Monday, February 28, 2011

TAGteacher Tale: A Child Who "Gets It"!

Thanks to TAGteacher Lucas Canever from Italy for sharing this wonderful story about his young son. This is what happens when you start them early with TAGteach! It spills over into other aspects of their lives.

Tonight, after his bath, Alexander asked me for the clicker and some kibble to"work" with the dogs. they usually play a "look for!" game.The dogs are in the kitchen with me Alexander places the kibbles around the house, comes back to the kitchen, and screams "look for!" (cercacerca in Italian). The dogs rush out of the kitchen followed by a laughing Alexander.

Tonight he took one kibble and threw it to Akira (the border collie). I gave him this instruction: "Alexander, if you want, you can say "Akira, seduto (sit)", click and then give the kibble". I helped him for a couple of throws. After this I let him try alone. He worked pretty well for two or three repetitions.

Then with my BIG surprise Alexander said:"Akira The TAG is: seduto!" very very clear and with a good TAG phrasing.LOL!!!

He repetead this till the end of the kibbles!!! At the end the phrasing was this "Akira, my friend, The TAG is: seduto". This was absolutely AMAZING!!!

All the best, un abbraccio

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TAGteacher A Finalist in Video Competition

Congratulations to Level 2 TAGteacher Madeline Gabriel, for being chosen as a finalist in the Canis Film Festival video competition! This competition showcases the skills of top clicker trainers who use positive-reinforcement to achieve amazing training results. Madeline's video shows how to use TAGteach with the kids and clicker training with the dogs

Here is the link to the Canis Film Festival finalists. Enjoy all these terrific videos and it you want you can vote for your favourite:

TAGteacher Tale: TAGteach Was There When I Needed It

We were touched by this post from TAGteacher Leanne Smith from Australia who shared an intimate story of using TAGteach during a very difficult time.

It's all still very raw but I wanted to share a few key points with you all.

This weekend has been the worst one in my life with having to make the heartbreaking decision to put my gorgeous 8 1/2 year old German Shepherd Dog Merlin to sleep on Saturday. That's not so much what I want to share it's more the following two points that helped me through that day, sitting with him as he went and the past two days of tears.

1. TTouch taught me to do two things that helped here - first to listen with my heart and act on it, to use my intuition. This is what enabled me to make this decision and know that it was right even while my brain continued with the what if scenaris. Second - to breathe, to consciously take a deep breath and exhale allowing my body and mind to relax.

2. TagTeach taught me how to rewire my brain/develop new habits that were better for me than holding it all in and trying to deal with it. My TAG Point is exhale. I do it whenever I feel the distress building up - and it really helps.

Thank you Theresa for bringing this to us here in Australia - it was there when I needed it.

Leanne Smith

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TAGteach Defined

by G. David Smith, PhD.,  BCAB-D, Psychologist, Board Certifed Behavior Analyst

What is TAGteach?

Previously I have learned and practiced clicker training (see Karen Pryer, Don’t Shoot the Dog, 2002) and observed the use of TAGteach with learners who have autism. Though the founding principles and logic of these practices are compelling I have more often than not observed inconsistent application and (not surprisingly) erratic results. Until now I have had nagging misgivings about the efficacy of TAGteach with human learners. My recent participation in a TAGteach Primary Certification Seminar ( see has remedied these concerns.

TAGteach is a system for teaching (and changing behavior) which relies heavily on the use of positive reinforcement. It emphasizes the acquisition of new (adaptive and desirable) responses to improve behavior. The acronym TAG stands for “teaching with acoustical guidance” and it is the delivery of a distinct sound (at the moment a learner performs a targeted response) that distinguishes this method from other learning-based behavior change techniques. In addition to positive reinforcement, TAGteach artfully incorporates the use of other scientifically established principles and practices of learning/teaching including; task analysis, shaping by successive approximations, discrimination training, differential reinforcement of alternative responding, errorless discrimination, generalization, behavioral momentum, modeling/imitation, vicarious reinforcement, extinction, and negative punishment. TAGteach advances the technology of teaching beyond clicker training by incorporating principles of human motivation, self awareness, and the judicious use of language.

To be effective, the TAGteacher must clearly conceive and articulate the learner’s new behavior as an observable response so that they and the learner will reliably recognize it. This is referred to as the TAGpoint. When TAGteaching, the “teacher” engages with the learner in a uniquely alert and interactive manner so the teacher is able to deliver a “tag” every time the learner performs the designated response.

Though there is a dearth of published research on the efficacy of TAGteach, its faithful incorporation of already established behavioral principles and practices and a large body of anecdotal evidence lend it credence. There are many questions (e.g. Does the acoustical marker act as a conditioned reinforce?) about which variables (exactly) give this technique the power to effectively and efficiently improve behavior. These can and should be addressed experimentally. Nevertheless, my own experience and study suggest that the most powerful effect is on the teacher’s behavior. Using the technique requires a degree of precision (conceptualizing and articulating the “target” response) and attention (to the learner’s responding) that is commonly avowed by teachers and other behavior analysts but is seldom practiced. Informed use of TAGteach promises to improve teacher/intervener effectiveness. TAGteach provides a tangible format that has the potential to efficiently prompt and support optimal intervener behavior and to improve learner outcomes. These prospects call for systematic study and replication.

TAGteach provides a concrete, straightforward, and readily acquired methodology contrasting with common practice which tends to be overly complicated, poorly focused, and inconsistently applied. By using TAGteach as a core teaching technique, instructional strategies can be streamlined and intervener skills strengthened as they have repeated opportunities to practice and refine a discrete set of powerful teaching skills.

TAGteach Defined 

TAGteach is a behavior change technique that emphasizes the use of positive reinforcement and incorporates several well established behavioral principles and practices. Though its purpose is to improve learner behavior, its first effect is on teacher behavior. In TAGteach the first “learner” is the teacher who learns to deliver a stimulus immediately upon detection of a predetermined learner response – the TAGpoint. Faithful implementation and thorough understanding of TAGteach call for systematic study of the teacher’s actions. In order to facilitate systematic study, I propose the adoption of a standard name and concise definition of teacher actions critical to the efficacy of TAGteach.

Because it describes an action, the focal TAGteach event is best named by use of a (gerund) form of the verb, “tagging.” Dictionary ( definitions of the verb “tag” include;
  1. Attach a tag or label to.
  2. Touch a player while he is holding the ball.
  3. Provide with a name or nickname.
  4. Supply (blank verse or prose) with rhymes.
  5. Go after with the intent to catch; “The policeman chased the mugger down the alley”; “the dog chased the rabbit”.
  6. To fit with, or as with, a tag or tags.
  7. To join; to fasten; to attach.
  8. To follow closely after; esp., to follow and touch in the game of tag.
  9. To follow closely, as it were an appendage; — often with after; as, to tag after a person.
  10. Base verb from the following inflections: tagging, tagged, tags, tagger, taggers, taggingly and taggedly.
Drawing upon these definitions, “tagging” as used in the context of TAGteach may be defined as follows;
Tagging – To produce a stimulus (that the learner detects) as soon as a learner performs a specified response (the tag point)
This is a function-based definition (Cooper et al, 2007, p 65) as it designates a class of responses (tagging) which have a common effect on the environment (production of a sensory stimulus). This class of responses may comprise topographically distinct actions all producing the same outcome including, for example;

The teacher depresses the surface of a clicker with his thumb causing it to make a sound….
The teacher blows into a whistle causing it to make an audible sound….
The teacher makes a clicking sound with her mouth…

Assuming that the teacher produces a clicking sound with her mouth to tag and the tag point is “hand on cup,” the following illustrates application of this definition to describe teacher tagging.
The teacher makes a clicking sound with her mouth as soon as the learner places either hand on the cup.
 Posted with permission from

TAGteacher Tale - A Tool for the Corporate Trainer

TAGteach: A Tool for the Corporate Trainer

Corporate Trainer? A case review by TAGteach certified Glenn Hughes, director of Global Learning Architecture at KLA-Tencor.

Last week, I was able to use the TAGteach principles in my work context for the first time.


On December 21st, I contracted author Ed Muzio (Four Secrets to Liking Your Work and Make Work Great) to certify my team (8 people) in 'Advanced DISC'. DISC is a behavioral assessment tool, much like Meyers-Briggs.

On day one, Ed noted that we were going to be a challenging group. We all possessed between 3 and 10 years of DISC training/facilitation experience. Our language patterns were well established. We were used to using phrases like "She's a D", "He's an I", and "I’m a D".

In advanced DISC, it is very important to steer away from labels and move to observations of behavioral patterns. Ed wanted us to use phrases like "you show high D behavior", "she shows low I behavior", or "he shows high S behavior".

Despite his pleading, begging, modeling the correct behavior, and 'calling out' our misuse of the language, we didn’t change our behavior.

On the morning of day two, Ed and I were chatting about different learning events we've been doing, and I shared my TAGteach experience. Ed asked, "Could we use it on our problem?"

My response was, "Hmmm... I hadn't thought about using it to change language or culture, but it's an observable behavior, so, yes. I think we can."

On day two, we implemented TAGteach, with great results.


  1. Since everyone in the room was a facilitator, I opened the morning by teaching them the history and process of TAGteach.
  2. We identified the target behavior. We would tag anyone who used the phrase, "Hi/Low 'X' behavior" - such as "Jodi is showing hi D behavior". If either "high or low" or 'behavior' were missing, we would not tag.
  3. We did not have Taggers, so we had to improvise. We agreed that a finger snap or hand clap would be the Tag.
  4. We identified the TAG point. The tag point is: "Hi/Low 'X' behavior"
  5. Ed then spent fifteen minutes modeling correct and incorrect behavior, so we could practice tagging.
  6. We agreed that we understood. Ed spent the rest of the morning (2.5 hours) teaching us advanced DISC. Anytime Ed, or any of us used the language correctly, they were tagged with a clap or snap.
  7. In the afternoon, each facilitator lead a teach-back for our certification. During these 3 hours, the audience was reinforcing the targeted phrase with claps/snaps.


In one day, we re-patterned the language (behavior) of 8 facilitators.

In my debrief with Ed the next day, he commented that our 'success rate' of using the correct phrase on day one was 0%. By the end of day two (facilitator teach-backs), he estimated that we were over 70% success rate. He felt that we would NOT have improved more than 10% without applying TAGteach.

Additionally, we saw a number of classic effects:
  • increased energy: everyone had fun with it, as opposed to being annoyed by corrections
  • self-correction: by mid-morning, people would sense that they were not 'tagged' and correct their language
  • self-learning: one facilitator missed the morning history, process, AND TAGpoint identification. In the afternoon, after her teachback, I asked if she knew why we were clapping/snapping all day. She responded, "Of course. You're reinforcing the use of the correct phrase"

Obviously, we're thrilled with this outcome and can see many more applications. Theresa, I'll definitely want to have you run an onsite certification session for my colleagues in the spring.

Upcoming TAGteach Seminars

Register now for an open TAGteach Certification Seminar or contact Theresa at to schedule a personalized seminar for your group.

The Early Bird discount dates for Glastonbury, CT and Chicago, IL have been extended to February 10. Don't miss out on this $50.00 dollar discount, register today!

Register at or call 704-995-9237 for more details.

Seminar at the Vista School in Hershey PA

Upcoming Seminars

Franklin IN (2/12-13/2011) 
Glastonbury CT (3/11-12/2011)
Chicago IL (3/26-27/2011)
Denver CO (4/15-16/2011)
Detroit MI (5/7-8/2011)
Portland OR (6/11-12/2011)

Recent comments we have received about TAGteach...

Had to share! When I first heard of TAGteach I thought I could use it for Ayana's stuttering. Once we started speech therapy they were using R+ but no marker. We are at 5 praises to 1 correction this week, but she suddenly shut down. But when she said something "smooth" she said, "Mommy, bing?" And I asked her if she wanted me to tag her.. all of a sudden she was a very enthusiastic learner! - Lisa Jemus
I was introduced to TAGteach a few weeks ago and decided to give it a try with my kids. My 8 year old daughter took to it like a duck to water and begged to stay up late tonight to keep working on her math facts. This is fantastic and I can't wait to incorporate it into my daily life with my kids and their education! Thanks for everything you do! - Erin Wiggington
Just did some TAG with my daughter working on her times tables. We worked for 15 minutes and she was thrilled to get 84 tags!! Awesome! - Erin Wiggington

Friday, February 4, 2011

TAGteacher Tale - Teaching Lumbar Puncture to Medical Students

If you have ever had to (or ever will have to) undergo a painful and invasive medical procedure, you really hope that the doctor has been well trained and has had lots of practice before it is your turn. Dr. Karen McLean tells us about how she is using TAGteach to help teach medical residents to do lumbar punctures and also to help a colleague improve clinical reasoning skills:

The students who participated in the Lumbar Puncture / TAG study were in a linking week between their preclinical years and their clinical rotations.  They did this on Thursday and started on the wards on Monday.  It just so happened that I took over one of the clinical services for Internal Medicine the day after the study and one of my new students on Monday was one who had been in the TAG group – coincidentally we had to do an LP a couple of days later – the statistical probability of that happening were not high!

The junior resident was doing the procedure but the student (by now very excited to be even peripherally involved in the first real procedure of his clinical career!) was there so I asked if he could remember the tag points – which he did almost perfectly (we both sailed right past one of them and did not remember it till the procedure was over – he was the first to point out that we had missed one!).  He relayed and explained the tag points as the resident was doing the procedure, before each step where we had placed a tag point in the teaching session. He had the wording down pat and the order correct.

It was neat to see a week later that he had the points, the wording and the order still firmly embedded in his mind and was able to retrieve them very quickly with no prompting or cueing.

Unrelated to the study, I have been working with a senior resident who has been having some difficulties with clinical reasoning. One of his challenges is presenting information clearly, using appropriate language so that information can quickly and accurately be conveyed to his attending physicians (especially in the middle of the night when you have been awakened from REM sleep by the beeper!).

One of our sessions focused on getting him to use terms that convey “semantically meaningful chunks of information”.   In trying to convey what that might sound like, I gave some examples and suggested we could call these “sound bytes” - short phases that convey a lot of meaning and help the listener start to draw conclusions about the case.  He offered the term “high calorie phrases” as his preferred descriptor.  (Our sessions do usually start around coffee time!)  In any case ‘high calorie’ worked better for him and I tagged him every time he was able to use an appropriate ‘high calorie’ descriptor in his case presentation.

What impressed me about this was that he was clearly making a huge effort to reorganize information in his mind to assess where he could use appropriate terms – it made him really think and start to apply some of the skills we have been working on.

I won’t say it was a major breakthrough as he has been working hard and steadily making progress but I think it crystallized an important concept in a way that we had not so clearly been able to achieve up till then.

Update from Niabi Zoo

This excerpt is posted with permission from the KPCT blog. Click here to see the entire article

By Laura Monaco-Torelli

Progress in both animal and human training

Twiga with her calf, Zuri
We are delighted to share a third installment of the Niabi Zoo story. This “Anniversary update” describes the exciting progress the zoo training programs have made this year. In order to grow and improve, modify and enhance, every training program should be evaluated on a regular basis. It’s important to revisit and revise goals, and assess and celebrate achievements. At Niabi Zoo we do that regularly, looking ahead to see what the possibilities are, and making plans to ensure those possibilities are realized. We continue to build collaborations with others in our field, collaborations that emphasize the varied facets of our shared expertise.

This past year has been full of growth and excitement at Niabi Zoo! Two healthy reticulated giraffe calves were born, and the colobus troop has grown by one new baby, too—all while the zoo was under renovation. Through it all, we augmented and advanced our animal training programs to start fresh in 2011.

To help move our programs forward, we looked at the human end of training. After all, we experience day-to-day interactions with more than just the animals in our care; we have frequent interactions and conversations with our colleagues and zoo patrons. As great trainers know, good people skills only enhance and improve any work surroundings. Our goals in the human area include helping others know what is expected of them without nagging, and focusing training beyond the animals and toward zookeeper continuing education and professional growth.

Time for TAGteach!

In 2008, while I was a student in the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Dog Trainer Program, I learned about Theresa McKeon and TAGteach International. When Niabi Zoo heard that I attended Theresa’s TAGteach seminar in Chicago to earn primary certification, they offered to host her at the zoo in March 2010. Theresa invited TAGteach Level 3 instructor Eva Bertilsson from Sweden to join us as well. We were very lucky to have both women teaching a two-day seminar at the zoo, working with us toward several of our goals. TAGteach lessons helped staff members achieve even more success clicker training the zoo animals. The lessons also helped staff members feel upbeat about themselves and their many workday interactions.

We received very positive comments from keepers who attended the seminar:

“Clicker training has opened my eyes to a new perspective of zookeeping. I have been able to do daily husbandry and vet visits with so much less stress on the animals. In the last two years I have seen animals go from not wanting any interaction to waiting to be trained on a daily basis. Clicker training and TAGteach have had nothing but a positive effect in my life and on the animals at Niabi Zoo.” ~Jessi Lench Porter
“The clicker provided our team with an effective tool of communication that transformed the behaviors of a variety of species such as giraffe, gibbon, lion, and jaguar. Clicker training brought our overall animal management to the highest level of care.

To enhance and expand the communication skills of our staff, we were introduced to the principles of TAGteach by Theresa McKeon. Theresa's contagious enthusiasm about TAG brought to light how we all process information in a variety of ways, which sometimes leads to different interpretations in our everyday communications. Using the concepts of TAG, we were able to clearly set criteria and offer positive feedback to each other. We can all benefit from this type of teaching, which focuses on what is correct rather than the opposite.” ~Colleen Stalf
“Clicker training has made me so much more aware of my interactions with animals (and people), has taught me patience, and has helped me understand that effective communication can work wonders. Training a lion or having a positive interaction with a coworker, the skills have been invaluable. Such a warm feeling of accomplishment to realize that small, positive steps can lead to a finished behavior that will reduce stress levels during veterinary procedures. Clicker training can deepen the relationship and create trust between trainer and animal. When you start training animals and practice that positive spin on life, it becomes second-nature and is so much easier to transfer to your human relationships.” ~Mandy Turnbull

Observing Theresa and Eva while they taught was extremely reinforcing for me. I knew that the keepers would gain first-rate information easily translatable and applicable to their daily interactions with people and with animals. We all learned how to be more effective, proactive, and positive with our communication skills. We had a lot of fun with this process!

TAGteach in action: using food tools

One of the safety goals we worked on with the keepers during Theresa’s workshop was feeding the large cats (lion, tigers, cougars, leopards, jaguar, and bobcats) with tongs, spoons, or feed poles. These tools keep zookeepers’ hands safe. For the keepers, learning how to mark the desired behavior with the clicker and then move the hand to load the primary reinforcer can prove challenging! We found it helpful to practice clicker mechanics before we actually trained and fed any animal, and made that step part of a fun training game. But the keepers’ biggest challenge was to replace a previous behavior (feeding the large cats with their hands), especially since the behavior had a strong reinforcement history.

In this video (view the original article to see the video), keepers Colleen, Mandy, and Jessi practice feeding techniques using TAGteach. To determine their focus they used the Focus Funnel, a strategy for organizing and delivering verbal lessons and instructions to a learner.
It begins with: The Lesson is…
Follows with: The Directions are…
And ends with a tag point of 5 words or less: The TAG point is:
Using the focus funnel reduces the amount of language that must be processed by a learner right before attempting a behavior.
Lesson: The hand that delivers the treat needs to go to a neutral place immediately after delivering the reinforcement. This way the lion will turn his direction back to you instead of following the feeding stick. We call that neutral place “home.”
Directions: Move your feeding hand back to home position immediately after delivery.
tag point: Initiate hand to home.
Training sequence: Mandy cues mouth open behavior-> Jessi offers mouth open behavior-> Mandy marks behavior-> Mandy moves reinforcement hand to place food onto pole-> Mandy places food into Jessi’s hand-> Mandy initiates hand to home (tag point).

Watch Colleen in the background as she observes the sequence. She is observing the series of behaviors patiently without talking and without giving extra verbal information to Mandy. The tag point was discussed ahead of time. Each time Mandy offers the tag point (initiate hand to home) successfully, Colleen marks that behavior with a clicker.

Later, as I worked on earning TAGteach Level 1 certification, we focused on Jessi’s tag point: feed with tongs. At ~36 seconds into the video loop, you can see Jessi self-assess as she reaches for the food with her bare hand, only to correct herself and then reach behind her with the tongs. My role was to mark with the clicker each time she offered the tag point successfully.

Theresa McKeon was as positive as the Niabi keepers and I were about the TAGteach learning experience. She saw that we all understood the connections between the human and the animal training, and worked hard to benefit from the positive principles in action. She shared some of her thoughts about the Niabi seminar:
“When I was asked to present a TAGteach workshop to the keepers at Niabi Zoo, I was beyond thrilled. Not only for the opportunity to work with Laura, but to see the clicker training technology come full circle. Laura had already been teaching the keepers that optimal animal learning occurs when information is delivered in finite bits, immediately marked, and followed up with reinforcement. She also wanted them to experience how the principles of clicker training hold true for any learner—including people.

Because of our reliance on verbal language, people need a bit of practice when transferring clicker training skill to other people. People teachers can quickly progress from using language to abusing it. Important points get buried in long lists of criteria and even longer explanations. Social responses divert concentration. We resort to nagging and escalate from there. Nagging doesn’t work on cougars and it doesn’t work on people.

The TAGteach workshop demonstrated to the Niabi staff that we can learn and teach each other with the same respectful process they use with their animal learners. Deliver information in finite bits, immediately mark an acquired behavior, and follow up with something that is reinforcing for the learner (usually success). I can’t think of a better gauge of an application’s power than its flexibility. This clicker ‘stuff’ can bend all the way around in a full circle.”