Many dogs hate vacuum cleaners to the point of barking and attacking them as if they were facing their biggest enemy.
Raise your hand if your dog gives you the evil eye every time he sees you grabbing the vacuum cleaner and wheeling it out of the closet, turning the simple act of vacuuming into a multi-task chore.
On one hand, you are trying your best to keep your carpet spotless, on the other hand, you are trying to keep your frantic dog, who is barking and lunging at the vacuum, under control.
If this scenario sounds all too familiar, rest assured, you are not alone. There are countless dogs who hate the vacuum and are plotting a secret strategy to get Mr. Hoover and Mr. Dyson out of business.
Why Do Dogs Hate Vacuum Cleaners?
Why do dogs hate vacuum cleaners so much? Well, turns out, dogs have several good reasons.
To better understand why dogs hate vacuums with a passion, it takes putting ourselves a bit in their "shoes."
Lack of Early Exposure
Dogs and vacuums don't seem to get along, but things can be a tad bit more complicated if your dog hasn't been formally introduced to Mr. Dyson from a young age as he should have been.
Reputable breeders know the importance of this and will make sure that their puppies are exposed to common household sights and sounds from a young age before sending their pups off to their new homes.
"It's easy to run the vacuum around the puppies from the age of four weeks until they leave for their new homes. If we pre-condition puppies to accept sudden loud noises using treats and praise, we can teach them to love potentially scary things like thunderstorms and vacuums," claims dog breeder Sylivia Smart in her book "Dog Breeder's Professional Secrets: Ethical Breeding Practices."
If you got your dog from a pet store, a backyard breeder or some other questionable source, chances are very high that your puppy has likely never encountered a vacuum cleaner before, and if he did, chances are, it wasn't likely a pleasant experience.
"Scaredy Dog" Syndrome
Some dogs are more fearful than others when it comes to being exposed to certain stimuli. Fear can stem from lack of early exposure and negative experiences, but it can also be genetic.
If at least one parent of a puppy reacts to noises, there are chances the puppy will react similarly, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, in an article for DVM360.
When a dog shows fear, we often forget that fear has an adaptive role that helps in the continuation of a species. In the wild, being overly confident exposes animals to undue risks that could harm or even be lethal. Fear instills a healthy level of caution that prevents putting animals in harm's way.
However, according to veterinarians Gary M.Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen, Lowell J. Ackerman, authors of the book "Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat," when a fear is out of proportion, without the presence of a real threat, it may turn into a phobia that interferes with normal functions, and at this point, it's considered maladaptive.
From Rover's Perspective
Whether a dog's hate for vacuums stems from lack of early exposure or an innate predisposition to fear, let's face it, if we look at the vacuum from Rover's perspective, things can seem a tad bit intimidating.
Dogs will likely never understand that a vacuum collects crumbs, dust and debris and that it has a helpful hygienic purpose in the house.
From a dog's eyes, a vacuum is a scary monster on wheels that emits roaring noises, moves erratically, first charging and then retreating, and sucks everything in sight.
And forget about trying to seek shelter under a table or couch, the vacuum always seems to eventually find him.
On top of this, depending on what the vacuum sucks, it can sometimes emit an unpleasant, burnt-like smell that can be perceived as unpleasant or even dangerous to dogs.
With this whole stimulus package, it's not surprising if the mere sight of the vacuum is enough to trigger a dog to take an offensive or defensive stance.
Did you know? Dogs have very sensitive hearing and are able to detect sounds at higher frequencies than us. This stems from a dog ancestral past as hunters, where hearing low frequency sounds, such as those emitted by rodents, was important for survival.
Vacuum cleaners. lawn mowers and power tools emit sounds that can cause great distress to dogs, explains Stanley Coren in the book: "How Dogs Think."
Herding Instinct at Play
In some cases, dogs aren't really fearful or vacuum phobic; rather they are simply interested in rounding the vacuum up just as they would do when herding unruly cattle or sheep.
You may see this reaction in several herding breeds such as border collies, heelers, Australian shepherds and Shetland sheepdogs.
The lunging, chasing and nipping attempts are all are part of the dog's repertoire of hardwired, instinctive behaviors that are often also directed towards other moving objects such as bicycles, lawn mowers and cars.
Sometimes those herding genes also kick in when a broom, mop or leaf rack goes into action. And guess what? Since eventually the vacuum is turned off at some point, your dog will likely think it's thanks to his barking, nipping and lunging that the vacuum was sent into a silent surrender as it retreats back into the closet!
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have several good reasons to hate the vacuum. Have you identified what triggers your dog? Now that you know, it's time to move into action.
How to Helps Dogs Who Hate Vacuum Cleaners
If your dogs has decided to hate the vacuum, you have several options to make his life more bearable around the monster on wheels. Here are several tips that are worthy of trying to help Rover and Dyson find a mutual agreement.
1) Manage the Environment
The first and easiest option is to simply manage your dog's environment. When it's time to vacuum, simply keep your dog in the yard, have a helper walk your dog, or if feasible, keep him in a distant room where the vacuuming sound is muffled and therefore more tolerable.
The goal of this is to reduce the stress in your dog, prevent him from rehearsing the problematic behavior and allow you to vacuum in peace.
Then, once you're done cleaning one room, swap rooms until you are done vacuuming the whole house.
2) Get Acquainted With Behavior Modification
Alternatively, if you wish to work on the problem, you can try to implement a behavior modification plan based on desensitization and counterconditioning.
Desensitization is behavior modification technique that entails gradual exposure to a trigger in such a way as to not overwhelm the dog. This can mean starting by presenting the vacuum when it's turned off and immobile.
Counterconditioning entails changing the dog's emotions towards the vacuum so that instead of dreading its presence the dog looks forward to it.
3) Turn the Vacuum into a Treat Dispensing Machine
Turning the vacuum from a monster on wheels to a treat dispensing machine can be very helpful. Here is sample of how to stop a dog from attacking the vacuum with some steps.
For correct implementation, please consult with a dog behavioral professional for hands-on assistance.
- Present the vacuum turned off and park it in the middle of room at a distance from which your dog doesn't react. Have a helper feed your dog treats as he looks at it. Then, move the vacuum away and no more treats. Repeat the same process several times. You want to make it clear that the appearance of the vacuum means treats. Look for a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER)
- Next, park the vacuum at a distance and place several treats around it. Let your dog have access to the treats. Keep the vacuum several days in the same location occasionally placing treats around it. You want to make it clear that the vacuum brings treats, once again looking for that lovely +CER.
- Next, have a helper hold your dog on a leash as you move the vacuum back and fort. Toss treats in your dog's direction each time you make movements. You want to make it clear that the movement of the vacuum is what brings treats. Repeat several times, once again looking for that lovely +CER.
- Next, turn on the vacuum in another room and have your helper feed your dog treats as it's turned on. When you turn it off, no more treats. You want to make it clear that the noise of the vacuum is what brings treats. Repeat several times, once again looking for that lovely +CER.
- Finally, have a helper hold your dog on the leash as you turn on the vacuum and move it back and forth. Feed treats as you move it back and forth. You want to make it clear that the sight, sound and movement of the vacuum is what brings treat, and once again aim for that lovely +CER.
After several reps, the dog will eventually learn to be calmer in the presence of the vacuum. At some point, the dog may be kept off leash, and since there's less fear, the dog may be in better shape to cognitively function so he can be taught to go on a mat or keep a down stay at a distance while he's kept occupied by working on a stuffed Kong or a safe bone.
Feeding these goodies should still help keep those positive associations alive since the dog may come to think: "every time my owner vacuums, I get goodies to enjoy on the mat, win-win!"
If at any time the dog appears nervous, this often means that the program has progressed too quickly and the dog may need some intermediate, sub-steps in between.
4) Invest in Calming Aids
Some dogs may be too worried about the vacuum to take treats and learn. These dogs may need some extra help under the form of calming aids such as pheromone diffusers or collars such as those produced by Adaptil.
There are other calming aids under the form of supplements such as those containing L-theanine. Severe cases of fear may require prescription medications and the intervention of a dog behavior professional using force-free behavior modification techniques.
Did you know? Nowadays, there are even several desensitization recordings meant to habituate dogs to vacuums. Playing these at a low volume while feeding treats, can help prepare your dog for exposure to the real thing. You can find several vacuum noise recordings online such as YouTube or you can even record your own vacuum and play it back.