What Does Least in Intrusive Minimally Aversive Truly Mean?

Updated: Apr 7

I consider myself a LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive) trainer. I know some would certainly disagree and I will be honest, my viewpoints differ from many who consider themselves LIMA.

But before we jump into the nitty-gritty, my cardinal rule and a couple example scenarios.

My cardinal rule regarding LIMA training is: We should focus on what the dog in front of us actually finds aversive, not on what we perceive all dogs should find aversive.

I'll come back to what that means in a moment.

I want to now focus on a couple different scenarios to hopefully illustrate how complicated the concept of LIMA training really is.

Scenario 1

As a side gig, I work at a dog daycare. I drive a dog bus where I pick up up to 20 dogs and drive them to the play yard. The logistics of this are actually rather complicated. Instead of crates, each dog is tethered to a spot in the bus there are spots on the floor of the bus and spots on the raised bench. You have to juggle where dogs are in the pick up process, where they sit, who they can/should sit next to, and where they will be the quietest.

I have an adolescent German Shorthair Pointer. This boy is non-stop energy. He wants to go go goooo. He does not want to settle for an hour plus long bus ride. I was struggling with where to put him on the bus.

I tried next to his best buddy so they could play non-stop, but then they would come into the yard so amped up that their energy would start fights. This would also tend to aggravate any dogs remotely near the duo.

I tried as an island unto himself, tethered so he couldn't reach any other dogs and they couldn't reach him. This was more successful except that he would whine and bark incessantly and anxiously for the next hour.

Over time, I realized more and more dogs were starting to pick up on his anxiety and frustration. I saw more dogs panting, more dogs trying to pace, more dogs hesitant to get on the bus. I had to make a change. I could try a squirt bottle, but that's dangerous to do while driving and the odds that I would miss and correct another dog were high. I could try verbal No, but all the other dogs are going to hear that too.

So one day when one of the dogs who prefers a bench seat was gone, I tethered the GSP in the back (still away from other dogs) on the bench. And you must have thought that I was murdering him. He was terrified to get up on the bench. He hated that he had to lie down on the bench. But he was quiet and eventually actually even napped. And the other dogs immediately started to relax. Over time dogs stopped hesitating getting on the bus. And over time, the GSP learned his spot and immediately hopped up and laid down.

Was this a LIMA solution? LIMA to who? The GSP? Surely not. He hated going to that spot at first. LIMA to the other 19 dogs on the bus? Most certainly. And, here's the piece many people never consider: was it a LIMA solution for me? I have sensory processing issues. High pitched anxiety barking is one of the biggest triggers for this and I'll be honest, that GSP was setting my nerves on edge. The barking was highly aversive to me. Shouldn't my needs in dog training matter too?

Scenario 2

We had an 18 month black lab come in while I was still at the training center. It was a bit of a tragic story, the dog's owner's mother had been diagnosed with a fatal disease shortly after bringing home their puppy and so they never had time to train their dog. After his mother passed the dog's owner approached us for help. He'd tried gentle leaders, he'd tried harnesses. Let me tell, this dogs was one of the wildest I've seen. I've seen working line Belgian Malinios that were less of a perpetual motion machine.

One of my coworkers had him on the first day. Coming out of his kennel (in which he barked, anxiously non-stop) the dog had knocked my coworker over. He'd already knocked over the person who worked in the kennel room early that day. She'd put a slip lead on him (we usually started dogs on a flat collar or slip lead to see what foundations they had) and then he proceeded to panic and struggle and when she brought out treats (low value, just kibble) he chomped her had so hard she had bruises. She put him away (with help) and asked me and another coworker to help her work the dog the next time.

So she got him out again. He was slightly less wild, but more than anything, he was tired. She tried to get his gentle leader on and he started bucking and snapping wildly. I asked her to hand off the leash to me. In two seconds I stepped on his drag leash, clasped a prong on him (one of my small super powers is getting equipment on a squirmy dog in a hurry, thank you dog daycare), and when he went to redirect on me, I gave him a hard leash bump. Harder than I usually ever would with a dog. And you know what happened? He stopped. He sat. He looked at me. And then we went for a walk back and forth in the training room and he never even tested pulling on the prong.

Was this LIMA? Most would say certainly not. But once he learned how to walk next to us (we went back to teaching foundations) we never had to do anything more than ask for "Heel" and when he got out of position a simple, calm "No" and he would immediately get back into position. If he broke a Sit to go say hi to a person or dog, we could say his name, ask for the Sit again, and look at him thoughtfully and he would immediately hurl himself back into a Sit and look at us with lazer focus.

The traditional LIMA path would be to use a low-value reinforcer. Since in this case, kibble was too much then maybe just a simple "Good Boy." You would reward for any calm behavior- blinking, less frantic tail wagging, standing with four on the ground instead of bouncing, even reinforcing slow breathing through the nose. If he started to wind himself up, you would ask for an i