Why Are Dogs Scared of Vacuums?

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA

Published Apr. 19, 2019

Many pet parents don’t recognize that encountering a vacuum for the first time can be a traumatic experience for dogs.

Canine reactions to vacuums can range from entering attack-mode to running away in fear. Since vacuums are a necessary evil, the best way to help your dog tolerate cleanup day is to train him to make a positive association with his dust-sucking nemesis.

Here’s some insight on why dogs are scared of vacuums and what you can do about it.

Why Do Dogs Hate Vacuums?

It’s no surprise that many dogs are afraid of vacuums; they’re big, noisy and disruptive. Add self-propelled cleaners to the scary equipment equation, and our dogs are forced to cope with yet another frightening household foe.

Vacuums are unlike any other type of household equipment, and a single scary run-in can set the stage for a lifetime of fear. Sure, hairdryers and mixers are similarly noisy, but they don’t emerge from closets and take over the room the way vacuums do.

Self-propelled cleaners, like Roombas, are especially frightening because they make noise, move unexpectedly, and appear and disappear without warning.

The Easy Solution: Try a Management Technique

An easy way to help your dog cope with cleaning day is to manage his environment while you work.

Instead of forcing your dog to confront his fears when you bring out the vacuum, try putting him in a quiet room in a different part of the house and giving him something to keep him happily occupied.

A dog interactive toy, or “busy toy,” that dispenses dog treats or dog food kibbles, like the KONG Wobbler dog toy, gives him something to focus on other than the ruckus down the hall. Turning on a white noise machine or the television can also help to camouflage the noise.

The More Involved Solution: Training Dogs to Overcome a Fear of Vacuums

The goal of vacuum training is to help change your dog’s perception of the vacuum, taking it from nemesis to occasional nuisance. The key is working slowly, particularly if your dog has a long-standing fear of it.

Step 1: Establish a Positive Association 

To start the training process, find a friend to help out and fill your pockets with small, meaty dog treats, like Blue Buffalo Blue Bits training dog treats.

Bring your dog to a quiet room, and ask your helper to stand far enough away that your dog won’t be triggered when the vacuum appears. (Depending on your dog’s level of fear, it might be an adjacent hallway or even a different room.)

Tell your helper to bring out the vacuum so that your dog can see it (keeping the vacuum turned off and still), then immediately start feeding your dog the small treats. Continue treating your dog for a few seconds, making sure that your dog can see the vacuum but maintains a relaxed posture. Then, have your helper remove the vacuum, and stop feeding your dog treats.

Repeat the process several times, having your helper bring the vacuum into view and holding it still while you give your dog treats, then stopping the treats when it goes away. This first step helps your dog make a positive association with the vacuum, because when it appears, he gets goodies!

After a bunch of repetitions, try a quick test: ask your helper to move the vacuum into your dog’s sightlines, as in the previous repetitions, and watch to see if your dog looks to you as if to say, “Where are my goodies?” That reaction means that your dog is starting to equate the vacuum with something positive!

Step 2: Familiarizing Your Dog With Vacuum Movement

The next step is introducing subtle vacuuming movement. Ask your helper to push the vacuum forward (still in the off position) while you feed your dog treats. Then have your helper stop moving it while you stop feeding your dog treats.

Repeat this step a number of times, adding different types of movement so that it looks like actual vacuuming. In subsequent sessions, begin to move the turned-off vacuum closer to your dog, always giving him goodies as it moves and watching to see if his body language remains relaxed.

If your dog stops eating treats or begins to look nervous, it probably means that you’re progressing too quickly.

Step 3: Desensitizing to the Vacuum Noise

The scariest part of vacuum training is turning it on, so make sure that your dog is happily orienting to you and taking treats with relaxed posture around a turned-off, moving vacuum before you try to flick the switch.

Even if your dog is calmly tolerating the moving vacuum in the same room, you may want to turn the vacuum on in a different room or at a distance from your dog that is similar to when you began the training process. Ask your helper to start the vacuum for a few seconds, then feed your dog goodies while it’s on and stop when your helper turns it off.

Watch your dog to make sure that the noise hasn’t derailed your progress. If your dog is unable to take treats when the vacuum turns on, it means that you’re too close to it; move farther away or shut the door between you and your helper when it’s turned it on.

It will probably take a series of training sessions spread out over a few weeks before your dog is comfortable with both the sound and movement of the vacuum. Don’t rush this part of the training process!

You’ll know that your dog feels more comfortable with it when he exhibits the same “Where are my goodies?” response when the vacuum turns on. At that point, you can begin moving it around and rewarding your dog, and then in subsequent sessions, start to bring it closer to your dog.

Clean Sweep: Vacuum Training Success

Of course, the goal is for your dog to remain calm while you actually use the vacuum, but it will likely take many training sessions before you and your dog get to that point.

To prevent backsliding when you need to tidy up, bring your dog to a quiet spot and give him something to do while you clean, like unpacking treats from the Starmark Bob-a-Lot dog toy. With patience and practice, your dog will be content to chill out while you do the dirty work!

By Victoria Schade

Featured Image: iStock.com/CBCK-Christine

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA


Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA

Animal Trainer

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