Homeowners insurance gives you financial protection against damages from your house, including theft, natural disasters, and other incidents. In the event of a total loss, homeowners insurance may be the primary source of the rebuilding fund, but sadly not everyone can be covered due to the breed of dog they own. Many insurance companies ban certain breeds, leaving their owners unprotected if an accident occurs. But why do insurance companies ban certain dog breeds? What impacts do these bans have, and how can this legislation be changed?
Why Do Insurance Companies Deny Certain Breeds?
Insurance companies deny certain dog breeds because of risk exposure. In 2022 alone, home insurance carriers paid more than $1,136 million in dog bite liability claims. Many insurance carriers don't want to cover dogs that are labeled as dangerous due to their likelihood of aggression. In short, homeowners' and renters' insurance companies want to minimize their risk in order to save money. While some companies may go on a case-by-case bias, others ban breeds known to bite and attack. These bans, often called blanket bans, make no expectation for therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, or even those professionally trained. Therefore, it doesn't matter if your dog has no history of aggression; if your dog is labeled as a banned breed, many insurance companies won't cover you.
Is Dog Breed Discrimination Legal in the US?
Breed discrimination is legal; in fact, many cities use breed-specific legislation or BSL to regulate and ban certain breeds as they are deemed dangerous. However, BSL has been scrutinized in recent years for being flawed, outdated, and ineffective. As such, a number of cities have repealed BSL and are going forward with breed-neutral legislation. In line with this thinking, several states have passed legislation limiting or eliminating breed discrimination by insurance companies. These states include Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. If you reside in one of these states, you'll be able to receive insurance coverage much easier.
Commonly Banned Dog Breeds
Insurance companies are not always transparent about the breeds they ban, making it difficult for homeowners to understand what breeds are allowed and not allowed. Below are 15 breeds insurance companies are not likely to cover:
- Alaskan Malamute
- American Bulldog
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
- Giant Schnauzer
- Siberian Husky
- Presa Canario, or Canary Dog
- Wolf Hybrid
Other frequently banned dogs include:
- Mixed breeds of the dogs listed above
- Dogs with prior reported incidents of biting or attacking an animal or human
The Problems with Banning Dog Breeds
Banning dog breeds has been called into question, as they unfairly segregate based on breed rather than the individual dog. The Best Friends Network has recently found that banned breed lists primarily affect three groups: uninformed customers, people of color, and consumers with lower incomes. To understand these effects, we've looked into the three groups individually:
Uniformed Customers - Unsurprisingly, a majority of insurance consumers are not informed about insurance. A recent study found that 48% of participants did not understand homeowners liability coverage, and 24% didn't know the amount of liability coverage they had and/or hadn't read their policies. This lack of knowledge can affect consumers in a variety of ways. For instance, uninformed customers aren't likely aware that their choice of dog breed could affect their insurance coverage options.
They might also not know how to find other coverage options that fit their budget and instead remain without coverage. Consumers might not even realize their coverage is lacking. For example, a recent study found that 52% of participants did not inform their insurance carrier after they bought a new dog into their home. Therefore, breed exclusions take advantage of uninformed customers, leaving them without proper liability coverage.
People of Color - Studies have shown pit bulls to be more aggressive than other dogs; however, the studies use visual identification, which has been found flawed and inaccurate. The fact is any dog can be aggressive, so why are pit bulls targeted time and time again by home insurance companies? Studies have shown the answer may indeed be racism. For instance, Anne Linder, a Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, analyzed the impacts of breed legislation and race as it relates to the perception of the owners. In her study, she presented the participants with pictures of different breeds and had study participants say who they thought owned each dog, stating the owner's gender, race, and ethnicity.
She found that, unlike the other five breeds, pit bulls were constantly perceived as being owned by people of color, specifically young black males. This assumption was consistent throughout the study, regardless of the participant's gender or race. Linder gathered that while racial implications based on dog breeds varied, the results were consistent with the idea that pit bulls are being targeted partly due to racial bias, even though pit bulls have been implicated in approximately 70% of serious dog attacks, the real reason they are banned in so many countries.
Consumers with Low Income - Breed exclusions sadly limit consumers with low income from acquiring homeowners coverage because of the breed of dog they own. Consumers with low incomes are at a disadvantage over other consumers due to the fact they have a tight budget for homeowner's insurance. This means switching to another carrier or increasing the monthly payment may not be an option for some individuals. Even when carriers try to accommodate the owner, consumers with lower incomes are still hindered by their lack of money. For instance, a carrier might propose writing the owner a homeowner's policy only if they reduce the liability risk by buying a fence or a locked gate.
However, many consumers with low incomes cannot pay for the accommodation, leaving them in the same position as before. Therefore, consumers with low income are highly impacted by breed exclusions, making finding the right homeowners insurance difficult and unfair.
Insurance Companies That Don't Ban Breeds
It's important to note that not all insurance companies discriminate based on breed. Insurance companies like Allstate, State Farm, USAA, and Chubb provide dog-friendly homeowners insurance. Meaning, they don't exclude any breed from coverage, allowing you to receive full coverage without any stress. With that said, if your dog has bitten or attacked either an animal or a human in the past, obviously these insurance companies will likely still deny you. These companies realize that not every dog of a certain breed is dangerous, although if your dog has been aggressive in the past, they will see that as an unnecessary risk and won't give you the coverage you want. But if your dog is dangerous, and if you have consistently failed to control it, then you have only yourself to blame.
Insurance companies hinder canine inclusivity by using a banned breed list to determine whether a homeowner is eligible for coverage or not. Banned breed lists exist for a reason, to minimize the exposure of your insurance company to the risks, but as insurance companies continue to use them, they will continue to affect uneducated consumers, people of color, and customers with low incomes. The only way to stop the effects is for insurance companies to rewrite their policies to focus on the individual dog rather than the breed, but in practice keeping tabs on millions of dogs is completely unworkable.
Some states have enacted legislation prohibiting insurance companies from using breed lists to determine coverage. This turn in legislation will undoubtedly increase canine inclusivity and make it easier for all dog owners to obtain homeowners insurance. In the comments below, let us know if you think insurance companies should rewrite their policies. Plus, if you have any ideas, let us know how the policies could be changed to further canine inclusivity.
Editor's Note - This diminishes the real reason for breed specific legislation (BSL) in insurance coverage, the dogs listed are responsible for the vast majority of serious dog attacks resulting in life changing injuries and death. Insurance companies understand this risk better than you do, and despite insuring practically anything, they still don't want to take on the risk.