Conquering the Mighty Vacuum

Is your dog afraid of the BIG BAD….VACUUM? Mine is, always has been, always WON’T be! Ever since we rescued her around 8 weeks old (we think), she has been terrified of the vacuum and noises that sound similar to a vacuum (blowdryers, electric razors, etc.). At around 3 months old my mother turned on the hair dryer and she peed. The pattern continued every time someone turned on the vacuum. We knew that vacuuming with the dog in the house was not an option. Her fear progressed to “attacking” the vacuum and barking at it. Her fear has lessened over time and she’s okay having a vacuum (not on) in the same room, and fine with hair dryers and electric razors as long as she’s not the victim of them.

Dogs can have many fears, little and big. There are many things Oreo and I still need to work on, but I’m hoping that conquering her fear of the vacuum is one that can be attained in a shorter amount of time. If she never does, I can live with management, but why not make her feel more confident and comfortable? Hey, it would also help us so we can vacuum more often without one of us taking her outside.

I have recently been reviewing books about training. One book is called “Do Over Dogs Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life” by Pat Miller. This book is very helpful to people looking to adopt a dog with issues and give it another chance at life as Pat Miller says. It discusses finding a dog, testing a dog, figuring out how many issues you want/can work with, and gives tips on training your “Do-Over dog.” It is a quick read that ends with inspirational stories of dogs with happy endings.

I am using the counter-conditioning and desensitization plan mentioned in the book.

Before I started: Determine distance that dog is alert but not extremely fearful towards the vacuum (threshold distance). Oreo is okay being next to the vacuum without it moving or running, so I am using that as my starting point.

Step 1: When I take the vacuum out (not moving, not on) I instantly start feeding her yummy treats (steak yummm).  The best thing is to have a helper to put the vacuum in view, then put it away, while you have the dog on a leash.

Step 2: After a few seconds I put the vacuum back and stop feeding the dog treats. Seeing the vacuum=great things (yummy treats)

Step 3: I will keep repeating steps 1 & 2 until the vacuum causes my dog to look at me happily for treats. Pat says this is called a “conditioned emotional response” the dog’s association with the vacuum (non-running not moving) at that distance is positive instead of negative.

Step 4: Next, I would increase the intensity. This time I would give her more distance while moving the vacuum (obviously I need a helper). Instead, I will repeat steps 1 & 2, but this time with the vacuum moving, but not on. The distance gives her space to feel more comfortable.

Step 5: I will continue doing steps 1  & 2 with the moving vacuum (not on) and decrease the distance over time when she is happy at the current distance, until she is happily looking at me for treats and not anxious.

Step 6: When the dog is happy to have the moving vacuum right next to her (not on), then it’s time for the next steps of having the vacuum on. Now I will move her back to a further distance, with no movement, and have a helper turn the vacuum on for a few seconds (or just one depending on your dog), and treat her continually until the vacuum is off.

Step 7: Now I will increase the amount of time with the vacuum on (but not moving) and continue treating Oreo.

Step 8: When Oreo is happy to have it on continuously, it’s time to decrease the distance in small increments while repeating steps 1 & 2 but with a vacuum that is on and not moving.

Step 9: When Oreo is happy to have the running, stationary vacuum next to her I’m ready for the final step. This time, I will move her back to a further distance, and have the running vacuum move, and eventually decrease the distance and so forth (you get the hang of it). Then eventually she will be happy to have a running vacuum on.

Some people may think this is broken down into TOO many steps, but if you have a fearful dog, this is what you NEED to do. You need to break it down into small steps that your dog can handle. I hope to increase her confidence by having her comfortable around the vacuum (hey, it wouldn’t be too bad for me either!). I have many things that may take months or years for her to get over (her fear of other dogs for example), if she ever gets over it at all. Hey, if I was attacked out of the blue by someone on a walk in my neighborhood, I wouldn’t feel safe walking around with strangers nearby either. I am going to take some time to conquer other fears that might be more attainable in a shorter amount of time to help her feel more successful as well as me. I started her training with the vacuum today and will update you all on our progress!