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When they bite: Dog-related injuries are up by 300%. Does home insurance help?

One of my irrational fears growing up was of dogs. Small dogs, big dogs it didn’t really matter – I always thought they would try to chase me or bite me. Now many years later I count myself a dog lover, but I do know that my fears were not completed unfounded. 

A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics finds dog-related emergency room visits to one children’s hospital in the U.S. spiked nearly 300 per cent following the start of stay-at-home orders in March 2020. A recent study from the United Kingdom found a similar increase.

There are many reasons for the increased number of dog bites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the factors include increased child-dog exposure. Also, dogs are under greater stress, because of increased child presence. There is also a decrease in adult supervision of children around dogs, due to new and competing home responsibilities for parents and caregivers.

To top it off, pet ownership has increased in the last year. This phenomenon is often referred to as getting a ‘pandemic puppy.’ 

Home insurance service provider ‘ Square One’ says more than one-third of Canadian households now have dogs, and pet industry sales increased by 5 percent in 2020.

But are you protected if your new pooch causes any damage? Here is how to protect you, your dog and those around your pet. 

Does home insurance cover dog bites? 

Your home insurance provider should know if you have a dog or any pet for that matter. Some cover them under your home policy, some may not. This is because your furry friend is considered a liability. Square One says you are liable when the legal process finds you responsible for harming another person. Which would be the case of a dog biting or injuring someone. Square One says, once you’re found liable, you’ll be legally obligated to compensate the victim in some way. Part of the legal process of determining liability also involves deciding what the compensation should be. 

Compensation of this type is referred to as “damages.” But this can’t be assumed says Stefan Tirschler, Product and Underwriting Manager at  Square One Insurance Services.

“Not everyone is aware that, in Canada, many home insurance policies will cover the cost of defending you in the event that someone alleges they were injured by your pet,” says Tirschler, “This is critical coverage for any dog owner because defending against such a lawsuit without insurance can be frightening and costly—even if your dog was innocent of causing any harm.”

What kind of dog raises your home insurance premiums? 

Letting your home insurance provider know you have a dog is the first step. When insuring your home, with your dog listed as a liability, the provider will ask you about the breed when calculating your home insurance quote. Square One says this is not because those breeds are inherently more dangerous, but certain dog breeds are, however, featured more frequently in lawsuits than others. Insurance premiums can also be higher because some dogs are larger than others. Their size is more likely to injure a human if they did attack. Public perception also plays a role. As someone may be more likely to launch a lawsuit again certain dogs considered ‘dangerous’ because they feel more threatened. 

“The larger and more powerful the breed, then potentially the more harm it may cause when it does bite,” says Animal Behaviour & Welfare Specialist Dr. Rebecca Ledge, “and so owners of such breeds need to be aware of this when their dog is interacting with other dogs and people.”

This is much like asking how many young drivers are in your home when getting a quote for your car insurance. The company is basing their quote on the probability that something may go wrong, not that your teenager is a reckless driver. 

What dog breeds are excluded from home insurance? 

There are some companies that do not provide protection for your dog under your home insurance, meaning you would have to find separate coverage. Dogs that are commonly asked about are German Shepherds, Dobermans, Siberian Huskies, and Pit Bulls. Here is a list of dogs Square One asks about:

  • Pit Bull
  • Rottweiler
  • Mastiff
  • Staffordshire Terrier
  • Cane Corso
  • Presa Canario
  • German Shepherd
  • Akita
  • Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Malamute
  • Husky
  • Wolf hybrid

 If your fur baby is one of these breeds your home insurance may not cover them in the act of any injury to another person. 

If your dog bites you or someone who visits your home, are you protected if they suffer injury?

The short answer is yes. As long as you’re insurance provider is aware that you have a dog and they know the breed and have agreed to list it under your home insurance policy. Dogs fall under most home insurance policies’ liability coverage because you’re responsible for them. Square One recommends you have liability coverage that induces your dog. They say liability coverage helps cover legal costs and damages when you’re found liable for a negligent act, or when someone injures themselves on your property.

How much does a dog add to home insurance?

There is a lot that goes into determining the cost of having your dogs on your home insurance policy. For example, the breed, its history, if it has ever been aggressive before. Homeowners would be aware of some increased costs if a dog is added to their home insurance. 

Can a lost dog be claimed on home insurance?

Generally speaking, your home insurance policy covers the liability of your pet. If someone sues you for damages, but property damage like your dog eating your favourite shoe or ruining the coach would generally not be covered. This includes your dog going missing. If lost dog coverage is something you want to have, speak to your home insurance provider to find out if there is any specialized insurance they may have to cover this. 

The bottom line

Having a dog is a huge responsibility. They’re after all a family member that requires care and attention. But you do need to be protected if someone is injured by your dog, in any circumstance, even if the dog was playing. As more Canadians adopt dogs it’s important to let your insurance provider know so you are not opening yourself up for an expensive lawsuit. 

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