Why Are Dogs Afraid of Vacuums?

By John Martin - October 23, 2020

Dog afraid of vacuum cleanerYou’ve heard of jumpy cats. But some dogs can do the same upon the first sign of a vacuum cleaner. And it’s quite the range too. Some start acting edgy while some others are downright mortified at the sight of it. If you have a dog that fits the description, you want to take some time and find out why this is happening. It’s the least you could do.

It Is Loud, Son

You might find it to be absurd but think about it. A vacuum cleaner is loud. The amount of noise it makes is sometimes difficult even for you and me to handle. So it is natural that the animal with a better sense of hearing than us humans has an adverse reaction to it. We do it because we understand its utility and choose to put up with the massive downside.

It can also be a case of not knowing what the machine is. Some breeders make sure puppies are exposed to a variety of noises made in an average home like washing machines and vacuum cleaners so that they feel safe and comfortable in their new home. But that is not always a given. So lack of familiarity might be a factor.

They Startle Easy

The noise coming from a typical vacuum cleaner is anywhere between 70 and 80 decibels. Some of these machines are like superbikes. They can go from zero to maximum volume in seconds. That can be startling for a pet that is lazing around the house and not expecting calamitous sounds from inside the house. Add to that, their sensitivity to sound and the reaction if they are already terrified of the machine.

It’s starting to make sense, isn’t it?

Something Smells Funky

We’ve talked about sound and that was probably not news to you. But have you ever considered that it might be the smell? It is well known that dogs have an acute sense of smell. If you haven’t vacuumed your house in a while, the machine is capable of kicking up a good deal of dust from carpets and other dirt-absorbing materials. Many humans use masks and scarves to cover their nose and mouth area to avoid breathing it in. Now, put a dog in the place of that human and imagine what an assault it must feel like on its senses.

You Sniff Me, I Sniff Back

Here’s something to think about. In a way, a vacuum cleaner is like a dog, except it is much more aggressive. Whatever the breed, dogs are good at sniffing things out, right? If you think about it, vacuum cleaners are also sniffers. But like a dog on steroids. They gobble up whatever comes in their way and animals don’t like such objects. It is possible that your dog is frightened of what he/she sees. It is also possible that he/she is perceiving the vacuum to be a threat. So from their point of view, watching you clean the house with a vacuum cleaner could be like living in a horror movie.

What You Can Do

Fortunately, dogs are intelligent beings and humans are not half as bad. There are a few simple things you can do to allay their fears and make life easy for yourself.

A Quieter Vacuum

The first option, of course, is to check if you can buy a quieter vacuum. You can find canisters, an electro-brush, motorized brush bar or upright models in the market that can bring the noise level closer down to 70 decibels. You could also down a notch by up to 50% by using the right hose. But you can’t replace every item in the house that your dog has a problem with. So look for home remedies on how to hush it a bit.

Check if it is your vacuum cleaner’s motor that is creating the noise. See if there are leaks or holes in the machine and fix them. You could also change the position of the vacuum and see if it helps. You can also look for sound insulators to help your cause.

Get Them into It Young

But let’s not get our hopes up. If your dog is afraid of your vacuum cleaner, the odds of solving the problem by reducing the noise level are not great. If you are dealing with a puppy, you’re in luck because it is a very trainable age. Get them used to it before they grow up and solidify the feeling of fear. If you have a grown-up dog, this might not be very helpful.

Keep the vacuum in an open area giving your dog the option of checking it out like any other suspicious object. Keep it low on the ground instead of the upright position, encouraging your dog to inspect it.

Desensitize in Increments

The process of desensitizing your pet should be done in increments. Slowly but steadily, introduce the vacuum into your pup’s life. That way, you can change a negative response into a positive one. Turn off the vacuum and leave it close to the dog. But not where the dog sits or eats. That could be looked at as an encroachment in his/her territory and make matters worse.

You can also try putting their favorite towel or washcloth on or near the vacuum. Use their sense of smell to indicate that the vacuum cleaner is not a threat.

Toys and Treats

This is a slightly bold approach and has to be done a few times for positive results. Place treats on the vacuum while you are using it. Reward your dog for inspecting the machine. Take the machine slowly towards the dog while making sure s/he has seen the treat placed on it.

You could also do the same with toys. That sends a signal that the vacuum is a plaything and not a threat. But beware of over-familiarity.

Bottom Line

There are lots of ways to get your pets used to household objects, including loud (and obnoxious) vacuum cleaners. You have to since you can’t throw away a vacuum cleaner because your dog doesn’t fancy it. And you can’t torture the dog because a vacuum cleaner is too useful. All you have to do is explain calmly, with words and gestures, that these are not threats. Understand and allay their fears. It is part of being a dog parent.