What Is LIMA?
“LIMA” is an acronym for the phrase “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” 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. LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used. 1
LIMA does not justify the use of punishment in lieu of other effective interventions and strategies. In the vast majority of cases, desired behavior change can be affected by focusing on the animal’s environment, physical well-being, and operant and classical interventions such as differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.
LIMA Is Competence-Based
LIMA requires trainers/consultants to work to increase the use of positive reinforcement and eliminate the use of punishment when working with animal and human clients. In order to ensure best practices, consultants should pursue and maintain competence in animal behavior consulting and training through continuing education, and hands-on experience. Trainers/consultants should not advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies and experience. 2
The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants supports a Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach to behavior modification and training.
Positive Reinforcement and Understanding the Learner
Positive reinforcement should be the first line of teaching, training, and behavior change program considered, and should be applied consistently. Positive reinforcement is associated with the lowest incidence of aggression, attention seeking, avoidance, and fear in learners. 3
Only the learner determines what may be reinforcing. It is crucial that the trainer/consultant understands and has the ability to appropriately apply this principle. This fact may mean that the trainer/consultant assesses any handling, petting, food, tool, and environment each time the learner experiences them. Personal bias must not determine the learner’s experience. The measure of each stimulus is whether the learner’s target behavior is strengthening or weakening, not the trainer/consultant’s intent or preference.
Systematic Problem Solving and Strategies
The trainer/consultant is responsible for ensuring learner success through a consistent, systematic approach that identifies a specific target behavior, the purpose of that behavior, and the consequences that maintain the behavior.
A variety of learning and behavior change strategies may come into play during a case. Ethical use of this variety always depends on the trainer/consultant’s ability to adequately problem solve and to understand the impact of each action on the learner, as well as sensitivity toward the learner’s experience.
We seek to prevent the abuses and potential repercussions of inappropriate, poorly applied, and inhumane uses of punishment and of overly-restrictive management and confinement strategies. The potential effects of punishment can include aggression or counter-aggression; suppressed behavior (preventing the trainer/consultant from adequately reading the animal); increased anxiety and fear; physical harm; a negative association with the owner or handler; increased unwanted behavior; and, new, unwanted behaviors. 4
Choice and Control for the Learner
LIMA guidelines require that trainer/consultants always offer the learner as much control and choice as possible. Trainer/consultants must treat each individual of any species with respect and awareness of the learner’s individual nature, preferences, abilities, and needs. 5
What Do You Want the Animal to do?
We focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, and always ask the question, “What do you want the animal to do?” Relying on punishment in training does not answer this question, and therefore offers no acceptable behavior for the animal to learn to replace the unwanted behavior. These LIMA guidelines do not justify the use of aversive methods and tools including, but not limited to, the use of electronic, choke or prong collars in lieu of other effective positive reinforcement interventions and strategies.
When making training and behavior modification decisions, trainers/consultants should understand and follow the Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change – Procedures for Humane and Effective Practices, outlined in the document attached. 6
For these reasons, we, strongly support the humane and thoughtful application of LIMA protocols, and we applaud those individuals and organizations working with animals and humans within LIMA guidelines.
Suggested Hierarchy of Behavior Change Procedure from Least to Most Intrusive*
*Intrusiveness refers to the degree to which the learner has counter control. The goal is to use the procedure that is the least intrusive, effective alternative. In the course of an experienced behavior consultant’s practice, there may be situations in which a relatively more intrusive procedure is necessary for effective outcomes. In this case, a procedure that reduces the learner’s control may be the least intrusive, effective alternative. Wellness is at the top of the hierarchy to ensure that a learning solution is not implemented for behavior problems due to pain or illness. The hierarchy is a cautionary tool to reduce both dogmatic rule following and practice by familiarity or convenience. It offers an ethical checkpoint for consultants to carefully consider the process by which effective outcomes can be most humanely achieved on a case-by-case basis. Rationale like, “It worked with the last case!” is not enough. The evaluation and behavior change program of every animal should be a study of the individual (i.e., individual animal, setting, caregiver, etc.). Changing behavior is best understood as a study of one.
1. [Steven Lindsay, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training Vol 3]↑
2. [Per the IAABC Code of Ethics Principle III at iaabc.org/ethics]↑
3. [“[The] use of positive reinforcement alone was associated with the lowest mean scores (attention- seeking score 0.33; fear (avoidance) score 0.18; aggression score 0.1). The highest mean attention-seeking score (0.49) was found in dogs whose owners used a combination of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. The highest mean avoidance score (0.31) was found in dogs whose owners used a combination of all categories of training method. Owners using a combination of positive reinforcement and positive punishment had dogs with the highest mean aggression score (0.27).” Emily J. Blackwell, Caroline Twells, Anne Seawright, Rachel A. Casey, The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 3, Issue 5, September—October 2008, Pages 207—217, ISSN 1558-7878, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008.%5D↑
4 · Negative reinforcement (R-)- handler removes an aversive (unwanted) stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior.
· Negative punishment (P-)- Handler removes a desired stimulus to reduce the frequency of behavior
· Positive reinforcement (R+)- Handler adds a desired stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior.
· Positive punishment (P+) – Handler adds an unwanted or aversive stimulus to reduce the frequency of behavior. ↑
5 See avsabonline.org · Hutchinson RR. 1977. By-products of aversive control. In: Honig WK, Staddon JER, eds. Handbook of Operant Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall: 415-431. · Azrin NH. 1960. Effects of punishment intensity during variable-interval reinforcement. J Exp Anal Behav 3: 123-142. · Azrin NH, Holz WC, Hake DR. 1963. Fixed-ratio punishment. J Exp Anal Behav 6: 141-148. • Pauli AM, Bentley E, Diehl AK, Miller PE. 2006. Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 42(3): 207-211. · Drobatz KJ, Saunders HM, Pugh CR, Hendricks JC. 1995. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema in dogs and cats: 26 cases (1987-1993). J Am Vet Med Assoc 206: 1732-1736. · Azrin NH, Rubin HB, Hutchinson RR. 1968. Biting attack by rats in response to aversive shock. J Exp Anal Behav 11: 633-639.↑
6 Brambell’s Five Freedoms, used as animal and human welfare guidelines:
· Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
· Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
· Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
· Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
· Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoids mental suffering ↑
7 S. Friedman , What’s Wrong with the Picture? Effectiveness is Not Enough, APDT Journal March/April 2010 ↑
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As part of our ongoing work to promote humane practice in the training and behaviour therapy of animals we have prepared a statement detailing our position on ethical dog training.
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