Dog’s Fear of Vacuum Cleaners and Lawnmowers

Although vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers don’t seem very similar, they are in the way a dog responds when they are fearful. Sometimes, dogs will actually be afraid of both of these items.

Dog vacuum lawnmower image

There are two main reasons that dogs are afraid of vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers:

1. Sound: Both of these are quite loud, but the sound also changes with both of them. A vacuum cleaner has a subtle change between hand tools and the forward and backward movements. Lawnmowers sound different when just running and when actually mowing.

2. Movement: Vacuum cleaners have quick back and forth movements, and lawnmowers are constantly moving (and spitting stuff out too!). These movements, combined with the sound, can be stimulating and exciting or can be scary.

The Way That Vacuum Cleaners and Lawnmowers Affect Dogs

While there are really four stages within fear (fight, flight, freeze, or submit), with vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers it is usually presented by the majority of dogs with just two of the stages: fight and flight.

1. Fight: This is the most classic reaction for a lot of dogs. That thing that makes a lot of noise and moves around a lot is threatening, and the dog wishes to get the vacuum cleaner or lawnmower before it gets the dog. Classic symptoms include:

  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Lunging
  • Biting
  • Circling and running in and out
  • Piloerection (or raised hair on the back/hackles)

2. Flight: The sounds as well as the objects are so nerve-racking that the dog looks for the closest escape route possible. These dogs might:

  • Shake and tremble
  • Pant heavily
  • Sweat
  • Have an increased heart rate
  • Have dilated pupils
  • Attempt to escape and/or hide
  • Make vocalizations like whining or howling

While these two reactions to vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers seem diametrically opposed, they are actually on the same continuum. The behavior modification and training will have some similarities but also a few differences.

How to Help Lessen Your Dog’s Fear of Vacuum Cleaners

In order to properly desensitize your dog to the scary sound of vacuum cleaners, you can try Fearless Dog which is a CD with recordings of the most common sounds that dogs fear. You will play the CD on extremely low volume as background noise and gradually increase the volume until you’re able to work with your dog outside.

Music therapy can lessen some of the sounds, and you can even close the door to help. If vacuum cleaners bother your dog a lot, try giving him a PetAlive PetCalm 30 minutes prior to vacuuming to relax him. You can even sprinkle the scent of lavender throughout the room using essential oils.

This gives him a safe room to be in while you vacuum plus it is full of things he likes a lot to preoccupy his mind.

If your dog is a barker or shows signs of aggression towards the vacuum cleaner, a relaxer still helps the dog. This time, you would want the dog to be leashed so that he cannot approach and bite the machine. Another person needs to hold the dog and have plenty of tasty treats and toys on hand.

Stay a few rooms away from the vacuum cleaner if possible and practice redirecting the dog’s attention on to the handler by practicing his training skills. If he becomes overly interested in the vacuum cleaner and begins to bark, this is the perfect time to work on using your ‘Leave It’ command and redirect his focus using treats and toys.

If the dog has very strong reactions to the vacuum cleaner, you could begin the training process outside where the dog can watch through a window or open door instead but is physically further away to increase his comfort level.

How to Help Lessen Your Dog’s Fear of Lawnmowers

One way to initially help lessen the significance of lawnmowers is to leave your dog in one room of the house with things that he really likes such as favorite toys or a pre-stuffed Kong toy. Someone to play with would also be nice.

Lawnmowers are a little different in that we are better able to work within a dog’s comfort zone. Determine how far away your dog appears to become fearful of the lawnmower. This will be a threshold, and it’s important to know.

Ideally, you will stay just outside the threshold so that he is able to see lawnmowers but is not overtaken by his emotions and fears.

For example, if you determine your dog can handle seeing a lawnmower 15 feet away, but any closer and he gets very fearful, you will work with your dog at least 15 feet away.

Begin taking your dog out into the neighborhood or around parks where they are mowing, often in the evenings or on weekends. Have lots of tasty treats like hot dog bits or his favorite toys.

Position yourself so that he can see the lawnmower but he is not full-blown afraid. Work on focus exercises like ‘Watch Me’ as well as practice ‘Come.’ Any training skills your dog knows can be used, so that he is focusing on you for these skills, but at the same time he is able to detect what he fears.

Overtime, you will be able to get closer to the lawnmowers and eventually walk right by one, but it does take time to get there. In the meantime, patiently lessen his threshold using this focusing training.

Do not allow him to fixate on his fears. It is okay and desirable for him to be able to see the lawnmowers, but if he begins to watch it too long, you need to interrupt it with a ‘Come’ or a ‘Watch Me,’ so that his prolonged stare doesn’t take him into advanced fears.

Using these techniques teach your dog to focus on you even in the face of vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers while at the same time beginning to re-associate the scary things with good things like training time, toys, and treats. With patience, effort, and consistency, you will soon begin to notice a change in your dog’s overall reactions to vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers.

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David is a retired dog behavior expert, professional dog trainer and a certified specialist in aggressive dog behavior. He co-founded Dog Remedy.