We all love our four-legged companions, and the month of April is all about celebrating them as National Pet Month. In fact, the Humane Society claims that roughly 40% of all American have at least one dog in their household. That’s a lot of dogs — and even more teeth. As a responsible homeowner, you’re expected to have adequate homeowners insurance, but having a dog, particularly one regarded as dangerous by your insurance company, can raise your premiums dramatically. For some people, depending on your location and your insurance company, it may even make it almost impossible to find coverage. Before you decide to celebrate this month by adopting a dog, you may want to do some careful selections based upon current factors in your life, like where you live, your budget, and time you can dedicate to an animal. But what’s the big dog deal?
While your dog may be a perfect angel, there are always a few bad apples that spoil it for the rest of us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs bite 4.7 million people annually. As a result, 800K injuries from these bites need medical attention. Owning a dog is a big liability and when they bite, it’s your insurance company that pays. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that dog bites make up more than one-third of liability insurance claims, and in 2011, they cost insurance companies almost $480 million. The average cost of one dog bite claim was nearly $30K — now you’re starting to see why your insurance company may be looking through a different lens when you tell them you own a dog. You might see a ball of fluff, but your insurer may only see teeth.
Who’s on “The List?”
While most insurers don’t have an official list of which breeds cost you more, many insurers have an unofficial list known as the “vicious/aggressive breed list.” These lists include most of the breeds renowned for their bite history, and grew out of the many CDC bite reports from the late ‘70s to early ‘90s. Although they weren’t originally intended to be used by insurers, many insurers took notice. But insurers still can’t use such reports as hard evidence. The issue is that reports like those from the CDC usually only base their statistics on the number of dogs actually registered, along with the number of bites reported. There are a lot of unregistered dogs, so numbers like those from the CDC are criticized for accuracy. Some claim such reports have been unfairly used to prosecute certain dog breeds, but insurance companies continue “unofficially” using them for reference.
Every dog owner knows each dog is an original, and it’s unfair to classify them as “bad dogs.” Some people claim there are never bad dogs, just bad owners. American Kennel Club (AKC) spokeswoman Lisa Peterson echoes that belief.
“We feel very strongly that it’s the deed, not the breed,” said Peterson. “There is no evidence that a dog would be inherently dangerous based on its breed. Every dog is an individual.”
But insurance companies see it differently. Some even exclude certain breeds from coverage while certain states like Pennsylvania and Michigan make the homeowner responsible for all dog bites, regardless of breed. Additionally, while all purebred dogs have certain characteristics, the growing trend of adopting rescue animals has led to a hodgepodge of behavioral traits.
Like the inherent nature of some dog breeds though, insurers by nature look at the likelihood of risks and what it may cost them. This has been going on a long time, and you’re not likely to get out of higher premiums or a hard time looking for coverage if you have a dog on “the list” — even if Snowball or Precious is an “uncommonly sweet” Doberman or wolf hybrid. Your dog may be a “rare breed” in some ways, but here are the breeds that typically set off alarms to insurers.
1. Pit Bulls: Although Pit Bulls have enjoyed a resurgence as a family dog, a study by the CDC examined fatal dog bites over a 20-year period and found that Pit Bulls were responsible for 32% of resulting deaths. Still, they remain the poster child — or rather, poster dog — of the aggressive breed list and likely will remain just that. Even as recently as 2012, they held the number one spot as most lethal dog, and contributed to 61% of the 38 fatal dog attacks that year.
2. Doberman: This breed, described as aggressive and protective, was a leader of dog bites in the 1970s, but was also extremely popular during that time period, so it’s difficult to say if the large number of bites was attributed to frequency or number of Dobermans owned.
3. Rottweiler: This dog comes complete with an impressive stature, and that big head doesn’t just hold a lot of drool. Ranked as the second most lethal dog after Pit Bulls, a Rottweiler bite packs more than 300 lbs. of pressure. That should be enough to pressure you into having the right insurance and taking the proper training measures.
4. German Shepard: While results are mixed on the dangerousness of this breed, your insurance company sees them as a dangerous breed. They’re known for their intelligence, loyalty, and obedience, a reason they maintain the top spot for military and police use dogs. That in itself is proof that they can be trained, and be trained well.
5. Chow Chow: This breed, often described as stubborn, protective, and territorial, has consistently topped the list of dangerous dog bites. They’re prime examples of dogs that can have some major damage-causing teeth behind lots of fur. A study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed that out of 238 dog-bite fatalities from 1979 to 1998, this breed was responsible for eight.
6. Huskies: As a large dog, this breed’s natural aggression tendencies can become dangerous when not trained properly by the owner.
7. Great Danes: While not normally regarded by the general public as a dangerous dog, this breed has been responsible for several deaths. Continuously taking the number one ranking of tallest dog alive year after year, Great Danes are kind of like small, wild horses, so it’s no wonder they can do some damage if they act out.
8. Akita: Naturally bred to be a guard dog, Akitas have a very protective nature. According to Japanese history, one of the Akita breed’s ancestors is a Matagi dog, which translates to a bear hunting dog or or hunting dog. A bear hunting dog. If you live in Montana, maybe a good choice. If you live in a townhouse in suburbia, not so much.
9. Boxers: Although generally considered less aggressive than most other breeds topping this list, boxers are protective by nature. That’s what generally leads to aggression in Boxers, and they’re renowned for their intelligence and loyalty, ranking No. 48 as “most intelligent dog” in psychologist Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs.
10. Wolf Hybrids: When a dog and wolf mate, you get a wolf hybrid. They may look like a normal dog, but Wolf Hybrids retain many “wild animal” characteristics. This is not a breed for a weak owner, and they need room to run and play. Things can turn bad quickly if you put a dog like this in a confined space or if you don’t teach it boundaries. Their “wild” streak is not only something that makes them unique and that you can appreciate, but it’s something that needs to be nurtured properly.
Owning a dog is a big responsibility and even when you can’t determine what a dog’s breed is, strong training is the first “insurance” step to take towards protection from “vicious” or “aggressive” breeds. Some insurers will give you a bit of a break if your dog gets a “Canine Good Citizen” certificate, which can be obtained from the AKC.
The thing you don’t want to do is lie to your insurer. If you lie about having a dog, or don’t disclose the breed, and your pet bites someone, you won’t be covered and your policy could be canceled. That also means any liability falls squarely on your shoulders, aka your wallet and assets, if your dog bit someone.
On one hand, you can consider it a reminder that you may actually need more liability insurance than someone without pets, regardless of breed. After all, guests have sued after simply tripping over a dog. I almost trip over my Pekingese daily, and she tends to get under people’s feet even more when excited by visitors. Higher premiums are nothing to jump up and down about, but the price of most lawsuits really are something to bark about.
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