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When Homeowners Are Dogowners

It may be difficult to imagine your dog biting someone. After all, your dog sleeps at the foot of your bed and is great with your kids. But if you are a homeowner, you should be aware of the special issues that surround dog bites and homeowners insurance.

Your dog has bitten someone. Are you liable?

Most likely, yes. Generally, owners of dogs that bite are financially liable for any injuries suffered by the victims. But if you have a homeowners insurance policy, you may get some help paying the bills.

How much does your homeowners policy cover?

Standard homeowners and renters policies provide only $100,000 to $300,000 in coverage for liability claims, including those relating to dog bites. If the liability comes to more than this, you are responsible for the rest.

Will your policy cover all dog bites?

Possibly not. Once a dog has bitten someone, the risk of another bite increases. Your insurer may explicitly exclude coverage for future bites by the same dog. Your premiums are likely to go up significantly upon renewal after one dog bite. And chances are high that your insurance company will not renew your policy at all.

But Fido is so sweet. He would never bite anyone.

We all love our dogs, and we truly believe that our dogs would never hurt anyone (other than, perhaps, a burglar). But here are some statistics that might surprise you:

  • 40 percent of American households own a dog
  • 4.7 million dog bites occur each year
  • Most dog-bite victims are children
  • Dog bites account for one-third of all liability claims under homeowners insurance policies
  • The insurance industry pays out over $300 million in dog-bite claims a year

What can you do to prevent Fido from biting someone?

How can you prevent dog-bite liability? Here are some suggestions:

  • Pick a dog breed that is known for its docility. If you're unsure, ask a veterinarian for advice.
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered.
  • Teach your children to be careful around pets.
  • Play nonaggressive games with your pet, such as fetch.
  • Do not disturb your dog while it is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies.
  • Do not tease your dog.
  • Train your dog.
  • Keep your dog in a closed room when unfamiliar guests visit.
  • Use a leash when walking your dog (most communities have leash laws).
  • Keep your dog in a fenced-in area when allowed to run in the yard.
  • Get an alarm system instead of a dog if home security is your primary concern.