Is Your Dog Afraid Of The Broom Because Of Nature Or Nurture?
Your dog is most likely afraid of the broom because of his genetics.
40-60% of behavior is a result of genetics.
Herding behaviors cannot be trained out of a Border Collie and genetically anxious or shy dogs cannot be expected to become social butterflies through any kind of training regimen.
THE MOST LIKELY REASON IS PREY DRIVE
The Biggest Misconcpetion Is That The Dog Is Afraid Of The Broom
There is one huge misconception of why a dog is fearful of an object! Most people assume its because something horrible happened to them with the object.
Traumatic Events Are Highly Unlikely To Be The Cause Of The Behavior
When a dog is scared of someone or an object, it could possibly be due to negative past experiences. This is because a traumatizing event can create an association with a person or a thing.
However, in most cases, it is unlikely your dog has undergone a negative experience with the object. Instead, it could be because the dog lacks socialization skills; another possibility is that your dog is genetically fearful or anxious.
Rescues or confirmed cases of dog abuse are highly unlikely to be afraid of the broom.
A study conducted in 2014 compared dogs who were abused with those that had not. This study found that abused dogs tended to be more fearful of people and other dogs, and not objects. Abused dogs displayed behavior of meekness, lameness and cowering, but not aggression. Non-abused dogs tended to show fear of inanimate objects such as the vacuum or umbrellas. In addition, these dogs’ behavior tended to be prey like in that they were more aggressive with the object.
McMillan FD, Duffy DL, Zawistowski SL, Serpell JA. Behavioral and psychological characteristics of canine victims of abuse. J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2015;18(1):92-111. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2014.962230. Epub 2014 Sep 25. PMID: 25257564.
Dr. Karen London believes that “fear” is not the emotion behind why your dog is attacking the broom. She states that fear is highly specific when based on trauma. So, if a dog is afraid of freckled, redheaded children with glasses in the age range of 10 to 12 years holding a broom, but fine with all other kids, it is more likely that a negative experience with a child of that description caused the fear. In other words, ‘a broom’ is too general for fear-based aggression to occur. More information on this topic can be found on Dr. London’s article on fear in dogs.
In the rare case your dog is displaying meekness or contextual fear towards brooms, you should desensitize your dog to the object.
Desensitization counterconditioning is a training method many positive-based trainers use.
Desensitization is the act of gradually increasing the intensity of the stimulus while rewarding the dog.
How To Desensitize Your Dog To An Object
Every Dog Has Prey Drive:
How Strong It Is Depends On Breeding
Prey moves in erratic behavior. This is very much like a broom when sweeping the kitchen. It also usually has a fluffy end.
Think of all those ropes and plush toys that are specifically designed to invoke prey drive. Now think about how you sweep the toy back and forth to get your dog to chase it. This is what is happening with the broom.
Dogs have been bred to fulfill one of their natural prey related behaviors: 1) Search (Eye), 2) Orient, 3) Stalk, 4) Chase, 5) Bite, 6) Kill, 7) Dissect, and 8) Consume. As a result, your dog attacks the broom because he is genetically inclined to do so. Some dogs bite the broom others just stalk it.
Each trait in the above sequence is dependent on the previous one. When opossums play possum, or when rabbits freeze in place, they do so because if there is no chase behavior initiated by the prey, the predatory sequence of grab/bite/kill/consume is not activated for the predator. This is nature’s way of shutting down the predatory behavior pattern to ensure that the prey animals will survive into a future generation.
What Is Broom Pressure and How Can We Use It?
We can learn how to shut down a dog’s prey drive by looking at how ranchers train their herding dogs. They use a broom or rake to cue a dog to back off a sheep or cow. This is something George Costa does when training stock dogs at Working Aussie in California.
Dogs respond to broom pressure because it disrupts their prey drive. Real prey would never come towards them which confuses the dog and disrupts the chase behavior. If there is no chase, there is no bite.
This is good news for dog owners because it means we too can shut down their predatory behavior pattern by moving the broom in a non-prey manner. This can either be moving towards the dog (not chasing your dog or having your dog chase it) or moving it in a systematic fashion that is not erratic like prey.
What Is Your Dogs Natural Prey Behavior?
It is important to note which behavior in the sequence of your dog demonstrates. When we domesticated dogs, we selected certain traits from this natural behavior pattern. For example, in Terriers, which were originally bred to find, catch, and kill rodents and vermin, humans selected dogs who engaged in orient/chase/grab/bite/kill behaviors, but NOT in the consuming behavior. Border Collies were bred to gather sheep; to achieve those traits humans selected dogs who engaged in orient/stare/chase behaviors, but NOT grab/bite/kill/consume behaviors. Australian Cattle Dogs, on the other hand, are bred for chase/grab/bite behaviors because cattle are much tougher animals to move around and work with than sheep. Understanding your dog’s breed will help you understand why he may seem more aggressive than other dogs.
3. Genetics Play A Role In Fear But So Does Socialization
Lack of socialization could be another cause of your dog attacking a broom. Socialization is more than having two dogs play at the dog park. Socialization is a two-sided coin. The first side is learning canine behavior cues. This is what we commonly think of when dogs interact with each other. Playdates and peer socialization teach the dog to respect common dog behavior (i.e circling, play bow, or growling).
Yet, the other part of socialization teaches our dogs to not be afraid of new, strange, and loud things. According to Dr. Patrica B McConnell, dogs having fear towards an object is extremely rare because “Usually it is related to neophobia, fear of unfamiliar things, and a reasonable reaction of any mammal to something new, sometimes noisy that moves fast and could be dangerous”
If your dog has developed a fear of an object due to genetics or lack of socialization, you must desensitize and counter-condition your dog. When your dog hears a strange sound or sees a strange object, reward before he can even process fear.
How I Failed At Socialization
I failed at socializing my first dog, Bear, when I was 13. He was a Shetland Sheepdog who lived on a 14-acre farm in Hinckley, Illinois. The closest neighbor was more than 1.5 miles down the road. Bear was the most skittish dog I have ever known. At the time I thought this was due to his personality and breed type. However, this could have been fixed if we had introduced him to new objects and places at a younger age. I remember begging my parents to take him to soccer games when I was 16 and he was 3 which is late in his life. He was so scared we stopped trying because we did not want to stress him out. Scared dogs go into one of 3 stages: fight, flight, or freeze. The fight response is a display of action towards the object like barking. The flight response is a display of action away from the object like meekness. Lastly, the freeze response is when a dog stands still like an opossum. Bear tended to freeze which was probably an indication of his breed being anxious and fearful. However, many dogs choose to fight which causes them to attack the broom or vacuum.
Now that I understand why Bear was “afraid of the broom” I strongly suggest you socialize your dog. Socialization is a preventative approach to neophobia. You do this by introducing your dog to new things weekly. This includes giving him treats when he hears strange sounds like fireworks, construction workers, the garbage truck. You can also allow your dog to sniff strange objects like plywood, leaves, and toys. Overall, if you start at a young age neophobia is easily prevented.
How I Succeded At Socialization
Currently, I am working with an English Sheepdog puppy named Chapa. We were on a walk and it was garbage day. The wind swung the hinged top right open and it hit the side of garbage. He jumped back but did not run away, bark, or show any fear (just startled) so I reached into my pocket and gave him a treat. We sat next to the garbage bin with its lid on its hinges banging into the side bin for about 2 minutes. Each time Chapa got a treat. The next day the same thing happened but he did not jump back, and he was rewarded. It is moments like these you need to find in your everyday life that will help your dog adjust to new experiences. Keep looking for training opportunities even if they have nothing to do with brooms, because eventually new things will stop being scary.
You May Be Encouraging The Behavior With Verbal & Non-Verbal Cues
Lastly, many owners encourage behavior even when they do not mean to. Even saying ‘aww’ or ‘so cute’ or squinting our eyes encourages the behavior. There are videos all over YouTube on “cute dogs chasing brooms” or “funny dogs chasing the vacuum cleaner” which proves this point. There is over 2127 post on #dogvacuum alone, and 1,000s of posts of dogs jumping at the water hose, chasing brooms, and playing with laser pens. There is even a competitive sport called lure coursing which is a modern bunny chase game for dogs. To top it off we play tug with our dogs. We make toys to look like bunnies and squirrels, and over half of them have squeakers in them. We play on their prey drive…pun intended.
So, what does that mean? Should we ban all fun? No, it means that we need to be aware of our dog’s prey drive and train them self-control. This is done by teaching them to leave it, how to tug correctly, and of course, sports like herding and agility because they teach your dog self-control.
That Is Why Does Your Dog Attacks The Broom?
If your dog is experiencing high arousal towards the broom such as chasing or attacking, it is most likely due to genetics. However, in the rare causes of neophobia, it is highly recommended you slowly desensitize your dog to the object and REWARD, REWARD, REWARD. However, most often it is due to genetic prey drive, in which case self-control training and shutting down the prey sequence is going to be the most effective way of helping your dog. Some herders even use broomsticks to train loose leash walking. This is a bonus tactic we use at Dogletics and is included in our FREE loose leash walking guide and is completely force free.