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Thread: Good dogs, bad dogs and homeowners policies

  1. #1

    Good dogs, bad dogs and homeowners policies

    An article I found on MSN:

    Good dogs, bad dogs, and homeowners policies

    The Basics
    Good dogs, bad dogs and homeowners policies

    With dog-bite claims on the rise, some insurers are canceling policies for homeowners whose pets are at fault. Here's what you need to know about risk and prevention.


    About 40% of American households own a dog, according to The Humane Society of the United States. And many of those dog owners have homeowners insurance, too. But the two don't always mix well. As the costs of dog bites spiral -- more than $310 million in 2001, according to the Insurance Information Institute -- some insurance companies are refusing to write coverage for owners of certain breeds.

    While there may not be an industrywide "blacklist" of breeds, it's probably best to check with your agent before you buy a German shepherd, a pit bull or a Rottweiler. A number of other insurers do not maintain a blacklist of breeds, believing that each case has to be considered individually.

    One of the reasons some companies deny that they look at dog breeds is because state regulations prohibit them from doing so in certain parts of the country.

    Some companies don't discriminate by breed. "We believe that there are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed, just as we believe that there are responsible and irresponsible owners," says Phil Supple of State Farm, the nation's largest home insurer.

    Dan Hattaway, an underwriting consultant for State Farm, says that the company doesn't even track how many of its home insurance policyholders own dogs. Policyholders do have to answer questions about dogs on the application, however. Specifically, the company wants to know if a dog has ever bitten anyone or if it has been trained for attack purposes.

    If it turns out that the dog has bitten someone, State Farm will want to know the circumstances surrounding the bite. "We'll want to ascertain if it's ever likely to happen again -- if precautions have been taken to prevent it," says Hattaway. Other factors the company looks at are the seriousness of the injury and whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked.

    Dogs with a history of attacks
    Hattaway gives this example. An Irish setter gives birth to a litter of puppies. She and the puppies are on the back porch. Some friends come over with their little boy to look at the puppies. Under the supervision of the insured, everything is fine. Everyone goes inside, and parents tell the boy that it is time to leave the dog alone with her puppies.

    "Well, the adults got to talking about adult things, and the little boy, unnoticed, decides he's going to go out and pet the puppies. He got bit," says Hattaway. "When State Farm followed up on the claim, we found that the insured had had the female spayed. She wasn't going to have any more puppies, and she showed no further aggressive tendencies." Because the dog's owner had taken steps to make sure that a similar incident would not occur, State Farm continued his coverage.

    Some will ask "Do you own a vicious dog?" on home insurance applications and any previous dog-bite claims will show up on your claims history, which insurers check before issuing a policy. Like State Farm, some insurers will consider whether an attack was provoked or unprovoked.

    Insurers are most concerned about unprovoked dog attacks. If your dog has an unprovoked attack in its history, most insurers will cancel or not renew an existing home insurance policy, decline your application for a new one, or attach an exclusion for the dog to the policy. The exclusion means that the insurance policy would not cover any liability claims caused by the dog, making you personally responsible for any medical bills or lawsuits stemming from your dog's actions.

    Raleigh Floyd, a spokesperson for Allstate, acknowledges that his company pays attention to breeds. "It's not a blacklist," he says. "But we have breeds that we follow more closely than others, mostly because of a variety of trends and statistics about dog bites." On the list are Rottweilers, pit bulls, chows, bull terriers, Dobermans, and German shepherds.

    He notes that owning one of these breeds does not mean an immediate rejection from Allstate. Keeping the dog chained and putting up a six-foot-high fence in your yard will definitely work in a dog owner's favor. "We also look at other factors having to do with homeowners insurance not related to the dog," says Floyd. Those factors include claims history and the condition of the home.

    Prevention is the best medicine
    The best way to make sure your home insurance won't get canceled because of your dog is to make sure it won't bite anyone. Hattaway of State Farm outlines the ways to make sure a dog won't bite the hand that pets it: "Socialize the pet with people and other animals outside the household," he says. Training it to obey your commands -- whether on your own or with the help of obedience school -- will also lessen the chance that it will strike out on its own. Keep your dog healthy; if your dog is in pain, it's more likely to lash out. Obey leash laws, even on your own property.

    Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the majority of dog-related fatalities involved unrestrained dogs, both on and off an owner's property. Spaying and neutering an animal can also improve its disposition, especially with male dogs. Don't put your dog in situations where it will be threatened or teased. Hattaway notes that 60% of dog-bite victims are children, who may not be aware that their behavior is threatening. "Most importantly, be alert to signs that your dog is having a problem," says Hattaway. If your dog is agitated or appears threatened, take the necessary steps to calm it down.

    What to do if someone is bitten
    If your dog does bite someone, make sure you respond right away. Restrain or confine your dog immediately. Then do whatever you can to help the victim, whether that means calling 911 or driving them to the emergency room. If your dog hasn't had its rabies shot, it's especially important for you to cooperate.

    Once the victim is taken care of, you may have to contact the local authorities to report the dog bite. You should then call your homeowners insurance company especially if there are medical costs involved. Be sure to cooperate with your insurance company. No doubt, the adjuster will want to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident. You may or may not agree with the insurance company's opinion of your dog's disposition, but they won't be able to make a decision until they have all the facts.

    Take steps to make sure that a similar incident doesn't happen. Short of finding another home for your dog, that might mean building a fence around your yard or sending him to obedience school. When all else fails, a certified animal trainer might help.
    ~Kimmy, Chipper, Zam, Logan, Raptor, Nimrod, June, Mei, Jasper, Esme, Lucy Inara, & Morla
    RIP my sweet Kia

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    Great article. When I bought my home last year, I got turned down from several insurance companys because Leo has Chow and Rott in him. They never asked me any questions about his bite history (none), his training (been to two obedience classes), or his disposition (lovebug). I eventually got my insurance from Nationwide and although they did ask me about my dogs, the extra coverage costs me about $50 a year.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Chicagoland, IL
    That is interesting. I had never even thought about that to be honest. Course I seriously doubt a golden retriever would bring any alarm, but Tasha does have shepherd in her. I don't remember the question ever coming up though.
    Mom to Raven and Rudy the greyhound

    Missing always: Tasha & Tommy, at the Rainbow Bridge

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Columbia, MD
    We n o longer own our home since we are here in Germany, but we have renters insurance. We use USAA (special for military members and their families). We were asked both times (homeowners and renters) if we owned a dog and what type it was. I was worried and asked why do you want to know what breed he is? And the lady said that they had to know incase another dog bit on our property and we tried to get it covered through our policy. She assured me that they didn't turn anyone down because of the breed of the dog.

    I think it is stupid to do so. There are good dogs and bad ones. Breed is irrelevant. If the dog has a history of unprovoked biting, then that is a different story.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Tabbyville, PA
    We had a problem with insurance when we bought our house two years ago. They somehow found out we had Nicki and were about to refuse to write a policy. I don't know how I convinced them, but I managed to get them to do a home visit to meet Nicki. Aftewards, there was no question whther or not she'd attack anybody. This dog is afraid of her own shadow!

    I think it nuts to target certain breeds... we all know that its a matter of how it was raised and trained. Perhaps all policies should have a home visit to meet the dog and determine to risk.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Wyoming, USA
    Originally posted by catnapper
    I think it nuts to target certain breeds... we all know that its a matter of how it was raised and trained. Perhaps all policies should have a home visit to meet the dog and determine to risk.
    I am not in favor of black listing breeds, to be sure. However, I feel it needs to be pointed out that the insurance companies that maintain a list of dogs they will not insure are not just pulling these breeds out of the air, or picking them at random.

    Anyone who has worked in the insurance business will tell you, there are reams and reams of detailed statistics behind every policy. There has to be. The insurance industry has to be able to back up their policy of charging you $2,000 per year to insure a Corvette, and $600 per year to insure a Chevette ... and granting you insurance if you own a lab, and denying you insurance if you own a malamute. Actuaries make their entire careers of compiling detailed statistics about every conceivable item in an insurance policy. The "blacklisted" dog breeds were compiled from hard evidence ... number of bites per capita per breed of dog.

    I, of course, feel it is the training and up-bringing of the dog has the most impact. But the answer is not simply to blame the insurance companies for being "unfair". They are not unfair. They operate using the facts ... and if the nationwide number of reported bites per 1,000 is 2 for a golden retreiver and 50 for a german shepherd .... well, they are going to hedge their bets and insure the lab owner. They are in business and it is their right to try to stay solvent.
    "We give dogs the time we can spare, the space we can spare and the love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made" - M. Facklam

    "We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers - thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams."- P.S. Beagle

    "All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king." - J.R.R. Tolkien

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Cactus country.. tucson, AZ!
    Along the same lines as the article, i heard that some airlines were proposing a ban on transporting certain breeds. Pits, Rotties, and Chows were the 3 big ones.

    I agree with the gentleman interviewed from State Farm. I've known some rotties who would prefer to sit in your lap than look at you funny. I've also known a few yorkies and shih tzus who have been horrible, vicious, aggressive dogs.

    I think in the matter of insurance and anything regarding dog bites, etc, they all need to be taken on an individual case by case basis. If I go up to your dog, antagonise it, tease it, pull its tail, ears etc, and it bites me and I sue you, I should be the one at fault. I've found that most (not all!) dogs will not bite or attack unprovoked.
    "He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."
    -- Immanuel Kant

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Ohio, USA
    We have State Farm. Guess that's why we've never had a problem!

    Great article Kim, thanks for sharing

    Huney, Bon & Simba-missed so very much
    Remembering all the Rainbow Bridge Pets

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Off to the races....
    We have never been asked about dogs for insurance purposes, although we did not have them when we set up the policy. I know my mom did get a letter from Nationwide (Same as we use) with a list of breeds they charge extra for. (Her agent is her sister, who obviuosly knows she has dogs!)

    I have seen in a few differernt articles in Dog Fancy that some insurance companies are adding more and more dogs to the list of "Dangerous Breeds" Of course there are always those very vicious Rotties, Dobes, Pit Bulls, Chows and GSD's Other breeds listed in some places include huskys, Dalmations, Airedale Terries, and a few others that I can't remember right now.

    The whole breed biased things just stupid. I really think it should be based on individual dogs.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    State College, PA
    We have State Farm as well, but when we got our insurance, we didn't have Jada.
    We had renters insurance through them, and they knew we had Kito and Abbey, but we bought a house, changed the insurance to homowners, and added 2 more dogs.
    They did tell us when we first got our insurance, that we should probably not get a pit bull or a rottie.

    Jada is a sweetie--if any of my dogs are going to bite someone, it's probably going to be Kito (although he has become such a people dog in the past 6 months or so).
    Emily, Kito, Abbey, Riley, and Jada

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