My Insurance Company and My Dog: Why can’t they be Friends?
There has been a good deal of controversy over the last couple of years about so called dog breed “black lists” on homeowners insurance policies. They are lists of dog breeds that will either make a homeowner ineligible for insurance or raise their premium. Is there a logical reason for these lists?
Well according to the insurance institute dog bites accounted for 1/3 of all homeowners’ liability claims paid out in 2012 totaling about $490 million. The average pay out was $30,000, so not small change. In addition, according to the CDC dogs bite nearly 4.5 million Americans a year; approximately 885,000 of those bites require medical attention.
|Dog Breed||Bodily Harm||Child Victims||Adult Victims||Death||Maiming||% of Dog Population|
If you look at this chart you can see why some breeds are considered more dangerous than others. For example Pit Bulls only account for 4.4% of the US dog population but in 2012 they were responsible for 233 human deaths. That is a scary statistic, honestly for most people the idea of even one human death from a household pet is frightening. Insurance companies are looking after their bottom line and each breed on a list has logical reason to be there.
The term ‘Pit Bull’ unusually refers to two separate breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier and Staffordshire terrier. Pit Bulls have one of the worst reputations for aggressiveness and violence. Unfortunately for many lovers of the breed, as shown in the chart above, that reputation is not without some merit.
Originally bred to be a “gripping dog” (their job was to bite and hold game in place for a hunter to kill) for large game hunting. They were also bred for and used in the blood sport of “baiting”, were dogs were pitted against large animals such as bears or bulls. This spot was banned in the 1800s and breeders moved to dog fights instead. Breeding and training dogs for fights requires modifying their natural instincts. Normally dogs fight in a ritualized manner to establish dominance; they rarely seek to kill each other. Breeders looking to create fight dogs systematically chose more aggressive, vicious and violent dogs. Coupled with Pit Bulls instinct from hunting, to bite and hold on, this make a dangerous combination.
Still these factors do not make the breed a danger to humans in fact fight breeders were careful to cull any pups that show aggression towards humans. Pit bulls are even sometimes called “nursemaid’s dogs” because they are so reliable and good with young children. Unfortunately over the last several decades Pit Bulls became and status symbol representing machismo and manliness. Some breeders stopped weeding out animals that showed aggression to humans and some owners chose to actually encourage attack tendencies in their dogs. When these dogs are abused and mistreated their natural strength and bulk make them fearsome predators. This has lead to an upsurge in attacks and put them on the top of black lists. Still Pit bulls are by no means inherently a bad breed. This information is courtesy of the ASPCA.
These dogs are big and very strong weighting in at 100-130lbs. Originally bread to heard and guard livestock they have strong protective instincts. As a breed they are usually mild mannered and calm. The danger comes in with their protective streak if not properly trained or if abused they can become violent towards strangers. This coupled with their strength and size can lead to greater injury when they do attack.
Boxers are another big dog weighing in at 65-70lbs. Like Pit Bulls they served as gripping dog in the hunting of boars and other large game. These dogs have a playful, boisterous, sweet and loyal temperament. Their size can make that playfulness problematic with small children, even as their sweet loyal nature makes them great with little ones. As well as hunting they were bred to protect their families. This coupled with their strong bites can make them dangerous without proper training and discipline.
Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes:
Both these dogs where bread to be sled pullers and working dogs. They are ranked among the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. They are relatively close to their wolf ancestors and have retained a strong prey instinct; this can make them dangerous to small pets and animals. The fact that these are working dogs means they are high energy and need a lot of exercise and stimulation. They also retain a strong pack instinct and need to feel close and included with their human families. When they do not receive enough attention, exercise and are bored they become destructive and unruly. Much like a small child, they act out and destroy things to seek attention and relive their boredom. This is where most claims related to these breeds come from.
As must people know these dogs were bred as guard, military and work dogs. They are extremely intelligent and eager to learn. Many Shepard attacks are related to their protective nature, they do not hesitate to attack if they feel their families are in danger. The other big danger with this breed is when it is mistreated, this enhances Shepard’s inherent mistrust of strangers and protective streak, making them more likely to attack. German Shepard’s fare best with good training socialization. If given regular exercise and experience with people they will be friendly high energy pets.
Believed to be one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dogs, their giant cuddly fur ball appearance can be deceiving. Like many other dogs on black lists they are working dogs, bred to heard and protect. As mentioned above with other breeds if proper attention and discipline is not given to them they can become aggressive, territorial and mistrustful. Chow chows are known to be especially protective of their owners, if this trait is not channeled aggression towards strangers will result. Like Huskies and Malamutes are high energy and very social, a lack of exercise and attention can lead to destructive tendencies.
Bread to be guard dogs this breed has an inherent mistrust of strangers and other dogs and an intense protective nature. Their loyalty and intelligence makes them wonderful pets, but if not properly trained their inherent mistrust of outsiders, their size and strength makes them dangerous. With proper training these downsides can be controlled and channeled positively. Like German Shepards and Chow Chows they are especially dangerous when abused or mistreated.
Great Dane/German Mastiff/Danish Hound:
This breed often makes lists because of their sheer size; they can weigh 200lbs or more. They are active dogs who love to play. They are not inherently aggressive if not mistreated and well raised. Honestly it is the size that makes them dangerous. They can injure small children with a swing of their tail or when trying to play with them, small dogs can have similar problems. They can do the same to adults when jumping up on them or trying to play. They are big and need space to move and exercise, if confined in a small space they will become destructive and ill tempered. They are also very social dogs and the same destructive tendencies come out if they are left alone for too long. Insurance companies list these dogs mostly for their size and the property damage they can cause.
Very big like Great Danes they were bred as rescue dogs in the Alps. The problem comes in with bad training or abuse which can lead them to become territorial and aggressive. This coupled with their size can result in serious injuries. Like other large breeds their huge size can also lead to accidental injuries and property destruction. When they decide to act out and chew on things they can simply wreck much bigger more expensive things than a smaller breed.
They are muscular and heavy dogs, that begin said they are pretty lazy loving dogs. They are good with children and get very attached to their families. Like Pit Bulls (which they are sometimes lumped in with) they were used as combatants in the blood sport of ‘baiting’ and as griping dogs in boar hunting. This means they have strong jaws and do not let go readily once they bite. If mistreated or encouraged to be vicious when young they can lash out and attack humans. Injuries form their bites, like those of Pit bulls, are often more serious because they do not let go and may thrash their heads form side to side while latched on.
Originally from South Africa they were used to keep lions at bay during hunting of antelope and other prey animals. They are loyal, intelligent, protective and distrustful of strangers. They can be quite sensitive and aggressive if not properly trained and socialized. There size like with other large breeds provides an inherent risk for injury and property damage.
Wolf Hybrids, Dingos and other semi-wild or wild dogs:
These breeds are dangerous because they are not fully domesticated. This means that their behavior can be unpredictable and their wolf-like or natural instincts are less tempered. While they can be well behaved pets, they often do not fare well in urban or densely populated areas. They also tend to be dominant and have alpha tendencies.
This is not a complete list of all the dogs listed by insurance companies, but these are some of the most common. There are a few trends that run through these breeds, they are big and they are working dogs. Most of these breeds were specifically bread for a task, many for defense and protection. They need structure and activity. They also need owners that understand their natural instincts and how to handle them. There is also the hard fact that big dogs can cause greater damage or injury because they are huge and heavy.
People today are living in much more densely populated areas and often leaving their dogs, cooped up and alone all day. For breeds, like those listed above, who were bred to work and companionship this is not an optimal solution. Other breeds that have been bred to be house or lap dogs fair a lot better. Insurance companies are reacting to the fact that this situation has led to an upswing in dog related claims. No one breed is destined to be a problem but insurance companies are looking at over all statistics showing them which breed cost them the most in the last year. In some cases one incident that was especially costly with an obscure or rare breed can get it on the list.
The over all problem, with these lists is that they are reactionary and not always fair to a breed as a whole. In some cases the statistical ‘dangerousness’ of a breed can fluctuate greatly from year to year as well as the claim cost. One huge lawsuit or claim can put a particular breed on the radar regardless of their historical record. As a homeowner there is unfortunately not much you can do to get a breed off a black list. That being said you do have options; some companies do not have lists, other have extremely limited ones. You can work with your local independent agent to find a company willing to accept your dog. Also many companies have moved to requiring dog questionnaires regardless of a dogs breed focusing on a dogs biting and aggression history instead of their breed. Other carriers add a small additional premium for specific breeds but do no refuse coverage. Many carriers will accept black listed breeds if you can show them the dog has been through a training program like the AKC’s Canine Good Citizens Program and been certified.
All in all these lists are here to stay for the foreseeable future unless regulation is enacted against them. Your best bet is to sit down with an independent agent (like Morrill) and work out a solution that works best for you and your insurance company.
By: Rebecca L.C. Hoell
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This article does not reflect the view of the Morrill Group but that of the employee who wrote it.