Why Do They Call Pit Bulls Nanny Dogs?

pit bull nanny dog lovable pitbull next to a baby in a car seat protective thispetthatpet.com

You’ve long contemplated adding a new furry friend to your family. One breed that’s caught your eye is the Pit Bull, although their reputation admittedly makes you a little nervous. Well, until you heard that Pits are sometimes called nanny dogs. Why is that?

Why do they call Pit Bulls nanny dogs? In the 1900s, Pit Bulls were called nanny dogs due to their caring for other humans, especially children. Over time, American Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers were abused and put into dogfighting circles, which changed the breed’s reputation to a mean, vicious, aggressive animal.

In today’s post, I’ll discuss what a nanny dog is in detail, including whether the Pit Bull was ever one. If you’re worried about your Pit Bull getting along with your children, I’ll even provide some information and tips as well. You’re not going to want to miss it! 

What Is a Nanny Dog?

Okay, so let’s rewind a moment here. What is a nanny dog anyway?

Well, what’s a nanny? Someone who can watch over children in the household and often lives there. Thus, nanny dogs are part furry companion, part babysitter. Parents could trust that when they left their children in the care of their dog that the canine would be more than capable of protecting the kids. 

More than 100 years ago, parents probably did leave their dogs to do more responsibilities than any canine should have reasonably assumed. As the years have gone on, a nanny dog has evolved to simply mean a dog that gets along well with the kids, will look over them, and safeguard them if necessary. 

Is a Pit Bull Really a Nanny Dog? 

Now that you understand the duties of a nanny dog, I know what you’re probably thinking. There’s no way that Pit Bulls, which are considered one of the toughest, nastiest dog breeds around, could be called a nanny dog, right?

Yet once upon a time, back in the 1900s, Pit Bulls were considered nanny dogs, particularly the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It only takes a bit of digging to pull up all sorts of old pictures of young children with Pits, such as these “old timey” looking pictures I found on Pinterest here or here

Granted, in the early 1900s, the annual family income was about $3,000 and many families had no car, phone, or even indoor plumbing. It was a vastly different time, so could it be I’m talking about a different Staffordshire Bull Terrier as well?

No! It was just how the dog was treated at the time. 

What do I mean by that? Before the dawn of the 1900s, sometime in 1835, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was unfortunately already being used in dog fighting and other blood sports. Yet by 1911, legislation banned the activity in England. No one looked for loopholes; they just stopped using Pits for such violent activities.

What followed was decades of kind, gentle years with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was viewed as a terrific companion who was good with the family. If now was ever a time to call the Pit a nanny dog, this would have been it. 

So what happened? Well, Pit breeds like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier came to the United States where dog fighting wasn’t banned. Before using dogs, horrid people would pit bears or bulls against one another, which was not very safe nor smart.

Dog fighting was more convenient, and when a gambling aspect was added, people at the time could test the mettle of their dogs and make a quick buck.

Even into the 20th century, the American Pit Bull Terrier was still involved in dog fighting. Yet the American Pit Bull Terrier, like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was used for many other purposes, including as therapy dog and companion dog. Even the American Kennel Club calls a Pit Bull breed called the American Staffordshire Terrier “lovable ‘personality dogs’ around the house.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of many popularized Pit Bull attack stories, right? Or perhaps how former footballer Michael Vick was involved in dog fighting in the mid-2000s.

These are the stories that stick in people’s minds. They look at a Pit Bull and wonder how anyone can think that’s a safe dog for themselves and especially their children. Thus, the reputation of the Pit Bull as a nanny dog was erased, perhaps permanently. 

Which Breeds Are Considered Nanny Dogs Today?

Nanny dogs as a concept haven’t gone away, it’s just that people have (unfairly) largely moved away from giving the Pit Bull that distinction. Here are a few more commonly accepted nanny dog breeds of modern times that can give you a better idea of which traits are preferred in these dogs. 


The Vizsla is a Hungarian dog breed that’s between 24 and 25 inches tall in adulthood. Stately and cautious, the Vizsla is known for being a hunting companion that has a lot of stamina. They can keep up with even rambunctious young kids with a lot of energy. 

Saint Bernard 

The immovable Saint Bernard weighs up to 260 pounds in adulthood, so this is one large dog. Their inquisitiveness matches that of children, and the Bernard also has a playful streak that should amuse kids for hours. 

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever in the sporting group is known for socializing with just about anyone, kids included. They have moderate energy but not too much, and their friendly demeanor makes them a favorite breed. 

Golden Retriever 

By far, few dogs are more beloved than the Golden Retriever. The devotion this dog displays makes them the penultimate family dog, not to mention Goldens are smart and very friendly as well. 

Can Pit Bulls Really Get Along with Children?

If you’re still looking for a dog to adopt, sure, it might be easier and more convenient to get a Golden Retriever, but what if you had your heart set on a Pit Bull? Could a dog from this breed really get along with your children or would you have to worry about coming home one day to your dog mauling the kids?

Not necessarily. After all, violent behavior is typically instilled into a dog. For instance, most people believe that Pit Bulls can lock their jaw when they bite someone because they tend not to let go when they latch on. Well, first of all, the jaw of a Pit cannot lock. Second, if they hold on when biting, it’s because they were taught that, not that they know how to do it themselves. 

This 2014 archived recording from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for National Dog Bite Prevention Week discusses which dog breeds have the highest propensity to bite. According to the research mentioned in the recording, the AVMA says that using dog breeds alone as an indicator of whether a dog will attack is not always accurate.

In a much more benign application, that’s true of any dog breed. For instance, the Australian Shepherd is supposed to be full of boundless energy, but some dog owners have Aussies that are lazy.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with the dog? No, it’s just that the traits associated with a breed isn’t true of every dog in that breed.

Pit Bull breeds do indeed have violent fighting built into their ancestry, as that’s what they were unfortunately used for. If the breed was less muscular and strong, maybe that wouldn’t have been the case, but it is what it is. However, just because Pits were once bred for fighting doesn’t mean yours has to be violent. 

If you teach the Pit Bull to be a gentle, kind dog, that’s in their ancestry as well, so it’s very much doable. 

Tips for Acclimating Your Pit Bull to Your Kids

You decided to adopt an adorable Pit Bull puppy. If you have a young baby or kids at home, how do you get the children and the dog to acclimate to one another? Here are some handy tips to follow.

Let the Pit Adjust to the Child’s Scent

If you have clothing or a blanket that belongs to the kids with their scent on it, give this to your Pit Bull before the dog meets your children.

It gets them adjusted to their scent so that when the first meeting does occur, your dog might not be so excitable and eager to sniff that it scares the kids. 

Just Sharing the Same Room Is Enough at First

When you do bring your Pit Bull and your children into the same room, the first meeting should involve no contact. You want your Pit harnessed and/or leashed so you can control them. Give the kids and the dog a few minutes of sharing the same space so they can get used to each other’s presence. 

Keep Interactions Short at the Beginning

Those early meetings, so to speak, should last a few minutes at a time, then separate the Pit Bull and your children. Repeat the next day, gradually allowing for more time together.

After a few of these meetings, you might feel comfortable enough to let your kids pet the Pit Bull or for the dog to sit with the children.

Never Leave Them Unsupervised

Even once your Pit Bull and your children acclimate to one another, it’s still a very poor idea to leave your kids alone with your dog, ever. I’d say that for any dog breed.

You never know if the dog is going to spook the children, the kids might roughhouse with the dog, or what could happen. Even if you step out of the room during the interactions with your kids and dog, you should never be too far away. You certainly don’t want to leave the house and assume everything is fine. 

Know the Signs of Aggression

Kids can sometimes push the buttons of a dog. Again, this is true of any dog breed, not just the Pit Bull.

By knowing when your Pit is angry and turning aggressive, you can get your kids out of the room.

Here are the signs to look out for:  

  • Your Pit Bull might lift his tail, which will be very rigid, and waggle it, but not in a friendly way.
  • His ears might fold flat against his head, and his lips will be pulled back to expose his teeth.
  • The Pit’s eyes might also turn white as he shifts his gaze, which is sometimes referred to as whale eye. 


In the 1900s, Pit Bulls were trusted with children of all ages as nanny dogs or caretakers. In the 100+ years since, the resurgence of the Pit into dog fighting has tarnished the breed’s reputation.

This is a real shame considering Pit Bulls get along great with children! 

Taking precautions when adjusting your Pit Bill to your kids (and vice-versa) is recommended, just as with any breed. With some training and acclimation, the Pit Bull can be a favorite fuzzy member of the family. 

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