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Dogs Fears & Anxieties Training & Grooming

Monster Alert! Helping Your Dog Overcome Fear of the Vacuum Cleaner

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“The monster must DIE!” At least, that’s what I imagined the Chow mix was thinking as she launched herself at the vacuum cleaner, growling and snapping as if she were taking on a zombie horde. I cued the owner to shut off the machine.

“You’re right,” I nodded. “She hates the vacuum cleaner.” Now that the machine was off, the dog had stopped attacking it, but still eyed it suspiciously. The vacuum cleaner was nonplussed.

Dogs, especially puppies, can be frightened of noisy objects and rolling objects. The vacuum cleaner is a double whammy. It makes noise and it rolls. Some dogs will run from it. Others attack it. Cleaning house is a chore unto itself, without having your dog launching attacks on your cleaning tool. You don’t have to barricade your dog away from the vacuuming action. Teach your dog the vacuum cleaner is not a threat.

Get some delicious treats your dog loves. Your dog can be loose in the room. Choose one obstacle to tackle at a time – movement, or noise.

Movement

Do not turn the vacuum cleaner on. Move it just a little bit. You want to move it just enough so your dog alerts to it, but not so much that she launches an attack. For some dogs, this could be a couple feet, for some just a few inches.

Wait for your dog to alert to the vacuum cleaner. She will stare at it. Her ears may prick and she may stiffen. At that second, use a marker (either a click or a verbal marker, such as “Yes”) and toss a treat behind your dog. Make sure she sees you throw the treat, so she goes and eats it. Repeat this every time she looks at the machine.

Only move the cleaner as much as your dog can cope with it before triggering an all-out attack. With good timing and practice, you’ll find she can get closer to the vacuum cleaner without trying to kill it, or she starts to look to you for the treat.

Noise

Do not move the vacuum cleaner. Turn it on and then immediately turn it off. When your dog alerts to the noise, use a marker (either a click or verbal “Yes”) and toss a treat behind her. As she gets more comfortable with the noise, gradually run the vacuum cleaner for longer periods of time.

Putting It Together

Once your dog is good at both movement and noise, it’s time to put them together. Turn the vacuum on and then move it. Again, run it briefly and don’t move it much. Mark and treat every time she looks at the machine. Gradually work up to longer periods of time as your dog becomes more comfortable.

You can also use this technique with dogs who go after mops and brooms or lawn mowers and other yard tools—although it’s best to keep them away altogether from equipment with dangerous blades. Lawn equipment can send debris flying long distances and injure pets, especially if they’re hit in the eye.

Until you’ve successfully completed training, manage the situation by keeping the dog out of the area when you need to vacuum. This will prevent him from attacking the vacuum and avoid undermining the training.

My Chow mix student soon learned that the vacuum cleaner was awesome, because every time she looked at it without attacking it, she got freeze-dried chicken. My clients had a great training session, and I ended up vacuuming the room as a bonus!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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