Energetic dogs are one thing — but wild, unpredictable dogs are in a whole other category. A large dog that hasn’t learned its manners can easily knock someone over, causing injury. And unfortunately, dog bites are a common reason behind insurance claims, which can cost serious money to settle. Some insurers will raise your homeowner’s policy rates and some will even revoke your home insurance policy if you dog injures someone.
Liability claims from dog bites and other dog-related injuries in the U.S. were over $1 billion in 2022 according to the Insurance Information Institute (or Triple I). And while the number of dog-related claims dropped 2.2% from the previous year, the average cost per claim increased by 31.7 percent in 2021, to a hefty $64,555. That rise continued a trend that’s more than doubled the cost of the average dog-related claim since 2003. The culprits, according to Triple I, are increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
Owning a dog — especially one that has a history of biting — can limit your choice of insurers, the coverage limits you’re required to carry and add cost to your insurance premiums. You may even have to purchase separate animal liability coverage if your regular pet insurance company won’t cover pet liability.
This piece walks you through the list of dog breeds considered dangerous for purposes of home insurance, plus some ways to minimize the effect dog ownership has on your insurance. We;ll also include options to remedy the damage if your dog has already been a biter.
Table of contents
- Avoid breeds considered dangerous for home insurance
- Choose an insurer that doesn’t “dogscriminate”
- Consider supplementary liability coverage
- Think about sending your dog to dog school
- Tell the truth to insurers
- Bad dogs FAQ
Breeds considered dangerous for home insurance
In response to rising costs from dog insurance claims, insurers are tracking the breeds most associated with attacks and adjusting premiums and other policy provisions accordingly. You should be aware of the insurance restrictions when it comes time to choose a dog breed. “Every company has their own underwriting criteria. The breeds of dogs that may make an applicant ineligible for a policy will vary by company,” says Don Griffin, vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA).
However, some industry insiders have assembled their own lists based on interactions with insurers. Among them is Jason D. Cass, managing partner with the Insurance Alliance, a Centralia, IL, insurance brokerage. These are the six breeds Cass says most companies will not insure:
- Pit Bulls and Staffordshire Terriers
- Doberman Pinschers
- Chow Chows
- Presa Canarios
- German Shepherds
These are other breeds that are unpopular with insurers, if less widely so:
- Great Danes
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Siberian Huskies
- Wolf hybrids
- Caucasian Shepherd
- Cane Corso
- Giant Schnauzer
- Catahoula Leopard
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Belgian Malinois
- Coyote Dog
- English Bulldog
- Tosa Inu
These breeds — especially the first six listed — showed up on several other online lists of problem dogs for insurance that we found online.
Of course, these are named breeds, and many dogs are anything but purebreds. Indeed, the list-topping pit bull isn’t even recognized as an actual breed by the American Kennel Club. Instead, “pitties” are a category identified by sight with physical characteristics such as a muscular body and a large head. The label can encompass any number of different breeds and breed mixes, including the English Bull Terrier, the American Bulldog, the Boxer, the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. This "I know it when I see it attitude" has led to many instances of dog discrimination which, while perhaps misguided, are still a reality of being a dog owner.
While insurers don’t delve deeply into DNA, according to Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America, these groupings based on broad appearance still matter to numerous insurers when determining home coverage for a dog owner.
While Cass doesn’t counsel against buying a dog that's of a "problem" breed, he does recommend calling your insurance agent or company to find out if there are breed restrictions. If your dog is one of the banned breeds, also find out what it might cost to switch your homeowners or renters policy to a company that covers your dog.
Loretta L. Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, echoes that advice. “Check before you purchase the dog to see what your insurer’s stance is on dogs,” she advises. "While the company won’t freely give away all the secrets to how it makes coverage decisions, simply describing the dog you own — or plan to get — to an agent will provide you with insight into how they approach such a breed."
Choose an insurer that doesn’t “dogscriminate”
The good news for canine lovers is there's no one-size-fits-all approach among insurers to dealing with different breeds. Farmers, Nationwide and Allstate are among the companies that have been known to exclude banned breeds from coverage. Other insurers will cover a breed seen as a higher risk but charge a higher premium as a result.
On the other hand, State Farm is among the few that don’t have any restrictions on breeds, according to Heather Paul, the company's spokesperson for pet programs. The insurer is much more sensible than other companies. State Farm looks at individual dogs on a case-by-case basis, she says, taking into account the animal’s history of bites, if any. When issuing a policy, an agent may ask about previous incidents and inspect any legal claims involving the dog in question.
“We recognize that breed or type is not a reliable or consistent factor in determining how a dog will react to certain situations,” Paul says. “Dogs are individuals, just like people.”
If your dog does bite or is involved in an injury, State Farm looks at every issue individually, Paul says. A serious bite could be grounds for exclusion in a new policy or policy renewal or even the cancellation of a current policy, she notes. But an excited dog, say, accidentally knocking over someone is likely to be viewed more leniently and may not even affect your insurance.
All insurers reserve the right, according to Paul, to terminate coverage or not renew a policy because of an incident resulting in a claim. They can also refuse a new policy based on a specific dog’s behavioral history after asking about it or discovering a past claim, regardless of breed.
Consider supplementary liability coverage
Despite what you pay in homeowner’s insurance costs, there’s a chance your provider doesn’t include liability coverage for your dog. Renters and homeowners insurance companies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to a limit — roughly around $100,000 to $300,000, says Worters of the Insurance Information Institute. That limit will suffice for the vast majority of claims since the average dog-bite claim is $64,555, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
However, there are occasionally settlements that exceed $300,000. For example, the law firm Mullen and Mullen in Dallas says it obtained a $500,000 settlement after a two-and-half-year-old child was bitten in the face by a dog at a residence she was visiting, resulting in multiple lacerations to her cheek, chin, and eyelid.
If a claim exceeds a policy’s liability limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Paul suggests a scenario in which State Farm offers up to $250,000 in liability coverage. But if your dog harms someone resulting in a $500,000 judgment, you’d have to pay the other $250,000 out of your pocket.
Another possibility is that a company will extend you a policy but only if you sign a liability waiver excluding the dog in its home coverage, Worters explains. They may do so either because the breed is seen as risky or because of past incidents involving the dog.
State Farm sometimes recommends adding a rider for extra home coverage if your dog has been involved in a liability claim, Paul adds. This can significantly increase the maximum payout on your coverage, for example up to $1 million, though it comes with higher premiums.
You can also supplement your financial protection against dog attacks in other ways. Options include a separate canine owner liability policy through a company that offers one, such as Prime Insurance or Einhorn. Costs can be as low as $100 a year. There’s also the option to acquire an umbrella policy, an insurance option that extends liability coverage — typically of up to $1 million — to all aspects of your life, including reducing the risk of exceptional claims to your homeowners and auto insurance policies.
Think about sending your dog to dog school
Proving to your insurer that you’re a responsible owner sometimes helps in obtaining coverage and can even be a mitigating factor for a supposedly high-risk breed, Worters of the Insurance Information Institute notes. Certain insurers may offer credits or discounts for training such as from an American Kennel Club-certified trainer.
While State Farm isn’t among those insurers, company spokesperson Paul recommends training as a matter of course. And it never hurts to mention that your dog is professionally trained when talking to an agent.
“While an overwhelming majority of interactions with dogs don't result in injury, most dog bites could be prevented by practicing responsible pet ownership,” Worters notes. Socialization is also key, she adds, helping “your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it's a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older.”
Tell the truth to insurers
It's all too easy to avoid telling insurers about the breed of dog you own or, perhaps, its bite history. But experts advise against such fibs because they can make home insurance more costly for you in the long run. Such action could be construed as insurance fraud, a crime you definitely don’t want to commit.
Insurance broker Cass explicitly warns that hiding the fact that you own a type of dog or dog breed is risky. “If something does happen with your dog—and you didn’t tell the agent or company, the insurance company may deny your claim. That could cost you thousands of dollars out of your pocket. It will also cause you to be canceled and you may not be able to get insurance in the standard market.”
Bad Dogs FAQs
Should I get pet liability insurance?
Why is it not safe to have a "dangerous" breed when I can send them to dog school?
What are the best dog breeds I can have?
Which dog breed is best for my family and home insurance?
According to CBS News, the five cheapest dogs to insure are the following: Mixed breeds, English Springer Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers, Australian Shepherds, and Dachshunds.