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While most pet owners work with their dogs in order to avoid issues with aggressive behavior, the unfortunate reality is that dog bites can still happen, and when they do, it can result in serious medical issues. Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year, according to a study from the Center For Disease Control (CDC), and about 800,000 of them will require the injured person to seek medical care. Another 9,500 people will require emergency care for their injuries.

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No matter how well-trained your dog is, there’s always a chance that it could act out aggressively. If you’re a homeowner with a dog, it can be helpful to know what your homeowners insurance covers when it comes to dog-related injuries, as well as whether your policy will cover the costs of injuries that occur when your dog bites someone else. While your homeowners insurance policy may help cover these types of costs, it will only cover them in certain circumstances. That’s why it’s important to know what your homeowners policy covers, or doesn’t cover, so you are aware of what you may pay out of pocket for the costs related to a dog bite claim.

When does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?

Homeowners insurance is meant to provide financial protection in the case of unexpected events. If your dog were to bite someone who does not live in the home with you, like a friend or neighbor, the liability coverage on your homeowners insurance policy may extend coverage to help cover the medical costs if you are found legally liable. Liability coverage may also cover legal fees and court judgments from the lawsuit.

Your dog bite insurance coverage may also apply if your dog bites another dog that does not live in your household. For example, if your dog runs off your property and bites another dog, you would likely have coverage, in this case, should you be found legally liable for the incident.

Breed restrictions can vary depending on your state, too. For example, Pennsylvania does not allow insurers to have dog breed restrictions. So, regardless of the type of breed you have in certain states, your homeowners insurance company cannot deny your coverage.

It is important to note that your liability insurance policy coverage has a coverage limit, so expenses above that limit would not be covered. Liability coverage could be up to $100,000, $300,000, $500,000 or more. You may also consider getting an umbrella policy to have additional liability coverage above your homeowners coverage limit, should you need extra coverage.

When does homeowners insurance not cover dog bites?

While homeowners insurance can cover dog bites, some exclusions exist. An exclusion means that your insurance company specifically states that your policy does not cover certain scenarios. Below are examples of common exclusions your homeowners insurer may have for dog bites. It’s important to check with your insurance agent or insurance carrier, though, to see how your coverage applies or would not apply.

Excluded coverage for dog breeds

Your property insurer may have a restricted dog breed list. Dog breeds that are commonly excluded from homeowners insurance companies are:

  • Akita
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • Pit Bull
  • Presa Canario
  • Staffordshire Terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • Siberian Husky

Mixes of any restricted breed mentioned above are also generally excluded with most carriers. Should your dog fall on a restricted dog breed list, even if you got the dog after getting a homeowners insurance policy, a bite will likely not be covered. Check with your insurer, though, as carriers have different breed restrictions (or none at all).

Excluded coverage by insurance company

Some insurers may have dog bite restrictions written within your homeowners policy terms. For example, you may recall agreeing to exclude pet coverage from your liability coverage options when setting up your policy. If this is the case, you would not have liability coverage should your pet injure someone.

Excluded coverage for household members

Your homeowners insurance also will not cover injuries to household members. Say your dog bites a family member, such as your spouse, your homeowners liability coverage, or medical payments coverage would not help cover any medical bills associated with this incident. The same restrictions apply if your dog bites another dog in your household, your policy will not cover this incident.

How to file a dog bite claim

The first step in filing a dog bite claim is to find out what your policy covers. You can file a claim online by visiting your homeowners insurance provider’s website and following its steps. You can also contact your insurer, as many companies have 24/7 claims services. If your policy was set up with a local agent, you might have to contact them during regular business hours. The policy paperwork you received when setting up your homeowners insurance policy, such as your declaration’s page, usually has a phone number listed on it to contact customer service or the claims department. You can also look up your insurer’s information online.

How to help prevent dog bites

If you have a dog as a pet, there’s always a risk that it could bite someone else. That can be devastating for both you and the person who’s injured, so it’s important to try and minimize the likelihood of that happening. Here are a few tips that can help you prevent dog bites:

  • Keep your dog on a leash. This helps to prevent your dog from biting someone, as well as from provoking an attack and getting injured by another animal.
  • Teach your dog to stay at a distance from others. Training your dog to remain at a distance from others is another way to help keep your dog from intentionally or accidentally biting someone.
  • Teach your dog to only chew on specific items. Teaching your dog to chew on or bite specific items, such as a chew toy, may help to prevent your dog from biting someone or another animal.
  • Hire a professional dog trainer. A professional dog trainer can help you properly train your dog to prevent bites by others. They also can recommend different training methods and other safety tips to help your dog safely interact with others.