In the classic comedy, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Inspector Clouseau asks the innkeeper at the desk “Does your dog bite?” to which the man replies “No.” Inspector Clouseau then reaches down to pet the dog, which immediately attacks and bites him.

“I thought you said your dog does not bite?” Clouseau asks, turning to the man.  “That is not my dog,” the man replies. So begins our discussion of one of the hot buttons in the industry: dogs. Are the risks breed-specific? How does new industry exclusion handle breed exclusions?

We can all agree that people keep pets, many of which are dogs and beloved family members. However, dogs can bite, enough to warrant the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to keep records of such occurrences. According to the CDC, 4.7 million people are bitten every year. Because of these bites and resultant injuries, over the years many carriers developed breed-specific exclusions. Breeds often listed were pit bulls, Dobermans, German shepherds, chows, and other breeds that were larger and seen as having a propensity for biting or aggression.

A classic example is the case where a child climbed into a pen with a mother Doberman and her puppies. Because of pure animal nature, the mother dog attacked the child to protect her puppies. The mother dog did nothing wrong. She was acting naturally, and the humans were not watching the child. However, the insurance company paid policy limits for the child’s injuries. It is because of instances like this that carriers began excluding certain breeds. While a large dog may be well-trained, the underwriter has no guarantee that the humans are equally well-behaved. Thus, it should come as no surprise that breed-specific exclusions generate a lot of disagreement and heated discussions. There are those who favor breed exclusions, citing cases similar to the one listed earlier where pit bulls or Rottweilers savagely attacked a person or child. Supporters of breed exclusions state the urge for aggression is specific to the breed and that no amount of training will remove that tendency from the dog.

Others firmly believe that the owners are at fault for not training their dog properly. They point out that even small dogs can bite and show aggression. For example, the CDC statistics reveal that a West Highland white terrier, normally 10 to 11 inches in height weighing between 13 and 20 pounds, caused a fatality.

The Manuscript Exclusion

In the past, some carriers would agree to write a policy with a dog of a certain breed but would create a manuscript exclusion for the animal. At the time, “dog” exclusions did not exist. This allowed the carrier to maintain a good insured but eliminate the risk associated with either a dog that had already bitten someone or for a breed known for aggressive tendencies.

The American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS) has recently developed and filed an exclusion for the homeowners’ form for contact with dogs listed on the exclusion. Characteristics, other than their name, must be very specific, so that the dog is readily identifiable. This alleviates confusion if the dog’s name is changed or the insured has multiple animals. A description such as a black and white mutt named Spot will not do. The list of characterizations must be detailed enough that the dog can be recognized, and thus distinguished, from any other dog. The insured is required to sign the endorsement acknowledging that coverage for bodily injury, property damage, and medical payments is not available when caused by contact with the dog. 

Other Exclusions

Under the umbrella program, two exclusions have been developed: one that excludes contact with any canine, and another that excludes coverage unless coverage for the dog is provided by underlying insurance.

Note that the exclusions are not breed-specific. While carriers in the past have used breed-specific underwriting requirements, the newly developed endorsements do not restrict coverage by breed, but rather by specific animal. ISO’s canine exclusion works in much the same way.

Most states would agree that most dog legislation defines certain animals as “dangerous dogs” based on past behavior. If a dog has injured a human or other animal and the dog was not provoked, then that dog may be considered a dangerous dog. The owner has to maintain a certain level of liability coverage, provide a secure enclosure for the dog, keep the dog on a leash when it is out of the house or enclosure, and maintain other such safety measures. This allows for the Chihuahua with the bad temperament to be treated as a hazard and the well-behaved chow to be treated like the docile dog it is.

Many people will disagree with this approach, but it seems to make the most sense. There are well-behaved dogs and poorly behaved dogs, and dogs that exhibit problem behavior must be handled differently than their friendly companions. Under guidelines such as these, the dog that is provoked is excused for its behavior for defending itself, its owner, or its owner’s property. After all, even a dog should not have to put up with a threat to its own safety.