Imagine sensing you have an alien in your house. It comes out at regular intervals and scares you as it screams across the carpet and seems to be after your master or mistress. The alien makes strange sucking noises and does not appear to be friendly. This is what a vacuum must seem like to your dog. Also, consider that dogs have heightened senses of smell and sound and the vacuum cleaner makes strange hostile noises and emits strong smells as it whips across the carpet. The machine is unpredictable dashing to and for and then suddenly it disappears, and all is quiet until…. the next time! This could be a pattern of behavior that is very upsetting for your dog and until there can be a treaty of peace between the vacuum and household pets your dog is going to feel afraid around this intruder. An alien that doesn’t sound or smell like the dog’s kind of playmate.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are naturally predisposed to be fearful of noises and scents they don’t fully understand. They may be curious and explore their surroundings by sniffing cautiously to try and understand any new sounds and smells. This type of fear is a behavioral response that protects dogs in the wild until they can be sure of the prey or aggressor they meet. They will naturally go into their fight or flight mode. Now the strange intruder is in their own home and your dog does not like the sight or sounds of this machine. Some dogs tend to be more fearful than others. If your dog has not been well socialized as a puppy or has not been exposed to a vacuum cleaner from an early age using a vacuum cleaner could present problems for you and your dog. Most reputable breeders will make sure the puppies they breed are exposed to all kinds of different sensory experiences. A domesticated dog that will be part of your home needs to be able to cope with the sound of a vacuum cleaner as well as other household machinery. Power-driven machines make strange high-pitched noises. They also pull up dust and dirt from the carpet that will bring all sorts of smells to your dog’s sensitive nose. Then there is the movement of the machine and its strange ability to sniff and suck up all kinds of things left on the carpet. Your dog may not understand why this intruder arrives out of the cupboard and totally upsets his living space. Dogs may also be overly protective of their family and so this intruder that moves with their loved ones who need protecting is a challenge for your poor dog who thinks he has sorted the monster. Every time the vacuum comes out to disturb everyone, it then disappears only to return the next day to once again invade his space. The dogs that are natural herders, like Shep the Sheepdog, will automatically be urged to herd this strange creature in the living room. Shep will be totally frustrated as his instinctive behavior is thwarted by a strange looking sheep that keeps coming back out of the cupboard time and time again. Genetically fearful dogs will find vacuum cleaners hard to deal with and it is difficult to change the mind of the dog that is naturally fearful. The fearful dog may feel he is being chased by this foreign fearsome invader.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is quite common for dogs to fear vacuum cleaners. If you see your dog running and hiding at clean-up time, drooling and urinating suddenly, or barking and nipping at the vacuum, then these are signs of fear in your dog. Depending on the intensity of the fear behaviors, you will want to deal with them as they interfere with the happy home life you desire and are stressful for your dog. Desensitizing a dog that is fearful will take time but simply by having the vacuum out with a doggie blanket over it may help encourage your dog to see the machine in a friendlier light. Then you can start the machine in another room and slowly bring it into a closer range with your dog. Treats at vacuum time could help to reassure your dog that the vacuum is not so bad. If you feel your dog’s behavior is obsessive and he keeps trying to attack the machine or cowers under the table in complete terror, then bring in some help to overcome this intense fear of the vacuum cleaner. Hopefully, you will be able to recognize and relate to the basic fear canine companions may have of loud noises and strange smells. Chasing your dog with the machine is never going to give the right message and even if it seems like a game to you it could be frustrating the dog’s basic instincts. Your dog wants to try to protect you or to herd a strange ‘animal’ in its home environment. When an animal is not able to perform its instinctive behavior, it can become very frustrated and fearful of not being able to perform certain innate actions.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Understanding your dog’s background is a key component of dealing with fear. Perhaps you did not get your dog as a puppy, then it could be possible that your puppy was not properly socialized. Socializing and being exposed to loud noises and unusual situations is an important part of introducing a puppy to the world he will live in. You made need some help to overcome this lack of exposure to foreign noises and different experiences. Desensitizing your dog to unfamiliar noises will take patience but it can be done. Chasing the vacuum could be cute when any little herder is exercising its instinctive behavior as a Sheepdog, but when Shep grows up and wants to nip the offensive vacuum in the living-room, that may not be such fun after all.
There can’t be many people that enjoy vacuuming, and your dog probably shares that sentiment too. Coming home from work and then having to tidy up and vacuum makes it a rough day for anyone. If you ask your dog how he feels at the end of a busy day guarding the house while you were at work and now guarding you from that wretched machine, his reply would surely also be ruff, ruff, a very ruff day!