Our Labrador is terrified of any vacuum; she has been this way for as long as we can remember. Just the sight of the vacuum being brought out for use has Abby quickly leaving the room despite her old age. Most likely, she had an experience as a young pup that frightened her and it has made quite an imprint on her memory.
We recently got a new vacuum that is larger and noisier than our previous one. When it is brought out, Abby sprints for our basement immediately. I know she loathes the vacuum primarily because the noise bothers her ears. It has quite a high pitch, and it is widely known that dogs have much more sophisticated hearing than their human counter parts.
When thinking about it, I cannot blame a dog for being afraid of a vacuum. It is noisy, unpredictable in movement and has a long cord that owners whip about while negotiating around furniture. Additionally, some vacuums have a bright light on the front that gives it a “life” of its own to our beloved canines.
Often, we vacuum with intensity, which, coupled with the frustration of reaching under furniture etc. projects onto our dogs.
I always ask dog owners if their pooch has any household fears when they come to board. This allows us to be aware and not add any extra stress if possible without knowing it. I can easily say around fifty percent of dogs are fearful of the vacuum.
From my personal experience, it seems that Golden Retrievers are the most relaxed around my vacuuming. Many have to be shifted from a resting spot so I can clean there and don’t even move as the vacuum approaches them.
Most dogs are curious and will come close to check it out, but once the vacuum is turned on all have various coping mechanisms. Lady, a visiting Cocker Spaniel, decided the couch was “safe” preferring the higher vantage point. She did not leave the room but had her method that let her be in control.
Some dogs decide to “take on the vacuum” like this small dog I found on YouTube named Senna, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bYyywE97aA.
Kathy Diamond Davis, an author and trainer, gives a great explanation on why dogs have a fear of vacuums, http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=1612. She writes that
“Vacuum cleaners make weird noises. Their use involves a person thrusting the thing around the room in gestures that wouldn’t make any sense to a dog. The concept of cleaning a floor, other than by eating any food spilled on it, would also be foreign to a dog’s way of thinking. There’s not much about a vacuum cleaner for a dog to like! The occasional herding dog will chase it because it moves, and some dogs will “attack” or threaten it because it isn’t acting right!”
Some other tips I learned from the article include giving treats to a dog scared of the vacuum. This can be a slow process depending on the level of their fear. Give treats a distance away from the vacuum with the machine turned off and gradually continue while moving closer.
Another tip is encouraging a nervous dog to eat his/her regular meals near other noisy appliances, for example, the dishwasher. The dog will relate having yummy food with a louder noise and is nicely distracted.
She made another super suggestion, saying to play fetch by the vacuum if you dog really loves this activity. Toss a beloved toy near a noisy appliance or maybe near someone vacuuming. The desire to fetch may be just enough to override a vacuum fright.
I am a firm beliver in positive reinforcement and that our body language and tone of voice gets picked up by our canines. I have heard from many in the know regarding dog training to not reinforce that your dog is okay when acting frightened. For example if your dog bolts from the room when seeing the vacuum, don’t exacerbate this behaviour by soothing or patting it wherever it goes. This also applies to our words. We should avoid saying things like “oh poor baby, are you scared?” Dogs are clever and understand our tone of voice.
I found a training video on You Tube with Pamela Marxsen, from pamsdogacademy.com, using a clicker method to train a dog to not be afraid of the vacuum. Here is the link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCNAv5aETho.
This was an interesting post to write about. Now I know some training advice to try with Abby. Due to her Labrador nature using treats to conquer her fear should be a slam dunk. I don’t think that we are ready for the attachments that can be purchased that vacuum loose fur off your dog. We have a long way to go!
Do you have any comments on this topic?
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