According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 48 million American households own at least one dog.
As these numbers suggest, pet ownership is rewarding. Dogs provide companionship and unconditional love. They may also enhance your sense of security. Without the right precautions, though, dog ownership can also pose some risks.
Responsible dog ownership means protecting yourself, your family, your dog, and the people you encounter from these risks. This protection must include homeowners insurance.
So what special considerations do dog owners face when purchasing homeowners insurance? How does adding a dog to your family impact your current policy? Find answers to these questions and more in this guide.
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What Insurable Risks Does Dog Ownership Pose?
The most significant insurable risk dog owners face is the liability for dog bites and attacks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that even the friendliest dog can bite.
When a dog is afraid or in pain, it may lash out in a way it otherwise wouldn’t. Dogs also have a strong protective instinct. Mother dogs, in particular, may attack to protect their puppies, and in fact, any dog can bite if it feels its toys or food are threatened. Finally, dogs also have a prey instinct and may mistake the quick movements of young children for those of a small animal.
Regardless of the reason, dogs bite approximately 4.5 million people each year. Eight hundred thousands of those bites require medical care.
If your dog bites someone outside your family, you could be liable for the costs of that care. You could also be liable for the pain and suffering the attack caused.
These costs—and the risk of incurring them—are significant. Insurance can protect you from these risks.
Are Pets Covered Under Homeowners Insurance?
Most homeowners and renters insurance policies include some liability coverage for dog bites and attacks.
In 2016, in fact, dog bite claims represented one-third of homeowners insurance payouts. Moreover, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that the cost of these claims is rising. From 2015 to 2016, the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 16% to $37,000.
Fortunately, most homeowners insurance policies cover damages up to $100,000. Some home insurance companies offer up to $300,000 worth of coverage. Policyholders are responsible for damages that exceed this amount. Therefore, many dog owners increase their coverage or purchase an umbrella policy. Others seek supplemental policies for dog owners.
Still, any amount of coverage requires that pet owners adhere to certain conditions. Furthermore, owners of certain dog breeds may face particular obstacles when seeking coverage.
If My Dog Bites Someone, Who Is Covered by My Homeowners Insurance Policy?
Homeowners insurance typically covers the homeowner and any co-residing relatives, including dependents. Most policies also cover unpaid dog walkers or sitters if an attack happens under their care.
I Rent. Do I Need to Worry About Insurance?
Many—but not all—renters insurance policies offer similar protections. If you rent and own a dog or are thinking about adopting a dog, therefore, you should check your policy.
If you own a dog and don’t have renters insurance, you might consider purchasing it. Not only can it protect you if your dog bites someone. Having rental insurance may also convince your landlord that you and your dog will be responsible tenants.
I’m a landlord. Could I Be Liable If a Tenant’s Dog Attacks Someone?
Under most circumstances, the dog’s owner bears sole responsibility for the animal’s behavior. As a landlord, therefore, you usually need not worry about incurring losses if a tenant’s dog attacks.
Exceptions occur if, as the landlord, you knew a tenant’s dog was dangerous and failed to act. You could also be liable if, by virtue of care you provided, you’re deemed a de facto owner.
Do I Need to Notify My Insurance Company When I Adopt a New Dog?
When you purchase a homeowners insurance policy, you must tell your insurance company about any dogs you own. If you adopt a new dog during the course of your policy, you must also notify your insurer.
Will I Be Covered If I Do Not Notify Them?
Failure to notify your insurance company not only jeopardizes your coverage for dog bites. It can also jeopardize your entire homeowners insurance policy.
If your dog bites someone and your insurance company did not know you had a dog, the company can deny your claim. What’s more, it may even cancel your policy. Importantly, your insurance company can take this action even if you don’t make a dog-bite related claim.
Does Notifying My Insurance Company Mean That I’m Covered?
Unfortunately, no. Owning certain breeds can make it more difficult to secure coverage. Adopting a new dog that is considered high-risk can also put your existing policy at risk for cancellation.
Some carriers may offer you a policy or continue your coverage but impose additional restrictions. For example, some homeowners insurance companies require high-risk dog owners to sign liability waivers for bites. Others increase insurance rates following a dog attack.
Is It Legal for My Insurance Company to Deny, Cancel, or Increase My Premium Because of the Type of Dog I Own?
Unless you live in Pennsylvania or Michigan, yes, it is. These states have passed laws prohibiting insurance carriers from discriminating against homeowners based on the breed of dog they own.
Similar legislation is pending in other states. Currently, however, discrimination against dog owners of high-risk breeds remains legal across most of the United States. Furthermore, some states and municipalities have their own breed-specific restrictions on dog ownership. These range from outright bans to insurance coverage mandates.
What Breeds Make Homeowners Insurance Companies’ Dog Exclusion Lists?
Dog breeds deemed high-risk by many insurance companies correspond with lists of the top 10 banned dog breeds. These include:
- Pit Bull, American Bulldog, and Bull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Siberian Husky
- Alaskan Malamute
- Wolf Hybrid
- Doberman Pinscher
- Chow Chow
- American Bulldog
Other breeds not as commonly owned but often considered dangerous include:
- Cane Corso
- Canary dogs, or Presa Canario
- Fila Brasileiro
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
Why Are Insurance Carriers Reluctant to Insure Certain Breeds?
Insurance companies impose restrictions on coverage to limit their own risk for losses. Various factors contribute to perceptions that the above-blacklisted breeds pose greater risks.
First, the existence of local and state-level ordinances banning these dogs suggests they may be more dangerous.
Some studies also suggest that these breeds are more likely to attack and more likely to cause serious injury when they do. For example, The Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs analyzed dog bite statistics in Denver. According to their work, four of the five breeds most likely to attack make many insurers’ blacklists:
- German Shepherds
- Chow Chows
Why are Breed-Specific Policies a Bad Idea?
Animal welfare advocates and many dog owners advocate against breed-specific policies.
They point out that the breed most likely to attack, according to the above study, was the labrador retriever, which makes no carrier’s blacklist. They also point out that percentages of attacks traced to each of these breeds fall in the single digits.
Furthermore, increasing numbers of people adopt rather than shop when they bring a new pet into the family. As a result, they lack definitive knowledge about their dog’s breed. Advocates argue that it can be extremely difficult to identify a dog’s breed based on appearances alone.
Still, perceptions—fueled by competing statistics and stereotypes—remain. These perceptions make insurance coverage challenging for some dog owners.
Are There Insurance Agencies That Don’t Discriminate Based on Breed?
Fortunately for dog owners, some companies look beyond breed. In fact, insurance carriers differ in their approach to dogs that are deemed high-risk. Some completely exclude certain breeds from coverage. Others take a more comprehensive approach to evaluating the risk a particular dog poses.
If you’re seeking coverage as the owner of a high-risk breed, look for a company that considers other factors, including:
- Training the dog has received
- The dog’s temperament
- Prior dog bite claims—or a lack thereof
- Vaccination history
- The animal’s status as a service or therapy dog
Will Homeowners Insurance Cover Dogs with a Bite History?
Pet owners with certain breeds are not the only dog owners who face challenges.
Perhaps your dog isn’t on the above lists. Still, you’re worried because your dog has already bitten someone. Maybe the incident even resulted in a claim. So is your current insurance policy at risk?
Depending on the company, it could be.
Your insurance company can drop your policy following a dog bite claim. In fact, depending on the carrier, this is a common practice. Many insurance companies also use a dog’s bite history to evaluate the potential risk before offering a new policy. If they do offer you a policy, you may face higher rates. Your carrier might also exclude your dog from coverage.
Again, carriers differ in their approach to high-risk dogs. It’s important, therefore, to talk to your insurance company. Be honest in your conversations. Find out their policies. Finally, take the steps you can to demonstrate your responsibility. These include staying current on your dog’s vaccinations and working with a dog trainer.
What If My Insurance Company Denies or Cancels My Homeowners Insurance? I Want to Keep My Dog!
Despite your best efforts, the insurance company you selected may decide to deny or cancel your coverage. What can you do?
First, it’s important to know why the company refused coverage. Perhaps the company based its decision solely on your dog’s breed. If so, look for a company that doesn’t discriminate on that basis.
If your dog has a bite history and you’re struggling to find coverage that includes your dog, supplemental policies that cater to dog owners may be an option.
What Can I Do to Prevent My Dog from Biting?
If you’re lucky, you’re reading this before your dog has been involved in an attack. Or your dog has bitten someone, but you were lucky enough to maintain coverage.
In either case, preventing future incidents is essential. Of course, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of aggressive dog behavior. Like any animal, including humans, dogs can be unpredictable, and even mild-mannered dogs can react aggressively when stressed.
Responsible dog ownership means taking precautions to control your dog’s behavior as much as possible. It also means respecting your dog’s power and limiting its exposure to stressors.
The following guidelines include basic steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that your dog will be involved in an aggressive incident.
Learn About Your Dog’s Breed
If you already own a particular breed, especially one that is considered high-risk, learn more about it. If you’re thinking about adding a dog to your family, likewise do your homework.
Knowing what to expect in terms of temperament can help you find a dog that’s a good fit for your family. It can also enable you to implement the necessary precautions.
The American Kennel Association (AKC) offers comprehensive information about the nearly 200 breeds it recognizes. Your veterinarian or trainer can also provide advice.
Spay or Neuter Your Dog
Dogs that have been fixed are usually less aggressive. In fact, some insurance companies consider a dog’s sexual status when evaluating the level of risk it poses.
Thus, getting your dog spayed or neutered may not only prevent aggressive behavior. It can also save you money and headaches regarding homeowners insurance.
Keep Your Dog Leashed
When you take your dog outside, be sure that it is leashed. This includes when you take your dog outside on your own property. Only remove your dog’s leash if your dog is securely behind a fence or another outdoor enclosure.
Supervise Your Dog
Never leave your dog unsupervised around strangers. This is especially true if your dog encounters small children.
Socialize Your Dog
Exposing your dog to different experiences can reduce any fears it might have. Take your dogs for leashed walks in different environments. If your dog’s temperament allows, permit supervised play dates with trusted dog friends or family.
On these excursions, though, remain vigilant and respect your dog’s limits. If your dog exhibits fear or aggression, remove it—safely—from the situation.
Play with Your Dog Safely
Playing with your dog builds your bond. It also helps the dog learn appropriate interactions with others.
With this in mind, avoid aggressive games. For example, play fetch rather than a tug-of-war. Also, know when to end a play session. Dogs that become overstimulated can be more likely to act aggressively.
Keep Vaccinations Current
Finally, take your dog for checkups and maintain a regular vaccination schedule. Once again, some insurance companies will consider vaccinations when deciding whether to offer you a policy.
Keeping your dog’s vaccinations current also protects you and others if the dog does bite someone.
Without a Lab-Tested Homeowners Insurance Policy, Life Can Be Ruff
Dog ownership comes with many benefits. However, it’s also a significant responsibility.
Among your responsibilities as a dog owner is securing adequate homeowners insurance. The tips in this article can make your search a little less stressful.
LoPriore Insurance Agency, Inc. is also here to help. Contact us for more information or request a quote today.