do for their charge. They show particular affection towards children, understanding their vulnerability and being a warmhearted companion to them.

The character ‘Nana’ in JM Barrie’s famous stage play ‘Peter Pan’ was a dog. Although played by a man in a costume, this dog was intended to be a Newfoundland. This is because Newfoundland Dogs are also said to be nanny dogs in that they meet these requirements of being particularly protective and affectionate towards children.

Nanny breeds are not dogs which can look after children without adult accompaniment. These dogs do not exist. As friendly as any dog is, young children can often be unaware of how their actions can affect the dog. Dogs are not capable of making the considerations humans need to make for their offspring. This doesn't even mean intentionally hurting a child. This was the case with a Siberian Husky in Alberta Canada who killed a days old baby by biting it on the head. It was a well-trained dog which likely meant to simply pick up the baby to carry it to their parents[1].

Dogs and young children, regardless of breed and age need to be supervised. You cannot predict every reaction of an animal, even if they are nanny dogs usually well-suited to interacting with children.

Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs - What is a nanny dog?

Are Pit Bulls Nanny Dogs?

American Pit Bull Terriers are affectionate, cheerful and family-oriented dogs, although they are often sociable with strangers. The reason they used to be left alone with children is because this breed is especially attached to its family and is also patient with the little ones.

However, are Pit Bulls really Nanny Dogs? The answer is difficult. Some claim that the nickname or label of ‘Nanny Dog’ was first given to Pit Bull Terriers in the United States at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

There is some controversy as the source for this is someone called Lillian Rant who was interviewed in a 1971 article. She told the story that Pit Bulls were kept as nanny dogs, but has been accused by anti-Pit Bull propagandists of fabricating this story to improve their public image. Since she was the leader of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier organization, it is believed she was trying to generate positive publicity.

There are many pictures of aristocratic or well-to-do families with photos of young children and Pit Bull type dogs. It is likely they were the children's pets, but it is not conclusive to determine from only a photo.

It is true there is little evidence to support how official the term nanny dog is when it is used in terms of Pit Bull type dogs. However, this is because being a nanny dog isn't an official thing. It isn't recognized by kennel clubs or governments as a dog type group, unlike the sporting dog or working dog groups which are recognized by the American Kennel Club[2].

This doesn't mean that Pit Bulls are not great with kids. While there is little evidence to support the terminology of Pit Bulls as nanny dogs, there is plenty to support them as being a wonderful family pet. Perhaps the belief in the origin of the term in the 19th Century is due to the many pictures of children with their pet Pit Bull (as can be seen above). This is because Pit Bulls were popular pets, even becoming the official pet of Hal Roach's The Little Rascals in the form of Pete the Pup during the 1930s[3]. In fact, according to the United Kennel Club, American Pit Bull Terriers are consider poor guard dogs thanks to their relative friendliness towards strangers[4].

Pit Bulls may not necessarily be officially considered nanny dogs, but this is because there is no official consideration of nanny dogs. Instead, they are loyal, protective and loving family pets which have garnered a bad reputation for the wrong reasons.

The Pit Bull Terrier - an excellent family dog

The American Pit Bull Terrier is the second calmest dog after the Golden Retriever[5]. This breed is often used for protection, search and rescue. A Pit Bull is devoted to its family, and will be an excellent playmate and a friend for life, the reason why many consider it a nanny dog, i.e. a dog that is good with children.

Today, many associations and animal rights associations are debating the stereotypes about this loyal pet. In Spain, for instance, it is only permitted to have a Pit Bull Terrier if the adopting party has a license, insurance and puts a muzzle on their pet when they walk it down the street.

However, the reason for this breed's bad reputation is due to misinformation. Due to the popularity of this dog, unfortunately among people who mistreat animals for ‘sport’, they have been involved in instances of attacking people. However, the evidence as to why they may attack points to problems with their rearing, not from the breed itself. An important study released in 2013 showed that considerations such as poor socialization, lack of neutering or abuse are the most important reasons for a dog attack[6].

The reason for aggression in Pit Bulls is largely due to preventable factors, with breed not being one of these. To read more about Pit Bulls, their reputation and the facts, take a look at this article on different Pit Bull breeds and types.

Are you're thinking of adopting a Pit Bull? Some spend many years living in kennels because nobody wants to waste time getting licenses and following procedures. However, you should know that these are sweet and affectionate dogs who are perfectly worthy of being adopted, since they offer an endless amount of advantages and deserve all our love. Our article on names for Pit Bull dogs will help if you do want to adopt. .

Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs - The Pit Bull Terrier - an excellent family dog

Can you leave a young child alone with a Pit Bull?

You should not leave a young child with any dog unsupervised. Some dogs are so playful, they may become over-zealous and rough with the child and cause an injury. It doesn't mean they are aggressive, but they may not always know their boundaries.

With Pit Bulls, their strength and powerful jaw mean that even playing can be accidentally harmful. As stated above, Pit Bulls are abused regularly, potentially more than most other breeds. They may have been poorly socialized which can lead to problems if they are not used to children. However, this can happen with any dog, regardless of breed.

At the end of the day, the amount of Pit Bulls which have suffered abuse and been improperly educated is large. There are dogs out there with trauma which can lead to behavioral problems. It is up to your to know the history and temperament of your Pit Bull. You should not leave them alone with babies or young children no more than you should any other dog. However, if you have educated them properly and know them well, you can determine what happens in your family.

Collectively, as dog guardians, we need to do what we can to ensure improper treatment of any dog continues. Demonizing Pit Bulls and using breed-specific legislation is not going to do this. Educating people and providing recourse to help abused animals will go in some part to ensuring humans and Pit Bulls can get along together.

That Pit Bulls are aggressive and dangerous animals is only one myth surrounding this breed. Check out our video below to know some more:

If you want to read similar articles to Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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I found your story helpful. These are beautiful dogs that sadly in many cases have been abused by people who do not care for these fabulous animals. Pit Bull attacks are like shark attacks, the media blows these things out of proportion and it leads to ignorant comments left under your helpful article. You said it best, its not wise to leave any dog alone with a child, because you will set that dog up for nothing but heartache. Some dogs just want to play, and could potentially hurt a child, while some other dogs like cairn terriers do not think being teased is funny, and they can lash out.
True story stray nanny Pitt
I’m from Sacramento and my mom told me a story about how I once snuck out of the house when I was 3 and took off around the block, she said that there was a stray mom pitbull that no one could catch but always hung out in the neighborhood And that she was frantically hovering over me when they were looking for me and the neighbors watched her protect me and wouldn’t let anyone by me and she ended up Bringing me back to them (my mom and aunt)
Administrador AnimalWised

Thank you for sharing this story. Many people send valid stories about attacks, but this goes to show that a Pit Bull's behavior will depend on their upbringing and education, not that they are all dangerous dogs.
Carolyn Renegar
Great, loyal family dogs! Thank you for enlightening people!
I used this article for a project. Very helpful.
Administrador AnimalWised
So glad we could help Cameron!
As a 20 year police officer, I have had over 5 cases involving a loving family, gentle raised Pit Bull tear into a young child. There have been other breeds but these and Chows are the worst. I wont let at of these breeds around my kids.
You should quit your job. You sound like a lying cop.
I agree with you 100%, Sherman. I was attacked one day while walking across the street from a neighbor's house. This was a loving family pet. However, the pit bull broke open the door (in southeast Florida majority of doors open out), ran across the street and attacked me. There was no provocation and I was just out for my daily walk. I sustained numerous injuries and a broken arm. Sadly, this is not the only incident I learned about regarding pit bulls. There have been co-workers who have had to rehome or put down their family friendly pit bulls because of aggression/attacks on people, including their own family.
How many cases have you had where human beings hurt children? Thousands I am sure. Put in perspective dog attacks are extremely rare and quite often not the dogs fault. Sadly, because family members are lazy they put the dog in situations where the child ends up hurt and the dog loses its life. The best thing any family can do is make sure that children treat dogs with respect.
Geoffrey Harris
I agree totally.. The behaviour of dogs come from their training and attitudes of the owners..I have owned these dogs and have never had problems with my kids and my grandkids..In fact the dogs behave like nanny dogs..it is in their DNA to protect..I know dogs that attacked and 99% was the owner felt it was macho to have a attack dog..
It's laughable that you would suggest any dog would be aggressive to the point of being dangerous because they weren't neutered. Do you really believe that people have been mauled to death because a dog wasn't neutered? Testicles don't make a dog kill other animals and humans. But you just can't bring yourself to acknowledge that this breed has some issues, can you? All breeds have their issues. It does no good to deny the issues.

At the end of the day of course it's not the individual dog's fault. Humans have spent an incredible amount of time creating a breed (through many, many generations of breeding) that will be efficient at killing other living things. Unfortunately humans succeeded. And sadly, there is not yet enough distance between dog fighting and pit bulls. Even today some unethical people are still breeding pit bulls for illegal fighting and while there are many modern breeders working hard to get the breed beyond that (breeding for temperament, conformation and health) it simply hasn't been enough yet to eliminate some of the problems that were created and continue to be created by the fighting breeders. It would be both ignorant and naive to think one could undo generations of selective breeding by simply neutering a dog and giving it a good life.

The bottomline is that dogs of all breeds have suffered heinous abuse, dogs of all breeds have been left unneutered, dogs of all breeds have aggression issues, but very few breeds have proven themselves willing and/or capable of killing a full grown human - the pit bull is one of the few.
Geoffrey Harris
Jay..I can tell you are headlines believer with no factual knowledge of fighting dogs..the pitbull was bred for fighting, in this regard it cannot be attacking humans, otherwise it wont get a fight because in a fight it will be interacting with humans up close and personal.. You are right that they are very capable of killing a full grown human, willingness to do so comes from their human masters..
Kim Anderson
Pit bulls were never called nanny dog at the end of the 19th century. That name was pegged on them by a pit bull breeder in the 70’s. What you have printed is an out and out lie. You should be ashamed and the blood of the children killed by these monsters is on your hands. Do some research.
Administrador AnimalWised
Dear Kim,

Please be more considerate in commenting on this site. Using such reactionary and inflammatory language will not serve the general purpose of pet safety. We have verified your comment so that we can address the issue.

We understand there are very strong feelings on both sides when it comes to Pit Bulls. However, there is sufficient evidence to show that Pit Bulls have been happily used as family pets for long over a hundred years. In terms of their aggressiveness, it is the history of breeding (including bull baiting and dog fighting) which has lead to aggressiveness. It is socialization, environment and having their needs met which is more important and any dog can be trained to be aggressive.

We stand with the ASPCA when they say:

‘All dogs, including pit bulls, are individuals. Treating them as such, providing them with the care, training and supervision they require, and judging them by their actions and not by their DNA or their physical appearance is the best way to ensure that dogs and people can continue to share safe and happy lives together.’

We are also against dog specific legislation. President Obama himself pointed out the research which shows band son particular breeds are ineffective and a waste of public resources.
Sarah A Mills
I am not trying to be mean or anything, but I think you need to do some research yourself. I have a pit mix that's wonderful with kids and is a great babysitter. It all depends on how the dog is trained and how responsible the owner.
First of all, take ur meds, dear! Secondly, there is no such thing as a bad breed or good breed of dogs. Its all up to the individuals who own them and most of them clearly are too imbecile to take care of them. Those who arent even capable to take care of a pet/animal, shouldnt have children either. What a beautiful world, isnt it?
Kim, you might want to do some research on the history of dogs in the Victorian era. They didn’t use the words nanny dogs, but the did use Pitbulls as family pets. One way it’s documented is via photo’s in Victorian history.
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Pit Bull Terriers as Nanny Dogs