Dog Training Methods

Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants Logo Fear Free Certified

Association of Professional Dog Trainers



  • (APDT) Association of Professional Dog Trainers
  • (IAABC) International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

Often times we get the question, “What kind of training do you do?” “Do you use prong collars, shock collars, aversives, treats, or positive reinforcement?” “Are you anti-correction, against alpha rolls?”

  • First, we are science-based, evidenced-based dog trainers. While there are many tools, techniques, and training philosophies in the world of dog training, this does not mean that all philosophies, techniques, and tools are all based on science.  In fact, most of what constitutes dog training today are based on myth, tradition, and a lack of knowledge of the most recent science and research as to what is most effective in helping the dog to learn and modify behavior.
  • Secondly, we are not beholden to any particular method or tool. We are not “this kind of trainer,” or “that kind of trainer,” We are Nationally Certified Professional Trainers with a huge “toolbox” of methods, tools, and techniques.  
  • It is our position that no animal needs to experience fear, pain, or intimidation in order to learn and modify behavior. In fact, it is our position that any training that involves identifiable fear, pain, or intimidation, typically makes the problem behavior worse. While harsh methods may temporarily suppress behavior it does nothing to modify the dog’s emotional state. It is the emotional state that needs to be modified and then the behavior changes. Training with aversives often times increases aggression and increases anxiety and fear. 

If the trainer you are considering hiring uses any tools or methods that cause fear, pain, or intimidation, we recommend you find a trainer that follows the LIMA principles. 

What Is LIMA?

Any dog or animal trainer that is a true educated professional follow the principles of “LIMA.” LIMA is THE INDUSTRY STANDARD AMONG CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINERS and BEHAVIOR CONSULTANTS, and 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 with minimal risk of producing aversive side effects. LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used. 

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 alternative behavior, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.

LIMA Is The Industry Standard among Certified Professionals and 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. 

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. 

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.

Preventing Abuse

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. 

Choice and Control for the Learner

LIMA guidelines require that trainers/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. 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?” 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, 7 outlined in the diagram.

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.


The Humane Hierarchy serves to guide professionals in their decision-making process during training and behavior modification. Additionally, it assists owners and animal care professionals in understanding the standard of care to be applied in determining training practices and methodologies and the order of implementation for applying those training practices and methodologies.

Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice

1. 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.
2. Antecedents: Redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the problem behavior.
3. Positive Reinforcement: Employ approaches that contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the desired behavior will occur.
4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: Reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.
5. Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction (these are not listed in any order of preference):
6. Positive Punishment: Contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
a) Negative Punishment – Contingently withdraw a positive reinforcer to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
b) Negative Reinforcement – Contingently withdraw an aversive antecedent stimulus to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur.
c) Extinction – Permanently remove the maintaining reinforcer to suppress the behavior or reduce it to baseline levels.


Useful Terms

Intrusiveness refers to the degree to which a procedure affects the learner’s control. With a less intrusive procedure, a learner retains more control. The goal of LIMA is for its trainers/consultants to determine and use the least intrusive and effective intervention which will effectively address the target behavior. In the course of an experienced trainer/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. The hierarchy is intended to be approached in order for each case. 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.



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