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Ask Bruce: Overcoming fear

Fiona has a three-year-old cross-breed rescue dog she’s owned for five months. He has settled in well and has a gentle nature, but is terrified of the vacuum cleaner. Fiona asks how can she cure his fear?

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The key thing here is to introduce the vacuum cleaner to him slowly using positive stimuli. This will, in time, turn his foe into a friend.

Switch the vacuum on and instantly give him a treat or a favourite toy, then switch the cleaner off. Repeat a few times and leave it at that. What you are doing here is building an association between the noisy machine and something nice that he loves. In time, both you and he should see this as a fun game and not a scary exercise.

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Don’t rush things – little and often is best. Accept it will take time; weeks or months rather than days. Removing his fear is not an overnight quick fix but you will see small incremental benefits.

What you must never do is reinforce his fear. Don’t be tempted to cuddle and comfort him when you turn the vacuum on and he becomes scared. Unlike a child, he will not understand your words, and will simply think you are confirming this is something to be frightened of.

Be calm and consistent, and turn his negative fear into a fun game and positive experience.

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of award-winning community magazine Look Local

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