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Breed-Specific Insurance Restrictions – Giving Good Dogs a Bad Name?

By: Tracy M. Hall

Read By: Pet Lovers
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Whether you purchase or rent, moving to a new home can be an exciting time for you and your dog. If you already have a dog, you might be looking forward to walking around your new neighborhood and meeting all the other dogs. For others, moving into a new house or apartment means that they can add a dog to their family.

What moving concerns do pet owners face? Many people consider whether they will have enough room for their pet or access to a yard - or when renting, they must find a lease that allows pets. But some dog owners are given an unpleasant surprise when faced with buying homeowner's or renter's insurance.

In recent years, insurance companies have refused to underwrite or renew policies for the owners of certain breeds, citing increased liability and claims costs. Others have raised premiums significantly for the owners of breeds that are deemed "dangerous".

Are breed restrictions a reasonable assessment of risk, or do they punish well-behaved dogs unfairly?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Almost 1 in 5 of those people will require medical attention. And all of those bites mean lots of insurance claims.

In an effort to reduce those claims, many insurance companies have developed a "blacklist" of dogs that are considered to be a higher risk of attacking humans or destroying property. Although this list varies between providers, some common breeds appear on most of the lists.

Large, muscular breeds such as Rottweilers or American Pit Bull Terriers are often included. Some surprising breeds, like the Chow Chow, end up on lists due to a tendency towards aggression. Insurance companies use a variety of factors to determine which dogs make their blacklist, including data on which breeds are involved in reported attacks.

Lovers of blacklisted dog breeds argue that these restrictions are unfair to animals that have never shown aggressive or dangerous behavior. Several scientific papers on the matter point out that training and proper handling and confinement can reduce the likelihood of a dog bite. Others identify risk factors that should be considered, such as victim behavior, whether a dog is neutered or spayed, and whether the dog is chained outside.

A study published in 2000 identified 31 breeds involved in fatal human attacks between 1979 and 1998; of those 31, 3 breeds accounted for over 60% of all reported incidents. Although statistically some dogs are more frequently implicated in attacks than others, researchers stress that a dog's breed is not the only factor that determines whether an attack happens. It is also of note that documentation of a dog's breed in some attacks is not always verified and may be open to speculation.

Insurance companies want to keep rates down and reduce claims. Owners do not want to see well-behaved animals discriminated against. Thankfully, some insurance companies are altering their policies to include previously blacklisted breeds. In particular, Nationwide Insurance has taken steps to address the importance of training for dogs. In 2004, Nationwide announced that owners of previously prohibited breeds could obtain homeowner's insurance by having their dog certified as a Canine Good Citizen with the American Kennel Club. Other companies have reassessed their prohibited breed criteria or eliminated it entirely in some areas.

Emotions still run high on either side of the debate, but insurance companies and breed enthusiasts have made great strides towards a working compromise.

If you have a dog, you may want to contact your insurance company to determine their policies and get quotes from multiple companies if that is in your best interest.

References:

American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions. A community approach to dog bite prevention. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001. 218:1732–1749.
(http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf)

CDC. Nonfatal Dog Bite--Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments--United States, 2001. MMWR 2003; 52(26): 605-610.
(http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5226a1.htm)

Sacks JJ, Sinclair L, Gilchrist J, Golab GC, Lockwood R. Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. JAVMA 2000;217:836-840.
(http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/dog1.pdf)



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