For centuries, animals have been a part of the family unit and none more so than the dog. Across the U.S., there are over 43 million households containing dogs, and many of these are multi-dog homes.
Some of the best pet insurance companies have policies that help provide quality wellness-care and medical treatments to these beloved pets should they become ill or have an accident. If your animal companion is a rescue dog or if you take it to work or out in public frequently, you might want to consider dog liability insurance which can guard against lawsuits from dog bites, scratches, and accidental injuries inflicted by Rover.
Responsible owners should always make sure their pet is well-socialized and can safely appear in society. However, for every dog lover, breeder, and serious pet owner, there are, unfortunately, irresponsible and neglectful owners that cause or let their pet become mischievous or vicious.
Although there is a strong debate regarding whether some breeds are inherently dangerous or whether it’s their owners’ fault, certain breeds seem to respond to poor treatment, sudden surprises, or lack of supervision with bad behavior.
What Breeds Are Labeled as Dangerous?
Each state has rulings on what is considered a dangerous dog breed and almost all include some pit bull breed or mix. The ASPCA lists a few of the most commonly critiqued breeds.
- American Pit Bull Terriers
- American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and English Bull Terriers
- American Bulldogs
- Chow Chows
- German Shepherds
- Doberman Pinschers
- Mixtures of the above breeds
As you research dog bite insurance, you will notice that it is not only dependent upon breed but also location. Each state handles dog bite legislation differently. According to the Insurance Information Institute, states with a “one-bite rule” hold a dog owner responsible if they knew about their dog’s predisposition to violence (such as a previous bite).
States with dog statute laws may hold an owner at fault for the first bite or another type of injury regardless of whether the owner had foreknowledge. There are also negligence laws in place for owners who let their pets wander unleashed or uncontrolled, and some states combine negligence with other dog statute laws.
Pennsylvania and Michigan have legislation in place to prohibit insurance companies from canceling pet owner’s dog liability insurance due to dangerous dogs, and Ohio requires its residents to purchase a minimum of $100,000 in liability if they own a dangerous breed of dog. With all the variability between states and even counties, it’s critical you discuss your specific situation with your insurance representative to make sure you are covered if a situation arises.
How to Socialize Your Dog
Regardless of whether your dog is a mixed breed or a purebred listed in the dangerous breeds category, it’s vital you do all you can to encourage a pleasant disposition.
The AKC has the following suggestions on how to create a well-socialized dog.
- Start when they are a puppy, introducing your new puppy to sights, smells, sounds, and people of all ages.
- Make all interactions positive with a constant reward of petting and treats.
- Watch small children, and make sure they’re not playing too rough or frightening the young dog.
- If you rescued your dog later in life, follow the same suggestions but with extra diligence and slower progression. You may not be aware of stressors that the dog has experienced at former homes.
- Take your puppy or older dog to classes. AKC offers award titles for puppies (S.T.A.R.) and more advanced dogs (Canine Good Citizen). These certificates may come in handy if you need to provide information to your insurer.
Rescued dogs may have had more than their share of troubles, and you may have to take extra precautions.
The Animal Humane Society recommends the following for dogs with a history of biting:
- Keep your dog crated when visitors, especially children, arrive and tell them to leave the dog alone.
- If your dog does react aggressively, remove him from the situation without yelling or hitting, which can further his dislike of visitors and strangers.
- Keep your dog leashed or fenced when outside, but continue to provide supervision. Dogs who continuously try to get at people through the fence may eventually find a way around or over it.
- Avoid dog parks and playgroups. You’re just asking for trouble if your dog has social issues. Instead, find other ways to play with and stimulate your dog as your companion. Jogs, fetch games, and long walks are great ways to interact with your pet safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that 18 percent of dog bites run the risk of bacterial infection. In addition to rabies, which is fatal but thankfully rare, dogs can carry Pasteurella, MRSA, and tetanus. Persons with weakened immune systems, such as children and elderly adults, have the most problems with these types of diseases.
Larger dogs and certain breeds inflect very deep, ragged bites that often scar and may require several surgeries, increasing liability costs.
Dog Liability Claims Are Increasing
Even if you have done your best to discipline your pet, accidents may happen. In addition to dog bites, owners are often held liable for a variety of unexpected occurrences. A friendly, tail-wagging Labrador can knock an unwary visitor to the ground with a well-timed jump.
If that visitor falls and breaks an arm or hits their head, you may be held liable. Suppose you are out enjoying the fall weather and your dog suddenly runs out in the street in front of a car. You could be held responsible for the resulting accident if the driver swerves to avoid the dog and hits something else.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, there has been a steady rise in the number of dog liability claims (2.2 percent) and an increase in the dollar amount of claims as well (11.5 percent). The average payout nationally was $37,000, and the hardest hit states are California and Florida. As much as you love your dog, you must also look to protect your assets, and that’s where dog liability insurance comes into play.
Does Your Homeowners’ Policy Provide Dog Bite Insurance?
Most major insurance companies include dog liability as part of their homeowners’ policies. However, it’s critical that you discuss the details of your policy with your agent or company representative. Some carriers restrict breeds, while others require a review of the dog in question including its training, history, breed, and whereabouts (whether it lives in a fenced yard or is taken to work).
All providers have declared limits, so check if yours are enough to protect you from large claims.
If you have renter’s insurance, you will most likely have to answer the same set of questions, and it’s smart to doublecheck coverage limits. Property owners are subject to even more vulnerability especially if they allow renters with pets. As a pet owner, your apartment lease may require that you add the rental company on to your policy as an additional insurer.
Business owners who allow dogs on premises or who utilize guard dogs should check their liability policies to see if they need a supplemental policy.
State Farm is one of a few carriers that have no restrictions on breeds for its insurance policies. This approach is reflected in the company’s $121 million claims paid in 2016, which is a 15% increase. While State Farm feels it’s the dog, not the breed that makes all the difference, several carriers disagree and may cancel your coverage if you own a dog on the restricted breed list.
Will an Umbrella Policy Help?
Most providers recommend you purchase an umbrella policy to help cover additional expenses that may occur from dog bites and other unusual accidents. Typically, these policies are very inexpensive with USAA offering one as low as $19 per month.
If you feel you need more coverage than your homeowner’s policy provides or you have been advised by your agent to look elsewhere for dog liability coverage, check out these five companies who specialize in dog liability Insurance.
All of them cover expenses related to dog bites, scratches, and property damage including automobiles. Also mention the ability to add additional insureds to your policy such as employers and medical facilities, as is needed when dogs visit their owners at work or make visitation calls on patients.
5 Best Dog Liability Insurance Companies
Dean Insurance Agency
This company, established in 1994, was initially referred to as the Federation of Insured Dog Owners or FIDO, and their website has an easy-to-remember handle of dogbitequote.com.
Dean Insurance covers all breeds of dogs, however, during the application process, you must provide detailed information about your dog’s habits and history which may exclude it from coverage.
Once your dog is evaluated, you may choose liability coverage ranging from $25,000 to $300,000, and there is no deductible on claims.
The company has an online-quote application on its website and offers coverage in all states except Alaska.
Evolution Insurance Brokers
The company offers limits based on per accident or person, and coverage tops out at 150,000 and 250,000, respectively, with lower limits available.
Evolution operates in all states except for New York, and the company provides a mobile app for claims processing.
This provider has liability limits based on your dog’s breed, weight, and history.
Its coverage benefits include attorney fees and loss of wages due to injuries. According to the online quote application, the company offers service in 17 states.
Einhorn Insurance Agency
According to Einhorn’s website, this company has no problem covering dangerous dog breeds and even dogs that have been labeled as vicious or nuisance dogs.
The company supports pit bull ownership and has advice on how to find rental accommodations for owners.
Einhorn helps fight against pit bull discrimination and is involved with several rescue organizations that focus on breeds accused of aggressive tendencies.
Einhorn covers all the usual damage claims including foster home care, custody, and control costs.
The company lists all 50 states on its quote calculator along with armed forces units in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.
Lester Kalmanson Agency Inc.
This non-traditional insurer specializes in all types of animal liability insurance including circuses and exotic pet farms.
Its dog liability policies cover all breeds and all dogs, even those with a previous history of aggression. Dog owners are required to complete an application on what type of fencing is used and how much public exposure the dog receives.
Lester Kalmanson offers policies for working animals such as a bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs, and assistance dogs that are taken to work. The provider has state affidavits on its website that must be completed if you reside in a state in which it is not licensed. There are an online quote tool and downloadable application form as well.
The information stated above should help you understand a little more about dog liability insurance. Remember to speak with your homeowner’s insurance agent to verify coverage and see if an umbrella policy is a viable option. Furthermore, if you have a dog that is marked as a dangerous breed and are having difficulty finding coverage, check out the five specialty companies we’ve discussed.*While we make every effort to keep our site updated, please be aware that "timely" information on this page, such as quote estimates, or pertinent details about companies, may only be accurate as of its last edit day. Huntley Wealth & Insurance Services and its representatives do not give legal or tax advice. Please consult your own legal or tax adviser.