Why Are Dogs So Afraid of Vacuums?

She knows it's coming.
She knows it's coming. / Mike Burke, Unsplash

If you routinely procrastinate vacuuming for the sake of your dog, you’re probably not alone—the machines are notorious for sending our pets into a tailspin.

The sound can be scary enough on its own. Noise aversion (a dislike for unanticipated loud noises) is common among dogs, which also helps explain why so many of them hate fireworks and thunderstorms. Vacuums, on the other hand, don’t stay in the sky: They zoom across the floor erratically, and your dog might not realize that you’re actually controlling the movement.

“The sudden onset of a loud noise and strong vibration will startle most dogs and scare them. Their instinct is to get away from it before it eats them,” veterinarian Dr. Diane Levitan told Reader’s Digest. “It also moves around in a ‘threatening way’ and is often near their beloved pet owner, whom they want to protect.” And since vacuums disturb long-settled dust and other particles with strong odors, that sudden rush of scents could rankle your dog’s perceptive nose. 

Explaining to your dog why they might be afraid of the vacuum will hardly solve the problem, but there are a few other methods that could help. In general, more exposure is better—if you only vacuum once every six months, your dog will probably be much more terrified than if it’s used to seeing the vacuum in action every couple of weeks. Tossing your dog some treats whenever the vacuum is around can also create a positive association that will make it dread the mechanical monster much less; PetMD has specific step-by-step directions for training your dog this way. If you don’t have time to try it before your next bout of cleaning, you can always lead your dog to a secluded room, turn on a box fan or white noise machine, and hope it’s loud enough drown out the sounds of the vacuum.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]