Some dogs rank vacuum cleaners on the same level of evil as fireworks and thunderstorms. Others look at your vacuum as a giant noisy toy. If your pal becomes playful when you pull out the vacuum, consider yourself lucky. If he reacts with fear, you can counter condition him to accept the vacuum as a friend -- or at least an acquaintance.
When your pooch hears the whirring and roaring of a vacuum, his first reaction is probably a deep fear. He thinks it's a monster that's going to suck him up. Loud noises often scare canines -- thunder, sirens, fireworks -- and the vacuum is no different. Dogs who have been around the block a few times might not react as fearfully as puppies, because they've adjusted to the obnoxiously loud noise. The youngsters have never seen or heard something like a vacuum before, and anything that's new is usually bad news for the four-legged toddlers.
Not all dogs react fearfully when facing a vacuum because of the noise. Some freak out because the sweeper brings back bad memories. It's like a dog who was beaten with a newspaper and now cowers when he sees one folded up. Maybe a vacuum ran over your pooch's foot, or he had previous owners who poked at him with the attachment or yelled at him when he got in its way. Anything negative that happened to him while the vacuum was running can put him in a state of fear when he sees or hears it.
Instead of reacting with fear, some canines go into play mode. They run around, bark and lunge at the vacuum or jump over it. This response can sometimes be a fear response -- they're fighting back at what they're afraid of -- but it's typically a sign your pal's excited. So long as his hackles aren't raised and he's not growling, tucking his tail or showing his teeth, his lunges and playful barks are signs he's enjoying himself.
Reversing your pup's fear of the vacuum is a slow process. Start by taking the vacuum out and rolling it to the middle of a room. Leave the vacuum off. When your pup wanders in to check it out -- however long that takes -- toss him a treat and praise him. After a day or two of letting him check it out and getting good things in return, start slowly moving the vacuum while it's off, again offering him treats for responding positively. After he responds well to you moving the vacuum while it's off, you can turn it on -- but don't move it. After he consistently reacts positively to the noisy vacuum, you can begin moving it while it's on. If he ever freaks out, go back to the previous step. As Pat Miller, author of "Positive Perspectives 2: Know Your Dog, Train Your Dog," explains, you want to take baby steps when upping the intensity and go back down a level the moment your pup responds negatively. Only offer your pup treats for responding positively to the vacuum, not for running away or cowering.
Always give your pup a safe room to flee to if he's scared of the vacuum. The room should be somewhere that’s typically far away and insulated from the noise. That might be a room at the end of a hallway or the bathroom upstairs. When you need to vacuum that room, shut the vacuum off and give your pup a chance to venture out on his own. When he does, move the vacuum into the room. You don't want to force him out with the noise of the vacuum.
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