When It Comes to Home Insurance, Your Dog’s Bite Is Worse than His Bark

There is no doubt that you would do anything for your dog, which is why you took the initiative to ensure he was covered by your home insurance policy. However, as you probably know, you beloved pet can sometimes surprise you with behavior you don’t expect, like biting the neighbor’s pet or child. When this happens, it’s your responsibility to file a home insurance claim that will cover the cost of medical expenses.

The only problem is now, so many dog bite claims are reaching insurance offices these days, many are no longer willing to pay for the costs, leaving pet owners in a bind. This means it’s up to you to make responsible choices for your pet in the event that you find that his bite is worse than his bark.

Home Insurance Dog Bite Costs Rise to $412 Million

According to a study released by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), dog bites have accounted for one-third of home insurance liability claims so far in 2010. This represents a 6.4 percent increase over 2009.

On average, each claim exceeds $24,000, which has occurred for the third straight year, said the industry group. In total, the cost of dog bite injuries surpassed $412 million in 2009, as compared with $387.2 million a year earlier.

While most policies will provide between $100,000 and $300,000 in liability coverage, the increases in medical bills have hiked up costs more than 25 percent for the homeowners insurance industry.

With more than 4.7 million people in the United States suffering from dog bites each year — almost 900,000 of them requiring medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — many insurance companies that would be responsible for reimbursing the victims’ medical costs are getting fed up and taking matters into their own hands.

Insurance Companies Require Liability Waivers

A recent report from Bloomberg news revealed that many home insurance companies have decided to adjust their liability so they don’t have to suffer the increasing costs of dog bites.

For instance, Liberty Mutual Group Inc., which is the fifth-largest property and casualty insurer in the United States, now takes time to review some breeds for their house insurance. If they run across Akitas, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, pit bulls or Rottweilers, they may charge a higher premium for coverage.

However, some companies may go even further by requiring that dog owners sign liability waivers for bites or asking them to take their dogs to behavioral classes before covering them. If a dog has already bitten someone, an insurance company may go as far as to exclude the pet from coverage, according to the I.I.I.

Is Pet Insurance a Better Option?

Some pet owners mistakenly believe that obtaining pet insurance will cover their dog if it bites another animal or person. On the contrary, pet insurance covers illnesses, accidents and routine care (exams, vaccinations, shots, teeth cleaning, diagnostics, etc.) related to your own pet, not anything related to the damage your pet may have caused.

So instead of taking this route, you want to make sure your homeowners insurance policy covers dog bites. Since many companies are shying away from making bite coverage available on standard policies, it’s good inquire before signing the dotted line. If the company doesn’t offer coverage, try to find one that offers a dog bite rider.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Biting Others

One of the best ways to avoid paying for a dog bite is to prevent it from happening. While it’s difficult for you to stop it from ever occurring, there are some precautions you can take to increase the likelihood that your dog won’t be a problem for others and your pocketbook:

  • Choose the right breed: Some breeds are more prone to attacking others, which is why it’s good to consult a responsible dog breeder to determine which type of dog you could better handle under intense circumstances.
  • Leash your dog: Whether you’re out for a walk or have your dog enclosed in your back yard, it’s good to keep him leashed to avoid provoked or even unprovoked attacks.
  • Socialize: Under-socialized dogs may feel uneasy around strangers, so familiarize your dog with house members, neighbors and other dogs and people in dog parks and beyond.
  • Train with commands: Get your dog used to listening to you and halting at your command by using training techniques. Starting with basic commands like “down,” “stay,” “sit,” “heel,” and “come” could go a long way in protecting others if your dog gets loose.
  • Know your dog: Get used to watching your dog’s behavior so that you will know if he is uncomfortable. Knowing his cues will tell you that it may be time to remove him from a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Ask for help: Everyone can’t recruit the assistance of Cesar Millan or Victoria Stillwell, which is why it’s good to go find a trainer or dog behaviorist to help you manage him properly.

By taking the route of preventing an attack, you won’t need to rely on your home or renters insurance to cover losses, or feel disappointed if they refuse to take responsibility for your dog’s actions. You will have this part covered.

Owning a dog comes brings with it so much joy. However, that joy could quickly diminish if you’re strapped with mounting medical bills as a result of frequent attacks. Since some home insurance companies are more reluctant to insure dogs, it’s good to make sure you’ve taken every precaution necessary to ensure no one else suffers for your decision to own a pet.