When You Love Your Dog But Your Insurance Company Doesn’t
When initiating a new homeowners insurance policy, the result can always be a gamble. Will my insurance premium be too high? Should I worry about coverage limits? Will I need to purchase additional coverage?
All these questions come to mind when researching insurance carriers. And if you’re a dog owner, you’ll have one more: Will my insurance company restrict my dog’s breed from coverage? And even if they don’t, will they cover dog bite claims if my dog bites a neighbor?
While these questions might be new to you, they are certainly not new to insurance providers. In 2020, insurance companies paid out roughly $854 million for liability claims pertaining to dog bites and other dog-related injuries, according to a 2021 analysis by the Insurance Information Institute. Unfortunately for insurers, those costs continue to rise.
Although the total number of nationwide dog bite claims decreased in 2020 from the previous year, the average cost per claim rose by 12.3 percent. The trends over time are even worse. From 2003 to 2020, the cost of claims skyrocketed, with the average cost per claim increasing by 162 percent, from roughly $19,000 to more than $50,000. Those claims included dog bites and other dog-related injuries such as “dog falls,” people injured in a fall when an over-eager dog leaps on them.
Getting nervous yet, dog owners? Don’t worry — you’re in good company. Roughly 69 million U.S. households own a dog, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021 survey.
Or maybe you should worry. Did you know that a majority of states — 29 — consider dog owners liable for any injuries their pet causes?
Is Your Dog on the Restricted Breeds List?
Some home insurance companies have a list of restricted dog breeds. Breeds considered “restricted” raise red flags because they’re considered a higher risk of leading to high-cost insurance payouts. (Along with trampolines, dogs are one of the bigger headaches for companies supplying homeowners insurance.)
Depending on each company’s practices, owning certain breeds could potentially mean higher premiums, less favorable coverage terms, and at worse no coverage at all.
“The (companies) that do have some type of restriction on breeds often base it on the losses that they experience,” said Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communication for the Insurance Information Institute. “They have determined, ‘OK, we had more losses with this breed than that breed.'”
A Forbes Advisor analysis of commonly banned dog breeds revealed that Doberman pinschers, pit bulls and rottweilers showed up on all surveyed lists of breed restrictions. Chow-chows and wolf dogs or wolf hybrids also appeared on more than 90% of lists.
Some insurance companies don’t have hard and fast rules that immediately bar a customer from coverage should they own a particular dog breed, according to Ruiz. Certain dog breeds may engender further questions.
“Maybe one company likes to take a look at the breeds but then will ask, ‘What kind of training do you have? Have you had any prior losses with your former insurance companies?'” Ruiz said. “It’s a process. It could be a consideration, but it may not mean that they’re not going to insure you because of it.”
Many home insurance companies still want to insure a potential client even if they own a breed considered risky. They just want to determine the right amount of money to charge, Ruiz said. To do this, an insurance provider will often take into account a dog’s bite history.
Animal advocates, like the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stress that training — rather than a dog’s breed — plays a big role in a dog’s behavior. “There’s a lot to be said for dogs being trained,” Ruiz said. “That’s the more important focus — for people to look at whether they are being responsible pet owners.”
How Do Different Homeowners Insurance Companies Handle Dogs?
If you own a dog that may be on one of the restricted dog breed lists, it’s understandable that you’d wonder what to do next. Maybe you’re already buying insurance to cover vet bills and you don’t need any extra expenses. We talked to homeowners insurance companies to get you some answers about which insurance providers even consider dog breeds and what questions to expect when you apply for coverage.
State Farm does not ask what breed of dog a homeowner owns, according to public affairs specialist Michal Brower.
In the past 10 years, the company has paid more than $1.1 billion for dog-related injury claims. Often, these come down to training rather than the traits of a specific dog breed.
“Every dog has a unique personality,” Brower said. “While a dog’s breed may dictate what the dog looks like, how a dog reacts to people or situations isn’t guaranteed by breed or type.”
Brower recommends that dog owners ask their insurance company or agent what their homeowners policy covers. A dog bite or injury may be covered under the liability portion, but that can have coverage limits. A severe bite or injury could mean the consumer has to pay out of pocket if it falls over their policy limit.
“USAA does not consider dog breed in our underwriting of homeowners policies,” according to company spokesperson Rebekah Nelson. But the company does look at bite history. “Requests for insurance may be declined when the insured owns an animal that has previously bitten or attacked,” Nelson said.
USAA membership is open to veterans and their eligible family members.
Guidelines and restrictions vary by state, according to external communications manager Carly Kraft.
“If a dog bites or injures someone outside of your household, the liability section of Farmers homeowners and renters insurance policies will typically help cover medical expenses resulting from the injury, up to the liability limits in the policy,” Kraft said. “Insurers may consider excluding coverage for dog bites, regardless of breed, if a dog has previously bitten someone.”
Amica does not have any restricted dog breeds, according to communications and public relations manager Brendan Dowding. Instead, they focus on a dog’s history and behavior.
“During our underwriting process, we do ask customers who own dogs a number of questions about their dog, including details on prior behavior and temperament,” Dowding said.
Should a dog bite someone, that is when the customer’s homeowners liability coverage and liability protection would come into play.
“In the event a customer is liable for their dog biting someone, in general, their homeowners policy would provide coverage under the liability portion of a homeowners/condo/rental policy,” Dowding said. “However, every incident is different and exclusions may apply.”
Liberty Mutual and Nationwide
These two insurance companies are among those described by animal advocacy group MSPCA as ones “that may insure otherwise black-listed dog breeds.”
MSPCA goes on to state: “Most of these companies work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog’s behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification or certain housing requirements.” Representatives from Liberty Mutual did not respond to inquiries and representatives from Nationwide declined an interview request.
Travelers homeowners insurance underwriting guidelines state that a number of dog breeds — as well as any animal that is “vicious or has previously bitten or injured” — are restricted from coverage. These breeds include pit bulls, akitas, American Staffordshire terriers, bullmastiffs and Staffordshire bull terriers.
Allstate works with dog owners on a case-by-case basis, choosing to evaluate a dog’s behavioral history rather than breed, according to Insurify. Allstate spokespeople did not return a request for comment.
Media spokespeople for Progressive did not return multiple requests for comment. Progressive’s website does not indicate whether they ban certain dog breeds, but notes that some insurance providers restrict breeds like German shepherds, mixed breeds and American bulldogs.
The website states: “Homeowners insurance won’t cover property damage or injury to occupants of your home caused by a pet, but generally covers claims that other parties make as a result of your pet’s actions — regardless of whether the incident happened at your home or elsewhere.”
Pets are generally covered under the liability limits of a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.