Vacuuming is an unpleasant enough chore, but when you add a frantic, barking dog to the already loud racket, it’s enough to drive you and everyone else is the household crazy. If you think the problem is unique to your dog, think again. Dogs universally dislike the vacuum monster.
Put yourself in your dog’s place, and you can instantly understand why he hates and fears the vacuum cleaner. For one thing, it’s loud. For another, it’s big and threatening. And for a third, you appear to be fighting with it, or at least moving oddly when you’re with it. Plus, your dog can’t possibly understand what it’s for. Your little buddy licks the floor when something gets on it. He has no concept of cleaning the floor using that large, noisy contraption.
Some Fear It, Some Don't
The vacuum being loud and threatening might explain why your dog barks or tries to attack it. Some herding dogs might even try to round it up. But some dogs aren’t affected by the vacuum cleaner. Whether a dog is fearful or not could be inherited, or something might have happened when your dog was a puppy to cause him to be fearful. A dog who’s afraid of the vacuum cleaner might also be afraid of the lawn mower or of thunderstorms, for instance. Vacuum cleaners are particularly scary because they are used in enclosed rooms, which could make your dog feel trapped, says Kathy Diamond Davis, author of “Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others,” on VeterinaryPartner.com.
Desensitize a Fearful Dog
Show your dog that he doesn’t need to fear the vacuum. Prepare for desensitizing to take multiple sessions to complete. Start by giving him a treat when he’s in the same room with the turned-off vacuum. Get him to take the treat while it’s on the vacuum. Next, only treat your dog when he doesn’t bark while you move the turned-off vacuum. Start slowly with this one, only moving the vacuum an inch or two. Keep raising the stakes by moving the vacuum longer distances and for longer periods. Keep treating when your dog stays calm. You are trying to get him to associate the vacuum with yummy treats. Your goal should be to move the vacuum around the room for five minutes while it's off.
Turning On the Vacuum
Enlist a friend to help you desensitize your dog to the vacuum when it’s turned on. Have your friend bring the vacuum into the room. You should be at the other end of the room with your dog and the treats. Have your friend turn on the vacuum while you immediately give your dog a treat. Keep offering treats while the vacuum is on. Have your friend turn off the vacuum, and stop offering treats. The next step is to move closer to the vacuum with it turned on. Your dog should look to you for the treat, which you should give him. Once your dog can tolerate the vacuum being turned on for five minutes, start moving it. Start slowly as you did with the other steps.
Some dogs like to watch TV, according to “The New York Times.” A cable channel, DogTV, was created for dogs. The shows are supposed to entertain, stimulate, relax and habituate dogs. Teoti Anderson, former president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, said in "The New York Times” article that if a dog shows interest in TV shows, they could work. If your dog is a bit of a couch potato, show him a video of a muted vacuum cleaner. Eventually, turn up the volume. Watching the vacuum cleaner on TV might reduce his fear.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.