Does your dog bark at the vacuum cleaner or run for cover every time you get it out?
If this is the case, you have something in common with many dog owners.
Barking at the vacuum cleaner can be annoying, and we do not want our fur babies to be frightened either.
Let's explore why dogs have a strained relationship with your vacuum cleaner, and some things that you can do to help alleviate both your stress and their stress.
How Loud Can Your Dog Hear?
Humans can hear between 20 and 20,000 Hz, but dogs can hear between 40 and 60,000 Hz.
When you think of a dog whistle, most are around 20,000 Hertz, which is just outside of our hearing range, but this is not difficult for dogs at all, and they can hear much higher pitch sounds.
When you start the vacuum cleaner, your dog may be picking up sounds out of your range that is uncomfortable, so you might want to be a little more patient with them when they suddenly run for cover.
One of the main factors that affect why your dog is afraid of vacuum cleaners is the loud noise that it makes.
Dogs have more sensitive hearing than we do, and they can also hear sounds and ranges that are well above our capabilities.
That is why you can use a dog whistle that only they can hear and sounds silent to us. Your dog may be hearing sounds from your vacuum cleaner that are not obvious to you.
A dog’s sense of hearing is truly impressive, and they can do things that we cannot. For instance, they have selective hearing and can hear sounds in each ear independent of the other one.
They can listen to normal house sounds and hear sounds outside of the house at the same time.
They also have a better ability to select what sounds they pay attention to, which is something every dog owner realizes at some point.
When it comes to the frequency that dogs can hear, they can hear sounds that are both below and above our hearing range.
If you think of this as a piano with 88 keys, you would need four additional octaves above the highest note to understand what your dog can hear.
4 Reasons Why Dogs Are Scared of’ Vacuums
Sound is one reason why your dog may dislike your vacuum cleaner, but there are other reasons, too.
We have already addressed the possibility of high-pitched sounds from the engine, but your vacuum also makes strange sounds due to suction and when you are picking up larger objects.
The sounds that it makes when picking up spilled crackers are unfamiliar and may cause your dog to become defensive or frightened. They might bark at it simply because it is something unfamiliar.
Aside from the noise, the vacuum cleaner also makes strange odors. Dogs also have a keener sense of smell than we do, and this may be cause for some of their distress.
The smell of hot rubber from the belt or dust that is kicked up can also cause the dog to become alarmed.
3. If The Dog Isn’t Socialized
Just like your dog, we are frightened by sudden sounds that are unfamiliar to us. Think about when you are sitting in your home and hear an unfamiliar sound outside.
You get up to see what it is. Once you have identified the sound and determined that it is harmless, then you go back to what you were doing.
There is a time between when you hear the sound and discover what it is when you might feel a little anxious. This is exactly what your dog is feeling too when you start the vacuum.
An important part of puppy socialization is exposing them to different sounds at a young age.
If your dog grew up in an environment where they were not exposed to vacuum cleaners and new circumstances regularly, then they did not develop the coping skills necessary to investigate them appropriately.
The best thing you can do for your puppy is to take them along, let them experience new things, and explore in a safe environment.
The final reason why your dog might be stressed by your vacuum cleaner comes down to one of personality. Just like us, dogs are individuals.
Some are more laid back, while others are more reactive. Another factor that comes into play is breed.
We all know that one person in our lives who is nervous about everything, and we also know people who just seem to let things roll off their back and not affect them.
Another thing that comes into play is breed. Some dog breeds tend to bark at vacuum cleaners more than others.
For instance, border collies and cattle dogs tend to be notorious for this.
In these breeds, it might be that they are trying to herd or control the vacuum cleaner just as they would unruly sheep.
Other breeds, like your great dane, might barely lift their head off the couch and take notice.
Signs Your Dog Is Scared
No one wants their fur babies to be frightened or stressed. Dogs have a unique way of telling us that something is wrong.
Here are a few signs that you should watch for if your dog is trying to tell you they are stressed.
Some dogs, such as Saint Bernards and English Mastiffs, tend to drool more than others do. Increased drooling in these breeds, or drooling in dogs that do not do it often otherwise, can be a sign that they are stressed about the vacuum cleaner.
Yawning in your dog does not always mean that they are relaxed and ready for a nap. This can be a sign of nervousness. If they are drooling and yawning at the same time, then they may be telling you that the vacuum is stressing them out.
Dogs urinate because nature calls, but they also can urinate when they are marking their territory or when they are excited or frightened.
When a dog feels frightened, it may urinate in acknowledgment of a dominant figure. They do this to show that they are not a threat.
If your dog urinates when you turn on the vacuum cleaner, it is not usually a sign they need to go outside, but that they are frightened.
4. Destructive Chewing
Destructive chewing is another sign that your dog is scared of the vacuum cleaner. If they are chewing on electrical wires, furniture, pillows, or your favorite pair of slippers, it is usually not that they are just trying to be bad.
One way to discover if the vacuum cleaner is the problem is to observe when your dog tends to become destructive.
5. Hiding Underneath Furniture
When we encounter something that frightens us, it either triggers fight or flight. If your dog suddenly runs and hides, they are trying to go somewhere that makes them feel safe from the perceived threat.
Should You Throw Away Your Vacuum Cleaner?
Vacuums are necessary for houses that are filled with fur. We all want what is best for our dogs, and no one wants their dog to be frightened of the vacuum cleaner.
If your dog barks, is destructive or urinates out of fear, it can be annoying.
Before you decide to throw out your vacuum cleaner, you need to know that there are some things you can do to help them develop a better working relationship with it.
The best time to start is when the dog is a puppy, but some of these techniques can also work with older dogs.
How to Help Your Dog Not Be Scared
Here are a few techniques to help your dog become less reactive and fearful of the vacuum cleaner.
1. Training Them
One of the best things that you can do is to train your dog on basic commands. Puppy socialization classes and beginning obedience help you establish a bond with your dog.
Dogs have a specific social order that is based on hierarchy. Even though your dog may be far removed from the ancient wolf pack from which they came, they still retain much of their pack instinct in their relationships with humans.
One of the jobs of dogs in the top echelon is to protect the rest from harm. Formal training establishes that you are the pack leader, and your dog will look up to you for guidance.
Untrained dogs believe they need to fill the position of protector. When they are barking at your vacuum cleaner or attacking it, it is simply that they are trying to protect you from it. Training can help to alleviate this confusion of social roles.
Another thing you can do is to try to desensitize your dog to the vacuum. The goal of desensitization is for your dog to remain calm when you turn it on.
This is a stepped process that works according to your dog’s tolerance level. The idea is to start small and build up until it no longer reacts.
Ways to Desensitize Your Dog
Here are the steps to desensitizing your dog to the vacuum.
1. Keep the Vacuum Cleaner in an Open Space
One thing you can do is store your vacuum in an open space where the dog can see it daily.
If it is something that you bring out every so often, then it is an unfamiliar object, but if it is part of their environment that is always sitting in the corner, then it is not as much of a threat.
It is important not to force your dog to come close to the vacuum cleaner because this will reinforce their fears.
Also, you can expect that it will take some time and will not happen overnight. The key is patience, and start small.
2. Keep the Vacuum Cleaner Low to the Ground
Another thing to do is to keep the vacuum cleaner close to the ground. This way it will not make the feeling of dominance over your dog worse.
Not only that, but they can also easily take a sniff and investigate it to see that it is not a threat.
Another thing you can do is occasionally switch on the vacuum cleaner when your dog is across the room or in another part of the house, even when you are not vacuuming.
This will help your dog become familiar with the sound, and it will become a normal part of their environment.
3. Start With A Small Vacuum Cleaner
The best thing to do is to remember to start with a small vacuum cleaner. Only work with your dog for a few minutes at a time in a space that is in a separate room.
It is helpful if you can have another friend or family member watch the dog to see how they react when you are vacuuming in another room and not close to them.
Once your dog becomes comfortable with the vacuum from a distance, then you can start slowly moving it closer to their space. The key is to do this gradually, and back off if your dog reacts.
4. Place Tasty Treats on the Vacuum Cleaner
Another thing you might be able to do is to place treats on the vacuum.
This can do wonders for changing your dog’s perception of it. Instead of a threat, it is something that is a source of tasty rewards.
Make sure to reward your dog when they stay calm as you vacuum.
You might find that with time, your dog wags its tail and even welcomes the vacuum because they know it as a source of reward rather than a threat.
5. Distract Your Dog
Some dogs are motivated by toys more than treats. If this is your dog, you can try placing a favorite toy in or near the vacuum. You can also give them their favorite toy while it is running.
If you have another family member who can distract the dog by playing with them while you vacuum, this might also help and teach them that vacuuming time is also playtime for them.
What to Avoid
There are some things you should avoid when it comes to your dog and vacuum cleaners.
You have to remember that fear of the vacuum cleaner is not disobedience, but it is a sign that your dog is frightened.
You should never yell at or punish your dog for reacting to the vacuum cleaner because that will only make it worse.
You should also not tie your dog up or lock them in a crate because they will come to associate the sound of the vacuum with punishment.
You should also not force them to endure the sound because it may be that the vacuum cleaner is hurting their ears.
Fussing over your dog when it is reacting to your vacuum cleaner may teach your dog that it gets attention for its behavior, and this will encourage it.
The most important thing is that you want to establish a positive relationship and not a negative one.
Even though barking at the vacuum or running from it can be an annoying behavior, you have to keep in mind what is going on from the dog’s perspective.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your dog improve their relationship with this common household object.
With patience and developing a positive association with the vacuum cleaner, you might be surprised that your dog might even come to see it as a positive thing. This will be a relief to them and you.