Almost any large but gentle breed or mixed breed of dog can be a nanny dog if it possesses the right combination of affection, strength and intelligence. Breeds commonly associated with the nanny dog designation come from the AKC gun dog, herding dog, and working dog groups. Using Stanley Coren’s dog personality-based groups, nanny dogs appear in both the friendly and steady groups.
Most gun dogs are primarily retrievers, and have been carefully bred for a soft mouth to tenderly carry the delicate fowl without damaging it. They do not possess a high prey drive or protective traits displayed by more aggressive breeds that are not suitable as nanny dogs. Gun dogs are very attentive and responsive to their owners. These qualities make them safe family pets and terrific service dogs. But not all dogs in the gun dog group are recommended as nanny dogs, and among any breed, each dog must be evaluated as an individual. If you are seeking a nanny dog for a particular purpose, research breeders for those whose dogs have demonstrated ability in that field, i.e., seeing eye dogs or search and rescue dogs. If you desire a more exotic breed than the popular golden retriever, try a smaller Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. The scruffy-looking spinone Italiano or wire-haired pointing griffon make fabulous and fun nanny dogs from the gun dog group.
The herding group includes collies and sheepdogs, many of which make extraordinary nanny dogs. Lassie was the most famous TV nanny dog of all. But bearded collies appear frequently on TV and in movies as nanny dogs (Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, Tiger on The Brady Bunch and Buck on Married With Children). Both types of collies are fabulous family dogs that love children and make for excellent companions. However, not all herding dogs are appropriate as nanny dogs. It’s important to research the breed’s purpose and duties. Nanny dogs are called ‘droving dogs’ in the herding group. They accompany sheep moving from one location to another. Other herding dogs like the German shepherd dog and Belgian tervuren are protectors and guardians of sheep which requires a willingness for aggression that is unsuitable behavior for a nanny dog. Nonetheless, nanny dogs can be almost any breed of dog including GSD, depending upon the individual’s personality, breeding and training.
Among the working dogs there are three solid nanny dog breeds – the Bernese mountain dog, the Newfoundland, and the St. Bernard. Bernese mountain dogs were all-around farm dogs and often pulled carts. St. Bernards rescued lost travelers in the Swiss Alps, while Newfoundlands provided assistance to fishermen. Even though these breeds share the same molosser or mastiff heritage with breeds like Great Pyrenees and Rottweiler, many individuals of these breeds are safe nanny dogs for families and individuals. The massive size and serious demeanor of these gentle giants can intimidate without any need for aggression, but remember, these are very large dogs and if there is any aggression displayed, they would be dangerous and not appropriate as nanny dogs. As a precaution, note that while some other working dog breeds may work with sheep as collies do, they act as guardians and protection dogs, meaning they are alert to movement, scents and sounds (prey drive), and they are expected to give chase to or attack any threat to their flock or herd (aggression).
Popular nanny dog breeds include, but are not limited to:
- Saint Bernard
- Old English Sheepdog
- Golden Retriever
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Shetland Sheepdog