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Ask A Dog Trainer – How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Attacking The Vacuum?

Image source: @Emeryway via Flickr
Image source: @Emeryway via Flickr

It’s the timeless struggle – dog vs. vacuum. Are you at the point where you dread vacuuming or you schedule it around when your dog is out for a walk, at the doggy daycare or even a vet visit? If this is you, it’s time to stop the craziness and teach your dog that the vacuum is not his mortal enemy.

What IS IT with the vacuum?

Noise. Vacuums are loud and some are even high-pitched. This can bother your dog’s ears and if your dog is noise sensitive to other household items (doorbell, disposal, etc.,) the vacuum will be no exception.

Movement. For some dogs, the movement of the vacuum can cause them to want to attack. For example, my oldest sheltie would completely ignore the vacuum until I picked it up or moved it, even if it was not on, she would go after it as if she wanted to kill it.

Your dog may not like the vacuum for either or both of these reasons, but it’s important to see that there are two things that you need to de-sensitize your dog to before he will be able to handle the vacuum.

It’s also important to note that you don’t really need to know why your dog attacks the vacuum – it could be fear, aggression, herding instinct, noise sensitive, or a combination of any of these. You will probably never really know.  And luckily, you don’t need to know the “why” in order to help your pup out.

Break It Down

To help your dog out, you are going to work with movement and noise separately, and then bring the two together.

TIP: It will be MUCH easier to do this with two people. It’s not impossible with one, but it will definitely be harder.

Movement

Image source: @GunterHentschel via Flickr
Image source: @GunterHentschel via Flickr

First, have the vacuum out, turned off, and then bring your dog in.

Start at a distance. As soon as your dog sees the vacuum, start giving them treats (classically conditioning your dog that the vacuum equals food). Do this for a week, just a few minutes every day.

Move closer as your dog gets relaxed. If, at the end of the week, your dog’s manner toward the vacuum has started to change (looks for the food, shows “happy” signs when he sees the vacuum) then your dog has successfully paired food with the vacuum and you can move on.

Second, (this is where two people are helpful) you want to feed your dog while you move the vacuum (turned OFF!). Start your dog at a good distance with slow movements.

  • Do not have him tied, give him the option of fleeing if necessary.
  • Just movie the vacuum a few inches at first and then give your dog a break.
  • When the vacuum is not moving, stop rewarding.

Do this until your dog seems comfortable with the movement. You should be able to gradually work closer and closer to the vacuum as it moves and also move it for longer periods of time.

Image source: @GunterHentschel via Flickr
Image source: @GunterHentschel via Flickr

TIP: If your dog does dive for the vacuum (you got too close too soon or moved it for too long), do not stop moving the vacuum! This can teach your dog that if he attacks it, he “kills it” or stops it from moving, which may increase this behavior. Instead, have the second person calmly and quietly, move your dog away (no corrections) until he is far enough away to relax again. Then you can stop moving the vacuum and give your dog a break, trying again from a further distance or for less time.

Sound

Next is the noise of the vacuum. Again, this is easier with two people. Start with your dog in another room with the door closes (so the noise is muffled.)

  • Have someone run the vacuum for just a few seconds, while you are feeding your dog the entire time.
  • Continue this until your dog seems to not react to the noise any longer. Then, make it louder by bringing your dog closer and/or opening the door a bit.
  • Repeat and slowing open the door more and/or bring your dog closer as he is successful.

Once you are in the room and you can turn the vacuum on and off (without movement!) for a few seconds without your dog reacting, you are going to gradually build up duration, until you can leave the vacuum on for a couple minutes with no problem (this is a great way to feed your dog his dinner!).

TIP: While doing this, continue to separately work on movement. So maybe your morning lesson is with movement and your afternoon lesson with noise.

Combining Movement and Sound

Lastly, you have to combine the two. If you have done both of these properly, it shouldn’t be too hard.

To start, begin by alternating the two. So, for example:

  • Do a minute of noise and then turn the vacuum off.
  • Give your dog a break.
  • Then move the vacuum with it turned off.
  • Give your dog a break.
  • repeat

Start your dog at a distance that he is comfortable with and then build up to him being close. Remember to keep him loose so if he feels the need to run, he can. (If you don’t allow flight, your dog may turn and “fight” the vacuum if he is scared).

Then, from a distance, turn on the vacuum and slowly move it, just a tiny bit. Remember to reward any time the vacuum is on and/or moving and not to reward when it’s off and still. This teaches your dog that the big loud scary thing moving is a good thing – it means treats!

Keep working on duration until you can do a whole room without a break, and then two, and so own.

Always give your dog an escape route. It’s OKAY if he would rather sit quietly in another room while you vacuum, right? At least he isn’t barking or attacking the vacuum. Again, this is where two people can be handy since someone else could be rewarding your do in the other room while you turn the vacuum on and off and move it around.

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Written by Kristina Lotz
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