By Nathan Barber
Owning a dog can create possible challenges if you’re looking for a home insurance policy. In the case of dangerous dog breeds, it can be more difficult. This article is will help show you how to get past those hurdles, and how to get a policy despite what kind of dog you have.
How Can Dogs Affect Homeowners Insurance?
Shopping for home insurance is not a simple process. It’s in your best interest to look into all the factors that can affect your coverage. Oddly enough, owning a dog can be one of those factors. Pets play a large part in American family life. As on 2017, sixty-eight percent of US homes have a pet. From that, 89.7 million of those pets were dogs.
There were over 18,000 dog bite-related claims filed in 2017 alone. These claims resulted in 686 million dollars in payouts.
This is a huge sum of cash going to pay medical costs, settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs. It is a sure thing that insurers are careful with the factors for how to approach insurance for homes with pets. These criteria form the base for how they insure dogs in general, and different breeds in specific.
How Do Insurers Rank Dogs?
How insurers rank dog breeds as insurance risks varies. Some insurers will restrict, refuse, or cancel home coverage if a policyholder owns a certain breed.
Others will exclude some breeds from a policy, or have the policyholder to sign a waiver so they are liable in the event of an attack. In some cases, insurers will drop coverage or raise premiums if the policyholder’s dog hurts someone.
In terms of high-risk breeds, the key breeds that insurers frown upon are:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
- Pit Bull
- Siberian Husky
- Wolf Hybrid
Liberty Mutual considers all of the above breeds high risk, including “Canary Dogs”, when looking at home policy requests.
Liberty Mutual “does not refuse to provide homeowners coverage, or require the exclusion of homeowners liability coverage solely based upon dog breed,” says Glenn Greenberg, Liberty Mutual’s director of media relations and sponsorship PR. He does add that Liberty Mutual will sometime review the breeds “for homeowners insurance acceptability because [they] pose increased risk of loss.”
These breeds are not automatic causes for refusal of coverage, however. Greenberg notes that Liberty Mutual will take into account the dog’s training, its temperament, vaccinations, and any prior losses. State and federal laws including service and therapy dogs come into play as well. “The presence alone of a dog in the home will not result in policy denial or exclusion of liability coverage. Some dog breeds will require further review. If they do not meet our acceptability guidelines, we may choose not to write the policy.”
Which Insurers Don’t Discriminate Based on Breed?
While some insurers operate like Liberty Mutual, others do not “blacklist”. These insurers include:
- State Farm
These insurers will often only review a single dogs bite history and history of aggressive action. This can give a wider view to consider instead of judging the breed as a whole. State Farm works on the premises that figuring out the breed of dog based on how it looks isn’t the best approach to gauging risk. Just because a dog may bite out of fear, that doesn’t mean the dog is dangerous by its nature.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center (MSPCA-Angell) is also against the targeting of specific breeds as high-risk. One of their main reasons is that research shows that it is hard to know the breed of a dog based on its looks.
Mixed breed dogs are very hard to determine. If it turns out the dog is a mixed breed, figuring out the percentages of the mix is even harder. Their other reasons include:
Blacklists discriminate against dog owners who have gone to great lengths to provide good training and socialize their pets. Along these lines, blacklists do not consider the owner’s behavior and treatment of the dog.
Blacklisting can stop people from wanting to adopt some breeds out of fear that they’ll be able to get a home policy.
Some statistics on dog bites may not take into account how popular certain breeds of dogs are. This makes it look like certain breeds will bite more often than others will.
As an alternative approach, one piece of advice is to place focus on preventing all dog bites regardless of breed. Some feel that insurers are in a position to teach the public about preventing bites and effective dog training. This tactic along with stronger animal-control laws could reduce dog-bite claims by a lot.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are some questions for homeowners who want to get a dog, or a dog owner thinking of buying a home.
Q: Is it legal for an insurance company to deny or cancel my homeowner’s policy or increase my premium because I own a certain type of dog?
A: At this time, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only two states that have passed laws that forbid insurers from denying or cancelling home coverage because of certain dog breeds. In the other 48 states your insurer can discriminate against what their policies list as high-risk dog breeds
Q: Haven’t some cities and states passed breed-specific laws or legislation that target certain dog types?
A: Yes. According to dogsbite.org, more than 700 cities, counties, and states in America have legislated against specific dog breeds.
Most states currently impose “statutory strict liability” for dog bites and attacks. This means the dog’s owner is legally liable to any victims.
The majority of the other states have “one bite” statutes. These statutes protect dog owners from blame rising from the first injury caused by their dog. This is unless they find blame on other grounds. What this means is that victims have to prove the owner knew their dog had the potential to be dangerous.
Q: What can I do if an insurance company denies or cancels my homeowner’s coverage because of my dog?
A: The first thing to do is talk to your agent or someone else in the company. They may be able to refer you to another insurer that will cover you.
It’s good to keep in mind that many insurers don’t turn down homeowners who have certain breeds instantly. Instead, they’ll ask you to show references. These can be in the form of letters from your dog’s vet or certificates from obedience training programs. In some cases, they’ll send an agent to meet your dog before making a decision.
In some instances, an insurer will sell you a policy that excludes your dog from coverage. If this happens, you should be able to buy a separate policy for your dog as add-on coverage.
Q: How can I find affordable homeowners insurance if I have a blacklisted breed?
A: The best advice here is to shop around. Different insurers sell different policies out of the competitive nature of the industry. Some exclude specific breeds, but not all exclude the same breeds. Ask if they exclude specific breeds of animal from coverage. Also, ask if you can buy a rider or add-on coverage to cover bases caused by exclusion.
If you still have a hard time finding adequate coverage, contact your state insurance commissioner’s office. Someone there may be able to help you find a good insurer.
Q: What kind of homeowner’s coverage do I need if I have a dog? How much coverage should I get as a dog owner?
A: According to the Insurance Information Institute (https://www.iii.org/article/spotlight-on-dog-bite-liability), most home and renters policies cover some amount of liability related to dog bites and attacks. The coverage is $100,000 to $300,000 on average.
Dog owners are responsible for amounts that go over that limit. It’s a good idea for homeowners or renters to bump up their coverage or get an umbrella policy. You can also look into dog owner-specific supplemental or specialized liability insurance.
Q: Who does my home insurance policy cover?
A: A standard homeowner’s policy covers spouses, relatives, and dependents under 21 years of age. They are protected from losses that can come from a dog bite or injury. However, they won’t be able to file a claim if they’re the victim of an attack from a dog on the premises. Most homeowner’s policies cover unpaid dog sitters or walkers if an attack by your dog occurs under their watch.
Q: Do I need to tell my insurer if I adopt a dog? What happens if I don’t tell my insurer about my dog?
A: You should definitely tell your insurance company if you own a dog. This is doubly so if your dog shows up on dangerous breed lists.
Honesty really is the best policy here. If you don’t notify your insurer about your dog, many bad things can happen. They can deny any claim you file if your dog bites or injures someone and you kept the dog secret. Your insurer may even cancel your policy because of it.
What’s worse, your insurer may not even wait for you to file a claim to cancel your policy. Insurers are not above dropping someone when they find out a homeowner had a high-risk breed and didn’t tell them.
Q: Does it matter what kind of dog I have if I’m a renter?
A: You’ll want to check and see if your renters insurance policy covers dog attacks. Not all of them do. Renters policies that cover dogs can help you in other ways other than after an attack. If you’re looking for a new place and your dog may be a danger risk, a renters policy may help in convincing a potential landlord that you’re not a liability.
Q: Why do dogs bite?
A: According to MSPCA-Angell, there are various factors involved in a dog’s tendency to bite. They include:
- Genetic leaning to aggression
- Early socialization
- Obedience or fight training
- Quality of care and supervision
This creates a lot of wiggle room in regards to what an “aggressive breed” is. A dog with a genetic leaning towards aggression may be minor risk due to it’s training and care. A dog with no genetic leaning towards violence may be dangerous if it’s received poor or no training. Any dog may become defensive if frightened or feels their people, puppies, or food are in danger.
Two other factors that can influence a dog’s tendency to bite are the dog’s gender and whether it’s spayed or neutered. Studies show that male dogs are over six times more likely to bite than female dogs. If the dog hasn’t been spayed or neutered, it is three times more likely to bite.
Q: How can I keep my dog from biting someone?
A: MSPCA-Angell and State Farm recommend the following steps to reduce the chances of your dog biting someone:
- Walk your dog frequently to keep it happy, healthy, and to provide mental stimulation
- Socialize your dog with people and other animals so it learns correct behavior
- Don’t put your dog in positions where it feels threatened or teased
- Make sure your dog has obedience training
- Make sure your dog gets the health care it needs. A dog’s health can affect it’s behavior a lot
- Notify others of your dog’s presence with signs on your property so people are aware of it
- Be aware of and obey all local licensing, leash, and noise control laws
- Use a leash in public, for your peace of mind and that of others
- Make sure to secure your fences and gates
- Do not allow your dog to stray
- Avoid tethering your dog for long durations, as this can also increase the chances of a bite
- Supervise children when they play with your dog, and teach them not to disturb it when it’s asleep or eating.