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Guide for new pet owners:
Is Fido ready for the end of social distancing?

    Table of contents

      One good thing that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic is animal rescue shelters have seen a spike in dog adoptions. In a happy turn of events, “foster fails” account for many of these adoptions — when pets who were to be temporarily fostered are bonded with and become a long-term member of the family. 

      And thanks to the various stay-at-home orders mandated across the U.S., people are finding themselves spending more time at home with their dogs — all day, every day. However, one thing these new pet owners may not have considered is: What happens when they return to work, and their new dog is suddenly left alone at home for extended periods of time? People’s social lives will also return to normal, meaning their dog will suddenly be exposed to house guests and visitors for the first time. How will their dog behave in these new situations?

      The world can be an intimidating place for a dog who has spent a large portion of its life in an animal shelter. Suddenly having new people or dogs in their space can be overwhelming, as can leaving their safe space for walks and even doggie play dates with fellow canines. 

      You may think your new furry family member to be predictable, but how sure are you they will be on their best behavior when they are confronted with new people, places and situations? Dogs are not always as predictable as people may think. If your dog happens to bite someone or damage another person’s property, do you know whether or not your homeowners insurance will cover the damage? 

      Dog adoption & behavior

      Socialization is incredibly important for dogs. A well-socialized dog is one that knows how to behave when it meets strangers and other dogs. Typically, when you get a new dog, you can easily socialize them by simply taking them to the local dog park, setting up doggie play dates or having visitors of all ages and temperaments over to your house to get them used to different types of people and pets. However, because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, taking your dog out to meet others hasn’t been an option. 

      You also likely don’t know the full extent of how your dog will behave at home in your absence yet. Unwanted behavior linked to your absence won’t manifest while you are staying home with your dog all day. What happens when you go back to work and Fido is suddenly home alone? That is when your dog may start feeling separation anxiety, which can manifest into a range of unwanted behavioral issues, such as excessive barking and destructive behavior.

      Luckily, there are ways to train your dog to cope with separation anxiety, and a well-trained dog is less likely to destroy or damage your property when you leave them alone at home. Unfortunately, many people don’t give their dogs extensive and consistent training, and some don’t train their dogs at all. 

      At some point, people will return to work and to their social lives and will have to leave their dogs home alone. But when that happens, what can they do to protect their pets, property and other people?

      Dogs and homeowners insurance

      Dog shelters and rescue centers are full of just about any breed or mixed-breed dog imaginable. It’s definitely not the first thing you may think about when adopting a dog, but the breed of dog you adopt may have an impact on your homeowners insurance. 

      It is hardly surprising that dog bites factor into homeowners insurance. In 2019 alone, dog bite insurance claims cost over $797 million. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs every year. Not only are insurance companies aware of the legal and medical costs involved with a dog bite, but they also have data showing which breeds are responsible for the most dog bite incidents.  

      The statistics show that breeds like pitbulls, rottweilers, German shepherds, mastiffs, doberman pinschers and wolf hybrids are considered “dangerous” in the eyes of many insurance companies. This is not to say all dogs of those breeds are likely to bite people though, and it’s also important to keep in mind that any dog of any breed has the potential to cause harm to people or property. 

      According to Dr. Melissa Meyer, a veterinarian at The Boksburg Animal Hospital, “Although genetics play a role in the temperament a dog may inherit, it is important to know that a dog is as likely to inherit positive character traits as it is to inherit negative or unwanted traits.”

      Even so, in most states, insurers are legally allowed to place breed restrictions and raise premiums for certain breeds. This means that if your dog is on the “dangerous” list, your insurer may charge higher premiums on your homeowners insurance, or refuse to cover the dog at all, no matter the temperament. 

      When it comes to your new dog, let’s take a look at what is and what isn’t covered by your homeowners insurance:

      What’s covered

      • Personal liability coverage: Should your dog bite either a guest or a stranger, and they were to sue or need to cover medical care expenses, your homeowners insurance should cover the costs under your personal liability coverage or the medical payments portion of your policy.
      • Dog bite liability: Dog bite liability is included in your personal liability coverage. However, this only goes for dog breeds that are covered by your insurance policy.
      • Fire caused by pet: Coverage for damage caused by a fire is included in most standard homeowners insurance policies. Therefore, if your dog were to cause a fire by knocking over a candle or turning the stove on while trying to sneak treats off the kitchen counter, your insurance company may pay for the damages, but only those that exceed the deductible on your policy. Also, keep in mind your policy limits will dictate the total amount covered.
      • Damage to property of others: Your standard homeowners insurance generally covers damage to the property of others. For example, should your dog destroy a neighbor’s fence, your insurance policy may provide coverage for the damages. 

      What’s not covered

      • Damage to your personal property: Damage caused by your dog might be covered if Fido annihilates your neighbor’s fence, but if he goes after your sofa, your homeowners insurance won’t cover the costs to repair or replace it. 
      • Dwelling and other structures: Any dwelling or other structures in your personal possession damaged by your dog are not covered by your homeowners insurance policy. For example, if your dog eats through your drywall, you will personally need to pay for the damages.
      • Bites and “damage” to members of household: Under your personal liability coverage, other people (guests, visitors) are protected should they be injured in your home or by your dog. However, that coverage does not extend to you or to other members of your household.
      • Accidental injuries to your dog inside the home: In the eyes of the law, your dog is your personal property. Therefore, should they be injured in your home, they themselves or their injuries are not covered by your homeowners insurance. For such incidents, it is a good idea to consider pet insurance, which acts like medical insurance for your pet, and can help offset medical costs incurred by your dog’s injuries. 

      What if my dog is on “The List”?

      Find an insurance company that has no breed restrictions

      If your dog is on the “dangerous breeds” list, then you may need to shop around until you find an insurance company that does not have breed restrictions in place. Luckily, there are a number of companies that don’t discriminate based on breed. Here are a few you can turn to:

      Add extra coverage

      Some insurance companies will offer additional coverage for people whose dogs are on the “dangerous breeds” list. You may need to shop around for an insurer that offers this option.

      Buy a separate umbrella/canine policy

      It is important to remember that if your dog is excluded from your insurance policy, you will be personally liable for any damages your dog may cause. That’s why it may be a good idea to pay for either umbrella coverage on your existing policy or get a standalone pet liability insurance policy. 

      Pet safety

      Many people see their dogs as their children, and like with small children, it only takes a blink of an eye for them to get themselves into some sort of trouble. Luckily, there are many ways you can protect not only your dog, but others as well. Let’s look at a few:

      Keep your dog leashed on walks: If you let your dog wander around, you won’t be able to control them should they invade someone’s property or get too close to an unfriendly dog. Even if your dog bites the neighbor’s dog in self defense, if they weren’t on a leash, your homeowners insurance may not cover the cost.
      Crate training: Crate training is a great way to keep your property safe from potential destruction from your dog. If done correctly, a dog will be happy to spend time in its crate and not be tempted to destroy your home or furniture while you’re not at home. Remember, if your dog destroys your personal property, your insurance won’t cover the damage.
      Childproof latches and baby gates: These tools are especially useful if you have a puppy. Childproof latches and baby gates can help keep your dog contained to one area of your home. You can “puppy proof” that area and not worry about your dog destroying the rest of your home.
      Reinforced and extra-tall fences: Many dogs are escape artists. The benefits of having a reinforced and extra-tall fence are twofold. First, your dog will stay within the safety of your yard. Second, it protects other people and their property, since your dog shouldn’t be able to escape unnoticed and wander. However, remember that a fence is no substitute for proper supervision, and you shouldn’t leave your dog in your yard unattended for long periods of time.
      “Beware of Dog” sign: These signs are especially important for people who have a dog with a tendency to bite. A “Beware of Dog” sign alerts anyone coming onto your property that you have a dog and that they need to proceed with caution. 
      Tough toys: You should always invest in tough and durable dog toys. Cheap toys that your dog can destroy in a minute often pose a choking hazard. A tougher toy is less likely to be torn apart into small (and possibly edible) pieces. Another benefit of tougher toys is they will keep your dog entertained and occupied for longer. Bored dogs can become destructive dogs.
      Doggie cam: A doggie cam can help you keep tabs on Fido. Not only can you keep an eye on their comings and goings, but you can also see if and when they start to display unwanted behavior. 
      Remove or keep harmful plants out of reach: It is not uncommon for dogs to chew or eat plants they come across, so if you have any plants around that are harmful to dogs, it’s a good idea to put them out of reach or remove them entirely. Your pet insurance may cover the medical bills of a dog who has ingested toxic plants, but your homeowners insurance won’t.
      Keep cleaners and chemicals securely stored: Like small children, dogs can get into just about anything. This includes getting into your cleaning and chemical supplies. Many cleaning products are extremely toxic to dogs, so always ensure you store them securely somewhere your dog can’t get to them.

      FAQ & Resources

      Frequently asked questions

      Q: If my dog is on the “dangerous breeds” list, will my insurance company cover them if they are well trained? 

      A: In many cases, insurance companies will take into consideration a dog’s history and whether or not they are trained. If you can prove your dog has undergone extensive training an insurer may show leniency. Dog training courses, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) are highly recommended. 

      Q: Is genetics the only factor that influences whether or not a dog from a certain breed will be aggressive? 

      A: According to veterinarian Dr. Melissa Meyer, “There are many factors at play when it comes to the development of a dog’s temperament. Genetics can certainly be a factor, but another factor is the environment a dog is placed in. With positive reinforcement training and early socialization, most dogs can be expected to turn out well balanced and predictable.”

      Q: Why is it important to socialize dogs?

      A: “Socializing dogs is important as it builds a dog’s confidence in different environments and around strange people and/or other animals,” said dog trainer and behavior expert Kate Holden, a graduate from Starmark Academy for Professional Dog Trainers. “‘Socializing’ does not just refer to socializing with other dogs or people, it refers to how well a dog can manage in a new environment with scary noises or on unfamiliar surfaces, etc. A well-balanced dog is one who has been exposed to many different areas and situations with positive interactions to build their confidence … to the point where we can take them to a brand new environment and they remain completely relaxed and under control, with their focus able to remain on us and not on all the new sounds/people/strange things they have not seen/heard before.”

      Q:  Why might dogs act out when people go back to work after spending every day with their dogs during quarantine?

      A: “Separation anxiety is unfortunately a very real thing that the majority of dog owners will experience when the lockdown is over and we are able to return to work, ” said Holden. “Our dogs have become accustomed to having someone around every minute of the day. As soon as work starts, that routine is completely thrown out the window, and our dogs find themselves alone at home for the majority of the day.”

      Q: Are there ways to “socialize” dogs during quarantine so they won’t be aggressive towards other people or dogs when things go back to normal?

      A: “Without being able to arrange play dates with other well-balanced dogs, there are definitely still other ways we can socialize our dogs, whether we have just adopted them or would like to improve our older dog’s confidence,” said Holden. “One way to socialize them can be walking past your local grocery store or convenience store and doing a few simple exercises like sit, down or a short recall from the end of your normal leash while strange people walk past at a safe distance away (keeping six feet between you and the strangers for social distancing).”


      Bottom line

      People are not the only ones affected by self isolation and stay-at-home orders. Whether you have recently adopted a dog, or they have been around for a longer time, a dog’s life will be turned upside down when you go back to work and they are suddenly left at home alone.

      With the changes in their daily routine, it may be difficult to predict your dog’s behavior when they are suddenly left alone, or placed in new social situations, surrounded by new people and other dogs. This is where homeowners insurance comes in. You need to know the details of your homeowners insurance policy to ensure you are covered in case a dog-related incident, such as a dog bite or destruction to property, occurs.

      If your dog is not covered by your homeowners insurance because they are considered to be a “dangerous” breed, you should look around for other options, such as umbrella coverage on your existing policy or a standalone pet liability insurance policy. 

      Prevention is also key. With proper socialization and positive reinforcement training, your pup should be able to have positive interactions with other people and dogs. And with proper homeowners insurance in place, you’ll feel better knowing you’re protected.