Why a dog’s breed matters to home insurance providers

Written by Seamus McKale

Reviewed by Daniel Mirkovic

Updated July 16, 2024 | Published June 14, 2021

Canadians love their dogs. Over one-third of Canadian households are home to at least one dog, and that number is growing all the time.

New and veteran dog owners alike are sometimes surprised to learn that their home insurance provider wants to know about their furry friends—but they usually do.

Why do home insurance providers care if you have a dog? And why does it matter what breed of dog? It’s all related to the liability coverage on your home insurance policy, and in this article we’ll explain how.

Dog running through grass

The important points

  • Dog owners are liable for any injuries their dogs cause to third parties. Home insurance will generally cover this liability.
  • Many home insurance providers restrict coverage for certain breeds of dog.
  • A dog’s breed doesn’t necessarily make it more dangerous, but certain breeds are statistically more likely to be involved in liability claims.

Home insurance, liability coverage, and dogs

When you apply for a new home insurance policy, chances are your home insurance provider will ask you if you have any dogs. They’ll probably also ask you if you have certain breeds of dog; rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Siberian Huskies, and Pit Bulls are commonly asked-about breeds.

The reason for this is that your home insurance policy, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, will include liability coverage. 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.

Dogs fall under most home insurance policies’ liability coverage, because you’re responsible for them.

Accordingly, if your dog bites someone (or otherwise harms them), they can launch a lawsuit against you. Generally, your liability coverage would step in to help cover the costs of defending you and paying any damages the court orders you to pay.

Dog-related liability claims aren’t rare, either. For example, the US-based Insurance Information Institute says that insurers in that country paid out 1.12 billion USD in dog-related injury claims in 2023. That represented an increase of 110% over the course of the previous decade. The average cost per claim in 2023 was 58,545 USD.

Because of this potential for expensive injury claims, the presence of a dog in a home is a factor the home insurance provider needs to know about to issue the policy.

Why do home insurance providers ask about dog breeds?

The role of a dog’s breed in determining its tendency for aggression is a contentious subject. While certain breeds of dog may be more prone to aggressive behaviours, there are many factors that decide whether a given dog is aggressive or docile.

“It is vital that anyone adopting or purchasing a dog is aware that dogs of any breed can bite given a certain set of circumstances,” says Animal Behaviour & Welfare Specialist Dr. Rebecca Ledger. “Focusing on a dog’s breed risks that owners may let their guard down, and overlook more relevant factors that are necessary to prevent their dog from biting.”

“In the vast majority of dog bite cases, the dog is responding to a provocation,” says Dr. Ledger. “Most often, dogs bite because they are scared for their wellbeing and bite to protect themselves, or when trying to protect a resource that he/she values, such as territory or food.

“But, dogs bite during other situations as well, such as during rough play, when they are chasing something they perceive to be prey, or when they are frustrated. The propensity for a dog to bite during these situations depends on many factors, including but not limited to its genetics, the type of experiences the dog had as a puppy and as an adult, the level and type of training it has had, its age, and its physical health.”

Nevertheless, breed does factor into home insurance providers’ calculations. That’s because, from a statistical perspective, it’s not about whether a dog is aggressive; it’s about how likely an individual dog is to lead to a liability claim against its owner.

Decades of data have shown that certain breeds of dog show up in liability claims far more frequently than others. That isn’t necessarily because these breeds are naturally aggressive; there are numerous reasons for certain breeds to more frequently bring about legal action.

In fact, according to stats from the American Temperament Test Society, one of the most aggressive breeds is the Chihuahua. However, few insurance providers will ask if you have a Chihuahua; their diminutive size means that they’re less likely to severely injure a human, and so they aren’t as often the cause of liability claims.

Other breeds, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Pit Bulls do find themselves at the centre of liability claims more often than others. It’s not that these breeds are inherently more aggressive, but that they are large enough to seriously injure (or even kill) a human in cases where they do attack.

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

For perspective, think about different modes of transportation:

Almost anyone can ride a bike, no questions asked. But, if you want to start operating a highway rig, you can expect many more questions from the relevant authorities. Even though both vehicles can crash—and people probably crash their bikes far more often than they crash semi trucks—it’s the highway rig that stands to seriously injury others or damage their property.

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Which dog breeds does home insurance cover?

Because of the tendency for certain breeds to bring about liability claims, some home insurance providers won’t offer a policy to a home that includes a dog that’s on their disallowed breeds list. Others will still offer insurance, but possibly at a higher cost or with greater restrictions.

Each insurance provider may have a different list of breeds that they consider problematic.

Square One offers policies to homes no matter the breed of dog. We won’t refuse to sell anyone a policy based solely on a dog’s breed. However, if you have a dog of a certain breed, we will ask a few follow-up questions to ensure that your dog is properly cared for and has no history of undue aggression.

Breeds that we ask about specifically include:

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

What should dog owners know about aggressive behaviour?

Regardless of breed type, any dog can exhibit aggressive behaviour under certain conditions.

According to Dr. Ledger, there are several things dog owners (or prospective dog owners) can do to minimize the likelihood that their dogs will bite:

  • If you are getting your dog as a puppy, try to meet both of your pup’s parents. If the parents show any signs of aggressive behaviour or high levels of fear when you meet them, consider these red flags that your puppy might have a similar personality issues when older;
  • Ensure your pup has been socialized from a young age with adults, children, dogs of all sizes, and other domestic species, such as cats;
  • Retain a positive reinforcement-based dog trainer, who can teach you and your dog using reward-based methods. Dogs that are trained using positive methods bite less as adults compared with dogs trained using punishment-based methods;
  • Visit your veterinarian and, according to their recommendations, ensure that all medical conditions that may cause your dog to be aggressive are managed promptly;
  • Get to know what your dog needs in terms of relaxation, companionship, exercise and mental stimulation. Dogs that do not have these needs adequately met can become anxious and frustrated, which can lead to more aggression; and,
  • If you are getting a dog through a rescue organization, do your due diligence. Ensure they pass on the dog’s full behavioural history to you, or if this is not available, they may be able to provide insights from foster carers since the dog came into their care.

If you have a dog that has already displayed some aggressive tendencies, hope is not lost. While dogs with a history of aggression might make it harder to find home insurance, there are steps the owner can take to mitigate aggressive behaviour.

And, at Square One, we will work with you—we won’t just assume that your dog is uninsurable. For example, if a prior incident of aggression was provoked by a person mistreating your dog, then we’ll just want to be comfortable that you are protecting your dog from similar circumstances in the future.

“If your dog is showing signs of aggression, consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues that may be the cause,” says Dr. Ledger. “Your veterinarian can also arrange for a referral to a behaviour specialist, such as a Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist, who can help assess and manage your dog’s aggression using humane and science-based methods. If you need time to work through this process and your dog is an imminent danger to others, consider boarding your dog in a reputable facility until you have a plan in place.

“Do not resort to hitting or punishing your dog at any stage, as this will harm your dog and may only increase their propensity to be aggressive in the future.”

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Insurance Basics resource centre for dozens of helpful articles to guide you through the ins and outs of home insurance. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: Daniel Mirkovic

A co-founder of Square One with 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Daniel was previously vice president of the insurance and travel divisions at the British Columbia Automobile Association. Daniel has a bachelor of commerce and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB) designation and a general insurance license level 3 in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.


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