The Policy on Dogs

The Centers for Disease Control report that there are more than 4.5 million incidents of dog bites in the United States every year which results in insurance costs reaching nearly $1 billion. In 1996 the property and casualty insurance industry paid $250 million in claims, and that number increased to $310 million in 2001. It is because of these numbers that many insurance companies are eliminating coverage for dog bites, while others require you to prove that your dog is not one of about seven breeds considered to be bite-prone.

If you own a dog, check your insurance policy, because sometimes coverage changes are made to a policy already in force, and if you don’t read the updates, you won’t know.
Typically, if your policy covers dog bites, it will be listed as “domestic pets” and their damage, and coverage will be between $100,000 and $300,000 in liability. If a claim exceeds these limits, any additional expenses are your responsibility. This includes necessary medical care.

Even if your dog isn’t one of the bite-prone breeds, once they’ve sunk their teeth into another human being and a claim has been made, they are considered an increased risk. You insurer may increase your premium, refuse to renew your policy, exclude dog coverage completely, or suggest that you get rid of your pet. Most pet lovers will tolerate the first option, refuse to consider the last. If your policy isn’t renewed, or dog coverage is excluded, you may be able to find separate insurance specifically to cover your animal’s potential liability, but it will be expensive.

While most insurance companies require you to certify that you are not harboring a vicious animal, many will not accept new business from any policy holder who has had a dog bite claim within three years, even if the pet in question is no longer in the home.

If you do have a dog, here are some suggestions that may help mitigate your liability issues.:

Socialize your animal. Dogs that are afraid of people are more bite-prone than dogs that are accustomed to other human beings.

Spay or neuter your pet. Not only does this reduce their tendency to be aggressive, it also eliminates the creation of unwanted puppies, should your dog get out.

Get obedience training for your dog. If you rent, or live in a condominium or planned development that has an HOA, also consider working with your dog until they earn their Canine Good Citizen certificate – it’s proof that they have good “house manners.”

Make sure your interaction with your dog doesn’t encourage aggressive behavior. Play “fetch” and tracking games, not tug-of-war.

Make sure any children who visit are prevented from bothering your dog when it is eating or sleeping.

Protect your animal by not exposing it to situations that cause it to be protective or afraid.

Keep your dog inside. Dogs are back animals and are less likely to cause a disturbance or bite if they are part of the human “pack.”

Dogs are wonderful pets and make loyal companions as long as they are well treated and cared for. Protect yourself, your insurance rates, and your animals, by minimizing their likelihood to bite.