Dogs and Your Home Insurance

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In the time it takes you to read this article three Canadians will be bitten by dogs. The Humane Society of Canada estimates that a dog bite happens every minute in Canada, amounting to more than 525,000 bites a year.

Dog bites cost insurers millions of dollars each year. One insurer reported that they paid out $104 million resulting from 3,700 dog bite claims in 2013 in Canada and the U.S. Dog bites in Ontario alone cost $940,000. This number is typical of the insurer's annual Ontario claims with the exception of 2012, which cost a record-breaking $2.4 million in insured losses.

In the past five years, the insurer paid out more than $510 million in dog bite claims. Imagine how high that number is if you tally up dog-related claims for all insurance providers in Canada!

U.S. research suggests dog bites represent one third of all liability home insurance claims. Here's how to ensure your dog is protected under your home insurance, and how to help prevent dog bites from happening in the first place.

Related Read: 5 Reasons Why Your Home Insurance May Be Going Up

Is Your Dog Covered?

Dogs are considered the owner's property, meaning the owner is liable if the dog bites or attacks someone.

Typically, you would be protected under your home insurance policy, but it is prudent that you speak with your insurance provider first to ensure you are protected. Certain breeds, for example, may not be covered under your home or tenant's insurance policy—or it may be required that your insurer is aware that you own this breed of dog in order to be insured. Every insurer is different. Some insure all breeds, while others have restrictions on the breeds they insure.

Some breeds that may not be covered include:

  • Pit Bulls
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers

Bear in mind, this is not an exhaustive list. It's always best to check with your provider even if your dog is friendly and has never bitten anyone before. If your insurance company does not cover your specific breed, then you may want to shop around for a company that will insure that breed. Don't wait to find out after the fact. Call your provider today to ensure you're protected.

The exception to this rule would be if your dog bit someone while the dog was in your car. In this case, your auto insurance provider may handle the claim.

What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

First, make sure the person who has been bitten or attacked is okay, and remove the dog from the situation as soon as possible. Most Canadian citizens have medical coverage through their provincial healthcare provider, but there may be additional losses related to the incident that require compensation, such as if the victim is rendered unable to work for an extended period of time. In these situations, your home insurance provider would need to be involved, especially if the victim involves a lawyer.

That said; if your dog bites or attacks someone it doesn't hurt to phone your insurance company to find out what they recommend. They are experienced with these types of claims and can point you in the right direction.

Related Read: 5 Things That Could Void Your Home Insurance

What Does Your Insurance Cover

If your dog injures someone, that person may be eligible to collect compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income and property damage. Under your home insurance, you are probably protected up to a certain amount. You may wish to discuss increasing that amount with your insurer.

Dog Owner's Liability Act

Some provinces have additional legislation outlining who is responsible for a dog.

For example, Ontario's Dog Owner's Liability Act specifies that the owner is "strictly responsible," meaning the victim does not need to prove intent. Even if the owner was unaware of the incident or tried to prevent the incident, he or she is still responsible for damages.

"Owner" in this sense may refer to the person possessing the dog, someone harbouring the dog (while this is vague in the legislation, several personal injury lawyer websites suggest responsibility can fall on someone babysitting a dog that injures someone while under their care), or, in the case of the owner being a minor, the person responsible for that minor.

Familiarize yourself with your province's dog legislation, if applicable, as this may affect your insurance coverage.

Tips For Preventing Dog Bites

Children are especially susceptible to dog bites, so it's important to take steps preventing dog bites from happening. Insurers report that many of these incidents could have been prevented. Here’s how to help prevent your dog from biting or attacking someone.

  • Never leave a child alone with a dog
  • Even more important, never leave a baby (especially newborns) alone with a dog
  • Avoid petting dogs that are not yours, even if it is tempting
  • Do not give unfamiliar dogs treats even if they're "such a good boy"
  • Teach children how to play gently with dogs, as well as how to approach dogs in a non-confrontational manner
  • Do not encourage your dog to play aggressively
  • Keep your dog on a leash when taking him for a walk
  • Consider obedience or socialization training for your dog
  • If your dog exhibits signs of aggression such as snarling, pulling back his lips, or heavy barking, remove your dog from the situation
  • Do not involve your dog in situations you know make him uncomfortable or anxious as this may provoke aggression

Remember, all breeds no matter what size or personality type have the capacity to inflict harm on people. You never know when a dog is going to bite. If you have any questions about dogs and your home insurance, phone your provider today.