Umbilical Training: What is it? Should We Use it with our Service Dogs?

Question: "I have been considering using umbilical training to teach my dog to stay near me and also help with house training."

Answer:

What is "Umbilical Training?"
Typically, a leash is tied to your waist or shoulder for long periods of time to keep the dog near you and there is no 'give' at the end. Unlike when the dog is on a hand-held leash which can also be dropped instantly to relieve leash pressure.

Length of leash varies. Some people use a 4 foot, others use a 6-8 foot. In addition, it is a long term activity (all day and weeks) not just short periods of 5-10 min during training. Every time either of you move, you and your dog will be aware of it. It gets caught on table legs etc.

Most people who try this method find it stressful on themselves and the dog unless they cannot or choose not to read their dog's body language. They they don't see the stress signs.

The idea behind it typically is that the dog must pay attention to what the handler is doing at all times and the handler can ignore what the dog is doing. In my mind, that is not teamwork. We are trying to build a team of dog and handler. Yes, the pup needs to learn to pay attention to the handler and where they are in space but this is not the way to do it.

The concept of "connectively" is something we can teach our dog, but it takes time as it doesn't come naturally. We can force it but not a choice I would make for a lifelong member of my team.

For dogs that have personal space issues, this would be a nightmare for both of you. This can trigger people with PTSD and worsen the dog's fear of confinement. It could be considered a form of flooding as the dog eventually gives up.

It also involves "forced compliance". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_compliance_theory
It is an ethical choice to use it or not.

It's one of the hold over behaviors used in old style correction-based training where dogs are made to do what they are told. Until people analyze it, they don't often see how it could be a negative experience for the dog! The results can be want they want but it also carries the baggage of the attitude and discomfort the dog feels while it's being done.

In my opinion, it is using force as the dog doesn't have choice and can't get away and the dog isn't getting any systematic desensitization or classical counter conditioning (pairing it with food) for tolerating it especially at first when it's most uncomfortable for the dog.

I have seen too many dogs worked with wheelchairs using the umbilicus. The dog typically stays at the absolute end of the leash as much of the time as they can, especially when the leash is too short. You can see the dog shows a level of fear of the chair since they are pinned against the chair at doorways or their toes get run over. 

We want to build a bond built on choice. We want the dog to choose to be near us during training. If they choose not to be near us during training, we have a relationship problem. A big one!

Even being in too small of room can trigger a dog to not want to be with you (see my video of teaching backing into small spaces). The smaller the steps of training is done, the more choice a dog is given, the more they come to trust us. It also helps when we make being near us rewarding rather than something they "must" do.

There are so many other choices we can make can build the relationship rather than use force!

A baby gate or Xpen to confine the pup or dog to a smallish area when we can't directly supervise them, then carefully introduce a crate and give him choice to move around in a smaller space without social pressure.

In positive reinforcement training, if we have good mechanics of training, we can quickly build a positive relationship with our dogs. 

Combine that with regular meals and putting him on a potty schedule and you will have a house-trained pup that wants to be with you in no time!