Home Owner Insurance: How To Reduce Rates For Dog Owners

Insurance settlements are skyrocketing and homeowners are beginning to have trouble insuring themselves it they own a dog.

Obtaining homeowners insurance used to be a fairly straightforward process. You'd make a call to an agent, give the agent some information about your home and possessions, and get a quote. Rates varied from state to state, and there were sometimes extenuating circumstances, but rarely was a homeowner unable to obtain coverage. But today, for many homeowners, this process is no long quite so simple. If you own a dog, you may find yourself unable to get coverage or strapped with a much larger premium than ever before.

While it seems unfair that a few problem dog owners have created this situation for dog owners everywhere, insurance companies are being forced to compensate for huge settlements that have been paid out to people injured by vicious, uncontrolled canines. The Insurance Information Institute reports that over $1 billion dollars a year is being paid out to victims of dog bites. But, with over 40 percent of American households having at least one dog, how do homeowners protect themselves?

Statistically, over 65 percent of all deaths from dog attacks are attributed to three breeds - German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and pit bulls. Many insurance companies will refuse coverage if you have one of these breeds. When deciding on buying one of these three breeds, check first with your insurance carrier to make sure that you will not be dropped from coverage.

Other dogs have also made the list of those that are considered high-risk, and that list includes wolf hybrids, huskies, Dalmatians, Airedales, and Great Danes. Dogs that are a mix of shepherd, Rottweiler, or pit bull are also frequently excluded. This list does change from time to time, however, as different breeds make the news for bad behavior.

There are some insurance companies that understand that all dogs of a certain breed are not troublesome and will consider each application individually. The important factor is whether or not the dog has a history of aggressive behavior.

California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia prohibit insurance companies from placing restrictions on certain breeds of dogs. However, this does not stop local governments from passing legislation against specific breeds, despite state laws. It is often difficult to enforce these laws, however, especially when the dogs are mixed breeds.

When looking for coverage, talk to an agent, and explain your own situation. Even if you have a dog that is on the "blacklist" of breeds, if that dog is well behaved and under control, an agent will most likely be able to find a company that will cover you. Certain factors, such as a fenced in yard or special kennel area, are also taken into consideration.

Some insurance companies will insure a home but write an exclusion to the policy eliminating any coverage for claims that result from the dog's injuring anyone. This can be risky and should only be considered as a last resort. If the dog somehow escapes and bites someone, an uninsured homeowner could lose everything in a resulting lawsuit.

If you have a dog that is considered a dangerous breed, there are steps that you can take to prevent the dog from getting into trouble and thus increase your chances of obtaining reasonable coverage. Make sure that the dog has an opportunity to socialize with other dogs and a variety of people. Take him out for frequent walks and allow him to "greet" other dogs while leashed. Never allow the dog outside unleashed unless you have a secure, fenced in area with a locked gate. Check the perimeter of the fenced area frequently to ensure that there are no gaps that might enable the dog to escape.

If you live in an area that requires dogs to be licensed, make sure to keep your dog's tags up-to-date. If the dog manages to escape somehow, you may face stiff penalties for having an unlicensed animal. You should also buy a tag for the dog that states his or her name, address, and your phone number.

Train the dog to obey voice commands. You might consider taking the dog to obedience school. Having a "diploma" might help convince an insurance company to insure you! At the very least, your dog should be taught to respond to the words "come," "stay," and know the meaning of "no."

Do not allow children to disturb a dog when it is eating or tending its puppies. Always watch small children in the presence of dogs as they can inadvertently aggravate the animal. Avoid playing aggressive games with the dog such as tug of war. Play "fetch" games or Frisbee with your pet. Never encourage aggressive behavior or train a dog to attack.

It is also important to keep the dog healthy by having regular visits to the veterinarian. A healthy dog is a happy dog, and one that is less likely to become aggressive. Consider having the dog spayed or neutered. This often reduces aggressive behavior. If the dog is old, he may be in pain and simply reacting to painful stimuli could make him appear mean. Treat the dog with respect and love and there is less chance of problems.

In almost every major metropolitan area across the country, there are groups of dog owners who are working to try and educate the public and prevent any more breed-restrictive legislation from being passed. Pit bulls, in particular, have a bad reputation, and as a result, there are more laws involving this breed than any other. Again, it is because of a few irresponsible dog owners that an entire breed of dog is being penalized. While these dogs are the most feared, in reality, they are highly loyal, affectionate and devoted pets.

There is one instance where the dog owner is not liable for injuries caused by the animal. In more states, if someone trespasses on your property and is attacked by your dog, you are not liable.

Dog owners have a responsibility to protect themselves, their dogs, and the general public. Insurance companies must look to protect themselves. But, with some research, education, and planning, it is possible for all parties to be taken care of in an equitable fashion.

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