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What has seemed to work for me in the past is finding a point at which the dog has noticed the scary thing but isn't in full freak-out mode yet. Like, with the vacuum I would get it out but not turn it on. Or I'd let the dog see it from across the room so he didn't react so extremely. Then I would work with him to get his attention on me instead of the scary thing. Every time he looked at me instead of the vacuum, I'd reward him. I'd gradually move it closer, up to the point where I was physically touching him with the wand of the sweeper but immediately shoving food in his mouth as I did it. He learned that the sweeper meant tasty stuff.

I don't know if a similar process might work for the problem you are describing, but it would be something to try. The tricky part is getting them into a state where they are noticing the scary thing but aren't completely focused on it. Once they get totally freaked out, you can't get their attention and they can't learn anything. :\
 
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