What Is The Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) Training Technique?

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) supports a Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach to behavior modification and training.

What is LIMA?
LIMA requires that trainers and behavior consultants use the “least intrusive, minimally aversive technique likely to succeed in achieving a training (or behavior change) objective with minimal risk of producing aversive side affects.” It is also a competence criterion, requiring that trainers and behavior consultants be adequately trained and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is in fact used.

To review APDT’s LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) Position Statement, click here (https://apdt.com/about/position-statements/).

Am I LIMA Compliant? Four questions to determine whether you are compliant with LIMA principles.

1. Do you use any of the following tools/techniques while training any behavior or during behavior modification: choke collar, prong collar, shock collar (including “stim-collar” and “e-collar”), bonker, shaker-can, citronella spray, water spray, leash-pop/leash-correction (with any type of collar/harness), yelling, or any other technique designed to cause fear, pain, or startle in the dog, prior to exhausting less aversive or invasive techniques?
You are not LIMA compliant. LIMA guidelines require that prior to using intentionally aversive techniques, all other options have been exhausted and that other experts have been consulted. This means that every single training subject must go through this process, as opposed to “I tried it with one dog and it didn’t work, so I no longer use that method at all.” Prior to using aversive tools and techniques to modify behavior, LIMA guidelines require that medical and environmental contributions to problem behavior be assessed and addressed, and that the desired behavior change has been attempted in good faith using positive reinforcement and differential reinforcement techniques. If the first attempt to use these less-aversive techniques does not reach the desired results, LIMA guidelines state that outside assistance from other LIMA-compliant experts be consulted to assess deficiencies and attempt modification of the compliant plan. Only after consultation with (at a minimum) one other trainer, a certified behavior consultant, a certified behaviorist should aversive/punishment techniques be used to change behaviors, and only within the confines of a strictly monitored comprehensive behavior modification plan.
You may be LIMA compliant.
2. When training or conducting behavior modification, is the dog continuously monitored for distress signals and/or allowed to opt out? Additionally, if the dog is showing signs of distress do you re-evaluate your training or behavior plan and make appropriate changes?
You may be LIMA compliant.
You are not LIMA compliant. Training plans that do not allow the dog to escape stress are unnecessarily invasive. Any technique can cause distress, even those typically associated with reward-based training (e.g. fear of a clicker, stress from body blocking, stress from a treat pushed into the face of an over-aroused dog). Even if you’re attempting to use a technique that is typically non-invasive, every dog is different and should be monitored for stress throughout all work. If a technique causes the dog distress, the technique should be assessed to determine whether it is necessary. For example: if a dog is afraid of a clicker, it’s probably better to just not use a clicker for that dog; if a dog is intolerant of their collar/harness, it may be necessary to engage in some form of classical conditioning to cause positive associations with gear the dog will have to wear to function in its life. Even with tools or techniques that are deemed necessary, gradual exposure interventions should be used rather than the use of flooding to minimize distress. If the dog is still displaying signs of distress, a veterinarian should be consulting regarding the use of anxiety-reducing medications.
3. “If you are unfamiliar with how to address the issues a dog is presenting, do you continue to work through those issues on your own?
You are not LIMA compliant. For behaviors you are not trained to teach, or behavior problems you are not trained to modify, you can cause more stress and harm by attempting to do the work. Instead, you should refer the client to a professional who is qualified to handle those cases. If you want to work those cases, you should seek out training and education to properly prepare you to handle that training without causing distress in the subject.
You may be LIMA compliant.
4.If you are working with a dog and they are not showing progress within the normally expected time frame and you have no other ideas or you are not able to keep distress at a minimal (mild) level, do you continue to work with the dog anyway?
You are not LIMA compliant. If you have not been able to address the issues in a reasonable amount of time or you cannot keep the dog’s stress at a reasonable level, then you should consult with or refer to another LIMA compliant professional. This is true even if you are using positive reinforcement techniques.
You may be LIMA compliant.


Video: Understanding & Applying LIMA
Kristina Spaulding, PhD, CAAB


LIMA Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What is the Humane Hierarchy and how do I follow it?

A1: The Humane Hierarchy is a set of humane and effective practices for working with dogs. It sets up a suggested approach for effectively creating behavior change while also minimizing stress and discomfort to the animal. The Humane Hierarchy is listed below, in order from first line of treatment to least desirable choice.

1. Wellness: Nutritional and physical
2. Antecedent arrangements
3. Positive reinforcement
4. Differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors
5. Extinction, negative reinforcement and negative punishment
6. Positive punishment

Each step in the Humane Hierarchy should only be considered when the previous steps have been implemented to the fullest extent possible, by an individual who has the expertise to implement those methods effectively. Click here to get more information on LIMA and the components of the Humane Hierarchy.

Q2: What is LIMA?

A2: LIMA is a position statement jointly adopted by APDT and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). It establishes an ethical standard for working with dogs, and states that methods should be effective while also minimizing side effects and aversive experiences for the animal. Although LIMA includes and is often associated with the Humane Hierarchy, it involves much more than just the Humane Hierarchy. LIMA also sets a competency standard and states that “trainers/behavior consultants [should] work to increase the use of positive reinforcement and lessen the use of punishment,” that protocols should be “maximally humane,” and that trainers and behavior consultants should achieve and maintain a level of education that allows them to change behavior both effectively and humanely by minimizing any stress or aversive experience to the animal.

Q3: Where can I find out more about LIMA?

A3: You can read the full LIMA statement here. You can also view our webinar on LIMA here.

Q4: Does APDT offer LIMA courses?

A4: APDT has a webinar on LIMA that can be found here. We also offer several courses that help trainers and behavior consultants learn how to be more effective and humane. You can check out these offerings here. APDT also hosts an annual conference that provides a wealth of information in support of LIMA, as well as the opportunity to meet other trainers and behavior consultants who are already following LIMA practices.

Q5: Why is it important to follow LIMA?

A5: Effectiveness is not enough. When working with dogs and their people, it is essential to maintain the highest possible level of compassion and respect. It is critical that the methods trainers and behavior consultants employ are both effective and humane. There is strong scientific support for the Humane Hierarchy. Evidence shows that following the steps of the Humane Hierarchy is a very effective method of implementing successful behavior change while also minimizing aversiveness for the learner. By utilizing effective and humane methods, we maximize the chances of success for the animals and their people, which increases the likelihood that people will follow through on the training, resulting in improved quality of life for everyone involved.

Q6: If I use mostly punishment or negative reinforcement, can I still follow LIMA? Can I skip steps when following LIMA?

A6: Putting it simply, no. LIMA states that “positive reinforcement should be the first line of teaching, training and behavior change program considered, and should be applied consistently.” It also says that “punishment should never be the first line of treatment in an intervention, nor should it make up the majority of a behavior modification program.”

The first several steps of the Humane Hierarchy are usually very effective at causing behavior change. Although punishment and negative reinforcement can be effective, they also have a number of side effects that can both undermine the success of the training or behavior modification plan, and unnecessarily increase stress and aversiveness for the learner. This means punishment and negative reinforcement do not meet the standard of being the “least intrusive, minimally aversive technique likely to succeed in achieving a training [or behavior change] objective with minimal risk of producing adverse side effects.”

Correct and effective implementation of the humane hierarchy requires a high level of understanding of dog behavior and learning science, as well as advanced mechanical skills. Trainers and behavior consultants who are not experienced in applying the first four tiers of the Humane Hierarchy may need to learn new skills in order to implement these methods effectively. This is where the continuing education component of competency comes into play. LIMA also states that practitioners should refer out clients whose needs exceed the practitioner’s level of knowledge and skill. This would include clients whom a trainer or behavior consultant does not know how to help without implementing punishment or negative reinforcement techniques.

Q7: What is considered “too much” punishment?

A7: Too much punishment occurs when punishment is implemented before the previous steps of the Humane Hierarchy have been employed by a trainer or behavior consultant who is skilled in applying those specific methods. Too much punishment also occurs when the learner is showing signs of stress that are otherwise avoidable through the use of other methods, or any time the side effects of punishment and negative reinforcement become apparent.

Q8: If I don’t use punishment, how do I stop bad behavior?

A8: Great question! The first line of approach is to address the wellness of the dog and to create an environment where the dog can be a receptive learner. This means making sure that the dog’s nutritional, physical and emotional needs are met. This allows the dog to learn most effectively. For example, if a dog is afraid of strangers, we must first create a situation where that dog can feel safe. Only then can we focus on teaching the dog what to do. Following the Humane Hierarchy helps create an optimal learning environment, in which the dog is more capable of learning.

Q9: What should I do if the dog’s guardian wants to use punishment?

A9: If the dog’s guardian wants to use punishment, explain that although punishment can be effective, it also has a lot of side effects, including stress to the dog. Explain that there are other methods that are just as effective—or even more effective—that don’t have these side effects, and which create behavior change in a way that the dog actually enjoys.

If the dog’s guardian still insists on using punishment, you can politely explain that you are committed to following the Humane Hierarchy, which requires you to use punishment only as a last resort, and to avoid punishment completely if you feel there are more ethical and effective options. You could then go on to say that you would be happy to work with the person within that framework.

Another good option is to show the dog’s guardian how effective other methods can be, so that the person realizes it’s not necessary to use punishment. This can generally be accomplished through a demonstration in which a new, acceptable behavior is trained and then used as an alternative to an undesired behavior (e.g., teaching the dog to sit rather than jump up when he sees his dinner bowl).

One more option is to refer the dog’s guardian to a more experienced professional who also adheres to LIMA, since that more experienced professional may have other strategies for counseling these types of dog guardians. No matter what, though, the commitment to LIMA comes first, and should not be subverted in an effort to get or keep a client.

Q10: What’s the difference between a positive reinforcement dog trainer and someone who adheres to LIMA?

A10: A dog trainer who follows LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy can certainly call himself or herself a positive reinforcement dog trainer, but positive reinforcement trainers may or may not follow LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy. A trainer who follows LIMA first makes sure that the dog’s wellness is addressed, and also considers antecedent arrangements, all before embarking on a course of training. A positive reinforcement trainer may or may not go through those first two steps before beginning training.

Once training begins, a trainer who adheres to LIMA must utilize positive reinforcement as the first line approach for behavior change. The term “positive reinforcement training” encompasses a wide variety of training techniques, though, so LIMA also provides further clarification on which techniques are least intrusive and minimally aversive from the dog’s point of view.

In addition, professionals who adhere to LIMA are held to a “competence criterion” that requires that they 1) maintain competence in the field of dog training and behavior through education and 2) only accept cases for which they are qualified. Again, positive reinforcement trainers may or may not choose to follow a competence criterion.

Q11: Can I be a force-free dog trainer and follow LIMA?

A11: A force-free trainer can certainly follow LIMA, as long as that person goes through the Humane Hierarchy in order. Presumably, a force-free trainer will not use any positive punishment. (A trainer following LIMA is not obligated to use positive punishment at all, of course.) Under LIMA, the use of positive punishment is viewed as a last resort, only to be considered if all other avenues have been exhausted. For a trainer to follow LIMA, the person must follow the Humane Hierarchy, maintain competency, and refer cases out when they are beyond the trainer’s skill and experience. In other words, a force-free trainer can definitely follow LIMA guidelines.

Q12: If I follow LIMA, what does this mean for my clients? Should I disclose that I follow LIMA on my website?

A12: Most of the general public does not yet understand the term “LIMA.” That does not mean that you should keep quiet about following LIMA, though. Informing potential clients that you adhere to LIMA, telling reporters, bloggers, or podcasters about LIMA, and providing links on your website to information on LIMA (like this FAQ) will help the public learn about LIMA, and why it’s important to find a trainer who adheres to LIMA… such as you!