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It’s a timeless struggle – dog vs. vacuum. Are you at a point where you dread vacuuming? Or do you schedule vacuuming only when your dog isn’t home? If you relate to either, it’s time to teach your dog that the vacuum is not their mortal enemy. After all, what is it with the vacuum?
The main issue is 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 is also a concern. 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 one or both of these reasons, but you can de-sensitize your dog to both. You may not know why your dog attacks the vacuum – it could be fear, aggression, herding instinct, noise-sensitive, or a combination of things. Luckily, you don’t need to know the “why” to help your pup out.
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Break It Down
To help your dog out, you should work with movement and noise separately and then bring the two together.
TIP: It will be MUCH easier to do this with two people, but it’s not impossible with one.
First, have the vacuum out and turned off. Then, bring your dog into the room.
Start at a distance. As soon as your dog sees the vacuum, start giving them treats (showing your dog that the vacuum equals food). Do this for a few minutes every day for a week.
Move the vacuum closer as your dog calms down. If your dog’s behavior toward the vacuum changes by the end of the week (looks for the food, shows “happy” signs, etc.) then your dog has successfully paired food with the vacuum and you can move on.
Second, (this is where two people are helpful) you can feed your dog while you move the vacuum (turned OFF!). Start your dog at a good distance with slow movements.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Do not have your dog tied up. Give them the option of fleeing if necessary.
- Only move 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.
TIP: If your dog dives for the vacuum (you got too close too soon or moved it for too long), do not stop moving the vacuum! Stopping the movement can teach your dog that if they attack it, they “kill it”/stop it from moving, which may increase the unwanted behavior. Instead, have the second person calmly and quietly move your dog away (no corrections) until they’re far enough away to relax again. Then you can stop moving the vacuum and give your dog a break. When you try again, do it from a further distance or for less time.
Next is the noise of the vacuum. Again, this is easier with two people. Start with your dog in another room with the door closed (so the noise is muffled.)
- Have someone run the vacuum for just a few seconds while you’re feeding your dog the entire time.
- Continue this until your dog seems to not react to the noise anymore. Then, make it louder by bringing your dog closer and/or opening the door a bit.
- Repeat and slowly open the door more and/or bring your dog closer every time they’re successful.
Once you’re in the room and you can turn the vacuum on and off (without movement) for a few seconds without your dog reacting, you can gradually build up duration until you can leave the vacuum on for a couple of minutes with no issues.
TIP: While doing this, continue to work separately on movement. So, maybe your morning lesson is with movement and your afternoon lesson is 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 those steps.
Start your dog at a distance that they’re comfortable with and then build up to them being closer. Remember to keep your dog loose so if they feel the need to run, they can. If you don’t allow flight, your dog may turn and “fight” the vacuum instead.
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 loud scary thing moving is a good thing because it means treats!
Keep working on duration until you can vacuum a whole room without a break, and then two, and so on.
Always give your dog an escape route. It’s okay if your pup would rather sit quietly in another room while you vacuum. At least they won’t be barking or attacking the vacuum. Again, this is where having two people is ideal since someone else could be rewarding your dog in the other room while you turn the vacuum on and off and move it around.
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