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Canine Behavior/Is this kind of play hurting my dog?


Hello Dr. Connor,

I have 4 year old male Cairn Terrier named Amos. He's very well behaved, healthy and loves to play. Whenever I'm cleaning, Amos likes to play with the vacuum. We run around my apartment, him chasing the vacuum, me chasing him with it and so forth. It's a game we've played practically forever, we get to play for awhile and I get a chore done at the same time. He doesn't ever bite or touch the vacuum, just pounces at it and darts away when I approach him. A friend of a friend visited me recently and saw us playing this way and practically erupted on me. She accused me of tormenting my dog and threatened to report me to animal control. I tried to explain that it was just a game we play and that Amos enjoys it, but she insisted that even though he seems like he's having fun, it's actually very harmful to him and is causing a great deal of stress that will almost definitely lead to severe health problems. I know she used to work for a vet, so I'm hesitant to just immediately dismiss her. Is this activity really that bad for my dog? He's never shown any signs of distress or fear. He legitimately appears to enjoy it. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts.

Thank you very much for your time and expertise.


DO NOT chase your dog with the vacuum.  Is he having fun?  NOT if he's being chased.

I can't see anything from here but I'll tell you this:  I had a Jack Russell Terrier (short legged variety, the only one that counts lol).  He feared and loathed the vacuum. He would "attack" it (after all, he was a TERRIER, as is your Cairn; they are bred to GO TO GROUND after game MUCH larger and fiercer than they are).  I basically ignored these attacks.  I went about my business without looking at him, without making eye contact, without using his name.  After a while (months), he stopped "attacking".  I then made the vacuum cleaner experience into a totally benign thing: I sang a happy song about HIM, using his name; I observed him out of the corner of my eye and, if he became stressed (read the dog's body language:  I would redirect quickly by asking for a trained behavior I could then highly praise (leaving the vacuum cleaner ON but not near him).  Eventually, I was able to vacuum HIM.  I would use the bare hose nozzle to run up and down his body. He loved it.

I'm not suggesting you try to teach your Cairn to allow you to vacuum him, but I am suggesting that, by chasing him, you are definitely stressing him.  He does NOT KNOW THIS IS A GAME.  If you want to teach him to play a game, teach him to "find" articles you've "hidden" (at first in plain sight: start with 1/2 a small cookie).  Otherwise, keep your vacuuming to yourself.

PS:  your friend is over reacting, and I question the friendship if this person threatens to call "animal control".  First: "animal control" suggests kill shelter and they would not respond; second, were she to call the local Humane Society policing agency, you MIGHT receive a visit.  That "friend of a friend" is no friend, indeed.  As for the stress causing your dog physiological harm: he is not a Human.  The stress is short and temporary.  That person has issues and you do NOT need that person NEAR YOUR DOG OR YOU.  Are you the worst dog owner in the world?  VERY FAR FROM IT!  You are simply misinterpreting your dog's reactions.  Now, you know better.  God bless.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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