Your dog is a part of your family. You love and protect them just as they love and protect you.
As a pet owner, however, you take on the risk your dog poses to others — we’re talking dog bites. And if your dog happened to bite someone (not a scenario you expect, but it happens), the injured person could sue you. Fortunately, your renters insurance or homeowners insurance should have your back in this case.
Pets fit into the liability portion of your insurance policy which covers you in the event you or anyone on your policy is found legally responsible for some type of damage. Although unpleasant to consider, every dog has the capacity to bite. Last year alone, dog bite claims made up around one-third of homeowner liability claims which accumulated to more than $600 million in payouts. Because of the financial responsibility they assume by covering the liability of dog owners, many insurance companies have some stipulations regarding you and your dog. Let’s get to it.
Does your dog matter to your insurance company?
In short, yes, your dog can affect your relationship with your insurance company. Because your renters or homeowner’s insurance company can be held financially responsible for the actions of your dog through your liability coverage, some companies have certain conditions around pet ownership – namely, the breed.
Lots of insurance companies categorize certain breeds either “high risk” or even “uninsurable” because of the statistical correlation between a breed of dog and a bite claims pay out. While it varies by insurance company, a generalized list of what most companies would deem as “dangerous” or “high risk” dogs includes:
- Pitbull-type breeds*
- Doberman pinschers
- Wolf hybrids
- German shepherds
- Cane corso
- Great danes
*Typically includes: American pitbull terriers, bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, English Staffordshire terriers, and the American bulldog.
Now, here at The Zebra, we are very much “animal people,” and we have many dogs, cats, and other fur babies of our own (so don’t shoot the messenger). We simply seek to clarify why these breeds may impact your insurance.
It’s all about the risk; insurance companies must look at cold numbers and statistics when it comes to determining and anticipating risk. From their perspective, these dog breeds are statistically more likely to have a bite claim filed against them and thus are riskier to insure.
Every insurance company assesses risk and underwrites policies differently, so there isn’t a golden rule when it comes to your pets and your homeowner’s/renter’s policy. Some companies will deem you as a client “uninsurable” and will deny or revoke coverage because of your dog. Others will charge you a higher premium based on what they see as an increased liability for your dog.
Does the size of your dog matter to your insurance company?
If you look at the aforementioned dogs, you’ll notice they tend to be larger than 40 to 50 pounds. However, most insurance companies won’t ask you the weight of your dog prior to getting a quote or during your policy period but rather infer the weight based on the breed you specify. If you rent an apartment, on the other hand, that’s usually where the weight of your dog will matter. Some apartment complexes will charge you extra based on the weight, restrict renting to owners with dogs above the weight limit, and some won’t rent to “dangerous” dog breed owners at all.
What about exotic animals?
While some people may consider owning a pitbull to be dangerous, others consider the threshold for wild animals to be a little wider. In the U.S. alone, for example, there are over 10,000 big game cats privately owned. Some surprisingly popular non-domesticated animals in homes across the U.S. include:
Within your policy contract, your insurance will stipulate what coverage you have for exotic pets — if any. Regardless of the discrepancies among underwriting departments at different insurance companies, it’s likely your liability coverage will not extend to your lion like it would for your dog.
Best advice for dog owners: be honest
You might wonder how insurance companies even know what kind of dog you have. Usually, you’ll be asked by an agent or on a form whether you have a pet, and if so, its breed. It might seem like a harmless white lie to fudge the dog breed or even omit mentioning your pet altogether, but in fact it’s critical you answer this question (and all questions) honestly or risk losing coverage.
In the event of a dog bite-related claim, your insurance company will most likely deny your claim if they find out you lied about your dog’s breed on your policy. In that case, you’d be forced to pay the cost out of pocket. Your insurance company could also drop your coverage altogether.
While you can’t exactly change your dog’s breed, there are some ways you can maintain a good relationship with your insurance company (and community) in regards to your dog:
- Socialize early and often. Have your dog interact with other humans, dogs, cats, and children to acclimate them to different environments so they won’t react in fear if they come into contact with others (harmless) people or animals.
- Always keep your dog on leash when in public. This will not only ensure your dog is safe from others, but also help you maintain control of your dog.
- Take training classes. Some animal shelters offer free behavior assistance when you adopt a dog from them, as do some pet stores.
- Always supervise your dog in new and potentially stressful environment. This could mean interacting with strangers, children, and new animals.
- Listen to your dog’s signals. If your dog is visibly uncomfortable, take them out of that situation.
- Stay up to date on vaccinations. This is not only good practice for being a good pet parent, but also ensure your dog doesn’t spread deadly diseases.
- Increase your liability limits. If you’re still worried your dog could land you in hot water with your insurance company, consider raising your liability limits or purchasing an additional umbrella policy.
At the end of the day, your pet is your family. There are plenty of renters and homeowners insurance companies whose policies around pets differ, so no single insurance company should dictate what breed of dog you might get.
Still, it’s worth understanding the impact your pet has on your liability and following our advice to help you (and your dog) maintain a good relationship with your insurance company.