Why Are Dogs Scared of Vacuums?

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You might be cleaning a little extra around the house these days, and have noticed that every time you pull out the vacuum cleaner your dog runs into another room. Have you ever wondered why your dog is scared of the vacuum? Is it the loud noise, the moving of furniture or the flurry of activity that often accompanies vacuuming? Or is it something that they can perceive that you just can't?

Dogs' fraught relationship with vacuums is well-known — but few of us truly understand the reason why. In this piece, we'll explore the answer to the question: Why are dogs scared of vacuums? We'll also dive into training techniques to help your dog better tolerate the use of this household cleaning tool.

Why Are Dogs Scared of Vacuums?

More often than not, when vacuums surface, dogs exhibit fear-driven behaviors such as trembling, hiding or barking at (or attacking) the vacuum, to name a few. But why? At the core of the issue are two basic reasons:

1. They're Noisy

The verdict on exactly how powerful dogs' sense of hearing is may still be out — but it's undeniable that in certain cases, dogs are able to detect sounds that even the sharpest human ear cannot hear. The American Kennel Club reported, "The average adult human cannot hear sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz), although young children can hear higher ... Dogs, on the other hand, can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz." What's more, dogs can also detect very soft sounds at high frequencies. So, considering a dog can hear sounds at lower decibels that humans (below 0dB), imagine how loud a vacuum cleaner is that often registers around 75dB, according to Yale University.

Now consider your vacuum, which emits many high-pitched sounds. To a dog who may be detecting sounds we can't hear, that racket could become too much to handle — especially if it catches them by surprise.

Dog lays on ground while robot vacuum sits in foreground.

2. They're Smelly

Dogs' sense of smell is also powerful. While you might not realize it, your vacuum is kicking up a lot of unusual smells that your dog can detect. You might only smell the warm scent of a freshly vacuumed living room, but your dog will able to sense dust and old particles that had long since settled under your couch, according to MSN . Given that dogs rely so heavily on their sharp senses of smell, it's easy to see why they get anxious.

Are Dogs Afraid of Robot Vacuums, Too?

Robot vacuums tend to be quieter than traditional upright vacuums, and they can be less physically intimidating. So are these less disturbing alternatives if your dog is scared of the vacuum?

Without regular exposure, sadly, the answer is likely no. For many dogs, robot vacuums may be perceived as predators. Other dogs may perceive them as toys, while some may consider them prey because their seemingly autonomous nature causes them to "behave" like small creatures. For some dogs, the fact that they stir up new smells and make high-pitched sounds just like traditional vacuums could be enough to bother them.

Building a Tolerance to Vacuuming

There are a number of ways you can help your dog build a tolerance to vacuums. These include:

  • Device desensitization: Start by taking out your vacuum and rewarding your dog for approaching it. After about a week of this process, begin setting aside time (approximately 10 minutes a day) to slowly move the vacuum closer to your dog while encouraging them to sit and stay. Reward them for doing so. Continue following this pattern, gradually upping the ante toward full use of the vacuum and rewarding your dog for their tolerance, until they've become relatively indifferent to it. Be patient: It may take time for your dog to unlearn fearful associations with the vacuum and to associate it with rewards. Note: If you have a robot vacuum, consider allowing your dog to spend time with the device (while you watch) and rewarding them for good behavior.
  • Noise desensitization: Sometimes dogs' fear is more directly related to the sounds of the vacuum. If this seems to be the case, consider pulling up videos of vacuum sounds online and playing them while you and your dog spend time together in a room. Do this for a short period of time each day — and as you do, reward your dog.

Alternatively, consider arranging for your dog to be out on a walk, at a playdate or in another room while you vacuum the house.

So, why are dogs afraid of vacuums? Simply put, they're not used to them. Without understanding their purpose, vacuums can seem to be little more than large, noisy predators to our dogs. But don't fret! With a little training and a lot of love, you can help your dog adapt.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.

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