By Sammy Dolan
Most people assume that dogs are to vacuum cleaners as oil is to water—they just do not mix! Sure, most dogs are not fond of vacuum cleaners, but that does not mean that they cannot be trained to tolerate, and—dare we say—love them?
Dogs are more malleable than most people think.
If you don’t think that your dog can learn to change his behavior, do yourself a favor and watch “The Dog Whisperer.”
Cesar Millan proves time and time again that dogs are capable learners; all they need is the right sense of direction.
If you want to know how to break your dog’s vacuum cleaner fear, then listen up: class is now in session!
Break vacuum cleaner fear with conditioning
Have you ever heard of “Pavlov’s dog?” If not, here is a crash course in Psychology 101. Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who noticed that his dog would salivate when he entered the room near feeding time.
Even though Pavlov did not present food to his pup right away, he wondered if he could pair a specific stimulus with repetitive feeding schedules to make his dog salivate.
To test his hypothesis, Pavlov sounded a bell before he fed his canine companion. After a few of these repetitive feeding cycles, Pavlov found that his theory was correct: soon enough, Pavlov’s dog began to associate the bell with food; therefore, his dog began to salivate whenever Pavlov sounded it. Pavlov’s famous experiment is a prime example of “classical conditioning.” Dogs, like humans, learn by repetition and relevant association.
So how do you apply classical conditioning to a vacuum cleaner fear?
Know thy enemy
First, you need to understand why your dog has vacuum cleaner fear.
There are essentially two elements at play here: noise and movement.
Dogs hate loud noises. Any canine parent who has weathered a booming thunderstorm knows that dogs associate loud noises with danger. To them, thunderstorms sound like the end of the world; and what do they do when they think the world is ending? They run to the person that gives them a sense of comfort and security in times of uncertainty.
Can we blame them? Weren’t we all a bit scared when we heard the heavens crackle in our infancy? Eventually, as we got older, we all realized that there is truly nothing to fear.
Noise, reward and repeat
In order to make your four-legged friend comfortable with the noise of the vacuum cleaner, you need to introduce it slowly in conjunction with a reward. This training session will require two people, so recruit a friend. Remember to reward your friend with a treat, too, for helping out!
Start by running the vacuum behind a closed or the slightly cracked door that separates your dog from the vacuum. While your friend starts the vacuum, immediately reward your furry pal with a treat and a compliment.
Continue this process occasionally for a few weeks. Once your dog gets comfortable with the muffled sound of the vacuum cleaner, open the door wider and wider, exposing more and more of the vacuum’s full sound each day.
Eventually, your dog will get used to the sound. By simultaneously feeding and running the vacuum, you will teach your dog to think of food when he hears the sound of the vacuum and you’ll reduce his vacuum cleaner fear.
To make this task a little easier, you could invest in a quieter vacuum cleaner. As technology improves, vacuum cleaners are getting more powerful, but also quieter.
Scent is everything
If your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner’s movements, then transfer his own scent on to the vacuum.
Dogs see the world primarily through their noses. Their heightened sense of smell allows them to tell friend from foe. There’s a reason why your dog gets excited before you even pull into the driveway—it is because they can literally smell you from miles away.
To show your dog there’s no reason for vacuum cleaner fear, rub your dog with a towel. Next, rub that same towel up, down and around your vacuum cleaner.
Leave the vacuum in one of your dog’s favorite rooms whenever you are not using it. If your dog smells himself on the vacuum cleaner, he will be less likely to run from it.
Once he seems comfortable with the vacuum in a stationary position, try rolling it toward him slowly while a friend rewards him with treats and encouraging words.
Just as it was with noise, you need to condition your dog so that he associates the vacuum’s movements with food.
Once your dog either accepts or becomes indifferent to the vacuum’s movements, try turning the vacuum on and moving it at the same time.
Pavlov proved that dogs can be taught to make lasting and valuable habits and associations. Your dog can learn to accept the vacuum cleaner as a harmless resident in his personal living habitat.
Be consistent—your dog may just surprise you. When that day comes, be sure to learn from your dog’s example. Like Fido, you too can conquer your fears.
All you need to do is immerse yourself in whatever it is that you do not understand. You are the higher being after all. If they can do it, so can we!
Sammy Dolan is the owner of Home Clean Expert. His goal is to provide information for anyone looking for advice on home cleaning. He evaluates the latest and most popular appliances by comparing their features, price and performance to help people make informed buying decisions.