Introducing your puppy to the weird, wonderful and scary - in this case a Vacuum Cleaner.

To us a vacuum in just that, a normal part of life. The only thing scary about it, is how often we have to use it. We understand that it is not going to hurt us, suck us up and shoot us out into another galaxy with 3 headed aliens. It is just knobs and parts fitted together and when turned on we understand that it will make a noise and wonderfully make our mess disappear. Genius!

 

To a puppy that has only been in this human world for such a short time this noisy, moving object could very much could suck them up and spit them out. In your puppy's mind it definitely could be a big, scary monster that likes to chase and grows loudly. Some puppies find it extremely frightening while others see it as a challenge to get. Either way it is important that you anticipate that your puppy will react one way or another when it is first introduced. 

This applies not only for vacuum cleaners but any new experience, interaction, object that is weird, wacky and wonderful. The same concept applies. This human world is big, scary and fast paced. It is very overwhelming and often can be frightening. As your puppy's guardian, you job is to help expose your puppy to "life" in a slow and hugely positive manner to build their confidence and help them grow into a happy, well-adjusted and confident dog. Refer back to week 1 socialisation tick off sheet. 

Even if your puppy shows no reaction now, that doesn't mean they are 100% habitulised for the future. It is still just as important that you spend the time establishing a positive piggybank in your dog's mind so later on if something does happen, they have that solid reinforcement history there and they have the resilience to bounce back. 

Example of how to introduce your puppy to a vacuum cleaner: 

Phase 1: Introducing the vacuum

  • Have an abundance of really yummy treats on you. 

  • When your puppy is not watching and ideally in another, pull your vacuum cleaner out and put it in the middle of the room not turned on. Place treats on and around the vacuum. 

  • Bring your puppy into the room and let them approach the vacuum by themselves (if they look like they need some support, you can walk towards the vacuum with them but don't make it obvious). The treats placed on and around should intrigued your puppy to come closer. Their sense of smell is way better than ours. Do not point to the treats, do not rush your puppy, do not force your puppy closer. They must control their life and what they feel comfortable doing. Let them eat all of the treats up and then leave the room as soon as they have finished. You do not want them to be in the room with the vacuum cleaner whilever there are no treats and you do not want them to play with the vacuum cleaner.  

  • Pack the vacuum up when they are not around. 

  • Repeat over and over again until your puppy likes in a way excited and driven to see the vacuum cleaner. 

  • Repeat above but this time allow your puppy to watch you pull the vacuum out and put it in the middle of the room. Everytime your puppy looks, sniffs the vacuum chuck a treat in. In your puppy's eyes they will think the vacuum makes treats fall from the sky. Avoid letting your puppy see you throw the treat in. Repeat

  • Bring vacuum into the room and do a training session with your puppy near or next to the vacuum cleaner. I like to teach the desired behaviour I eventually want off the vacuum such as a sit, drop or back away. By doing this you are teaching your puppy to ignore the vacuum and to work with you around it towards a mutual goal. 

  • Repeat all steps until your puppy is indifferent about the vacuum cleaner. 


​Phase 2: Moving the vacuum 

  • With the vacuum still off, you are now going to slowly start to introduce movement. 

  • 1 for 1. For every stroke you do in the initial stages you are going to reward. 20 back and forth will equal 20 treats for your puppy. It is important that when you start to move you take it really slowly that your puppy doesn't escalate over threshold and react someway. You will know you are doing it at the right speed and correctly because your puppy should still be disinterested in what you are doing, offering the preferred behaviour you taught them or watching from a distance. If at any stage your puppy reacts, it means you have pushed them too far and you need to stop and either decrease to your last successful step or pack it away and try again at a different time. 

  • Criteria to think of to proof - distance from your puppy, the duration of how long you do it for and the number of times per reward (you want to increase so for example you can do 10 back and forths for 1 x treat), the speed. 

 

Phase 3: Turning the vacuum on.

  • When you increase criteria decrease other criteria meaning decrease movement when you advance to turning the vacuum cleaner on and go back to bringing the vacuum out into the middle of the room and having it stationary. 

  • Initially when your first turn the vacuum on and it is noisy, your puppy may become stressed and frightened. The may start showing signs on the ladder of fear aggression (which is learnt in week 3). These can come out in the flight, freeze, fidget or fight categories. 

    • Flight: This is when your puppy runs away from the vacuum cleaner. If this happens allow them to retreat to a safe space. ​Reward them for taking themselves away by dropping treats where they are. Turn off the vacuum and put it away. Understand that this may have been a little too intense for your puppy to cope. Next time try turning the vacuum cleaner on in a different room of the house to where your puppy is and reward any calm, cooperative and controlled behaviours your puppy displays. The other option is to record the sound on your phone and slowly work on increasing the level of the noise of a period of time, making sure to keep your puppy under threshold the whole time and pairing the noise to lots of incredible rewards. 

    • Freeze: This is when your puppy "gets stuck" in position where they are and they can't move. They tend to make their body appear low and smaller. They may huddle in a corner,  under a table or behind the lounge. Generally they will be whale-eyeing towards or away from the vacuum. Follow the freeze guidelines of treating and turning the vacuum off. 

    • Fidget: This is when your puppy displays displacement behaviours whether that be because they are frightened or stressed or over-aroused. This is your puppy's way of trying to self-regulate and respond to whatever emotion the environment is producing. Think of person jittery their leg when they are nervous. If you puppy starts to show any signs of displacement behaviours or look fidgety then follow the flight behaviour guideline. 

    • Fight: This is generally when your puppy lunges, barks, tries to "attack" or bite the vacuum cleaner.  Some dog breed innately want to do this such as herding breeds so it is important that you decipher whether it is a "breed specific, normal behaviour" or reactivity your puppy is showing towards the vacuum. The moment your puppy tried to fight the vacuum cleaner at any stage, turn it off immediately. Next time try turning the vacuum cleaner on in a different room of the house to where your puppy is and reward any calm, cooperative and controlled behaviours your puppy displays. The other option is to record the sound on your phone and slowly work on increasing the level of the noise of a period of time, making sure to keep your puppy under threshold the whole time and pairing the noise to lots of incredible rewards. Once they look to be more desensitised to the noise, reintroduce your puppy into the room with the vacuum but this time with your puppy on lead with you standing as far away from the vacuum as possible. The lead is not to control your puppy, it is just to stop them getting to and lunging at the vacuum. Now turn the vacuum on. Every time your puppy looks at the vacuum making a noise chuck a treat in just in front of their noise to eat up off the ground. Use really yummy, wet food. Slowly overtime work on decreasing the distance you are to the vacuum. You can can comfortably be within touching distance of the vacuum and you puppy doesn't lunge and instead eats treats in and around the vacuum take them off lead and ask them to do the taught preferred behaviour next to the vacuum as you turn it on. Continue to generously reinforce any calm, cooperative and controlled your puppy shows next to the vacuum cleaner or if they focus on you. 

  • Never at any stage force your puppy to confront or interact with the vacuum cleaner even if they are not fussed by it. 

  • Always praise your puppy and generously reward them with yummy treats when they are calm, cooperative or controlled around the vacuum or look indifferent. You can not reinforce fear so if you treat your puppy when they run away, that is not going to make them run away any more. If you turn off the vacuum cleaner when they are shaking, they will not learn to shake as a way to turn off the vacuum. A fear response is an involuntary response, sort of like a reflex (refer to Fear information). If you do notice that they are stressed or uncomfortable, comfort them and show that you are their safety network. 

  • Every puppy is different and will habitulise or desensitise to the at different rates. The most important thing is not to rush your puppy beyond what they can cope with at that time. Look at the situation as it is happening and do what you can accordingly. Never compare your puppy. 

 

Phase 3: Combine noise and movement together

Follow above steps for each phase now putting them together. 

Again remember that for every increase in a criteria, decrease another criteria. Really you want to go back to step 1 and work your way through all of the steps now with the noise and movement combined. 

If you train this correctly at the end of this phase you should have a puppy that does not react to the vacuum and you can vacuum in and around them as normal.