In recent years, many Canadian home insurers have begun asking questions about dog ownership and, depending on the breed, impose policy exclusions, charge extra premiums, or decline home insurance applicants. These insurers maintain lists of breeds they consider problematic. These are not dogs that have already bitten someone (although that would be a problem) or lack training, they are breeds that are believed to have an above-average probability of inflicting a serious bite injury.
At the top of the list is the American Pit Bull Terrier and related breeds such as the American Staffordshire. These dogs are banned in Ontario and several municipalities across Canada. If your insurer underwrites dog ownership, it’s unlikely they will offer you insurance if you own this breed. Other high-risk dog breeds include the Rottweiler, Doberman, German Sheppard, Samoyed, Husky, Malamute, Chow, Akita, Wolfhound and several crossbreeds.
In the US, there are at least 75 breeds now appearing on various lists. These include breeds that many people would not suspect are a problem:
- AMERICAN BULLDOG
- AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD
- BELGIAN SHEEPDOG
- BOSTON TERRIER
- FOX TERRIER
- FRENCH BULLDOG
- GOLDEN RETRIEVER
- GREAT DANE
- GREAT PYRANEES
- LABRADOR RETRIEVER
If you are a responsible owner of one of these dog breeds, you may think it’s unfair of anyone to suggest that your pet is more dangerous than any other dog. The common argument is that there are “no bad dogs, just bad owners” and “all dogs are capable of inflicting a serious bite”. As a dog owner, I believe there is truth to these arguments. However, insurers make underwriting decisions based on their own claims experience, industry statistics, and actuarial assumptions. It is estimated that 460,000 Canadians are bitten by dogs every year and approximately 60 percent of victims are children. In the US, dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year. These injuries account for approximately 1/3 of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims. Insurers have good reason to be cautious.
If you’ve been told by an insurer that your dog is considered too high a risk, shop around. There are companies that don’t have an issue with dog ownership or offer some flexibility. For example, the underwriter may approve your application if your dog has no history of aggression, is housed in a dog-run, or you are willing to accept an additional premium or policy exclusion.
You are also advised to check the liability section of your home insurance policy. Most cover liability for dog bites to specific maximums. However, if your dog bites someone, your insurance company will probably increase your premiums, exclude future dog-related claims from your coverage, or refuse to renew the policy.
Please note that my advice is not intended to replace that of a qualified insurance expert who has personally reviewed your specific benefits and insurance needs. If you want to learn more, the CBIA offers excellent insurance education articles and planning tools for lawyers at www.barinsurance.com.