LIMA (Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive)

When a dog has a behavior problem, the first impulse can be to solve the problem with punishment. According to LIMA, however, punishment is virtually never required because there are many other methods to change behavior (that do not cause side effects such as fear and aggression). Note: Many of these solutions require that you previously train Sit-Stay (with distractions) before the problem happens.

Step 1: Physical

  • One possible example: Dog peeing on the carpet? Make sure it’s not a yeast infection.
  • Another example. Dog growling at people? Make sure the dog is not in pain for some reason.

Step 2: Manage the environment

  • Dog barks out the low window? Perhaps just closing the blinds is enough to change the behavior.
  • Dog steals food off the counter? Change the environment by removing anything edible on the countertop, unless you are around to supervise. (Also, see “Reward a different behavior”).
  • Dog chews up shoes and other valuables? First, put away the things you don't want chewed up. (Also, see “Reward a different behavior”).

Step 3: Positive reinforcement

  • Lure the dog with a treat into a sit using a hand gesture, say “Yes!”, then give them a treat. Eventually, they’ll learn to sit just by moving your hand up. Can also be used for Sit-Stay, Down-Stay, Go to Your Mat.

Step 4: Reward a different behavior

  • Dog chews up shoes and other valuables? Replace the item that the dog is chewing on with a higher-value toy (or give them a high-value treat like Squeeze Cheese).
  • Dog steals food off of the counter? While you are cooking dinner or eating dinner, have your dog doing "mat" or staying in their crate.
  • Dog sitting on the furniture? Ask them to get off (then cue a sit-stay and reward them with a treat).
  • Dog barks at visitors, or jumps on visitors? Before answering the door, cue the dog to do a “sit-stay” or a "down-stay" (or cue the dog to go to their mat). Reward the dog with treats. Also, give the visitor plenty of treats to give to your dog (when they are quiet and sitting). 

Step 5: Negative reinforcement

  • The classic example is a seat-belt buzzer.

Step 6: Punishment

  • Please don’t use punishment. It can easily backfire:
  1. Causing fear and aggression (see post on socialization
  2. It can ruin the relationship between you and the dog.