Monday, August 16, 2010

What is with dogs and vacuums?

If you asked someone, off the top of their heads, to name a few things all dogs in general seem to be afraid of, I bet most people would quickly answer, “the vacuum!”
I’m not sure what a dog thinks about the vacuum. I’m sure the noise coupled with the movement is what triggers most fears. And you’ve really got to try to get in the mindframe of a dog to understand where I’m coming from with this one, but honestly, I think the dog sees that human plus vacuum creates some super monster. They don’t see you — their loving human and pack member — and then the vacuum as separate things; they see both you and the vacuum combined as some huge and noisy beast.
Hence why most dogs are OK with vacuums when they’re sitting idle, unplugged and lonely with no human nearby.
It’s kind of like how a dog really thinks his toy comes alive when you pick it up in your hand. Same thing with the vacuum, except when you touch the vacuum and it comes alive, it scares the living daylights out of your pooch.
When Sensi was younger, he tried barking and biting at the vacuum — no doubt behaviors he rolled out in attempt to stop the human-vacuum monster and make it go dormant again.
That was a pain in the butt, so we yelled, “No! Bad dog!” and would make him move away from the vacuum.
Ever since we conquered the vacuum attack, the fear that drove those behaviors became readily apparent. As soon as I pull the vacuum out of the closet, Sensi jumps back like someone just snuck up on him. He’ll walk into another room, trying to keep an eye on the vacuum while trying to stay out of its path too.
When the vacuum moves away from him, he’ll cautiously walk in closer — his body trembling a bit and crouched down too. As soon as I turn the vacuum around, though, he’ll run away like he really believes the vacuum is going to chase him down and bite him.
It’s a tiring routine and one I’m not very proud of.
This is, after all, a dog who has been taught how to play pool. He can learn something complex like that, but yet he’s still afraid of the darn vacuum?
On Saturday, I put my foot down and decided I was ready to conquer my dog’s fear of the vacuum.
I got out a little purse, filled it with kibble and strapped it around my shoulders.
As I vacuumed with one hand, I used the other hand to toss pieces of kibble at him. Even though he was in a different room and reasonably far away from the area I was vacuuming, he was still so scared that he wouldn’t even eat the kibble.
After the fourth or fifth piece I tossed his way, he finally dipped his head down to start eating the kibble. And the games began.
He then started watching me to see if I’d throw another piece, and when I did, he’d try to catch it or race after it. His tail became relaxed, he un-crouched his body and he definitely became focused on the kibble-toss rather than the vacuum monster.
By the time I was finished, he was wagging his tail and coming within four or five feet of the moving, noise-making vacuum, but staying focused entirely on the kibble.
It was a total success, and a fast one at that.
Of course, he’ll still jump the next time I take the vacuum out of the closet and he’ll still be afraid. One time is never enough. This will have to become a routine for quite a while yet, but eventually, he’ll learn that human plus vacuum equals good things for dog.
And that is the goal.
I read a blog recently that said behind every good dog is a lot of work. It’s true, but the work doesn’t have to be arduous or miserable. There’s nothing difficult about tossing treats to your dog while you vacuum — it’s a minor inconvenience for a huge pay off, and when you really think about it, you’re helping your dog be happier and healthier too.

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