Nanny Dog: Dispelling the Myth, Proving the Facts, and Understanding the Breed


There’s nothing more satisfying than cheering for the underdog and winning. However, before we define what nanny dogs are, we must clarify the term pit bull.

For some strange reason, we lump five classes of dogs into one umbrella term. This group has gotten a nasty rap in the last few decades when so many are good dogs with wonderful personality traits.

Pitbull means: American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), American Staffordshire Terrier also, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Amercian Bully Dog Breed also, Amercian Bulldog, and the many unrecognized mixed breeds chained or neglected in backyards. 

Someone popularized the nickname nanny somewhere, and a myth began. It was probably to help these seemingly dangerous dogs regain their truer characteristics.

Staffordshire Terrier breeds and other pit bulls are unfortunately often abused into becoming fighting dogs, and many more end up in an animal shelter for untamed aggressive behavior.

Since the pit bull group has been in the news for its bad reputation, it’s time to dig further into where the nannies’ myth comes from and what separates fact from fiction.

Nanny Dog

nanny dog

We’ve labeled these dogs as inherently aggressive. It’s also true that these guard dogs killed 232 people between 2005 and 2015. Pitbull pets also have another side to their label.

These valued family members have a long pedigree of intelligence, hard work, courage, loyalty, and affection. Put that on the front page and support the dog’s behavior with the actual breed.

Their overpowering need to please their owners gets them into trouble when they’re handled by people who encourage bad behavior.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are a breed from Birmingham, England, developed in the 1800s. As with many dogs, this terrier breed was originally a guard, bull-baiting, and fighting dog. Dog owners fine-tuned the breed into more muscular canines to propel the blood sport of dog fighting. 

Fighting was officially banned in 1976 in the UK and USA; the law took a long time to catch up to criminal fighting rings. 

Fact: Bull or bear baiting was a horrific blood sport where bulls or bears were shackled to a stake, and antagonized dogs were set loose to fight them. This vicious sport dates back to the 12th century and was finally banned in 1835.

So nearly two hundred years later, these dogs are still dealing with humans’ thirst for blood. (Dog fighting wasn’t banned until 1976 in the USA.)

Welcome to America

When the Staffy came to America, breeders developed a tamer version that became the American Pit Bull and optimized the protective personality of loyal dogs.

nanny dog breeds

The American Pit Bull in the early to mid 19th century was great with kids, and no one gave leaving their children with this breed any thought. Fans of the original Little Rascals will recognize the dog in the television is a UKC-registered American Pit Bull.

Petey’s real name was Pal, the Wonder Dog, and he sported a nearly perfect bullseye ring around his right eye. Lucenay’s Peter replaced Pete.

So what happened to change society’s perspective on pit bulls? Did many criminals damage the breed traits by exploiting them to their advantage? 

Dickens introduced us to the first mean pit dog owned by Sikes, a very unsavory character, in Oliver Twist. Pit dogs already had a rep as fighting dogs trained by using abuse and neglect. Although Sikes is fictional, these shady people are real. Away from the pit, a different Staffordshire Terrier emerged.

President of the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America, Lillian Rant, had this to say to describe the temperament of the breed,

 “The Stafford we know today quickly becomes a member of the family circle. He loves young children and is often referred to as a ‘nursemaid dog.”

The quote says, “the Stafford accepts invited guests, is friendly but has no fear and will discourage trespassers.” Rant, who undoubtedly knew the breed, never sugar-coated the breed’s turbulent past. On January 1, 1972, the AKC registered the breed in its miscellaneous class to participate in shows for points or best-in-show awards.

The pit bull breeds definitely have a checkered past. That one viral statement from one person has the power to change people’s perspectives is fascinating, even when it spreads misleading information.

Fun Fact: A Bull Terrier took home the Best-In-Show Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2006, and other terrier groups have many wins.

Nanny Dog Myth

nanny dog myth

There are many myths concerning the nursery maid name. For the first part of the 20th century, American Pit Bulls were a popular breed. Countless vintage photos depicting a kid posed next to these ‘inherently dangerous’ animals exist as proof.

No one had any qualms about passing a pitty on the street. The breed was so well respected it was featured in American military advertising as a symbol of fearlessness and became a star in the television program mentioned above, Little Rascals.

Sadly, in 1987, one pit bull took his job protecting his owner’s marijuana stack so seriously that it killed a toddler.

Today, we’ve branded American Pit Bull Terriers as criminals. Front page news images depict animals with crudely stuffed collars and wide mouths barring fangs, and we demonize the breed instead of the persons responsible for their behavior.

The AKC also uses the phrase nanny dog in their About the Breed description of the Staffordshire Bulldog. However, the UK Kennel Club does not refer to nanny dogs and states that Staffordshire Terrier is affectionate toward children.


Another almost comical myth associated with the pit bull breed is that they have lockjaw. Understanding what lockjaw is should already disqualify anyone accusing pit bulls of being dangerous. Lockjaw in dogs is a severe bacterial medical condition caused by tetanus infection.

If pit bulls had a permanent lockjaw condition, they would have difficulty breathing and eating. Besides, we could treat this ‘fake’ condition with vaccines. Although having a psi of 242, pit bulls are on the lower spectrum of powerful bites. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t inflict severe bite damage.

Reversing Nanny Dog Character Assassination

pitbull babysitters

The myth is nothing more than well-meaning persons spreading the moniker. That is misinformation. However, loyal pit bull owners will gladly stand up and confirm that their pit bull breed dog has many redeeming qualities:

  • Affectionate
  • Couch potato
  • Lover, not a fighter
  • Wonderful and gentle with children
  • A people dog
  • Friendly
  • Natural caretakers

Pit bulls are lucky because they have many dog owners fighting for their cause. Eventually, another breed will become the scapegoat.

Many notable figures in history had a fondness for pit bulls, like Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller (potentially a Boston Terrier), Thomas Edison, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred Astaire.

Modern faces that promote pit bull breeds include Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba, Jon Stewart, Tom Brady, Kevin Bacon, Betty White, and many others.

Pitbulls As Nannies

pitbull history nanny dog

This article aims to correct a few fallacies and pit bulls were never called nannies or nanny dogs. Period. Let’s stop spreading untruths about this dog breed. Calling them fake names and giving them a phony history doesn’t help the species.

What’s true about pit bulls is that they’re powerful dogs. However, a dog is a dog and can become a dangerous animal. Even Pomeranians can turn into deadly killers.

Terrier breed owners like something about the look or character of the dog. Many people have worked tirelessly to train well-balanced and calm dogs and help others do the same. People love the pit bull group for their affectionate nature, superior intelligence, quick learning ability, and because they’re fun.

Pitbulls Nanny Dogs Snopes

Pitbulls Nanny Dogs Snopes

Snopes is an internet fact-checker formerly known as Urban Legends Reference Pages. 

Many Snopes surround the pitbull family. Here are some popular fact-checked facts about pit bulls:

Bad temperament: Pitbull breeds consistently score higher than most breeds on ATT scores.

Inherently vicious: Disproven by ATT scores as good as Golden Retriever dogs.

Not affectionate: Pitbull breeds get a 5-star rating from Rover for affection.

Pitbulls are a breed: No, they are not. It’s a catchall for some bulldog terrier breeds, including the American Pitbull and Staffordshire Terrier, two distinct breeds. It also includes backyard breeds.

More dangerous: According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (JVB), there is no significant difference in aggression between legislated breeds (such as pitbull-type dogs) and the non-legislated control group (Golden Retrievers).

Pitbulls are in more dog-related incidents: the Journal of the American Veterinary Association concluded that “media reports on bite-related incidents are prone to significant breed identification error rates of over 40 percent. 

Pitbulls go crazy from brain swelling: not valid unless the dog has a severe medical condition.

Pitbull History Nanny Dog

It only takes a little research to debunk the pitbull nanny theory. The word nursery maid, used by Lillian Rand, somehow pit bulls nanny dogs became popular by someone willing to create a fake nickname for a breed in danger of being eradicated by breed-specific laws.

What is true of the pitbull breed is that well-balanced and calm dogs are excellent at providing protection. Pittys are unquestionably devoted to their family and can be gentle playmates.

pitbull nanny dog

Nowhere in history were they ever classified as nanny dogs. There is no such thing. It is likely that one person misread a snippet of information that went viral. At WAF, we have a responsibility to uncover the truth. If there were proof that any dog deserved a nanny distinction, we’d gladly bestow it on the right animal.

Many dogs are excellent with children. However, anyone who thinks that labeling a dog a babysitter needs to rethink child care and dog ownership. A dog is not a nanny.

Kids should never be left alone with an animal or even another child. Children under five are the number one victim of dog bites. It’s usually the family dog that bites them. These bites may not be out of aggression, but the dog saying in dog language, “back off.” 

Dog moms bite their puppies to correct their behavior. It’s how canine laws work.

Pitbull, a Dog of Many Trades

Pitbulls made the dangerous ocean crossing and immigrated with their families to America. These dogs didn’t have to jump any fences and were regarded as valuable helpers. Although traces of their pit fighting still lingered, people realized that these dogs had other qualities.

pitbull nanny dog

Incredibly smart and friendly, pit bulls worked on farms, protecting their family from wildlife and human predators. They worked hard, and people trusted them around their children. Indeed, families often left their kids at home without adult supervision. The dog did its job to guard. 

AKC characteristics:

  • Good Family dog 
  • Good with children
  • Okay around other dogs
  • Somewhat open with strangers
  • Excellent watchdog and protective
  • Outstanding training and adaptability
  • Require adobe moderate exercise and stimulation
  • Extremely loyal

Best jobs for pit bull breeds:

  • Drug sniffing and police work
  • Explosive detection
  • Search and Rescue work
  • Therapy and emotional support

No one back then went around and said, “oh, I left my children with the nanny dog.” People went to work or out and left childcare to older siblings or dogs, which was normal behavior. Pitbulls and other dogs were just part of the solution.

Even today, the USA has no universal federal laws concerning age definitions and when kids can be legally left alone. 


Exploitation can work both ways. Pit bulls are the poster child for dog fighting and aggression. It makes them attractive pets to people with dubious reputations. No one has forgotten the fighting ring scandal surrounding football star Michael Vick in 2008 and what it’s done to further ruin the reputation of these status symbol dogs.

what breed of dog was a nanny

Attaching a pit bull breed in such a light to a celebrity is doing a grave disservice. What’s even sadder is that dog fighting had already been outlawed since 1976 in the USA and 1835 in the UK. It’s ongoing today. Saying it’s a declining sport brings little comfort.

The other side of exploitation is using old vintage photos of pit bulls posed with children in beautiful sepia photographs to create another one-sided falsehood.

Yes, American Bull Dogs (not AKC) and other Bull Dog breeds were very popular a century ago. These were the top ten breeds. However, average working families kept many mixed breeds.

Today, the Pitbull Class is misunderstood and feared, dividing our opinion on how to help these dogs regain the qualities that make them wonderful pets.

Pitbull Behavioral Habits: Training and Abuse

pit bulls as nanny dogs

Move over, pit bull. You’re not the first breed to endure the cruelty some humans are eager to dish out. We continue to abuse and neglect thousands of dogs annually. Post-COVID shelter numbers are already in crisis in the UK and North America.

What is tragic is that we kill 2800 pit bulls every day just for being a specific breed. Yet no one punishes the people who mistreat, abuse, and starve these dogs and break tether laws. If they get charged for animal cruelty, the fines are very low, and the sentences mild.

Train To Kill

It’s 2023, and people are still training pit bulls and other breeds to become aggressive by using other pets as bait. There is no doubt that dogs still have predatory instincts. It’s in their DNA. These thugs use cats, rabbits, and other animals as bait and starvation methods. It’s a recipe to create a vicious dog.

Let’s ask, “what kind of person uses a smaller dog as a practice victim and then beats the fighting dog for not killing their victim?”

Aggressive Nature

Professional dog breeders will attest that the pit bulls that fall under their breeding pedigree are not naturally aggressive. Pit bulls are highly intelligent, affectionate, fun, and trainable.

However, denying that this dog breed has a long history of being abused and bred for fighting is irresponsible. Choosing a breeder who condemns fighting and aggression is vital.

False Stigma Associated With Pitbulls

are pit bulls nanny dogs

Facts and sources should come from something other than proponents or detractors but unbiased professionals.

A Natural Caretaker

Since pitbull is a moniker, we looked at all breeds under this umbrella.

  • APBTs exude a zest for life and are confident and agile with a high level of intelligence. The UKC doesn’t specifically define APBTs as caretakers.
  • American Bulldogs are athletic and well-balanced, with great agility, endurance, and friendly disposition. They are utility dogs, according to AKC.
  • Staffys are mild playful companions and good-natured with kids. The AKC uses the term nanny dogs.
  • American Bully is an exuberant companion dog with a gentle demeanor. They make excellent family dogs, and aggression is uncharacteristic.

Pitbull Babysitters

pitbull nanny

Pitbulls are dogs, not babysitters. It’s unfair and irresponsible even to suggest that any dog is a good babysitter. Most breeds can be great with youngsters, but leaving kids alone and unsupervised is wrong.

Many wonderful breeds are excellent with young and old, including dogs in the pit bull family. It’s also wonderful that people have such a strong passion for these dogs. But to avoid unfortunate incidents, don’t use a dog as a babysitter.

If an event occurs and your child gets harmed ‘accidentally’ and needs medical help, your pitbull becomes part of Pitbull Statistics.

Pitbulls Pass the Temperament Test

This test upsets pitbull haters. However, the ATTS (American Temperament Test Society) passes pit pulls above behind America’s favorite Labrador Retriever with a glowing 92.4% score.

The latest test scores dated January 2023 rate Staffys with a 91.9% score, American Staffys at 85.7% American Bully scored 100%, and American Bull Dog with 87.3% for an average of 91.22%

 ATT tests a healthy dog in six categories of stimuli that include:

  • Social
  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Tactile
  • Proprioceptive (motion)
  • Unexpected stimulus

ATTS Temperament Test measures different aspects of temperament, such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness, as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and self-preservation in the face of a threat. Dog psychology concerning breed genetics is much more complicated.

Pitbulls Are Affectionate and Intelligent

Again, unless you go into the specific breed from the pitbull category, you can’t lump them all into the same characteristics, albeit they share some traits.

Dogs can be affectionate and intelligent, but stereotyping isn’t a correct way to assess anything accurately: it’s how pit bulls got into this mess in the first place.

Most Bull Terrier breeds, including the Blue Nose Pitbull, are affectionate and intelligent based on their AKC or UKC definitions listed above.

Pitbulls, the Record-Setting Work Dog Breed

pit bull nanny dog

Terriers and bulldogs have always been working dogs that worked to protect, help eradicate rodents and provide humans with loyal companionship (which is a big task).

Popsicle broke the record for the largest single drug find in Texas of 3000 pounds of cocaine. 

Popsicle was rescued from an old freezer.

Sergeant Stubby is the most decorated dog in military history. Stubby served in 17 battles during World War I, warned soldiers of poison gas early on, and searched for wounded soldiers.

Dakota took part in over 200 life-saving search missions as a member of the Search and Rescue (SAR) team of pit bulls.

Many more pitties work as therapy, guide, and rescue dogs.

Pitbulls Are Terribly Misunderstood

No one can argue that the news cycle likes attention-grabbing headlines. One of the biggest disservices we do to this group of dogs is lumping them into one box and perpetuating stereotypes, including using the term nanny in context with a dog.

The Pacific Standard researched the facts behind lethal dog attacks in the US. They found that between 1965 and 2001, there were 60 fatal attacks from the pit bull family. Dobermans had 14 incidents.

However, when they looked further into the actual number of each breed, pit bull attacks were relatively low compared to the 36 years at only 0.0012%. For the same period, Chow Chow had a 0.005% attack rate.

Further, when dog bite incidents are recorded, the type of dog breed involved in the attack is often misrepresented. Pitbull Mixed breeds are even more challenging to identify.

Terrier bulldog breeds are intelligent, agile, hard-working, and willing to please their pet parents. They need well-balanced and calm environments like other dogs.


Can You Leave a Young Child Alone With a Pitbull?

No. You should never leave a child with any dog. Period. Never. Let’s end the pitbull nanny dog myth and support the dog for its real character, which is smart, affectionate, hard-working, and eager to please.

Are Pitbulls Good Family Dogs?

Absolutely. Pitbull breeds make excellent family dogs; Pit bulls really need a good balance of exercise, stimulation, training, socialization, and a well-balanced, loving environment–like all dogs.

Why Are Pitbulls Called Nanny Dogs?

They shouldn’t be, but there’s a movement that uses the term nanny to class dogs with a good temperament around children. Staffys are renowned for being super gentle, and no one should take that quality away from them. But they are not nannies.


It took much weeding to get to the heart of this subject. Calling a group of dogs nannies is irresponsible and harmful to any dog’s image. 

Dog breeders develop the best traits in dog breeds to create champions that excel in work ethic, guard duty, good looks, trainability, temperament, versatility, and so much more.

Choosing a dog with exemplary character for your family is more important than perpetuating a nanny theory.

Lying at my feet (on the sofa, obviously) is a Staffy-Lab cross and undoubtedly the smartest, most willing-to-please dog I have ever met. He has so many positive characteristics that he doesn’t need some fictional Peter Pan nursery maid association.

Monika Martyn
Monika Martyn is a nomadic minimalist and published author. Her pet portfolio includes experience with over forty cats and dogs, and she becomes their surrogate and a valued pack member. One of her proudest accomplishments is typing while petting a fur baby on her lap. She also excels at dog-speak and cat-talk and is working on mastering fish lingo. Aside from her animal advocacy, she is passionate about the environment, plastic pollution, and living with less (not including chocolate and coffee). She practices yoga and meditation faithfully. She’s experienced living abroad and believes that together people can evoke change for the better. Or at least be kind to one another despite our differences. She has an uncanny knack for remembering people’s names. She’s proud of her two Pushcart Nominations, her debut novel, and her marriage. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. Monika believes that education is the biggest gift to humanity at any age.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spring Sale: $100 Discount on SpotOn GPS Dog Fence

Get updates on the latest posts and more from World Animal Foundation straight to your inbox.

No Thanks