Animal Health Foundation Blog

Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

When Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work

Monday, August 28th, 2017

From a Blog by Robin Bennett

Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work

It’s sound advice given frequently:  Supervise your dogs and kids while they are together. Breeders warn parents, “Don’t leave the dog alone with children, no matter how friendly the breed.” Veterinarians advise, “Never leave a dog and a child in the same room together.” Dog trainers explain, “All dogs can bite so supervise your dog when you have children over.”  Everyone knows the drill.  So why doesn’t it work?  Why are there an estimated 800,000 Americans seeking medical attention for dog bites each year, with over half of these injuries to children ages 5-9?

Note the good intentions of the kids.
Note the closed mouth and half-moon eye of the dog.
Intervene.

The bites are not a result of negligent parents leaving Fido to care for the baby while mom does household chores, oblivious to the needs of her children.  In fact, I’ve consulted on hundreds of dog bite cases and 95% of the time the parent was standing within 3 feet of the child watching both child and dog when the child was bitten. Parents are supervising. The problem is not lack of supervision. The problem is no one has taught parents what they should be watching.

Parents generally have not received any education on what constitutes good dog body language and what constitutes an emergency between the dog and the child.  Parents generally have no understanding of the predictable series of canine body cues that would indicate a dog might bite.  And complicating matters further, most parents get confused by the good intentions of the child and fail to see when a dog is exhibiting signs of stress. The good new is all of this is easy to learn! We can all get better at this.

Here is a simple list to help you improve your supervision skills:

  • Watch for loose canine body language. Good dog body language is loose, relaxed, and wiggly.  Look for curves in your dog’s body when he is around a child.  Stiffening and freezing in a dog are not good. If you see your dog tighten his body, or if he moves from panting to holding his breath (he stops panting), you should intervene.  These are early signs that your dog is not comfortable.
  • Watch for inappropriate human behavior. Intervene if your child climbs on or attempts to ride your dog. Intervene if your child pulls the ears, yanks the tail, lifts the jowls or otherwise pokes and prods the dog. Don’t marvel that your dog has the patience of Job if he is willing to tolerate these antics. And please don’t videotape it for YouTube! Be thankful your dog has good bite inhibition and intervene before it’s too late.
  • Watch for these three really easy to see stress signals in your dog.  All of them indicate you should intervene and separate the child and dog:
    • Yawning outside the context of waking up
    • Half-moon eye – this means you can see the whites on the outer edges of your dog’s eyes.
    • Lip licking outside the context of eating food
  • Watch for avoidance behaviors. If your dog moves away from a child, intervene to prevent the child from following the dog.  A dog that chooses to move away is making a great choice.  He’s saying, “I don’t really want to be bothered, so I’ll go away.”  However, when you fail to support his great choice and allow your child to continue to follow him, it’s likely the dog’s next choice will be, “Since I can’t get away, I’ll growl or snap at this kid to get the child to move away.”  Please don’t cause your dog to make that choice.
  • Listen for growling. I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard parents say, “Oh, he growled all the time but we never thought he would bite.”  Dog behavior, including aggression, is on a continuum. For dogs, growling is an early warning sign of aggression. Heed it.  If growling doesn’t work, the dog may escalate to snapping or biting. Growling is a clue that you should intervene between the dog and the child.

To pet owners, particularly those who also have children, thank you for supervising your dog! As a dog trainer and mother of two, I know that juggling kids and dogs is no easy feat.  It takes patience, understanding, and a great deal of supervision. I hope these tips will help you get better at supervising.

Crate Training by Dr. Karen Becker

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

By Dr. Becker

I’m a big fan of crate training and recommend it to every dog parent, especially those who need to housetrain a puppy. Whether your canine companion is a puppy or a senior, a new member of your family or an old hand, providing him with his very own cozy space has a number of advantages for both of you. A crate can help not only with housetraining, but also car or plane travel, and overnight stays with friends, family or at a pet-friendly hotel.

Why I Recommend Crate Training for Dogs

Many people equate a crate with a jail cell, but if you understand a little about the nature of dogs, you know this isn’t true. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to talk to some dog-loving friends who’ve crate trained their pups. Chances are they’ll tell you their dog seeks out her crate on her own for naps, at bedtime and whenever she just wants a little me time.

A crate allows you to work with your pet’s natural desire to be a den dweller. Dogs in the wild seek out small, dark, safe spots to inhabit. In fact, if you bring a new dog into your home and you don’t have a crate ready for her, chances are she’ll find a spot, such as under a table or chair or even behind the toilet in the bathroom, which answers her need for a secure, out-of-the-way “den” of her own.

If you leave her in her makeshift den, you’ll notice that she won’t relieve herself there. That’s because dogs are programmed by nature not to soil their dens. In the wild, nursing wolves and coyotes teach their pups to relieve themselves outside their dens. This keeps predators from investigating inside their little homes, and keeps messes outside the sleeping area.

And that is exactly why crates are so useful for dogs who haven’t yet been housetrained. A dog with her own den will not want to soil it, so by providing a crate for her, you’re working in harmony with her natural instinct to keep her little space clean. As long as your dog is getting consistent and frequent trips outside to relieve herself, nature will prompt her not to soil her den space in between potty trips.

Another benefit of crate training is that a dog accustomed to spending time alone in her own den even when you are home is much less likely to develop separation anxiety or other phobias/panic disorders.

Putting a puppy in her crate for a nap or some quiet time also helps her learn not to expect constant attention from human family members. This strategy coupled with basic obedience training will set the stage for a secure, balanced adult dog who is pleasant to be around.

How to Choose a Crate

When you’re purchasing a new crate for your dog, size is important. You want a space that is not too small, but also not too big. Your dog should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around in his crate. It should be large enough for him to move around in comfortably, but not so large that he can easily use one end as his bathroom and the other end for sleeping and snacking. If you need to housetrain your dog, a crate that large can actually slow down the process.

If you’re unsure what size crate you need, talk to a store employee about the size of your dog and what you want to accomplish, and he or she should be able to help you pick the right size enclosure. You can also talk to a breeder, your vet or another knowledgeable person about what size crate to buy. If you’re crate training a puppy, especially a medium to large breed dog, keep in mind you’ll most likely need to graduate to a bigger crate as your pup matures.

When you bring the new crate home, place it in an area where your family spends time — not in an isolated spot, or outdoors, or in a high traffic location, or where your dog will experience temperature extremes.

Make sure there’s nothing inside the crate that could cause him harm, including anything around his neck that could get tangled or hung up on a part of the enclosure. As necessary, clean the crate with hot water and a mild soap, or a vinegar/baking soda solution. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Getting Your Dog Accustomed to Her Crate

If you’ve purchased a crate ahead of time and it’s there when your puppy or dog comes home, as long as she hasn’t had a bad experience with confinement in the past, it will be a snap in most cases to get her acclimated to his little den.

The first rule of crate training is to never, ever force your dog into his crate. You never want to introduce a crate, shove your confused pup into it, close the door and leave her. That’s how you wind up with a dog with an unmanageable case of separation anxiety or a pathological aversion to enclosed or small spaces.

It’s also important to try never to pull your dog out of her crate, either. The crate should represent a safe zone for your dog, so you never want to make her safe zone feel unsafe by forcing her into it or out of it.

The second rule of crate training is called “It’s All Good.” In other words, everything about the crate must be a good thing from your dog’s perspective. While you’re getting her used to her crate, everything she loves goes in there, including treats, treat release and food puzzle toys, chew toys, raw bones — basically anything she loves.

The goal is to have your dog voluntarily go into her crate. What I do with my dogs is drape a blanket over the back half of their crates to create a quiet, dark, den-like environment. My dogs use their crates as bedrooms — they go into them to sleep.

If your pup has had no bad experiences with a crate and you create a safe, dark little den for her inside, she might just go right in voluntarily as soon as you present her new space to her. But even if she takes to her crate right away, you still want to stick with the “it’s all good” rule and put treats, toys and other goodies in there for encouragement.

Crate Training a Fearful Dog

If your dog is nervous about his new little space or is fearful of it due to a bad past experience, you’ll have to take things slower. A dog who has been crated as a form of punishment or has been locked in a crate for inappropriately long periods will need to be gently and patiently reintroduced to his crate.

Obviously you want him to be in there comfortably with the door closed as soon as possible, especially if you’re in the process of potty training. But until he gets the “it’s all good” message about his crate, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about getting him outside to potty at frequent, regular intervals.

Make sure to leave the door to the crate open for a nervous dog. Put food rewards around the outside of the crate and inside as well so he can get comfortable going in and out of the crate without worrying about being “trapped” inside. Move his food and water bowlscloser to the crate as another way to associate good things with the crate.

Once you sense your dog is comfortable inside the crate at mealtime, try closing the door as soon as he starts to eat. Do it casually, without fanfare. Praise him in a calm, soothing tone and then get busy with something. Chances are he’ll finish his meal and then realize the door is closed and he’s not free to leave the crate.

He may look at you with an expectant or confused expression as if to say, “What’s the deal with the closed door?” You don’t need to ignore him completely, but you should keep doing what you’re doing and stay very calm as though there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on. Your dog may whine or cry a bit, but he should pretty quickly decide to lie down.

I recommend when you first start closing the crate door that you close it only for short periods of time. You’ll also want to leave a toy or treat inside the crate to keep him entertained. After a few minutes, when your dog has relaxed inside the crate, that’s your signal the crate has gone from being a bad thing to a neutral thing for your dog. Open the door so he can once again come and go as he likes.

Once your dog is associating only good things with the crate and feels comfortable inside it, you can close the door for longer periods of time. Don’t try leaving your house for short periods until he’s completely comfortable in the locked crate while you’re home.

You can gradually extend the amount of time you leave him in the crate, providing he’s getting consistent, frequent trips outside to potty. If you need to leave your dog for longer than four hours, I recommend you use a dog sitter or a doggy daycare facility rather than crating him for long stretches. You want him to view his crate as a safe place to rest and be calm, so when he’s in there and you’re home, resist the urge to energetically interact with him.

When you let your dog out of his crate, give him a sit command and plenty of calm praise when he follows the command. Make entry and exit from the crate a calm, neutral experience and unassociated with any of your dog’s behaviors.

Angel Fund Helps Paulina

Friday, July 28th, 2017

The Los Angeles Veterinary Center was approved for an AHF grant to help the Munoz family’s 10 year old Paulina with her curtiate ligament repair surgery!

We hope Paulina a doing better after the surgery and will be back to her sweet self soon!

AHF Therapy Dog with Cancer Received Petco Grant

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

“Rock star” Therapy Dog Gets Sidelined with Cancer
Jane Horsfield and Dan Balza of Fountain Valley, California, adopted their dog Kiss at six-months-old when her previous owner no longer had time to train her for flyball. Through the years, Kiss’ super energetic nature has made her a perfect participant in flyball, agility, and nose work competitions as well as in recreational dock diving and K9 Disc.

Named after the rock band Kiss because of her black and white face, her outgoing nature also made her an ideal candidate for pet therapy work. As part of the Animal Health Foundation, an affiliate of Pet Partners, Horsfield and Kiss started visiting adults and children at local hospitals as well as elementary schools where children practiced their reading skills with Kiss sitting by their sides.

“There is not a person she doesn’t love to meet,” says Horsfield. “She loves everyone, and everyone loves her.”

As a “rock star” therapy dog, Kiss also gets invited to special events around town to raise awareness and money for skin cancer awareness through the local Rotary Club. It was during an event that Jane noticed some swelling above Kiss’s front left paw.

“At first, I thought it was related to her athletic activities,” says Horsfield. “So, I put some ice on her leg when we got home, and it looked a little better the next day.”

The family had been down this road before

But a week later, Kiss’ lower front left leg still looked swollen. Her veterinarian, Dr. Wayne Kopit of Brook-Ellis Pet Hospital, biopsied the lump and called Horsfield the day after Thanksgiving with the results. Kiss had a soft tissue sarcoma on her leg.

He decided to refer Kiss to Southern California Veterinary Specialty in Irvine, California for the cancer treatment.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be cancer,” says Jane. “The news struck terror into my heart.”

That’s because the previous Thanksgiving, the couple also had received cancer news about their dog Sheila. She died seven months later despite extensive surgeries and treatments to save her life. Unfortunately, the heartbreak doesn’t end there. The couple has lost four dogs to cancer through the years.

“My veterinarian says 50% of dogs die of cancer these days, and that none of the cancers my dogs have had have been related,” says Horsfield. “But that doesn’t make the news any easier when it’s your fifth dog with the diagnosis.”

New treatment delivers the right stuff

When Horsfield contacted the Animal Health Foundation to let them know about Kiss’ diagnosis, they told her that Pet Partners had grant monies from the Petco Foundation’s Pet Cancer Awareness campaign to help therapy dogs with their cancer treatments.

A $3,000 grant provided help with Kiss’ surgery and chemotherapy. “We had already spent thousands on Sheila’s treatments, so we really needed this support to help Kiss,” says Horsfield.

In the past, doctors might have amputated Kiss’ leg because of the difficulty in removing the entire tumor. But a new therapy combined surgical removal of the tumor with chemotherapy beads implanted directly into the tumor site. “The beads dissolve over four to five weeks releasing chemotherapy drugs to where it’s needed most,” says Horsfield.

So far, the results are good. The tumor hasn’t grown back, but Horsfield checks the leg daily, since if it returns, it will come back in the same spot, doctors say. She and Kiss are making therapy visits again, and Kiss is participating in some of her favorite sport activities on a limited basis.

“She won’t officially be out of the woods for 18 more months,” says Horsfield. “But in the meantime, we’ve got our sassy girl back. I am grateful for the help in saving her life. I never had kids, so my dogs are everything to me.”

 

6 Natural Remedies for Your Dog’s Itchy Skin

Thursday, April 27th, 2017
Skin allergies are a common problem among dogs and owners and veterinarians alike are constantly fighting to make dogs more comfortable. Dogs, like people, can be allergic to just about anything, from their food to the environment. While there are many different medications to help deal with allergy symptoms, many of us prefer to go a more natural route first to make sure we’ve tried all of the safest options. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any treatments or supplements, but if you’re looking to try some natural allergy remedies, consider these.

#1 – Proper Bathing & Grooming

This might not seem like a “natural” remedy, but if your dog suffers from environmental allergies, frequent bathing and grooming is going to offer much needed comfort. Using soothing ingredients such as oatmeal in the shampoos will help your dog’s skin feel softer and will relieve the itching they feel. Depending on the severity of your dog’s allergies, bathing once a week will greatly improve your dog’s condition. Brushing and combing will also help remove dead skin and coat, promoting new growth and removing allergens on top of the skin and fur.

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IMAGE SOURCE: MAUREEN_SILL VIA FLICKR

#2 – Feed a Wholesome Diet

Your dog’s diet might be completely overlooked if your dog only suffers environmental allergens. But the more natural your dog’s diet, the better their bodies are able to fight off and heal from allergies and external stressors. If your dog is allergic to certain ingredients, you’ll want to avoid those ingredients and replace them with something else. Grain-free diets are highly recommended for dogs with any type of allergy (or no allergy at all!) but if this isn’t possible, consider feeding organic, whole grains. The better your dog’s nutrition, the better their overall health and their ability to fight off allergens.

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Image source: Oleg. via Flickr

#3 – Try Apple Cider Vinegar

Organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider offers many benefits to dogs suffering from allergies. If your dog has hot spots or itchy skin, you can apply a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water to your dog. Put the solution in a spray bottle for easy use. This same spray will help repel fleas and ticks – a common allergen for many dogs. You can also use it to clean out your dog’s ears. The acidity of the mixture makes for an environment that yeast can’t live in – and yeast infections are typically caused by allergies. Make sure that the acidity isn’t too strong for your dog – some prefer a different mixture than the 50/50 suggested.

#4 – Manage Heat & Moisture

Your dog’s environment plays a large role in the health of their skin. Be sure to keep your home appropriately cooled and use a humidifier in dry conditions. When grooming, avoid using a high heat blow dryer, which might be faster but wreaks havoc on your dog’s sensitive skin.

Make sure your dog always has access to fresh, filtered water. Dogs on a dry kibble diet are in need of more moisture in their diets than dogs that eat a home-cooked, raw, or wet food diet.

#5 – Consider Applying Calendula

Calendula is a member of the sunflower family and offers several benefits to dogs with allergies. Either made into a tea or gel, applying calendula to your dog’s skin will help relieve inflammation from allergies. It also has natural anti-fungal and anti-yeast properties. It also helps improve your dog’s immune system when taken internally, so consider this as an allergy treatment as well.

#6 – Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to dogs with allergies. These oils help improve your dog’s skin and coat by keeping the natural oils present in healthy amounts. Omega-3s also work as anti-inflammatories and greatly reduce the intensity of allergens. There are many Omega-3 fatty acids on the market, and you’ll want to look for something that works quickly to support a soft, silky coat, minimize normal shedding, and maintain the skin’s normal moisture content, such as Project Paws™ Omega-3 Select soft chews.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional. 

Pet Loss Books for Children – by Corey Gut, DVM

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The Power of a Therapy Dog Visit

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Recently retired team John Smead and Kasey shared the following experience with us at Children’s Hospital of Orange County:

John told us about a special day at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (Anaheim, CA):

Kacey and John went into a room with a 9 year old boy with leukemia who had not really been eating and didn’t even want to get out of bed.

When his mom read him the card that we give all the kids (there is a part that says she is a picky eater and shy when she meets people for the first time), he looked at Kacey…he then got out of bed and sat next to her and said “wow sometimes you don’t feel like eating either – nice to meet you Kacey”.

 

Kacey is Retiring!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Thank you Kacey and John for being a great Pet Therapy Team and bringing smiles to so many people since 2009.

Kacey was born in January, 2008 and was adoped by the Smead family from the San Clemente shelter.  Kasey loves to fetch toys and chasing sea gulls at the beach. Kacey has 2 yorkie brothers and a papillon sister (who is in charge!).

John and Kacey started their therapy team journey in 2009.  They have been visited assisted living homes, CHOC and most, recently, the Juvenile Drug Court group sessions with adolescent boys.  John was so committed to the latter that he went back to school for his PhD to be able to participate!

How Dogs Help People Get Along Better

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

From the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley

By Jill Suttie | March 6, 2017 |

A new study suggests that when dogs are around, groups are closer, more cooperative, and more trusting.

My dog, Casey, is one of my favorite beings on the planet. Not only is he extremely cute, his presence calms me, makes me happy, and helps me to meet new people…especially when I take a walk with him.

My husband and I often joke that if everyone had a dog like Casey, there simply wouldn’t be any wars—the assumption being that everyone would just get along if he were around. Now, a new study suggests that we might be onto something.

Casey the dogCasey the dog

Researchers at Central Michigan University gave small groups tasks to do with or without a companion dog in the room. In the first experiment, groups generated a 15-second ad and slogan for a fictional project—a task requiring cooperation. In the second experiment, groups played a modified version of the prisoner’s dilemma game, in which individual members decide whether to cooperate with one another or to look out only for themselves. All of these interactions were videotaped.

Afterwards, participants reported on how satisfied they felt with the group and how much they trusted group members. In addition, independent raters analyzed the video recordings, looking for displays of cooperation, verbal and physical signs of bonding or closeness, and expressions of vulnerability that indicated trust.

Regardless of the task, groups with a dog showed more verbal and physical signs of closeness than groups without a dog. Also, raters observed more signs of cooperation during the first task, and group members reported that they trusted each other more during the second task, if a dog was in the room.

These results suggest that there is something about the presence of a dog that increases kind and helpful behavior in groups.

“When people work in teams, the presence of a dog seems to act as a social lubricant,” says lead author Steve Colarelli. “Dogs seem to be beneficial to the social interactions of teams.”

Why would that be? Could it be that dogs make us feel good, which then impacts our social behavior?

To test that idea, the researchers asked independent raters to watch 40-second videos of the groups edited from the first study—with the sound off and no evidence of the dog in the room—and to note how often they saw indicators of positive emotions (like enthusiasm, energy, and attentiveness). The raters noticed many more good feelings in groups with a companion dog in the room than in groups with no dog, lending some support for their theory.

Although the dogs didn’t seem to impact performance on the group tasks during this short experiment, Colarelli believes that the observed social and emotional benefits could have impacts on group performance over time.

“In a situation where people are working together for a long period of time, and how well the team gets along—do they speak together, have rapport, act cooperatively, help one another—could influence the outcome of the team, then I suspect a dog would have a positive impact,” he says.

Of course, not everyone likes dogs, and some people may even be allergic. Colarelli says that we shouldn’t just start bringing dogs into every workplace—there would be a lot of factors to consider.

But his work adds to a body of research that suggests that dogs impact social interactions and personal well-being. Past studies have shown that people accompanied by dogs tend to elicit more helpful responses from others and that dogs in the workplace can reduce stress. Though most of this kind of research has been done on individuals or pairs, Colarelli’s study shows the positive impacts of dogs may extend to groups.

While the study is relatively preliminary, Colarelli believes that his results tie into another area of research finding positive effects when people are exposed to natural elements—which he thinks could include dogs and other animals—on wellness in the workplace.

Perhaps it’s time I consider letting Casey come to our next staff meeting…for everyone’s sake.

A Helpful Guide for Homeowners – Dog Breed Insurance

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Shopping for home insurance can be a challenge if you have a dog–especially if its breed is seen as dangerous. This guide will help you get a policy (and affordable rate) regardless.
pit bull dogSixty-five percent of US households have a pet, according to the 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. Almost 78 million of those pets are dogs.

Impressive, right? Some might describe that figure as kind of alarming, too. After all, those pooches injure a lot of people every year.

Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that dogs bite about four and a half million people annually. And one-fifth of those bites are serious enough to require medical attention.

That last statistic surely is what’s prompted a portion of the insurance industry—home insurance providers, especially—to turn a wary eye toward “man’s best friend.”

Well, that and the similarly startling stats that show Americans file tens of thousands of home insurance liability claims due to dog bites and other dog-related injuries each year. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute (III) and State Farm recently revealed that US homeowners filed more than 15,000 of these claims in 2015.

Also, insurers spent approximately $570 million as a result of those claims, and that sum equaled a third of all homeowner-liability dollars paid out that year.

Although the number of home insurance claims tied to dog-related injuries in 2015 was the lowest since 2007, their combined value and their average cost (just over $37,000) represent record highs for the industry.

As for what caused those spikes, Loretta Worters, III’s vice president of communications, suggests they were spurred by “increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing.”

Which dog breeds worry insurance carriers the most (or which dogs do insurers like the least)?

Combine the above with information that points to a handful of dog types accounting for more of those costly bites and injuries than others and it’s easy to understand why some insurers restrict, refuse, or cancel home coverage if a customer owns a certain breed.

Others exclude certain breeds from a homeowner’s policy, or require homeowners to sign liability waivers for any bites that occur. Or they drop coverage or raise premiums if a customer’s dog attacks and injures someone.

Speaking of which, the dog breeds listed below tend to make insurance companies the most nervous.

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd
  • Pit Bull
  • Rottweiler
  • Siberian Husky
  • Wolf Hybrid

Liberty Mutual actually looks for all of these breeds, plus “Canary dogs” (also known as Perro de Presa Canario), when reviewing applications for home insurance.

The company “does not refuse to provide homeowners coverage, or require the exclusion of homeowners liability coverage, solely based upon dog breed,” explains Glenn Greenberg, the company’s director of media relations and sponsorship PR. Still, he adds, it sometimes reviews the listed breeds “for homeowners insurance acceptability because [they] pose increased risk of loss.”

Specifically, Liberty Mutual considers any “training the dog has received, the temperament of the dog, any prior losses, and vaccinations,” Greenberg says. Also, considerations are made if the pet in question is a service or therapy dog.

“The presence alone of a dog in the home will not result in policy denial or exclusion of liability coverage,” he adds. However, “some dog breeds will require further review. If they do not meet our acceptability guidelines, we may choose not to write the policy.”

Which home insurance companies don’t discriminate based on dog breed?

Not all insurance companies operate like Liberty Mutual–as well as Farmers and Allstate–in this regard, it has to be said. In particular, the following carriers are known to insure dog breeds that some of their competitors have “blacklisted”:

  • Amica
  • Chubb
  • Fireman’s
  • Nationwide
  • State Farm
  • USAA

These insurers usually only look at an individual dog’s bite history and history of aggressiveness, rather than its breed, when deciding to extend homeowners liability coverage to someone.

 

Why do some homeowners policies blacklist certain dog breeds? Also, isn’t that a bad idea?

What caused State Farm to implement this policy, which has been in place for a number of years and extends to all 50 states? Dundov responds that the insurer doesn’t focus on breed because “determining the breed of a dog based on the physical appearance of the dog isn’t an accurate determination of risk, because any dog may bite out of fear. [And] that doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is aggressive or dangerous.”

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center (MSPCA-Angell) is similarly opposed to insurance companies and policies that target specific dog breeds.

Why? One reason is that new research documents how difficult it is to identify the breed of a dog based on looks, says Kara Holmquist, MSPCA-Angell’s director of advocacy. As such, “focusing on breed is not an effective way to evaluate risk or prevent dog bites,” she adds, mirroring Dundov’s concerns.

In addition, the Boston-based organization frowns upon these policies because:

  • They discriminate against responsible dog owners who properly train and socialize their pets. In addition, they mistakenly focus on the animal and do not consider the owner’s behavior and responsibility
  • It’s likely they cause some people to avoid adopting certain dog breeds because they’re worried they’ll then be unable to obtain home insurance
  • It’s often difficult to determine whether a dog is a mixed-breed and, if so, the percentage of the mix represented by each breed
  • Some statistics on dog bites may not take into account the popularity of a breed, making it appear that certain breeds bite more often

“Insurers that blacklist breeds are out of step with contemporary research and expert opinion about dog behavior and bite prevention,” adds Donna Reynolds, director of Oakland, California-based BADRAP.

“It’s far more practical for insurers to look to the behavior of their clients when writing new policies rather than incorrectly assume that a dog’s behavior is going to be predicted by its appearance,” Reynolds says. “For example, those who have dogs who have been protection trained, used to guard, or who have a bite history represent a potential risk compared to low-risk dogs who are well socialized, smartly managed, and treated as family members.”

As for what home insurance companies should do instead, MSPCA-Angell suggests they should “focus on preventing all dog bites regardless of breed.”

Dundov adds that insurers should work on “educating people about responsible pet ownership and how to safely interact with any dog.” Reynolds agrees. “insurance companies have a unique opportunity to educate the public about bite prevention and elevate our understanding of dog-owner responsibilities. By doing so, they can serve as an important partner as well as a resource for their clients and communities.”

That tactic combined with stronger animal-control laws could help insurance providers “achieve [their] goal of reducing the number of dog-bite claims they face,” according to MSPCA-Angell.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Home Insurance and Dog Ownership

Here are a few more questions that are sure to pop into the heads of anyone who has a dog (or is thinking of adopting one) and either is considering buying a house or already owns one and is looking to switch homeowners insurers.

Is it legal for an insurance company to deny or cancel my homeowners policy or increase my premium because I own a certain type of dog?

Yes, it is–unless you live in Michigan or Pennsylvania.

Both of those states have passed laws that forbid insurance companies from denying or canceling coverage to homeowners because they have a certain breed of dog.

Other states have tried to pass similar laws or have pending legislation that would address the same thing, but at the moment only Michigan or Pennsylvania restrict this kind of “breed profiling.”

If you live anywhere else in the US, though, your insurance company can discriminate against what it considers to be vicious or dangerous dog breeds if it chooses to do so.

Take Washington. That state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner “does not regulate this underwriting issue,” says Kara Klotz, public affairs and social media manager. “Insurers are free to underwrite how they want. If a consumer is interested in owning a specific breed of dog and is concerned about their homeowners or renters insurance, we advise them to talk to their insurance agent or broker.”

Adds Amy Bach, executive director of San Francisco-based non-profit United Policyholders : “as long as they’re not using unfair or illegal rating factors, an insurer is free to decide who they want to insure and who they don’t. So if an insurer chooses not to underwrite or assume the risk of selling a policy to a consumer who chooses to own dogs with a bite history or history of aggressive behavior, that is their right in our current system.”

Haven’t some cities and states passed breed-specific laws or legislation that target certain dog types?

Yes, they have. In fact, more than 700 US cities, counties, and states have passed legislation targeting specific dog breeds, according to dogsbite.org.

In addition, most states, as well as Washington, D.C., currently impose “statutory strict liability” for dog bites and attacks, which means a dog’s owner is legally liable to any victims.

The rest–or at least the bulk of them–have what are called “one bite” statutes in place. Dog owners in those states are “protected from liability as to the first injury caused by [their pets], unless liability can be based upon other grounds,” shares dogbitelaw.com. (In other words, victims have to prove the owner knew their dog had the potential to be dangerous.)

A few other states have “mixed” statutes that add some degree of strict liability to the one-bite rule described above.

What can I do if an insurance company denies or cancels my homeowners coverage because of my dog?

For starters, talk with your agent or someone else at the company, suggests MSPCA-Angell. He or she may be able to point you to another insurer that will cover you and your home.

If that doesn’t help, shop around on your own. Contact a number of home insurance providers, compare quotes, and see which ones offer you the best rate for the amount of coverage you need–no matter what kind of dog lives with you.

Something else to keep in mind here: many insurance companies don’t automatically turn down homeowners who have certain breeds. Instead, they’ll ask you to show them letters from veterinarians or certificates from obedience schools. Or they’ll have an agent visit your home and actually meet your dog before making a final decision.

Also, some insurers will sell you home coverage but exclude your dog from the policy. If that happens to you, you should be able to buy a separate liability policy for your pup. A number of companies and organizations currently offer this kind of add-on coverage that protects homeowners whose canine family members injure someone.

“Being a responsible dog owner goes hand in hand with buying homeowner or renters policies that cover our dogs while complying with local animal control regulations,” says BADRAP’s Reynolds. “Those people whose dogs have demonstrated a history of unsafe behavior are obligated to invest in the added expense of special insurance, but even more so, they’re obligated to invest in the time, resources and energy needed to house and manage their dog responsibly.”

How can I find affordable homeowners insurance even if I have a blacklisted dog breed?

Our answer to this question is similar to the advice shared above: shop around.

Don’t take our word for it. Comparing insurance companies and quotes also is Bach’s main piece of advice for consumers in this situation. “Different insurers sell different policies,” she says. “Some exclude certain dog breeds, [but] not all exclude the same breeds.”

In addition, Bach suggests that you “ask good questions.” That means asking whether specific breeds of animal are excluded from coverage, of course, but it also means asking “whether you can buy a rider or add-on that would fill the gap caused by the exclusion.”

And if you have a hard time finding an insurance company that will sell you a homeowners policy because of your dog, contact your state insurance commissioner’s office. Someone there may be able to point you in the direction of an insurer that will cover you and your pet.

What kind of homeowners coverage do I need if I have a dog? And how much coverage should I get as a dog owner?

According to the III, most home and renters insurance policies cover some amount of liability legal costs related to dog bites and attacks. Typically, they cover up to $100,000 or even $300,000 of damages.

Dog owners are responsible for any amount that goes above that limit. Given that, it’s often a good idea for homeowners and renters with dogs to either increase their liability coverage or buy an umbrella policy.

Another option is to look for supplemental or specialized liability insurance specifically aimed at dog owners.

Who is covered by my home insurance policy?

A standard homeowners policy covers spouses, relatives, and dependents who are under 21 years of age.

Although all of those folks will be protected from any losses tied to a dog bite or injury, they won’t be able to file a claim if they’re the victim of an attack.

Most homeowners policies also cover unpaid dog sitters or dog walkers if your pooch injures or bites someone while in their care.

Do I need to tell my insurance provider if I adopt a dog? Or what happens if I don’t tell my home insurer about my dog?

Yes, you should tell your insurance company if you have a dog. That’s especially true if yours tends to show up on lists of vicious or dangerous dog breeds.

If you don’t, you could be due for a rude awakening. For starters, any claim you file could be denied if your dog bites or injures someone and your insurer didn’t previously know about your pet. Your insurer may even cancel your policy because of your dishonesty.

“Don’t lie on the application and say you don’t have a dog if you really do,” Bach recommends. “Because if you do, and something happens that necessitates filing a claim, the insurer may be able to void or rescind the policy based on your misrepresentation and you’ll be without coverage.”

It may not even wait for you to file a claim. There are plenty of examples out there of insurance companies canceling a homeowner’s coverage after it found out they had a dog of a blacklisted breed and didn’t report it.

Given that, if you already have a homeowners policy, read it over if you’re thinking of getting a dog. If it’s not clear, contact your agent or someone else at your insurance company.

Does it matter what kind of dog I have if I’m a renter?

Do you currently have renters insurance? If so, it may protect you if your dog bites or injures anyone.

That’s not true of all renters insurance policies, though, so check with your agent (or someone else at your insurer) if you’re not sure about the extent of your coverage.

Renters insurance can help dog owners in other ways, too. Say you’re looking for a new place to live. If you have a canine that some consider dangerous, a renters policy may help convince a potential landlord to accept you and your dog as tenants, according to MSPCA-Angell.

What can I do to combat home insurance policies that discriminate against certain dog breeds?

The best and most effective thing you can do to fight these policies and prevent new ones from being introduced is to set a positive example. Put your dog through obedience school if you haven’t already. This will help you show that properly trained dogs don’t bite or injure people, no matter their breed.

Another option, of course, is to contact insurance companies. Share research and information with them that explains why policies that single out entire dog breeds are discriminatory and wrong. Or you can support organizations that do the same kind of advocacy work but have more clout than an individual citizen.

Why do dogs bite?

According to MSPCA-Angell, a dog’s tendency to bite is the product of a number of factors. They include:

  • Genetic predisposition to be aggressive
  • Early socialization
  • Training for obedience or fighting
  • Quality of care and supervision

As a result, the organization warns that “an inherently aggressive dog may present little or no risk of biting if the dog is well trained and responsibly supervised. A seemingly friendly dog with little genetic tendency to bite may become dangerous if it lacks socialization or supervision, or if it is mistreated or provoked.”

In other words, pretty much any dog can bite or injure someone if they’re subject to certain situations.

The III agrees, adding that “even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or when defending their puppies, owners, or food.”

Two other factors that often affect a dog’s tendency to bite, by the way: its gender and whether it is spayed or neutered. In fact, research suggests male dogs are over six times more likely to bite than female dogs, while dogs that haven’t been spayed or neutered are nearly three times more likely to bite than ones that have been spayed or neutered dogs.

What can I do to keep my dog from biting someone?

MSPCA-Angell’s Holmquist and State Farm’s Dundov suggest you do the following to prevent dog bites:

  • Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep it healthy and provide mental stimulation
  • Socialize your dog so it knows how to behave with other animals and with people
  • Don’t put your dog in a position where it feels threatened or teased
  • Put it through obedience training
  • Make sure your pet receives preventive health care (vaccinations, parasite control, etc.), as well as care for any illnesses or injuries. This is important because how your dog feels affects how it behaves
  • Mark your property so people are aware of your dog’s presence
  • Obey all local ordinances, including licensing, leash requirements, and noise control
  • Use a leash in public so you can control your dog and so you can show others you’re in control of your dog
  • If you have a fenced yard, ensure the gates and fence are secure
  • Don’t allow your pet to stray
  • Avoid tethering your dog for long periods of time, as doing do can increase the likelihood of a bite

“Responsible pet ownership builds a solid foundation for dog-bite prevention,” Dundov says.

“Your dog is part of your family and wants to be part of family life,” she adds. “But sometimes it’s difficult for us to fully understand how a dog sees the world, and providing your dog with a secure resting space and supervision in risky situations is the best way to plan for success.”

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