Training Philosophy and Provider Vetting Guidelines

At SearchPaws, we believe training dogs using the least stressful methods will drive long term behavioral success. We strongly support the understanding and application of Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) protocols, explained in more detail below. Our parenting program strictly adheres to LIMA protocols, and we only partner with trainers and pet care professionals that adhere to it as well. 


Vetting Guidelines

The safety and success of all pet parents and dogs in our program is our top priority. All our providers are vetted using the following guidelines.

Trainers

 

Veterinarians and specialized veterinarians


LIMA Protocol Overview

What does ‘Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive’ mean?

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.” It is also a competence criterion, requiring that trainers and behavior consultants be adequately trained and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is in fact used.[1]


LIMA Is Competence-Based

LIMA requires that trainers/behavior consultants work to increase the use of positive reinforcement and lessen the use of punishment in work with companion animals and the humans who care for them. LIMA protocols are designed to be maximally humane to learners of all species. In order to ensure best practices, consultants/trainers should pursue and maintain competence in animal behavior consulting through education, training, or supervised experience, and should not advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies and experience.[2]


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, and avoidance/fear in learners.[3]


Only the learner determines what is reinforcing. It is crucial that the consultant/trainer understands and has the ability to appropriately apply this principle. This may mean that handling, petting, various tools and environments are assessed by the handler each time the learner experiences them, and that trainer bias not determine the learner’s experience. The measure of each stimulus is whether the learner’s target behavior is strengthening or weakening, and not the consultant/trainer’s intent or preference.


Clarity and Consistency in Problem Solving

It is the handler’s responsibility to make training and modification of behavior clear, consistent and possible for the learner. We recognize that a variation of learning and behavior change strategies may come into play during a learning/teaching relationship, and can be humane and a least intrusive, effective choice in application.[4] However, ethical use of this variation is always dependent on the consultant/trainer’s ability to adequately problem solve, to understand his or her actions on the learner, and requires sensitivity toward the learner’s experience.


Preventing Abuse

We seek to prevent the abuses and potential repercussions of unnecessary, inappropriate, poorly applied or inhumane uses of punishment. The potential effects of punishment can include aggression or counter-aggression; suppressed behavior (preventing the consultant/trainer from adequately reading the animal); increased anxiety and fear; physical harm; a negative association with the owner or handlers; and increased unwanted behavior, or new unwanted behaviors.[5]


Choice and Control for the Learner

LIMA guidelines require that consultants always offer the learner as much control and choice as possible during the learning process, and treat each individual of any species with respect and awareness of the learner’s individual nature and needs.[6]


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?” when working through a training or behavior problem. Relying on punishment in training does not answer this question, and therefore offers no acceptable behavior for the animal to learn in place of the unwanted behavior.


Punishment should never be the first line of treatment in an intervention, nor should it make up the majority of a behavior modification program. Further, it should be discontinued as quickly as possible once the desired behavior change has taken place. In cases where the application of punishment is considered, best practices of application and next steps can best be determined by understanding and following the Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change – Procedures for Humane and Effective Practices, outlined in the diagram below. [7]


Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice 

Health, nutritional, and physical factors: Ensure that any indicators for possible medical, nutritional, or health factors are addressed by a licensed veterinarian. The consultant should also address potential factors in the physical environment. 

Antecedents: Redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the problem behavior. 

Positive Reinforcement: Employ approaches that contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the desired behavior will occur. 

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: Reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior. 

Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction (these are not listed in any order of preference): 

Positive Punishment: Contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.



Useful Terms 

Intrusiveness refers to the degree to which the learner has counter control. The goal of LIMA is for its trainers/consultants to determine and use the least intrusive effective intervention which will effectively address the target behavior. In the course of an experienced consultant’s practice, he or she may identify a situation in which a relatively more intrusive procedure is necessary for an effective outcome. In such a case, a procedure that reduces the learner’s control may be the least intrusive, effective choice. Additionally, wellness is at the top of the hierarchy to ensure that a trainer/consultant does not implement a learning solution 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 appropriate. 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. 


References: 

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


[2] Per the IAABC, APDT, and CCPDT Code of Ethics Principle 3.7 


[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. 


[4] 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 


[5] Brambell's Five Freedoms, used as animal and human welfare guidelines


[6] S. Friedman, What’s Wrong with this Picture? Effectiveness is Not Enough, APDT Journal March/April 2010


Last updated: April 2021