Dogs and Vacuum Cleaners
Is this a familiar scenario for you:
“Every time I turn the vacuum on my dog barks, bites and chases me around the house attacking the vacuum cleaner. I tell him to stop but he doesn’t listen. The only way I can clean the house is to lock him in a bedroom or outside.”
If so, you are not alone. In many cases this issue can be resolved relatively quickly with some patience and desensitisation training. The no. 1 rule to help your pet learn any new skill or behaviour is to set them up for success and implement a training routine. If your dog is attacking the vacuum cleaner whilst house cleaning, then you don’t try and teach your dog NOT TO attack or react to the vacuum when you are trying to clean. You only get frustrated and annoyed, your pet increases its level of reactivity and then you end up locking him or her away as in the above scenario.
Try this effective training routine and see how quickly your dog learns to ignore the vacuum cleaner:
Step 1: You will need to have the right equipment. For this exercise you will need the vacuum cleaner, lead and in most cases high quality food treats as the reward.
Step 2: You will implement the desensitisation program in a quiet, familiar and safe environment where your dog is less likely to be stressed. In this situation a quiet room in the house where there are no distractions will suffice.
Implement this program for about 5-10mins, 2-3 times per day. You are not trying to fix the behaviour in one lesson – small, regular sessions over 4-7 days will more than likely see great results.
By using food treats our aim is to develop a positive association with the vacuum cleaner. First you need to find out what is triggering your dog, i.e. the movement of the vacuum cleaner, the noise or both. For this exercise we will assume both. We will begin the program with the vacuum cleaner in a stationery position on the floor and have your dog take treats from on or close to it if he’s not reacting to it. By doing this your dog is having direct interaction and is aware of the stimulus (vacuum). You must be close to the vacuum cleaner and in full control to help give your dog confidence. Consistency and timing of treats is also a must. It must be clear to the dog what the reward is for!!
If your dog is calm with the vacuum cleaner in a stationery position, then add some movement. Start at a few metres away from your dog pretending to vacuum with small movements. If he reacts then move the vacuum or your dog further away. If your dog is charging at the vacuum cleaner then put him on a lead and restrain him to a table leg or something similar so he cannot get to it. You need to move away until he’s calm. You need to find the “critical distance’, the distance from the vacuum cleaner where there is little or no reaction from your dog. This is where you start working from. Each time you move the vacuum and your dog remains calm then reward with a treat. If your dog is off lead and approaching the vacuum cleaner to sniff or just be inquisitive but with no aggression you can reward as well. When you feel your dog is comfortable then take a couple of steps closer to your dog and repeat the process. If your dog bites, attacks the vacuum then just move back to the previous position where he was calm and repeat a couple of times from there. It just means you moved forward too quickly.
The aim of this program is to avoid the dog from exhibiting reactive responses as he will believe it’s his actions that prevented the vacuum cleaner from harming him. We need to re-enforce behaviour that shows the vacuum cleaner is not a threatening stimuli. It is important that the program is set up for success not failure!!!! Any sniffing or non reactive behaviour gets rewarded with food treats and when consistently showing this type of behaviour we can move to the next stage. Any reactive behaviour (which must be strongly avoided) then the treats are withheld and you move back to the position where your dog remained calm.
As you move forward increase the range of movement as well. Once your dog is calm when you are moving the vacuum cleaner in any direction, around him and possibly even nudging him with it then you can move onto the next phase.
When he is desensitised to the movement we will then use the same process but with the vacuum cleaner on. Move back to the original position, with vacuum cleaner in a stationery position and turn on. Reward your dog with treats if no reaction or calm. If your dog is happy to sniff and get close to the vacuum then put the treats on and around it. Start with the vacuum cleaner on for short periods and increase the duration. Again reward your dog if no aggressive response and turn off. If really reactive to the noise then use the lead again to prevent him from attacking the vacuum and find the critical distance. With the vacuum on the critical distance may be further away than you think. When calm around the noise, then gradually add movement and move closer to your dog. If there is any reactive behaviour then go back to previous position and repeat from there.
When comfortable in that room, then move the training into different rooms and different surfaces. Sometimes a change of environment or slightly different sound due to a change in surface can trigger a reaction. However, you will normally see your dog adapt very quickly to remaining calm and understanding he is safe.
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