You know you own a dog afraid of vacuum cleaners if every time you need to clean your floor, you are forced to multitask between keeping your carpet spotless and keeping Rover at bay. Understanding your dog's fear of vacuum cleaners is half of the solution. The next step is to find a way for your dog to make peace with that odd monster on wheels.
Lack of Exposure
If you got your dog from a backyard breeder, pet store or other questionable source, your dog may have never been exposed to a vacuum cleaner before. Reputable breeders, on the other hand, will make sure their puppies are exposed to a variety of household noises and stimuli before sending them to their new homes. This includes exposing the puppies to hair dryers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other loud appliances so they will feel more comfortable in their presence.
Your dog may be fearful of the vacuum simply because he is genetically wired to be fearful of certain stimuli. Just as dogs come in all shapes, colors and sizes, they also come with their own unique personalities. These shy, overly cautious specimens may not only show fear towards vacuum cleaners, but also towards a variety of objects, new situations and generally anything they perceive as threatening. While you can help these dogs overcome their genetic weaknesses, the temperament they have inherited will always be a limiting factor on how confident they can become.
Monster on Wheels
Regardless of genetics and early exposure during puppyhood, a vacuum cleaner generally remains a scary object from a dog's perspective. For starters, vacuums make odd noises. Add to that the fact that you are thrusting it around using erratic movements and that it's long trunk is sucking all sorts of things from the floor. No animal in the wild does anything like that, so it's quite normal for dogs to be suspicious and wary when around it.
Sometimes, what looks like fear is really herding instinct at play. It is not at all unusual to see a border collie chase a vacuum cleaner when it moves and attempt to herd it as if it was an unruly sheep. Regardless of the cause, a vacuum can become dog's best friend if it becomes an automatic treat dispenser. Turn on the vacuum in another room and feed your dog treats until it turns off; the noise will soon become a predictor of good things. Afterward, you can turn it off, place several treats around it and let Rover meet the vacuum. To further make vacuuming rewarding for your dog, toss treats in your dog's direction every time you vacuum.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.