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Why Will Insurance Not Accept My Dog?

Flash Back to early 2012 and my kids were wanting a dog, specifically a puppy. I finally gave in when a friend of a friend of a friend had puppies that he was giving away. We spoke on the phone and I asked the breed and joked saying, “I’m an Insurance Agent. I tell my clients every day that pit bulls are image of a pitbull not acceptable so I can’t go against that.” His reply, “Oh, don’t worry. They are Lab / Terrier mix.”

I saw the large momma dog in the distance; she did not look like a Lab or my version of a Terrier and I started to reconsider this giving into my kids’ thing. Then from underneath the porch steps, a little black and white puppy looked at us like she knew that we were going to rescue her. She didn’t squirm when we held her and when we put her down, she went back underneath the steps instead of running around barking like her siblings. So…. we ended up naming her Zeva and she became a part of our little family. Oh! The terrier part of her… American Staffordshire Terrier, aka a common breed known as a Pit Bull.

Statistically Speaking
So, here I am, the Insurance Agent that was once the advocate for not having a Pit Bull, thinking, “Now what?” That’s when the long-ago research habits for High School and College classes kicked in and I started reading up on the behavioral aspects of my “Lab / Terrier” mix. I now started to understand the frustration when clients asked me, “Why will my insurance not accept my dog?” Five years later, I love my dog more than ever and really do feel that Pit Bulls are judged unfairly. Yes, I know that your dog may be just as lovable as mine. But, there are these people that work for insurance companies called actuaries and their job is all about statistics (which sometimes I do find fascinating).

So, let’s take a look at the information that they consider. By the way, for those of us that own these types of dogs, I promise that there is good news at the end.

The PSI of a bite (Pounds of Pressure)

120 - Average Human
150 - Grown Man maximum
235 - Pit Bull (American Terrier)
238 - German Shepherd
305 - Bulldog (American)
328 - Rottweiler
400 - Wolf (normal circumstances)
556 - English Mastiff
600 - Doberman Pinscher
700 - Jaguar
950 - Siberian Tiger
1200 - Wolf (protecting circumstances)
2125 - Alligator (American)
5000 - Crocodile (Nile)

When compared to the Alligator and Crocodile, of course, some of these dogs do not seem like too big of a deal. Animals may not even bite the same each time but they will bite harder when provoked and a male’s bite, especially if they are not neutered, is stronger than the females. A dog’s natural carnivore tendencies and aggression may come out while they are protecting their property or they are in fear.

According to the Coalition for Living Safely and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association in May 2009, the top five breeds for bite incidents with kids are as follows –

13% – Labrador
8.4% – Pitbull
6.8% – German Shepherd
4.2% – Chihuahua
4.1% – Rottweiler

However, in 2016, there were up to 41 fatalities due to a dog’s aggression (depending on which site you refer to). 22 were from a Pit Bull breed, Labradors account for 3 of these while the following have up to 2 each – Rottweiler, American Bulldog, Belgian Milionis, Doberman, German Shepherd. The rest were undetermined breeds.

Several lists put the Dachshund, Chihuahua and Jack Russell Terrier as the most aggressive breeds of dogs. With Dachshunds, 1 out of 5 bit or attempted to bite a stranger and 1 out of 12 have lashed out at their owner. Although Chihuahua’s may be less than 6 pounds when fully grown, they bond very intensely with their owners, sometimes to the point of obsession. When this happens, they can lash out at anyone that comes near.

Let’s get back to that 13% of Labrador’s… They are a favorite family dog so it does not seem to make sense, right? Well, because they are a favorite of families, that makes them more popular. If you have 100 marbles in a bucket and 75 of them are red and 25 are a mixture of other colors, you have a higher percentage of pulling a red.

We have already discussed why Chihuahua’s bite, what makes these other dogs bite? Labradors can get aggressive when they have possession over something (toy, stick, food). Remember, they were bred for hunting to hold prey in their mouths. The Alpha comes out in Pitbull’s with dog on dog aggression. German Shepherds are famous for protecting their property. Golden Retrievers and Border Collies may get a bit aggressive when play biting.

Even though all dogs are prone to biting, the severity is different from a Dachshunds small bite to a Border Collie’s play bite to a Pitbull’s bite to injure. Most dog bites are not even reported. Think of how many times you have been play swatting with a dog and they nip at your finger. We don’t turn those in because it may not have broken the skin plus we also realize that we were playing with the dog and getting them riled up.

Newspaper Headlines & Lawsuits
Since insurance companies base everything off statistics, we need to see what they are taking into consideration. According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2003, 16,919 claims were paid out for a total of $324.2 million. This increased to 18,123 claims paid out in 2016 for $602.2 million. These claims are not all for bites – it can be from your dog knocking down a child, a bike rider, or the elderly. Not to mention, with the rise in medical costs and in our litigious society, lawsuits and juries seem to get involved more often.

We are living in a very litigious society not to mention the role that social media plays in the landscape of our lives. In 2008, there were over 230 articles and television reports on a Pit Bull that attacked and hospitalized a woman. However, when a mixed breed killed a 16-month-old child a few days before that, the local paper only reported it twice. Social media, along with news sources, tend to sensationalize things and are looking for the next thing that will grab your attention. When people see a headline that says, “Pit Bull mauled child”, everyone thinks, “Sue the owners!” but when they see, “Family dog mauled child”, they assume that something must have been wrong and the child aggravated the dog.

Quite a few insurance policies have Animal Liability coverage for either $25,000 or $50,000 that offers bodily injury or property damage for which the insured is legally liable for. This coverage is only endorsed on to a policy when the dog is not on the “aggressive” breed list and/or does not have a history of aggressive behavior. “But, wait! I am not asking my insurance company to cover my dog.” It does not matter. We all know the attorneys that are going to say that the dog owner was negligent and take it to court to put in front of a jury. Society thinks that it is the insurance company with deep pockets that will have to pay out the million-dollar award, not realizing that it is only going to pay policy limits and YOU will have to find a way to pay the remainder.

Often when I ask clients what kind of dog they have, they tell me that their dog would not harm anyone and that it is just an “ankle biter”. That is when I tell them that I have a scar above my lip from holding one of these “ankle biters” (I just so happened to turn my face toward the dog when it decided to bark at another dog) and I still add Animal Liability to their policy. Animal Liability is not just for bites, it can be from tripping over these small dogs. My parents have a bell on their 7-pound Yorkie so they are aware if he is near their feet instead of finding out when he is licking their face after a fall.

Understanding Dog Bites
Most people know that aggression is in the makeup of a Pit Bull and they are assuming it is just recent history. Did you know, that before the Pit Bulls were brought to America, they were bred to fight bulls? Once that becomes illegal, they were trained to fight each other. They were also trained to be a “catcher” of wild animals when hunting, being praised for never letting go.

Children are most often the victims of these dog bites due to being left unsupervised. We are unable to say if the child provoked the dog by taunting/teasing or if it could have started from “play biting” when both are having fun. Then there are the times, unfortunately, where an infant is left alone (mom may have just run into the kitchen) and the dog goes after the child. We do not know why this happens, maybe it is due to the smell of milk on the baby and the family dog was curious. The good news, is that dog bites sustained by children have been declining which makes me wonder if we are becoming more aware of dog’s personalities.

Keep these “rules” in mind and teach them to your kids –
*Do not approach an unfamiliar animal

*Do not run from a dog, panic, or make loud noises

*Do not disturb a dog while eating, sleeping, or nursing.

There Is Coverage Available
Although we may never see the insurance industry become willing to readily accept dogs like my sweet Zeva, we do have a company that will write a specific animal liability policy for ANY type of dog. It is a stand-alone policy with limits available from $10,000 to $300,000 with NO breed limitations. Even dogs with a history of aggressive behavior will be reviewed on a submit basis.

Most of us here at Niceville Insurance Agency have dogs and we understand that you need to be protected “just in case”. Give us a call and see how we can help you and your family!

Note – this article is based on third-party statistics.