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

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 effects.” 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://staging.apdt.com/about/position-statements/).

LIMA Frequently Asked Questions 

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

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.

What is LIMA?

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.

Where can I find out more about LIMA?

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

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.

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.

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

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.

What is considered “too much” punishment?

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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!

Update to FAQ

APDT clarified specific tools as not being LIMA compliant. Can’t any tool be aversive to a dog?

Yes. Any equipment, including flat collars, body harnesses, and leashes can potentially be aversive for some dogs. What a learner finds aversive is subjective. Dogs can be taught not to pull against flat collars, body harnesses and martingale collars to prevent discomfort so they may be used as management tools for safety. Shock, prong, and choke collars do not “work” without being aversive. LIMA is not entirely about tool usage, it’s about constantly monitoring the dogs we work with for undue stress, anxiety and fear and using the tools and techniques that minimize them. We called out specific tools and techniques that are commonly used that are well-established as intentionally causing pain, fear or startle responses, but a LIMA trainer should always be monitoring the dogs they work with, at all times.

If a dog began to find a specific tool as aversive, such as simply putting on a collar, a LIMA trainer could modify the equipment or use counter conditioning to change the dog’s emotional response to the equipment.

Why is APDT limiting training equipment and methodology?

The APDT believes that efficacy is not sufficient to justify training equipment and methodology. Ethical and humane techniques are also paramount. There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that aversive techniques are not required to achieve training and behavior outcomes. Even when these techniques are notably effective in reducing or increasing a target behavior, we also take into account the psychological and behavioral side effects they can cause as well as the ethical implications of using a specific technique when there are less intrusive methods available. The fact that less invasive techniques are available makes intentional use of a more aversive technique cruelty by definition.

What’s wrong with e-collars? Can’t they be gentle stims? Isn’t it similar to a TENS unit? I’ve used one on myself and it didn’t hurt…

Devices that deliver static shock as “e-collars”, “stim collars”, or “shock collars” work through pain and startle. TENS units contain directions to avoid placing them on sensitive areas like the neck and not use on human patients without explicit informed consent. In laboratory behavior conditions, mild static shock is the standard method of inducing pain and requires convincing an ethics review panel that it is absolutely necessary and that the experiment cannot work without shock. The use of e-collars at any stage of training cannot fit into a LIMA mindset. There is always a less aversive method that can be used such as teaching the dog the behavior you want instead of punishing the behavior you don’t want.

It is true that through conditioning one can change a learner’s negative emotional response to an uncomfortable situation or stimulus to a positive one. However instead of teaching the dog to accept equipment that was specifically designed to create discomfort or pain, these techniques can be used for example when teaching a dog to wear a muzzle or accept handling and injections at a vet visit.

Vibrating Collars for Hearing Impaired Dog

Many trainers teach the “vibrate” feature of the collar as a physical “recall” cue by pairing the cue with the behavior, (Sd (vibration) -> B (recall) -> (reward). When this is done in small enough approximations that the dog has a positive emotional response to the vibration from the start of training, the dog learns that vibration is a physical cue to return to the owner in anticipation of reinforcement. The vibration over time becomes not only an Sd but also a Secondary Reinforcer as it predicts reinforcement. When trained in this way a recall does not function to punish behavior, it only serves as a way to prevent rehearsal of an unwanted behavior. If a recall trained in this way was used in a behavior modification plan it would simply be used to prevent unwanted behavior while the main goal would be to focus on training the dog the desired target behavior.

If a vibration collar is conditioned to be used to startle a dog or as a punisher to reduce a specific behavior, then it’s not LIMA compliant.

Prong/pinch collars are similar to a mother dog’s bite – why can’t we teach our dogs the way they teach each other?

We are not dogs. We know better, so we do better. Dogs do not have extensive worldwide networks of competent trainers to collaborate with and discover better methods.

Is LIMA effective for behavior modification? Does it change behavior in all breeds of dogs?
(death before discomfort, evidence of EU compared methodology used).

In short, yes, learning theory is not breed or species specific. However, the learner might need an individualized training plan. If you don’t know how to approach a specific behavior or a specific dog without resorting to aversive techniques, you should seek out advice and expertise from those who can. The APDT community is a good resource for seeking out knowledge and expertise beyond your current ability.

I don’t know a way to teach without using aversive tools, what should I do?

As a LIMA trainer, one should always be willing to consider that there are better, less invasive, less aversive methods to teach a behavior to their clients. If you feel that something cannot be taught without the use of aversive methods, the humane hierarchy calls on you to consult with other professionals who may know something you don’t. The APDT encourages all members to participate in member forums and use available online seminars and educational material to learn techniques that do not rely on pain, fear, or startle. Despite claims that some behaviors simply cannot be taught without aversive techniques, there is someone training it routinely somewhere without them, in all fields such as dog sports, obedience, hunting, protection and advanced behavior modification cases including fear, reactivity and aggression.

But life is not stress free, so why are we teaching dogs without pressure or adding a bit of stress?

Yes, we agree, life is full of stressors. Many of these are unavoidable as you live and train dogs. Research has shown us that learning does not occur when a learner is under a state of distress, therefore the very best learning outcomes occur when a learner is in a supportive environment. Supporting a dog’s capacity to learn means that we are not actively adding distress to the context. Distress is stress that has a negative impact and may have profound effects on the ability to take in information. This can range from flooding an animal where they may shut down, to also seeing more subtle avoidance body language from our dogs. Eustress, on the other hand, is a stressor that may feel challenging to the learner, but also allows for that learner to problem solve and continue to stay engaged in the learning process. APDT encourages learning environments where our learners are given the very best chance at being a confident problem solver. Once a learner understands a skill, applying that skill in environments with slow building levels of peripheral stressors in a supportive way is important. The key is not adding intentional distress or in other words undue stress when there are alternatives methods to achieve the target behavior.