LIMA is an acronym for “Least Intrusive, Minimally Adversive” and this principal is at the heart of everything that I do as a trainer and behavior consultant. The IAABC has a wonderful position statement about LIMA on their website that states, “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 adverse side effects.’”

When working within the Humane Hierarchy, it means that there is always a process or a path that trainers take when helping an animal learn, regardless of what type of animal they are working with. The trainer progresses down the path and considers factors at each stage that may impact the learning of the animal. This means that all options should be examined and considered before moving on to the next stage of the Hierarchy.

There are 6 “turn offs” on the Humane Hierarchy path, and they are:

  1. Health, nutrition, and physical setting
  2. Antecedent Arrangements
  3. Positive Reinforcement
  4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors
  5. Extinction, Negative Reinforcement, and Negative Punishment
  6. Positive punishment

Susan Friedman, PhD, is the person who proposed the idea of the Humane Hierarchy in the application of training animals, and here is her great visual example of what this looks like:

Note that after the Positive Reinforcement “turn off,” you encounter speed bumps, a yield sign and then a stop sign. It is important to understand that the further one travels down the road, the more intrusive the training can be on the learner, and therefore, the more stressful. LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy operate under the principle of asking ourselves what we want the animal to do, and then rewarding for correct behavior. If we want an animal to do something specific, there are many, many ways to do something wrong, but generally only one way to do it right. It takes the animal and meeting their needs into account, and creates a systematic approach to changing their behavior. There is always a pause before we escalate to the next level of the humane hierarchy.

If an animal is presenting an unwanted behavior, then to work on correcting it, we would first ask ourselves if there might be a medical or health reason for the behavior. If you have ever had a dog that starts acting oddly all of the sudden, like urinating in the house or growling when being petted for example, the first thing any competent trainer should do is to suggest a vet visit to rule out any medical issues. Next in line would be to manage the behavior so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to happen in the first place. Then would come rewarding for the correct behavior, and so forth down the line. Good trainers will always work their way down the hierarchy path and cover all of their bases at each stop before proceeding to the next. For a much more detailed explanation of the Humane Hierarchy, I encourage you to read an excellent two-part blog that goes over what the Humane Hierarchy is, and then great examples of each step.

LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy can be used with every dog, from the 8 week old puppy to the 3 year old dog who has bitten 2 people, to the 14 year old geriatric dog. How can you apply LIMA with your own dog? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!