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Dog Breeds and Home Insurance: Legal Restrictions and Breed Exclusions

A severe dog bite can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and legal bills. While homeowners insurance may help pay the damage in most instances, many insurance plans exclude dog breeds known for aggression and biting from coverage. Curious to see if your dog may prevent you from getting homeowners insurance? Read on to learn more.

Why Do Insurers Ban Dog Breeds? 

Like most other forms of insurance, homeowners insurance imposes restrictions on anything that might increase the risk of a policyholder potentially filing a claim. The same practice applies to dog breeds thought to bite often and powerfully enough to cause severe harm or even fatality. For example, some homeowners insurance policies are unavailable to individuals with dogs like pit bulls and mastiffs.

Many insurance company representatives believe dog bite fatalities have increased, leading insurers to pay close to $800 million annually on claims. However, dog advocacy groups cite this same number as marginal compared to all the rest of the insurance liability losses filed each year.

Dog Breeds Most Often Banned By Home Insurance Companies 

Suppose you have a larger dog with a higher likelihood of causing severe harm. Most insurance carriers will view your dog as a breed risk and ban them (and therefore you) from coverage, regardless of their actual temperament. Muscular dogs with tight chests who clamp when they bite also get left off many insurance policies. Before adding a new dog to your family, you should check with your provider to see if they impose any homeowners insurance dog breed restrictions.

Dog breeds typically excluded from coverage by homeowners insurance policies typically include:

  • Akita
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • All wolf breeds
  • Chow chows
  • Doberman pinchers
  • German shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Pit bulls
  • Presa Canarios
  • Rottweilers
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Mastiff

Of those listed, rottweilers, pit bulls, and wolf dogs most notoriously exhibit aggressive and territorial behavior and carry powerful bites, leading most insurance companies to view them as uninsurable. Owners could see liability coverage struck from their plan, get hit with higher monthly premiums, or have their policy canceled upon discovering banned dog breeds in the home or a bite claim.

When Are Dogs Never Covered by Homeowners Insurance? 

Homeowners insurance companies will never cover dogs with a preexisting bite history, even smaller dogs not typically included on restriction lists. The same goes for dogs who have previously had claims filed against them for damaged property, like chewed-up fences or doors. Alternatively, these same companies occasionally take exception for individual dogs from a banned group who have exhibited excellent behavior throughout their lives.

Remember that liability insurance only covers injury or damage to other people and their properties, not yourself or your family. This means that if your own dog bites you and you have to go to the hospital, your homeowners insurance will not reimburse you for the medical bills.

History of Biting 

Some dog breeds nip or bite softly during play without malicious intent. However, if your dog has ever bitten a person or another dog and broken skin, they officially have a bite history. Dogs do not typically act this way unless they intend to cause harm, and one aggressive act insinuates a willingness to repeat that act when pushed past a certain threshold. Insurers view this kind of behavior as too high risk for coverage.

Damage to Your Home, Other Structures, or Personal Property

Home insurance will not cover you if your dog chews up your door frame or rips apart your sofa. While liability insurance would typically cover damaged property, insurers consider any damage caused to your home by your animal as your risk to bear. 

However, if somebody else’s dog damages your home or personal property, their insurance will pay you back. Your homeowners liability insurance could also kick in to pay for damages your dog caused to someone else’s home or personal property, as long as they fall under proper breed qualifications.

How Common Are Dog Bite Claims? 

The number of dog bite claims filed annually in the United States can fluctuate wildly, with a recent high of 18,522. The average payout for each claim falls around $50,245–not a small figure in the eyes of most insurance companies. About half of all dog bites tallied statistically occur in children.

While all the commonly banned dog breeds do occasionally bite, recent dog bite fatality data shows that over 65 dog breeds have been involved in a fatality since 2016. Contrary to popular opinion, pit bulls do not take the top spot on that list. While about 800,00 people get hospitalized from dog bites every year, fatalities have become exceedingly rare. 

Across the United States over the past few decades, legislators have passed breed-specific legislation to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals. If you live in a city with breed laws or restrictions, you might find it impossible to legally own your dog of choice.  

If you do choose to adopt a dog whose breed is listed as banned in your city, your homeowners insurance will decline coverage for a dog bite and possibly even cancel your policy. Generally speaking, insurers would never think to cover anything considered an illegal act. 

Dogs Restricted by City Ordinances 

Many local municipalities impose ordinances that regulate or restrict their citizens from owning certain kinds of dogs commonly viewed–justly or unjustly–as dangerous. These ordinances take the forms of outright bans or, at the bare minimum, spay/neuter requirements.    

City ordinances most commonly target pit bulls and wolf hybrids. Currently, cities in 31 states across America enforce laws prohibiting ownership of specific dog breeds they see as dangerous. Even states that prohibit dog breed restrictions still have grandfather clauses and home rule exceptions written into their laws that allow local municipalities to pass independent anti-dog legislation, despite the overarching views of the state.

BSL: Breed Specific Legislation 

BSL stands for breed specific legislation; laws restricting or banning owning restricted dog breeds. While pit bulls typically bear the brunt of BSL, other strong, aggressive breeds like Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Chow Chows can all fall under such restrictions. If you own a restricted breed dog in a state with BSL, you will have trouble finding a homeowners insurance company willing to provide liability coverage. 

BSL took flight in the 80s following a surge of fatal dog attacks and remains a hot-button and widely contested issue today. Many advocates against BSL view it as discriminatory and believe that bad owners make up the source of the problem.  

The Controversy Over Banned Dog Breeds 

Dog advocacy groups nationwide, including the Animal Defense League, American Kennel Club, Best Friends Animal Society, and Humane Society, claim that legislators, landlords, and insurance companies practice discrimination by banning dog breeds from happy home lives and liability coverage. According to these groups, any dog can bite regardless of their breed.  

Many factors come into play with dog bites other than the breed involved. A dog’s history, behavior, general size, the number of dogs involved in an incident, and the actions of the person bitten can all drastically swing the results of an encounter. With this in mind, dog advocates believe breed specific bans offer a convenient solution to a far more complex social problem.

Breed restrictions can directly impact people of color and other vulnerable members of society. Pit bulls are a popular companion in some communities, leading people to believe that insurers use these breed bans not only to discriminate against dogs but their owners as well. Meanwhile, uninformed or low-income consumers suffer greatly from surprise coverage exclusions, premium hikes, or straight-up policy cancellations that often follow dog bite claims involving a banned breed.

Do All Insurers Ban Dog Breeds? 

Not all insurers ban dog breeds. Some insurance companies look primarily at a dog’s bite history when considering them for coverage. Even then, some insurers will still charge a little extra for pit bulls and other dogs typically viewed as uninsurable by other companies.  

Banned dogs with service animal credentials can often bypass insurance and legal breed restrictions. However, even the most lenient companies will terminate coverage should your service companion develop a history of aggression.

What Should I Do if My Insurer Won’t Cover My Dog? 

If your insurer sees your dog as a risk and refuses to cover it under your homeowners liability insurance, feel free to shop around. Seek out a homeowners insurance company that does not discriminate by breed, or find a standalone specialized liability or renters insurance policy.

You can also purchase a separate pet insurance plan for a dog banned under your homeowners plan. Pet insurance policies reimburse expensive medical care for your pet friend and often cover you following an attack or similar event. Pet insurance benefits anybody who cannot afford a surprise bill from the legal ramifications of a dog bite or a medical emergency.

States That Do Not Allow Bans 

Only five states currently have laws in place prohibiting breed specific legislation. These include:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Sixteen more states carry laws restricting the enforcement of BSL, despite having preexisting BSL laws in place. 

Additionally, laws in Michigan, Nevada, New York, and Pennsylvania restrict insurance companies from denying coverage based on a dog’s breed or excluding them from liability insurance. Dog advocacy groups deserve most of the credit for swinging public opinion over breed restrictions and the subsequent legal adjustments at the state level.

Dog Breed Exemptions 

Some states and insurers will exempt individual dogs from restricted breed lists if they meet specific training requirements. You can often submit a waiver for exemption for trained guide dogs or service animals that assist people with disabilities. Advocates for dogs and people with disabilities consider the flat-out prohibition of specific breeds too limiting for people in need.  

These exempted dogs must complete a rigorous training program that sets them apart from normal family pets. Insurers will require you to present proper certification when filing for an exemption.

Canine Good Citizen Certificates 

Passing American Kennel Club’s canine good citizen program could also ensure your dog’s exemption from breed restrictions in your insurance plan. Participation in this program involves you and your dog completing a ten-skill test designed to impart good canine manners and teach you responsible ownership practices. 

Once you both feel ready, you can find a local CGC evaluator on American Kennel Club’s website and take the test at a preselected local pet store. Tests typically take about 10 minutes, and you will receive a certificate to present to your insurance company upon completion.