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What to Know About Dog Breeds and Home Insurance

Dogs are some of the most popular pets in America, with numbers growing last year as socially distanced homeowners across the country brought “pandemic puppies” into their homes.

Insurance companies and dog shelters alike have expressed concern over these dogs, who — due to lockdowns, social distancing and other restrictions — may not have had the same opportunities for socialization and training that dogs need to become good canine citizens.

Pets, especially dogs, represent additional risk. That means that your insurance company will want to know if you have added a dog to your family. 

Do I Need to Declare My Dog on My Homeowners or Renters Insurance Policy?

You really should let your insurance company know about any pets you have. Let the insurer make the determination if the pet poses any risks.

Obviously, your betta fish isn’t going to pose a bite threat, and no one is going to trip over your turtle terrarium and fall. However, dogs, cats and exotic animals — from birds to snakes to lizards — can present a risk, and it’s recommended to declare them up front.

If an accident happens and you haven’t divulged that you have a pet and there’s a claim, your insurance company could decide that you failed to disclose a material fact that would have affected your rate and coverage. 

This could lead to your insurance company canceling the policy back to the start date due to a breach of contract. 

It’s better to ask up front and be told you don’t need additional insurance for your pet than to find out later that your coverage is being dropped because you didn’t mention you have an iguana, who later bites a houseguest and causes them to file a claim.

What Dog Breeds Will Homeowners Insurance Not Cover?

The answer to this question depends on the insurer. Some insurance companies flat-out will not write policies for homeowners who have dogs of certain breeds or breed groups. Some will write policies but have higher rates for certain breeds. Other insurance companies don’t track specific breeds at all.

If you have adopted a dog from a shelter, even figuring out what breed you have can be confusing. Unless the shelter knows the dog’s history, frequently they are guessing the breed or breed mix based on appearances. While DNA testing kits for dogs are popular, consumers should be wary of placing too much stock in their accuracy.

You may have heard that some homeowners insurance policies won’t cover pit bulls, but even this can be problematic because “pit bull” isn’t a breed at all. It’s a generic term that covers a number of different breeds that have distinctive, blocky heads and muscular bodies. 

Since the primary driver of canine liability insurance claims are dog-bite injuries, the size of the dog will typically matter when it comes to property insurance coverage. The bigger the dog, the more damaging the bite can be. While pit bulls garner most of the headlines, there are actually many dog breeds that are commonly excluded from homeowners insurance policies. 

Here are just some of the breeds that are generally not allowed on some homeowners insurance policies:

  • Akitas
  • Mastiffs
  • Chow Chows
  • Rottweilers
  • Great Danes
  • German Shepherds
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Staffordshire Terriers and others in this family (classified as pit bulls)
  • Wolf breeds or crosses

The commonalities with all of the above-listed breeds is that they are all larger dogs that are considered aggressive. Obviously, there are many good family dogs that exist within these breeds. A great deal of a dog’s temperament and behavior come down to training and socializing.

Does Owning a Dog Increase Your Homeowners Insurance?

Owning a dog will likely increase your homeowners insurance premium. This is because your policy includes liability insurance, which protects you in case someone gets injured while at your home. 

A lot of households in the U.S. have at least one pet, and according to a recent National Pet Owners survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, around 69 million households have a dog

Dog bites are a common problem. Millions of people are bitten by dogs every year, and many of them are children, frequently age 2 and younger. This risk means it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered even if you consider your dog to be well-behaved. 

How to Prevent Dog Bites

The primary reason your insurance company is even interested in your dog is because of the risk for dog bites. If you don’t have a dog, there’s no chance someone will get bitten; if you do have a dog, there is a risk. On the surface, the risk has increased just by having a dog — any dog.

Any dog can bite. Small or large, male or female — from the quiet and cuddly to loud barkers — any dog that feels challenged or threatened can bite. 

Dogs bite for a range of reasons, but it’s almost always a response to an external factor: being startled or scared, for example. Some dogs will bite to protect something that is important to them, such as their food, their puppies or you. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that nearly one out of every five dog bites requires medical attention. One of the most important things you can do as a dog owner is to work with your dog to reduce the risk of bites. Here’s how:

  • Socialize your dog. Exposing your dog to a range of people and experiences will desensitize your dog so that they aren’t easily scared or startled by something new. 
  • Educate others about how to approach dogs. Often, actions we think are harmless — such as reaching a hand out or patting a dog on the head — might be considered by a dog to be aggressive behavior. Learn about dog body language to both understand your own pet better and for situations around dogs not known to you. 
  • Invest in your dog. Training, sufficient exercise and proper healthcare are essential to a happy and well-behaved pet.
  • Avoid situations that increase risk. You are your dog’s biggest advocate. Do not put your dogs in situations that you know will cause them stress.

How Can I Get Homeowners Insurance If My Dog Is Considered an Aggressive Breed?

First, talk to your insurance company or agent. While some homeowners insurance companies will drop you if you have a breed of dog they consider aggressive, not every company does this. 

Some insurance companies will even allow homeowners to add dogs that were previously excluded from policies if they can provide proof of completing a training course. The American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen Test offers one such skills-based training program for you and your dog. Dogs learn good manners and receive obedience training, while owners learn about dog behaviors and what it means to be a responsible dog owner. 

Successful completion of the course results in confident owners, happy dogs and an increased likelihood that you will be able to secure homeowners insurance coverage that includes your dog — even if he or she is a restricted breed.

The Bottom Line

Being a dog owner is both a privilege and a responsibility. It’s up to you to make sure your dogs receive the training and socialization they need to interact safely with your friends and neighbors. 

Some breeds and types are considered more aggressive than others, and you might have a harder time securing homeowners insurance coverage — but there are steps you can take that might help, such as completing the AKC Canine Good Citizen course.