Doggin’ it Out: Dog Bites & Homeowner’s Liability Insurance

chihuahua ready to bite

For the last 20 plus years of my mother’s life, although she had ten children and countless grandchildren and great grandchildren, her most treasured companion was a little dog named Mitzi. She adored that little critter and took it wherever she went. Her bike basket was just the right size for Mitzi to ride it when Mom would go on her daily bike ride through the neighborhood. Even though the sign on the Walmart store door indicated only service animals were allowed inside, somehow the employees let this little white haired lady and her little dog move freely about the store in a borrowed electric scooter. In fact, in our little town she became known as the “Sunshine Lady” with the little happy dog.I’m sure Mom didn’t know her little chihuahua was listed as one of the most dangerous breeds of dogs for biting people.

What I mean by that statement is the breed of dog mostly likely to bite someone (doesn’t necessarily deem them to be dangerous) according to Dogsbite.org, an educational website about dangerous dog breeds, is first a daschund followed closely by a Chihuahua. These are followed by Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Cattle Dog and Cocker Spaniels. Though I could not find the specific number of bites by these breeds, I did find statistics on the breeds of dogs whose bites were fatal which is probably more significant and concerning.

In a study dating from 1982 to 2014 by Dogsbite.org in Canada and United States these figures were gathered:

  1. Pit Bull – 3,397 incidence of bodily harm with 295 deaths
  2. Rottweiler –  535 incidence of bodily harm with 85 deaths; and
  3. Husky –  83 incidence of bodily harm with 26 deaths;
  4. Wolf Hybrid – 85 incidence of bodily harm with 19 deaths;
  5. Bullmastiff –  111 incidence of bodily harm with 18 deaths;
  6. German Shepherd –  113 incidence of bodily harm with 15 deaths;
  7. Pit Bull Mix –  206 incidence of bodily harm with 12 deaths;
  8. Akita- 70 incidence of bodily harm with 8 deaths;
  9. Chow Chow – 61 incidence of bodily harm with 8 deaths;
  10. Doberman – 23 incidence of bodily harm with 12 deaths;

Most of the fatalities are young children or senior citizens.

When one considers that more than 60 million U.S. households count a dog as part of the family, these statistics don’t appear to be that alarming. However, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries requiring medical attention according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. These bites according to the Insurance Information Institute have a national average per bite of $37,051, with a staggering outlay of $700 million across the nation. These figures have reached the threshold of being one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims.

These statistics have started to draw more scrutiny from insurance companies covering unrestricted damage caused by all breeds of dogs. Some of the breeds indicated above have even been identified in the homeowner policy as having no coverage for bodily harm caused by them. Others have identified certain breeds as increased risk and have notified insureds if bodily harm is caused policies may carry an increased premium to cover exposure, or are even notified beforehand the policy will be non-renewed. It is important to contact your insurance agent to see if your dog’s breed is on the no coverage or watch list.

Kenton Brine, President of Northwest Insurance Council states, “For so many of us, our dogs are family, and millions of times each day, people and dogs interact happily, without any negative consequences and most of the time dog bites can be prevented through education and responsible dog ownership.”

Northwest Insurance Council offers these tips to help reduce the risk of your dog biting someone:

  • Spay or neuter your dog. Studies show that dogs are three times less likely to bite if they have been neutered.
  • Socialize your dog so that it becomes more comfortable around people and other animals. Also, always leash your dog in public so you are better able to maintain control.
  • Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping, and always supervise children when they are around dogs.
  • Play non aggressive games such as fetch. Playing aggressive games like tug-of-war can encourage inappropriate behavior.
  • Always ask an owner for permission before petting their dog, and make sure your children do the same before petting an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not approach  a strange dog, and avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.

For more information on dog bites and insurance, contact Northwest Insurance Council or call (800) 664-4942.

I would also encourage you to become knowledgeable about your dog’s natural behavioral traits so you can help it become a good companion to you rather than a liability. Mom did so well with her little “Mitzi” you would swear the only thing that little dog couldn’t do was speak English to you. Yet, on second thought, she didn’t need to because Mitzi’s eyes and tail told you exactly how she felt and what she wanted. Kind of miss those two!

Disclaimer

Dog bite liability laws and breed specific statutes vary by state and municipalities. As a point of interest to emphasis the above, recently city officials in Yakima, Washington,  voted to keep a ban on pit bulls in place, which means it is unlawful to own a pit bull within the city limits. Coverage also can vary from one insurance company to the next. Find out first.

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