Is your dog scared of vacuums? Maybe it’s a familiar routine: whenever you turn your vacuum on to clean your home, your pup goes scurrying away and might even hide under the table for protection from this loud and frightening device.
However, with the proper training and desensitization, you may be able to help your dog get used to the vacuum and stop being afraid.
Why Dogs Hate the Vacuum
Your dog hates the vacuum for one simple reason: it’s scary.
“Look at it from your pup’s perspective: they are loud and move around willy-nilly and change the appearance of whomever is operating them,” says Jessica Gore, CPDT-KA, a founder and pup educator at Competent Pup in Los Angeles. “Most owners are not taking the time to properly teach their pup about a novel stimulus, the vacuum, so the default is usually fear.”
Additionally, dogs may perceive that the vacuum is coming toward them. “For example, the dog is lying on the floor, [and] the vacuum is turned on and used in a motion towards him on the floor,” says PhD Board Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Dr. Crista Coppola. “The dog may then jump on the couch, and the person proceeds to vacuum right up to the couch edge. The vacuum is also rarely paired with anything good because the owner is vacuuming and no one is paying any attention to the dog.”
Training Your Dog Not to Be Scared of the Vacuum
If your dog has behaved erratically around a vacuum, there are steps you can take to make your dog more comfortable around it. According to Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, and founder of Fun Paw Care, LLC, this would involve associating positive reinforcement with turning on the vacuum. “You would desensitize and counter-condition (D/CC) a dog to a vacuum if they are scared of it,” he says.
- First, introduce the vacuum in a controlled environment at a very low volume and/or a great distance from your dog.
- Then, pair the sound of the vacuum with the highest food reward. Do this several times until you see your dog’s reaction change from unsure and concerned to happy and excited when hearing the vacuum at very low levels of intensity, says Hartstein.
- After you get that happy response, increase the volume/sound of the vacuum in very small graduated increments, and repeat.
Starting at an Early Age
Coppola suggests incorporating play into desensitizing your dog and working with your dog at an early age.
“The prime time to expose a dog to something new is during [the] socialization period, [which is approximately] three weeks to three to four months of age, depending on individual and breed,” she says. “During this socialization period, dogs are most accepting of new stimuli (and social partners). A great way to introduce the vacuum is to start with the simple presence of the vacuum in the room while you engage the dog in something fun. Ideally [you’d use] play, but [you can also use] fun training and/or high value treats.”
Remember that if your dog shows signs of being uncomfortable, then you need to reduce the intensity of the stimulus, which is the vacuum, says Coppola. “Move farther away, stop moving, muffle the sound, turn [it] off, etc. And then continue to play at the intensity the dog was comfortable.”
Are Some Dog Breeds Less Sensitive to Noise?
Typically, whether or not your dog is scared of the vacuum is going to depend on prior experiences and exposure during the socialization period.
However, some studies suggest certain breeds are more sensitive to noise levels. Coppola points out that in one study that looked at noise sensitivity in 17 different breeds, Boxers, Great Danes, and Chinese Crested dogs “had lower frequencies of fear caused by noise,” according to the study. Additionally, female dogs were more likely than male dogs to be scared of noise, and neutered dogs had higher odds of being afraid of noises than intact dogs.
“Some would also posit that hunting breeds (i.e. gun dogs) have been selected for less noise sensitivity as well,” says Coppola.
Working With Your Dog
Pet hair vacuums are a great way to keep your house clean and low on allergens. With the right training, you can peacefully vacuum your home without your dog getting scared. And if you are having any trouble, then finding a professional trainer could prove helpful.
“Teach your dog that vacuums are safe and fun,” says Gore. “Hiring a positive professional trainer can help you desensitize and counter-condition your pup to their ‘scary monsters.'”