In association with National Dog Bite Prevention Week (which occurs in the month of May each year) a number of insurance companies have issued their lists of dog breeds which they consider dangerous and according to their rules can result in denial of coverage. These lists have various names depending upon the company, such as “excluded dog breeds, ” “aggressive dog list, ” “insurance list of dangerous dogs, ” “prohibited dog breeds, ” and one simply labels it their “bad dog list.” The dog breeds which can be found on these lists seem to be drawn from a series of research studies such as one commissioned by the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control that was published in 2000. It looked at the statistics on fatal dog bites (click here to read more about this). However, it seems as though any dog bite incident that receives wide media coverage can also land a dog breed on such a list. Thus the Presa Canario was a dog breed that few people had heard of prior to the media coverage of a 2001 incident in San Francisco. The media luridly described how a woman was viciously mauled to death by two of these big dogs in the hallway of her apartment building. As a result the owner of these dogs is now serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. Although the Presa Canario remains a quite rare breed in North America, it now seems to appear on every prohibited dog breed list issued by the insurance companies.
The use of such lists is not acceptable everywhere. In America the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania have restricted the use of dog breed profiling by insurance companies. Ten other states have pending legislation that would similarly prohibit companies to deny insurance to someone based only on the breed of dog owned by their household. These laws propose that insurance companies should only be allowed to deny or revoke a policy or to increase the premium, based on the risk associated with a specifically named dog. That means that the individual dog must have a known history of being aggressive or must have been officially designated as dangerous.
The insurance companies counter by saying that such laws will not work. They argue that by the time the dog has bitten someone, and has therefore been deemed dangerous, there has already been a claim filed. That means that it’s already too late for the insurance company since they will have to cover the claim under the pre-existing unrestricted policy. The companies argue that the only way to reduce their financial risk is to ban certain dog breeds from coverage. Nonetheless there are some insurers that do not use a banned dog list, and some other companies that will allow a household to be insured simply by excluding coverage for liabilities due to damage caused by a dog.
Looking at the various uninsurable dog lists I found a reasonable amount of variability as to which breeds were to be allowed or disallowed. Still there were 14 breeds of dogs which appeared on virtually all of the lists that I consulted. Most of these blacklisted not only the specific breed but any mixed breed that presumably included a genetic relationship to one of the banned breeds. The 14 most often blacklisted dog breeds were:
- Pit Bull Terriers
- Staffordshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Presa Canarios
- Chows Chows
- Doberman Pinschers
- Cane Corsos
- Great Danes
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Siberian Huskies
Nonetheless you must remember that each company draws up its own list based upon its opinion of the risk the dog breed presents. No specific scientific criteria are required for a dog breed to be blacklisted, and it is possible that simply one report in the media might be enough to cause an official in an insurance company to decide that one or another dog breed is dangerous. That situation is bound to lead to some odd choices as to which breeds are uninsurable. For example, take the experience of Michael Richbourg of Atlanta, Georgia. While he was being pre-screened for a home insurance policy he was asked if he owned any dogs. He answered that he had two mixed breeds and while he wasn’t sure about one of them he thought that the other appeared to be mostly Schipperke (pronounced “skipper-key”). At that point the agent said that he could not process the insurance application further since his company had blacklisted the Schipperke as being a high risk breed. For those of you who don’t know the breed, Schipperkes are small, black, fox-faced little dogs whose height is around 12 inches (30 cm) and weight is around 15 pounds (7 kg). I suppose that if such a dog became really angry at your shoelaces he could do great harm to your running shoes but I fail to see how this breed could reasonably be entered onto a list of dangerous dogs and effectively classed the same as a 120 pound (55 kg) Presa Canario or a 200 pound (90 kg) Mastiff.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome