If your dog is afraid of the humble vacuum cleaner, rest assured they are not alone. Even the sight of a vacuum can sometimes be enough to set them off in a panic, which can result in barking, howling, or seeking refuge by running away and hiding.
These are telltale signs of anxiety and can result in a lifetime phobia of vacuums if not properly addressed. It’s important to recognise that these behaviours mean that your dog is scared, and not just acting out. For this reason, it’s critical that you do not raise your voice or force them closer to the object as this will result in negative reinforcement.
The good news is, we have a few steps you can try to rid your dog of their fear of the trusty vacuum.
1. Positive reinforcement: Put your dog and vacuum cleaner in the same room and ensure the vacuum is switched off. Every time they approach the vacuum, reward them with a treat. Allow them to familiarise themselves with the object by letting them sniff, and make contact with it.
2.Background noise: Get someone to turn on the vacuum in a different room or down the hallway - somewhere within earshot, but not visible to your dog. While the vacuum is on, give your pooch plenty of praise, treats, and pats before they can become distracted and/or distressed by the noise. Do this weekly over a few weeks to get your pooch accustomed to the noise, without the visible threat.
3.Rewards: In a large space, put your dog on one side of the room and the vacuum on the side furthest away. While you sit with your dog, have someone turn on the vacuum. When the vacuum is turned on, continue to praise your dog with pats and treats so that they associate the vacuum with rewards.
4. Reinforcement: Turn the vacuum off, and stop giving your dog pats or treats. Allow your dog to familiarise itself with the vacuum while it is off.
5. Repetition: Keep repeating steps 3 & 4 over a few weeks and gradually reduce the distance between your pooch and the vacuum
6. The final frontier: Once your dog responds to the positive reinforcement whilst the vacuum is on, slowly wean them off treats and only reward them when they are calm.
It's important to note that dogs respond differently to perceived threats, and you should read your dogs' body language and ensure they are not placed under undue stress which can result in long-term unwanted effects. And remember greyhound behaviour can be different to other breeds with them freezing and going into their shell when they are anxious. If you want to learn more about greyhounds and their behaviour head to our ‘News’ and ‘Resources’ pages at gapnsw.com.au.