Friday, May 7, 2010

The Vacuum Vigilante

Most dog trainers have several pet projects going on with their own dogs. My 11 year old shiba inu is what you would call a feisty gal. She is the most fearless dog I have ever met. At 6 months old she was part of the Nisei Week parade in Little Tokyo. While we were waiting our turn on the parade route, we were parked next to the Taiko drums. The Taiko drums went off and the other dogs were understandably frightened. Not Mitsu. She looked around as if she was thinking, “hey where’s the party at?” She has been to loud and frenetic places like Las Vegas strip and fireworks do not phase her.

However, she does have one little quirk that I have now made my “pet” project. It is her battles with the dreaded vacuum machine monster. She will attack the machine and will try to bite it and shake it. The loud noise, the lights, the annoying power cord, all of it sets her off. If the vacuum is in another room she does not pay attention. She is not afraid of the machine, she just does not want it in the living room where she hangs out. So how does one deal with the feisty vacuum machine vigilante?

Management: For years, I simply managed the situation. She went into her crate and she calmly waited for the chore to be over with. While in her crate she just fell asleep and did not bark at the vacuum. Sometimes, management is the simplest and easiest way to deal with non-fearful but mildly annoying behavior. However, as you will see in the video below, it did not change my dog's attitude towards the vacuum.

Redirection and Distraction: this year I decided to employ a different strategy; redirection and distraction. My dog has always loved her interactive dog toys so for the last two weeks she has been getting her Kong, Tug-A-Jug or Kibble Nibble when I vacuum. She has been getting these toys only when I vacuum which is very frequent right now because my dogs are blowing their coats. If you missed my review of interactive dog toys, go to:

These toys not only distract my dog so I can complete my chores but it also has the effect of associating the vacuum with her fun, interactive toys. Here is a video of my dog before the introduction of her toys (about two weeks ago) and during the process of giving her toys when I need to vacuum the floor:

Note: my dog chose to be around the vacuum cleaner. In the case of the Kong, I kept putting it on her bed and in her crate while the vacuum was running but she preferred to work on it in the middle of the floor. Other dogs may prefer to work on these toys in a far corner, in their pen/crate or in a nearby room.

Teach Your Dog an Incompatible Behavior: another strategy is to teach your dog what you want her to do instead. Ideally, it should be a behavior that is incompatible with what she has been doing. Teaching your dog to go to her bed and stay is an example of a behavior that is incompatible with being on the floor and attacking the vacuum. I also started this training with Mitsu. Make sure your dog is solid with these behaviors before attempting it with a vacuum. In Mitsu's case she has a pretty solid command of "bed" and "stay." Here is an example of the beginnings of this type of training:

Dogs who are afraid of the vacuum: in this case, my dog is not afraid of the vacuum. She views it as an unwelcome, noisy intruder. For some dogs, especially with some young puppies, the vacuum can be a frightening contraption. In such cases, introduction to the vacuum cleaner should be gradual. Let the puppy get used to the vacuum machine being in the room while the engine is off. Let her inspect the machine while it is just sitting in the room. You can even put treats leading up to the vacuum and on top of the vacuum while the engine is off. Leave the machine in the same room for several days and put treats around the machine to encourage your dog to come up to it. Simulate the movement of the vacuum by moving it around in the same room with the engine off. You may want to use a crate or play pen so your dog does not get in the way. Let her get used to the noise when it not as intense by vacuuming in another room. When you begin vacuuming in another room, let the puppy work on a Kong or bully stick to distract her. Do this for a few days so your dog gets used to the noise. If your dog is unperturbed by the noise, gradually start working in a room closer to the puppy and repeat the process. When your puppy is ready, work in the same room as the puppy and make sure she has her Kong or chew stick available in her crate/pen.

Next month, we will see how Mitsu is doing with her old nemesis. Who says you can’t teach an old dog something new!