It’s not uncommon to see dogs barking or reacting fearfully to some very common every day objects or noises including lawnmowers, bikes, skateboards, vacuums, cars, loud noises, thunderstorms and fireworks.
Usually this is a result of a lack of early socialisation during their critical period of development as a puppy, the first 3 – 4 months of their lives, where they should be exposed in a positive way to anything they might encounter and react to as an adult dog.
Introduce your puppy positively
If they are slowly and positively introduced to these objects and experiences as a puppy, then you can avoid having an adult dog on your hands that is constantly barking or chasing after skateboards, wheels or reacting to the vacuum, or that turns into a trembling mess when they sense a thunderstorm coming.
How to prevent a dog reacting to the vacuum
- Start with the vacuum turned off
- Encourage your puppy to sniff and explore it
- Reward him for calm interaction (or even disinterest) with a treat, praise or play (depending on what he loves most) to create a positive association and reinforce that desired behaviour
- Do this a few times until you are sure they are comfortable being around the vacuum without reacting
- If your puppy barks or backs away, don’t react. Increase the distance, but so the vacuum remains in view, and reward them once calm. Work slowly to decrease the distance with no reaction.
- When you are confident your puppy is ready, again start at a distance and move the vacuum around whilst still turned off. Ideally have someone help you with the next few steps, and continue rewarding no reaction.
- Again if your puppy reacts, go back a step and start with even more distance the next time.
- Follow the same two steps above to progress to having the vacuum turned on and still, then turning it on and moving it.
- Should your puppy try to bite or actively play with the vacuum at any of the stages verbally “shoo” them away (do NOT use the vacuum to physically do this) and reward them for calm behaviour away from the vacuum…and keep going back a step if you need to.
Try this technique with some of the most common items that dogs can be reactive to including lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hair dryers etc.
Desensitising an adult dog to the vacuum
To desensitise an adult dog to the vacuum you would follow a similar process, but you may just need to work at a greater distance and introduce movement and sound at a much slower pace so that you do not move them past their threshold to the point they react.
We always want to keep them under that threshold and slowly move towards the object in tiny increments using positive reinforcement of the calm behaviour.
If you move too quickly and they react
If you do push them too far, calmly move back, do some obedience work they are comfortable with at a distance where they are not reacting and reward that good behaviour, so that you finish on a high.
Try again the next day at a greater distance. Remember small steps lead to a big result.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.