Why Is My Dog Scared of the Vacuum?

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Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, particularly when they are accompanied by gestures or items that they don’t understand or could find threatening. In addition, some breeds -- such as border collies -- are more sensitive to noises than others, as a result of their inbred sensitivities and tendency to become over-stimulated. There are a few things you can do, however, to help your dog overcome its fear of your vacuum cleaner.

Fear of the Unknown

  • Most dogs will approach an unfamiliar item with some curiosity and apprehension, usually until they can figure out whether it will harm them or not. Dogs have been known to show fear of a person wearing a big hat or a Halloween outfit, as this represents something they don’t know.

Noise Sensitivity

  • Dogs that are sensitive to noise are likely to display fear at the sound of a thunderstorm or fireworks as well as the vacuum. Some dogs may even take exception to loud vehicles driving by, or nearby train noises if you live close to a railroad track. They can develop a fear of the most mundane household noises, such as the beep of the microwave oven or the sound of a ceiling fan.

Reaction to the Vacuum

  • Most dogs will react one of two ways: fight or flight. Fight is the most common response from adult dogs, particularly dogs that are protective of their owners as they perceive the vacuum to be a potential threat. These dogs will react by barking and growling at the machine, lunging, biting or circling it, with the hairs on their back erect. Puppies and timid adult dogs will be more likely to run and try to find somewhere to hide. They may also shake or tremble, pant heavily and vocalize their fear by whining or howling.

Desensitization

  • Leave the vacuum, switched off, where the dog can see it for a day or two. Let it gather the courage to approach the hated machine, smell it and examine it at its leisure. Leave a treat or two on the vacuum to persuade the dog to get close enough to reach it. This will convince it that the machine itself is not dangerous, and a treat increases the positivity of the experience. Switch the vacuum on and ignore it; focus on giving the dog your attention and continue with everyday activities such as feeding the dog in a different part of the house from the running vacuum. Do this in short bursts to avoid over-stimulating the dog. Gradually move the vacuum closer to the room the dog it in, until it begins to ignore it in favor of the other activities taking place.

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