The Ultimate Guide to Homeowners Insurance for Dog Owners
Dog owners often find themselves facing a particular dilemma when trying to secure homeowner's insurance. While insurance is a must for anyone wanting to own their own house, many home owners face higher premiums, inferior policies, or even blacklisting by insurance agencies -- simply because they own a dog.
Homeowner's insurance doesn't just protect against natural disasters, theft and other mishaps. It also shields policy holders against lawsuits arising from injuries or damages, even those related to pets. However, thanks to the increasing cost of litigation -- especially those surrounding dog bites and other dog-related incidents -- many insurance companies refuse to write coverage for homeowners who also own certain breeds of dog.
If you're a homeowner and a dog lover, this guide is for you. Here, you'll find facts on the relationship between dog ownership and home insurance, which breeds create the most problems for homeowners, and how to find the cheapest and most affordable homeowner's insurance possible.
Home Insurance and Dogs: The Facts
Here are some basic facts about dog ownership and homeowner's insurance:
- According to the American Veterinary Association, almost 40 percent of American households have a dog.
- That's over 43 million households, with an average of 1.6 dogs per household. The Humane Society estimates the numbers at over 83 million.
- The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. One in five of these require serious medical attention.
- The average cost of an insurance claim related to a dog bite is over $29,000. Dog bite insurance claims can cost insurers over $470 million a year.
- While the number of dog bite claims has fallen, the cost of such claims continues to rise.
- Most dog bite-related claims occur in California and Illinois.
- While a few states outlaw "breed profiling," many insurance companies allow the denial or cancellation of coverage if a homeowner owns a certain breed of dog.
- US Pet Ownership Statistics (AVMA)
- Pets by the Numbers (Humane Society)
- Dog Bites (CDC)
- On a Leash: Dog Bite Insurance Claim Trends (Insurance Journal)
- Dogs Take Bite Out of Out of Homeowners Insurance (Bankrate)
- Homeowner's Insurance Resource Center (AKC)
- Home Insurance and Pets (MSPCA)
- Insurance for the Dog Owner (Dog Bite Law)
The Issue of Breed Discrimination
Some organizations, like the American Kennel Club , have spoken out in favor of dogs and home ownership, claiming that dogs can act as a natural deterrent against theft and property damage. Insurance companies can question homeowners on whether they own a certain breed of dog, and can charge more for a policy or require additional paperwork depending on the answer. Breed profiling is outlawed in some states, most notably Michigan and Pennsylvania. However, in most other states, insurance companies can outright "blacklist" policy holders for owning certain dog breeds. These breeds, especially if they have a history, are listed as "uninsurable," potentially leaving the owner liable for medical bills or lawsuits if the dog should bite someone.
Many times, insurance companies will not take a dog or dog owner's history into account -- they simply go by the average number of bites that are reported for certain breeds, as well as breeds with recent high-profile stories in the news. This often means that a breed of dog that is "safe" one year may be "dangerous" the next. Some insurance companies can require muzzling, behavioral training, or other restraints in order to write a policy, incurring extra financial burdens on dog owners.
The following types of dog are most often considered "bad breeds" by many insurance companies:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chow Chow
- German Shepherd
- Pit Bull
- Siberian Husky
- Wolf Hybrid
For more on which dog breeds are most often targeted by insurers:
- 10 Dog Breeds Blacklisted by Insurers (MSN)
- 14 Dog Breeds Blacklisted by Insurance Companies (Psychology Today)
- The Case Against Dog Breed Discrimination by Homeowners' Insurance Companies (Humane Society)
- Homeowners Insurance (Bless the Bullys)
Dog Owners: Tips on Finding Homeowners Insurance
So what do you do if you own a dog -- especially one of the breeds listed above -- and want to find cheap homeowner's insurance? Fortunately, you may have more options than you think.
Insurance companies are trying to accomplish the same goal you are -- protect themselves from liability. Many insurance companies will take extra precautions into account, such as certified obedience training, dog socialization classes, fences, kennels, and so on. The American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program is a good example of the kind of precaution insurers may keep in mind when writing a policy.
Dog owners looking for insurance companies that don't discriminate are encouraged to find independent agents and stay away from the smaller insurance companies, which tend to be skittish about insuring dog owners. Insurers who currently do not discriminate by breed include:
- State Farm
- Chubb Group
Talk to more than one agent for a particular insurance carrier.
Not all insurance agents are created equal. If the first agent you talk to for a particular carrier won't work with you, try another.
Contact the insurance commissioner for your state.
Some states forbid insurers from denying a policy to a homeowner because they own a certain breed of dog, but most do not. Your insurance commissioner can provide you with a list of insurance companies in your state, and can, on request, review a refused policy to see if it falls within your state's legal guidelines. The American Kennel Club has a link to each State Insurance Commissioner for easy reference.
Purchase a separate policy for your dog.
While you may not be able to own a dog and get the cheaper home insurance you'd like, you may be able to take out a separate policy on your dog, thus protecting you from liability and medical damages. Organizations such as the Federation of Insured Dog Owners were created to provide just such a service to dog owners.
For more on finding cheap homeowners' insurance as a dog owner:
- Tips on Finding Homeowners' Insurance (American Kennel Club)
- Dog Tip: Insurance-Related Issues (Paw-Rescue)
- Do I Have to Tell My Homeowners Insurance Company I Have a Dog? (The Truth About Insurance)
Dog Owners: Tips for Preventing Dog Bites and Other Issues
While no one can prevent accidents or unintended injuries, there are many precautions that dog owners can take to prevent bites or other incidents. Taking the time to be a responsible dog owner can not only save you money on homeowner's insurance, but it will make life easier for both you and your pet!
- Educate yourself about your dog breed! Consult your veterinarian or a trainer.
- Spay or neuter your pet. "Fixed" dogs tend to be less aggressive, and this may also make a difference to insurance companies.
- If you do not own an "indoor" dog, keep your dog leashed, or inside a fenced enclosure, to minimize contact with strangers.
- Keep your dog's vaccinations up to date, to protect it from rabies and other diseases.
- If you are a new dog owner, make sure your dog is properly socialized. Many dogs that do not have sufficient experience with strangers may bite out of fear.
- When playing with your dog, focus on non-aggressive games such as fetch, instead of tug-of-war.
- Do not leave strangers, particularly small children, unsupervised with your dog.
For more on preventing dog bites:
- Tips to Prevent Dog Bites (American Kennel Club)
- Prevent Your Dog From Biting (Humane Society)
- Dog Bite Prevention (About)
- Dog Bite Prevention (AVMA)
- Pet Care: Dog Bite Prevention (ASPCA)
- How to Avoid a Dog Bite (Humane Society)