For many dog owners, that common TV trope of dogs fearfully running away at the very sight of a vacuum cleaner is an everyday reality. Fear of vacuum cleaners is fairly common. While it may seem amusing at first, put yourself in your dog's paws. This gigantic machine is making a ton of loud noises and is seemingly moving in their direction.
Wouldn't you be scared if you didn't know that a vacuum was harmless?
It's important to take your dog's fear seriously. Dogs don't like to show signs of fearfulness very often. In the dog world, that's a sign of weakness. So when your dog starts to hide the moment that you bring the vacuum out, you need to consider how it's affecting their well-being.
Failing to address this issue could lead to some serious behavioral problems in the future. The first step to helping your dog is to understand why they're afraid in the first place.
Why is Your Dog Afraid of Vacuum Cleaner Machines?
There are several reasons why your dog might be having this reaction. Chances are, your dog has several issues with the machine. Having a better understanding of what's going through your dog's mind when you turn the vacuum on can do a lot to help your dog move past the issue. Here are some of the most common reasons why your pup may not like your vacuum cleaner.
No Proper Exposure
Truth is, dogs and vacuum cleaners simply don't mix. It's not like your canines encounter these devices in the wild. Without any proper exposure, most dogs will cower in fear or run away. A big part of the problem with domesticated dogs is a lack of exposure.
Young puppies spend a lot of their time being exposed to new and exciting things. It's a big part of growing into a well-behaved dog. Pups need to be exposed to other dogs, humans, sounds, and smells to ensure that they don't have any issues with them in the future.
If your dog has never seen or heard a vacuum cleaner as a puppy, the sudden exposure is frightening. Even if they did see it when they were younger, they may not have had the chance to overcome their fear of it. This is fairly common among owners who coddle their puppies.
They may have tried vacuuming around their puppy once, saw that they reacted negatively, and decided to stop and vacuum only when the dog wasn't around.
While it's noble to put your pup's needs over yours, that's not doing them any good.
You see, that singular negative experience they had with that vacuum cleaner is now a bad memory that they'll never forget. That unresolved fear eventually turns into an ongoing phobia that will only get worse with time. When you do decide to bring out the vacuum, those negative feelings will come flooding back, causing your pup to run in fear.
Fear of the Unknown
Sometimes, vacuums are just downright confusing for dogs. They see this large device that's making a lot of noise. Instincts would tell them that this thing should be avoided. Yet, they see you interacting with it without any issues. You'd think that this would put them at ease. However, it can do the complete opposite.
In the eyes of your dog, a vacuum is just a strange contraption that makes no sense. It looks and sounds dangerous and moves in ways that no other thing in their environment does.
Dogs aren't capable of coping with their feelings of confusion like we do. So what do they do? They start to grow fearful of it.
One of the most obvious reasons why your dog might be afraid of vacuum cleaners is the noise. Let's face it, vacuums are uncomfortable even for us humans. Most residential machines produce between 70 and 80 decibels. To put that into perspective, most normal conversations are around 60 decibels. Naturally, that loud noise will startle dogs.
It's important to remember that dogs have very sensitive hearing. They have no problem honing in on sounds way off in the distance. So that humming vacuum that's uncomfortable to you may be downright unbearable for your canine companion.
If your home was quiet before you started vacuuming, that sudden loudness can also be a problem. You might as well be jarring them awake. The intense noise can send dogs into defensive mode pretty quickly.
Plus, many vacuums produce high-frequency sounds. These tones may be above your own hearing range. However, it could be driving your pup crazy. It's like a dog whistle. High-pitched sounds cut through anything for dogs.
Another issue that you may not have thought about is the smell your vacuum produces. Most vacuums utilize beater bars that force dust and debris out of your carpet fibers so that they can be sucked up. In the process, the machine is also throwing odors into the air.
If you have a filter in your vacuum or use carpet deodorizing powder, the smell may also be coming through the vacuum itself.
Much like their hearing, dogs have an acute sense of smell. You might not be able to smell all those odors that your vacuum is kicking up, but your dog certainly can.
When you factor in the loud noise, your dog is getting inundated with all kinds of sensations. It can be very overwhelming for even the most well-trained dog.
See this article on the type of smells dogs hate
Your furry friend may be doing what comes naturally to them when faced with the vacuum. If you have a territorial dog, they may be attempting to protect your home from this perceived threat. This is often shown through barking, pacing, or running around frantically.
If you have a dog breed that is known for herding, it could also be a reaction to "control the flock." When faced with threats or unruly livestock on the job, herding dogs will do everything they can to protect the livestock they're working with.
This includes forcing them to get moving. Oftentimes, dogs will bark, nip, and lunge at them. Your dog could be doing these things in an attempt to regain control of the situation.
What Can You Do?
Now that you understand some of the reasons why your dog may be scared of the vacuum, you can work to modify this behavior. Dogs are pretty flexible. While it may take some work, it is possible to help your dog overcome his or her fear.
Keep the Vaccum Visible
Do you leave your vacuum hidden away in a closet when you're not using it? If so, consider putting it in an area that your dog frequents. The unfamiliarity of the device is often a big problem with dogs.
By keeping it nearby, your dog can get used to seeing it. They'll have a chance to walk near it and see that it's not going to come to life at any moment.
Allow Them to Investigate
Once they have had time to get used to seeing the vacuum, let them investigate it on their own. Keep it low to the ground and within reach. Of course, keep a watchful eye to ensure that your dog doesn't attach your machine. Eventually, your dog will start to sniff around and see what the vacuum is all about.
Don't turn it on or move it. Just let them investigate at their own pace.
Use Treats To Your Advantage
Some treats and positive reinforcement can go a long way when it comes to overcoming fears. If you dog won't even get near the vacuum cleaner, try putting some treats around it. This will force your dog to get closer and see that there's nothing to be afraid of.
Next, have someone else hold your dog with a leash while you move it back and forth. The vacuum should be turned off when you do this. Each time you move the machine, toss a treat in your dog's direction. This helps to show that there's no need to be afraid of the vacuum's movements.
At this point, you can start desensitizing your dog to the sounds and smells. To do this, have your helper hold onto your dog while you take the vacuum into another room.
Turn the vacuum on and let it run for a few minutes.
Because the machine is in a different room, it won't be as jarring. However, they'll still hear it. When it's on, have your helper provide plenty of treats and affection.
You can also leave the vacuum running and come out for a second to show your dog that things are alright.
Then, turn the vacuum off and stop giving treats. Doing this will create a link between the sound of the vacuum and rewards. Positive reinforcement for dealing with the thing that once gave them fear.
Bring the Vacuum Closer
Eventually, you can start bringing the vacuum a bit closer. You can do the same moving procedure that you did earlier. Only this time, turn the vacuum on. When you move it, give treats to show your dog that there's nothing to be afraid of.
It's important that you don't overwhelm your dog. If they are having a very hard time having a running vacuum cleaner next to them, don't push it. Doing so could only make things worse. Just take things slow and provide plenty of positive reinforcement.
Being afraid of a loud vacuum cleaner is a perfectly normal reaction for a dog. With that being said, there are ways to get your pup comfortable with it. Your best bet would be to expose them to the sight, sound, and smell that vacuums produce when they're puppies.
If that's not possible you'll have to show your dog that there's nothing to be afraid of. It may take some time, but eventually your pooch will learn to ignore the machine and continue with their day.
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