I believe conflating LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy - seeing both as two elements within the same concept - is a mistake. It is an extra step in describing LIMA that seems logical and necessary, but actually can cause problems for the concept. In fact, it is possible to call oneself a LIMA trainer without subscribing to the Humane Hierarchy. This is because the Humane Hierarchy is substantial and prescriptive, and LIMA is an abstract principle.
Defining the terms
LIMA is a principle that states that, for any dog, any situation and any desired outcome, a trainer should always use the Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive intervention possible. Invasiveness is usually defined both as physically interfering with the dog�s body and personal space, and as altering his routine and diminishing his opportunities for enjoyment. Aversiveness is defined as anything the dog would seek to avoid if he could - usually punishment and negative reinforcement.
The Humane Hierarchy sets out possible interventions, and groups them according to how �humane� they are, as shown in this roadmap:
At the bottom, there are the most humane interventions; the ones that cause least impact on a dog�s wellbeing. These are changes in the dog's physical and psychological health, and interventions in environment so that the dog is no longer in a situation where he wants to perform an undesirable behavior. Next comes positive reinforcement without eliciting any unwanted behavior. After that, differential reinforcement, where a dog is taught to perform a more desirable behavior instead of a less desirable one, by giving that more desirable behavior a really strong history of reinforcement.
At this point, the Humane Hierarchy starts to move into more controversial territory, with the inclusion of negative punishment, negative reinforcement and finally, positive punishment as a way to change behavior. Positive punishment is considered the least humane intervention because it is often both invasive and aversive for the dog, and so it is placed right at the top of the roadmap, with several �stop signs� in the way.
It may seem that defining a more humane intervention as a less invasive and/or aversive one just is defining LIMA in terms of the Humane Hierarchy, but this would be an incomplete view of what LIMA can mean as a principle. In fact, LIMA can exist without the Humane Hierarchy; other sets of possible interventions can be used instead.
LIMA and force-free training
Some advocates of force-free training have criticized LIMA because it supposedly allows for the use of positive punishment and negative reinforcement, thus being a haven for �shock collar apologists�. The idea is, a LIMA trainer could feel that she is ethically permitted to use an e-collar if she believes that it is the least invasive, minimally aversive option at the time. In contrast, force-free advocates believe that it is never ethically permissible to use a tools like prongs or e-collars.
One of the main reasons force-free advocates conclude that e-collars are never the right ethical choice, is that they argue that no dog need ever be trained using tools and protocols geared towards positive punishment or negative reinforcement. They claim that, applied correctly, positive reinforcement-based methods can be effective in every case, so if a trainer is resorting to an e-collar, she either must be deliberately rejecting reward-based methods that would have worked instead, or lacking the necessary education in these methods to have them work effectively. Any framework that allows the use of positive punishment is allowing something that is, according to force-free trainers, inherently unethical. Therefore, the framework itself is unethical and ought to be rejected.
However, force-free advocates who argue that e-collars are never necessary do not need to reject LIMA as a framework - their issue is with the Humane Hierarchy, as I will show.
LIMA simply states that a set of possible interventions ought to be tried in a certain order, it does not stipulate what these interventions are. Any such set can be ordered in a LIMA way, no matter what it contains. LIMA just means, use the least invasive, minimally aversive option first. If there is never a need for a trainer to use an e-collar, as the force-free advocates claim, then an e-collar will never be the LIMA option because something else will work first.
A LIMA trainer does not have to use every tool; they can use any set of tools they believe might be effective. Force-free trainers can leave out e-collars and tools aimed at causing positive punishment from their set of potential interventions and still use the LIMA principle. Their problem really lies with the Humane Hierarchy, which includes e-collars, prongs and similar tools as potential interventions even if they themselves would never use them.
LIMA can also be developed as a principle to ground an obligation for trainers to continue their education, as the position statements from the APDT and the IAABC state. Trainers ought to refine their skills in order to be able to use less invasive and aversive interventions with maximum effect. If it is true that reward-based methods will work for every dog, anyone using any other methods must be suffering from a lack of education. Given that there is ample opportunity for trainers to become educated about force free methods, that lack of knowledge can be seen as a contravention of the principle of LIMA training. For a trainer who is committed to this principle but faced with an inability to find a reward-based method that works for a particular client, the least invasive and minimally aversive thing to do might be to refer to someone she thinks might be better able to help.
Force-free training and LIMA training are therefore not opposed in principle, as the arguments force-free advocates use do not rule out using the LIMA principle to make decisions. Force-free training can be seen as opposed to the Humane Hierarchy, on the other hand, because of the inclusion of tools that they believe to be essentially unnecessary for behavior modification.
This is not to say that the Humane Hierarchy does not have a place, or that it is not useful for trainers using LIMA - it is a model decision tree, and without a framework for applications, LIMA would be little more than a wish. Any application of LIMA will need a set of interventions to reference; it just does not have to be specifically the Humane Hierarchy. In abstract discussions of the ethics of dog training, LIMA also ought to be considered by itself, as a guiding ethical principle rather than a list of �if this, then that� interventions.