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LIMA Dog Training Principles: What You Need to Know


Are you a pet parent searching for the best way to train your dog, or a Pet Caregiver looking to boost your dog training knowledge? If you haven’t already come across the term LIMA, you will soon. 

LIMA stands for “Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive”. As this motto would suggest, the aim of LIMA training is to use the least intrusive, minimally aversive option out of a range of strategies available to teach a dog the right way to behave. In other words, the focus is on training dogs as humanely as possible using positive methods instead of punishment.

So how does LIMA work, and how do trainers put it into practice in the real world? Keep reading to find out.

person holding a dog treat in front of a golden shiba inu dog

What are the LIMA principles?

LIMA dog training is supported by a host of nationally and internationally recognized training bodies, including the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT), and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). 

So before going any further, let’s take a look at the official definition of the LIMA approach as outlined by the 3 organizations above:

"LIMA describes a trainer or behavior consultant who uses the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategy out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behavior change objective."

– Steven Lindsay, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training Vol. 3, pgs. 29 & 726

It wasn’t all that long ago that many dog trainers focused on punishing a dog for doing the wrong thing as a way of teaching them the right way to behave. LIMA is based on the belief that punishment-based methods and the use of devices like prong and shock collars leads to negative results including fear, anxiety, aggression, pain, and even injury. 

You can think of LIMA as a framework that trainers use to help them systematically decide on the most humane training solution. It’s all about taking the time to understand the dog and the behavior in question to decide on the training method that will cause the least amount of stress possible for a dog.

It’s also a competence-based approach, so dog trainers and animal behavior consultants are required to keep learning throughout their careers. By staying up to date with the latest research and techniques through both real-world experience and further education, they’ll be perfectly placed to continue using the LIMA principles.

The Humane Hierarchy

Instead of using punishment, LIMA provides a range of alternative options trainers can use, such as:

  • ensuring that health issues aren’t causing the behavior
  • putting environmental management strategies in place
  • training using positive reinforcement

But what are the different training methods available, and how does a LIMA dog trainer decide which method is the least intrusive, minimally aversive solution in any given situation? For that, they rely on the Humane Hierarchy.

The Humane Hierarchy was created by Dr. Susan Friedman, a psychology professor at Utah State University. It ranks different training methods in order from least intrusive to most intrusive. 

When faced with a behavior that needs to be modified or managed, a LIMA trainer can use the Humane Hierarchy to determine the least intrusive solution.

According to the Humane Hierarchy outlined on the IAABC website, there are 6 steps to consider when running through the hierarchy:

  1. Health and environmental factors: The first step is to ensure that the dog is assessed by a veterinarian to determine whether any medical issues could be causing the behavior in question. For example, a dog with a dental injury might lash out when handled anywhere near the face due to the pain they are in. Factors in the physical environment that could be causing the behavior should also be addressed. 

  2. Antecedents: The trainer implements management strategies to prevent the behavior, such as removing stimuli or adjusting event settings.

  3. Positive reinforcement: Providing a reward to encourage the dog to produce a desired behavior, such as giving the dog a treat for sitting when asked. Find out how to train your dog with positive reinforcement in our handy guide.

  4. Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior: The next option is replacing the problem behavior with an alternative behavior.

  5. Negative punishment, reinforcement, and extinction: Now it’s time to consider 3 more options to modify or reduce a behavior. Negative punishment is taking away something the dog likes to reduce the incidence of a problem behavior. Negative reinforcement is taking away something that makes the dog uncomfortable in order to encourage the desired behavior. Finally, extinction is when you permanently stop reinforcing a behavior in order to eliminate it.

  6. Positive punishment: The last option is to make the problem behavior uncomfortable for the dog in some way. An example of positive punishment is making an unexpected loud noise (like clapping) whenever the dog performs the problematic behavior.

Other options are sometimes included among those above. For example, in the Humane Hierarchy adopted by the CCPDT, living with the behavior or consulting another professional (such as a trainer, behaviorist, or veterinarian) for advice are recommended before resorting to the positive punishment step.

person touching grass in front of black and white spotted dog

LIMA dog trainers

If you want your dog to be trained in a safe and humane way, and if you like the sound of the LIMA  philosophy, look for a trainer that follows the LIMA principles and the Humane Hierarchy. That way, you’ll have a much better idea of the processes they will follow to turn your pup into a better-behaved pooch.

The 3 bodies we mentioned above that support LIMA — the IAABC, CCPDT, and APDT — all offer easy-to-use online tools to help you find a trainer near you. Make sure you research the qualifications and experience any dog trainer has to offer, and make sure their dog training philosophy matches your own before deciding whether they’re the right person for your pup.

If you’re a Pet Caregiver, the APDT offers a LIMA webinar for anyone looking to learn more about this dog training approach. There are also stacks of online resources available from the IAABC, CCPDT, and APDT to help you understand and engage with the LIMA philosophy.

Want to put the LIMA principles into practice in the real world? Become a dog trainer with Wag! today and stand out from the crowd with your new knowledge about the humane way to train.

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