My Little girl Lilly, 3 years old, was soo afraid of vacuum cleaner that I had to think how to fix this issue.
Why are dogs even afraid of vacuum?
Dogs are often afraid of vacuums because they’re loud and have a strange, confusing odor. Remember that our dogs primary sense is their sense of smell.
Our dog’s sense of hearing is also much more sensitive than ours, making loud noises a whole lot less tolerable. Combine that with the anticipation of the ensuing turmoil, and we have created our own vacuum monster!
Vacuum cleaners also look strange as alien. In a normal household, you likely only bring out the vacuum once, maybe twice per week. So, our dogs do not have the time to familiarize themselves with the device and become comfortable with it. And every time the vacuum comes out and startles or frightens your dog, anxiety builds.
Eventually the emotional reactions become a learned behavior; just the sight of the vacuum can trigger barking and hyperarousal. This can lead to zuigerphobia — the fear of vacuum cleaners.
Signs That Your Dog Is Zuigerphobic (Afraid of Vacuum Cleaners)
(Source https://www.k9ofmine.com/dog-is-scared-of-vacuum/ )
Most of us can tell when our dogs are truly frightened, but there are some more subtle signs we may miss that can indicate our dogs are uncomfortable.
Accordingly, it is important that we verse ourselves in our dog’s body language. By doing so, we can help train our dogs to be more comfortable with the vacuum.
Some of the most common reactions to the vacuum are:
- Barking at the vacuum. Nervous or anxious dogs will often bark at anything that scares them.
- Running from the vacuum. Frightened dogs will try to distance themselves as much as they can from the scary object. When dogs are scared, they enter into fight or flight mode. Fight might be barking or lunging, as mentioned above. Flight, on the other hand, might be running away from it. You might even see some internal conflict where they do a bit of both.
- Hiding in another room. If your dog is trying to flee from the vacuum because she is scared, she will likely try to get as far away as possible. She may find she feels safest in the closet, under the bed, or in another room where she at least doesn’t have to see the vacuum.
- Accidents. Accidents are often a consequence of anxiety. You know that nervous feeling in your belly when something frightens you? Your dogs may feel that too. And prolonged exposure to the trigger (the vacuum in this case), could cause her to pee or poo in the house. This is a response of the nervous system; it’s not an example of “bad” behavior.
- Hyperarousal. This one generally goes along with biting, lunging, or barking — but not necessarily. Your dog may start humping, pacing, panting, running around, whining, wanting to play or jumping up when the vacuum makes an appearance. These are all signs of hyperaousal, and they manifest from her nervous energy.
- Freezing. Some dogs get so frightened they don’t really move. This is not to be confused with lying on the floor relaxed; I’m talking about a dog who is standing, averting her gaze, maybe even trembling. She might also move in slow motion, with a lowered body.
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the subtle signs of stress your dog may display. There are several indicators that people often miss that may indicate that your dog is feeling uneasy, stressed, or worried.
Common things to look for include:
- Pinned back ears
- Tightened mouth with pursed lips
- Furrowed brow
- Stiff body posture
- Tucked tail
- Averted gaze (looking away from you)
- Whale eye (showing the whites of her eyes)
- Lowering her body
- Lifting a front paw
These are context dependent, so look for what your dog’s whole body is doing.
Desensitize Your Dog to the Trigger
This just means getting your four-footer used to the vacuum (or whatever your pooch is afraid of), very, very slowly. The goal is to proceed so slowly that she never reacts fearfully.
The best way to desensitize to the vacuum is to break it down into manageable steps. For example:
-Pull the vacuum out (it could even be in another part of the house) and then put it away.
-Pull the vacuum out in the same room
-Pull the vacuum out and move it around
-Pull the vacuum out and turn it on from another room
-Pull the vacuum out and turn it on in the same room
-Repeat each step at your pupper’s pace until she is able to tolerate it at the current level and intensity.
This also goes for the sound alone.
If you live in an apartment and you’re unable to have the vacuum on and have the volume still be low enough that it’s tolerable for your dog, check out YouTube.
Type in a quick “vacuum cleaner sounds” search, and you’ll find just what you need. Play it at a very low level, and slowly increase the volume over time.
We usually find “Dog relax music” on youtube. My dogs really love that kind music and they feel more relaxed.
Try to desensitize your dog like this in short increments, a few times every day. Only doing this once a week is likely not enough exposure to get to the next step in this lifetime.
If your dog has been terrified of the sound of the vacuum for 10 years, it may take some time and patients!
Counter-Condition Your Dog
This is what I did with my Lilly. And it worked, as you see in pictures.
This can be done while you work on desensitizing your dog to the sight and the sound of the vacuum.
What the heck is counter-conditioning? It roughly means, pairing the scary vacuum with a favorite treat or toy.
Make sure that the item is high value (peanut butter, bacon grease, fish skin, etc.) or the toy is a-mazing! This will help your dog to associate the vacuum with all the best things in life.
If your dog will not take the toy or food, you are either too close or the volume is too loud.
My story with Lilly
I started with Lilly and vacuum very slowly. She was quite afraid of that monster, was barking, hiding and running away as soon monster was taken out of closet. For her worst, my vacuum is industrial, as I sew and have lots of to vacuum every day. But often vacuuming did not help my girl to get used. What I did, I read all those advises above, and started step by step.
First I took vacuum out of closet and sat besides it. I took dog food (my dogs get only their food, no treats or any snacks, nothing, for their best) and asked my Lilly to come to me. She was afraid but wanted to get “her treat” even more. So she finally came closer. Of course she run away immediately after eating her food. But everyday she could stand this “connection” longer and longer. Later she even came herself for “treats” as soon I took out vacuum. Good girl.
After she started feeling better besides quite big monster, I tried to turn it on. But sat not so close to it and invited my girl again. Of course it worked, as she already new scenario. Step by step, she was ok to come close to get her snack.
Next step was to start moving with vacuum. Especially the hose, oh my that was hardest pat. But look at the pictures, it all worked as we did it step by step slowly.
The last step was to put treats on suction head so she could come and take it herself. As always we started with sound of, after getting used to it, I turned on the sound, and finally started moving it around. Yes, now she is always coming for treats as soon I vacuum. I cant sy she is excited to see that monster, but she is making friends with this alien slowly step by step. At least she is not running away anymore scared to death. Now she knows that monster can give her treats. It motivates her to feel better about it.
Tell me your vacuum story!