Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can students learn too fast?


It sounds like a good problem, right, but I wondered if my students were learning as much as they should.  After adding TAGteaching into my classes, either teaching pet parents or Dog Trainers, I noticed we zoomed through our daily course material.  Interestingly, this allowed additional break periods, which increases learning, I think.  Was I doing something wrong?  But why were we moving so fast?  Were students learning and retaining?  What to do with all that extra time?  

Why were we moving so fast?

Since learning about and adding TAGteaching, to classes I teach (entire world actually!), I speak less and practice more.  Now, I’m a talker, really, I am! Speaking less means I need to be very prepared, so I don’t ramble on, to make my point. Rambling is very reinforcing to me, as it redirects my “non-prepared” energy somewhere else, however, I see my students’ eyes glaze over (not very reinforcing to me).  Now, on average, I speak/instruct 30-40% of the time, during a four week class session.  Before, I spoke/instructed 75% of the time - eek! Usually, there’s more chatter on the first day, as everyone is excited and we have a new things to cover.

During a one hour class, I divide into “review” and “new” sessions, with “well used” tag points for common learning curves (think loose leash walking, there’s a lot going on and tag points are fabulous).  During “review”, we cover what was taught last week, or if teaching fellow dog trainers during a seminar, what we covered the day before.  We have plenty of time to practice, add duration, distance and distractions and create behavior chains to strengthen previously learned cues.  Then we move on to the “new” session covering four new behaviors, with practice, under using distractions, adding duration and distance.  Now, I don’t “over do” practice sessions, as it can get boring quickly.  If I see students are successful 80% of the time, during a 1-2 minute practice session, we move on, either to the next “review” or “new” behavior.

Are students learning and retaining?  

Well, I closely observed my students, to confirm they are learning and retaining.  On week one, I explain “if you don’t understand something, this is my fault, I’ve not explained it correctly”, and pet parents interrupt this as “if my dog is confused, I’m not clear, so I need to take a moment and figure this out”. And I do think this calms students, by teaching that the pressure off, I’m not judging, we are in this together.  By Week 3, students were answering their own questions. Ah ha, they are learning and retaining! A pet parent may ask about loose leash walking, in a park, and then say “Oh, that’s right, I need to move slower and reward often in a new situation. Never mind, I think I got it!”  YES!

Hum, so then I looked at class retention.  I would start a new class with 7-8 students and end with 7 students by graduation day, some dropped due to personal reasons, which is normal. 88% retention, on grad day, is not bad!  I remember my 50% retention rate, back in 1998, and I thought that was good! Now, I have clusters of 100% retention, and then I know I was rocking it and review my previous notes so I continue this great behavior!  Hum, so retention is good, they are learning at lightning speed, is this success?  My gut says yes, and classes fill quickly, within one week of advertising, but I wanted to know more.

After class, we always ended with “questions for Fanna” time and no one had any questions! Now, that freaked me out, as someone always has questions. I assumed most would stay after class, to ask their question in private.  Nope!  They thanked me, hugged my neck and left- WOW!  I remember the old days, when people lingered and asked multiple questions, which I know we covered in class already.  And, no “email questions” during the week either - DOUBLE WOW!  

What to do with all that extra time?

Usually, we ended each class session 10-15 minutes early.  Yikes, what to do?  Folks want that extra 10-15 minutes they paid for, right?  This puzzled me, we could practice more, I guess. We added games, but my gut was saying I was “overdoing it”.  Oh Oh, I noticed people sitting down, not participating as much, and offering a “we’ve done this already” face.  Speaking less and practicing more has worked, but practicing too much was punishing. Now what???  We started voting!  If you want to leave early, you are welcome to.  If you want to stay and practice a new trick, you are more than welcome to stay.  WOW - this really seemed reinforcing to students, and usually one person would stay, and was usually the overachiever.  But by Week Three, even the overachiever did not stay after class.  The only question, on graduation day, that pops up  “what class should I take next, we want to keep going”.  Music to my ears!  

I’ve learned, students staying after class, was reinforcing to me. I do miss the long line of students, waiting to get a few “extra” minutes of my time; it makes me feel rather important, like a Rock Star.  And I’m a bit jealous, gazing at the long line my fellow dog trainers accumulate after class.  Then, there I am, alone, left with sticky treat fingers and dog hair fluff, from class. Guess I need to reward myself with going home early too!

Fanna Easter, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, KPA CTP, ABCDT-L2, is very passionate about the power of positive training for dogs and humans! With her past experience, as PETCO’s National Dog Training Expert, where Fanna and her team, tirelessly developed and launched positive reinforcement training methods in all PETCO's 1250 stores and training over 2000 Dog Trainers. Fanna is currently teaching at Dogs and Kat Behavior Counseling and Training Center, in Nashville TN. She teaches everything from Positive Puppy Manners to Relaxed Rovers classes.  Fanna is the Managing Supervisor of Dog Training Nation, and launching their website soon at

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Effects of Using TAGteach™ to Promote Earthquake Safety for Children in School

By Luca Canever, Elisa Casarini and Eleonora Galanti

Obviously, the more you train the more skilled you get, or at least, you should get. We wished to find out if, given the same amount of training time, using an event marker (like the box clicker we use in TAGteach) could make any difference in terms of learning quality. We wished to find out if a marker based teaching could be a more effective way to improve learners' retention, endurance and application of new skills.
Retention, endurance and application are, according to C. Binder the indexes for how well we are in doing something and how skilled we are in always performing a task quickly and correctly.

  • Retention and maintenance of skills and knowledge is the index of how we remember a learned skill. For example most of us have high retention in riding a bicycle.
  • Endurance or resistance to distraction is the index of how easily we can perform a learned skill. If I can perform a given behavior effortlessly it will be easier to repeat this even in more challenging environments. We shouldn't but we can drive a car AND speak to the cell phone.
  • Application or transfer of training: Once we master a skill we can easily apply it into other context. Learning to swim in a swimming pool is helpful to swimming into the sea.(C: BINDER (1993), Behavioral Fluency new paradigm)

We tested the effects of a TAGteach-based procedure to train safety behavior in case of earthquake for children in a primary school in Italy. We also compared this teaching technique with the traditional lecture + practice protocol. Participants were first grade students of four classes in a public secondary school (aged 11). A national mandatory protocol for earthquake safety in public buildings was used for the training. Two groups were taught with a traditional method and two groups were taught with TAGteach. The dependent variables for this study were the percentages of  correct and incorrect behavior emitted by all the children during each earthquake simulation and the total time needed for the protocol execution (starting from the teacher giving the alarm signal to all children leaving the building and reaching a safe meeting place). Post-probe and follow-up data suggested that TAGteach can be an effective teaching strategy in order to increase retention and automatic execution of safety behaviors both immediately after the training and over time. 

We had the chance to work with four classes. We trained and  tested them right after the training and after 3 and 5 months. Consistently, the TAGteach classes were better, as illustrated in the graph below.

The three months test shows a huge difference between correct behaviors. In this test the correct behaviors exhibited by TAGteach Class equals the results of control class right after the training.

Overall the persistence of behaviors is more consistent and it looks like the use of TAGteach can improve the rate and the quality of the memorization of learned behaviors. The students perform better and remember better.

One teacher who took part to the research (she was one of those who taught the protocol in one of the control class) told me that during one of the tests the school runs during the year the TAGteach Classes were far more better than the others.

Apparently it's the use of TAGteach as a positive-marker based methodology that improves the quality of students' performances.

The marker delivers well timed positive feedback. Furthermore the TAGteach Methodology always focuses both teacher and student's attention on something to do, not the contrary. Students are allowed to focus on what they should learn not on what they should avoid doing. In this way their memorization is helped because no useless information are given, and the retention of the learned behaviors improved.

Thanks to Elisa Galanti and Eleonora Casarini for writing the research with me. Thanks also to the School which hosted us, to the researchers who took the data and to the students.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Upcoming TAGteach Seminars and Workshops

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar  - Meet Karen Pryor!
Date: Oct 25-26, 2014
Location: Cambridge MA
Get more info and register
Download Seminar Flyer

TAGteach Advanced Workshop - 1 Day (Certified TAGteachers only)
Date: Oct 27, 2014
Location: Cambridge MA
Get more info and register  
Download Seminar Flyer

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Nov 1-2, 2014
Location: Denver (Lakewood) CO
Get more info and register
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TAGteach Advanced Workshop and Level 1 Certification (Certified TAGteachers only)

Date: Nov 3, 2014
Location: Denver (Lakewood) CO
Get more info and register
Download Seminar Flyer

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Nov 14-15, 2014
Location: Silver City NM
Get more info and register 
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Friday, June 27, 2014

TAGteacher Tale: Success After a Seminar

One of the great things about a TAGteach seminar - attendees go straight home, put the techniques into practice and see success right away.

Below is an example of how fast you can implement TAGteach in your lessons.
From Dagmar, an attendee form a seminar in Switzerland:

Dear Theresa: 
This morning, I had great success using the things I learned  at the TAGteach seminar in Sornetan.
It was the second lesson with the handler of two young dogs (16 and 18 weeks old). I knew her from a seminar I gave about calming stressed dogs. 
We worked on a holding the leash in a manner that may help calm her dogs.  Several behaviors including: taking hold of the leash, standing on one point, and relax as you hold the leash were put together and called "Standby". To simplify her focus, I attached a green piece of tape to her leash hand, and another piece of tape on her stomach. When she performed the "Standby" sequence, she just had to touch the two green pieces of tape together to have the perfect leash position. 
The instructions were: "Standby" and The tag point was "green to green". First, I demonstrated and tagged myself, then I let the client tag me, and finally they tagged themselves. 
First she felt a bit strange as she came from the hardcore dog training in German and Swiss dog places (Schutzdienst)...but then they realized how easily THEY learned the skills. I was so happy.
I repeated the mantra: “green to green”  and as the students became more relaxed with their behavior, the dogs also began to settle. 
Dear Theresa, dear Joey (Iverson), I thank you so much for opening up a world of giving training.
I hope I will see again soon
Dagmar (the musician )

Upcoming TAGteach Seminars 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TAGteach for Parents of Children Age 3-10

By  Luca Canever

TAGtots! What A Blast!

The TAGteach methodology has been used many times with  kids, (as you can see in this video), but this was the first time an entire TAGteach Seminar was dedicated to parents and educators of children aged 3 to 10 years. The seminar was presented by TAGteach co-founder Theresa McKeon. Theresa introduced us to TAGteach tools and the laws of behavior and how they can be used to communicate with our children in a positive, caring, and empathetic manner.

We were also able to discuss and watch videos demonstrating how to change an emotion by changing physical behaviors as seen in this video. Here the child’s attitude towards swimming was changed by reinforcing the desired physical behavior.

Practical Applications

During the afternoon session we worked together on three different projects to identify behaviors that can be identified, highlighted, and reinforced in everyday situations.

EATING VEGETABLES: One group chose to use successive approximations to introduce vegetables to their children. They could reinforce looking at vegetables, then smelling, touching and finally taking small bites, observing the child's body language to establish when they are ready for the next step. Theresa also suggested that parents initially play tag game together “ignoring” the child. The parents could start with the same approximations (looking, smelling, touching, tasting) that are to be ultimately be performed by the child. In this way the child is gradually introduced to the practice in a playful manner and with a low emotional impact.

RAISE YOUR HAND (Before speaking in the classroom): In this scenario a single, specific behavior was requested by a teacher. A focus funnel was used to provide context for the tag point.

The instructions are: Raise your hand before speaking
The tag point is: Raise your hand

Theresa suggested initially giving the taggers to the students and having them ‘tag the teacher’ each time the teacher performs the tag point, ‘Raise hand before speaking’. This process could help the children participate in the learning process and  pay more attention to the teacher. The students could have tagulators hanging from their desks and pull a bead each time the teacher raises her hand. After a few repetitions, the teacher would collect the taggers and begin tagging the student’s behavior of ‘Raise hand before speaking’. When all the beads have been pulled, the students could choose a favorite activity as an added reinforcer. 

HUDDLE ROUND: The purpose of this project was to discover a positive way to gather children back together as quickly as possible after being separated by activities within the classroom. The process had to be compatible with a class of children ages 3 to 6 years.

The process started with the teacher taking the hand of one child and proclaiming “Tag!” That child grabs another student’s hand and calls “Tag!” and so on and so until everyone is holding hands in a circle. They end with everyone raising their clasped hands in the air and proclaiming “Tag!” In this way the children are part of the process of gathering together physically and mentally with the benefit of having the children part of the process.

A special thank you to all the participants who have chosen to accept the challenge of finding new and positive ways to interact with their children.

To Theresa McKeon who has accepted this new challenge ... thank you is not enough!

P.S. Success!

Two days later I've got some news. One of the teachers has already began to experiment the marker in her classroom and one of the dads has already taught his son to tie his shoes!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

TAGteacher Tale: Helping Animal Shelter Volunteers Have a Great Experience

By Marissa Marino

Volunteers are one of my favorite parts about working for animal welfare non-profits. The community that is generated for a single mission can sometimes be astounding. There are a variety of reasons why people engage in volunteer activities. Some people volunteer to give back to their community, others volunteer since they cannot have pets of their own and others hope to develop friendships along the way. One common thread I see is people longing to learn new things and expand themselves.  So let’s give them what they want! My philosophy is to empower volunteers through education in order to develop a dedicated and helpful team for the staff as well as the animals.

For the last 3 years, I directed the behavior and training department at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland & Dublin, CA.  During that time I developed nine volunteer programs to help support our canine and feline populations. A  few of these programs focused on canine and feline enrichment, assisting dog training classes, canine jogging and exercise as well as canine behavior modification. 

Creating Educational Materials

In order to develop these programs I had to create educational materials as well as hands on training curriculum. There were many skills the volunteers needed to learn in order to safely interact with our animals.  Some of these skills included what to do when an animal mouths you, exiting and entering the kennel as well as offering an animal space and time if they appear fearful. I have found that breaking things down into small steps for volunteers can be most helpful when teaching a new skill. I used the principles of TAGteach in order to help each learner absorb the information and develop the necessary handling skills. 

Developing Your Own Trainings 

In my upcoming webinar, I will discuss handling skills all volunteers should know when working with animals. I will also showcase videos demonstrating volunteers learning these and other skills.  Since every shelter is different, it is important for you to take the knowledge you learn from this webinar and be able to apply it to your facility. Therefore, I will discuss how to develop TAGteach trainings for your own volunteers so you can all reap the benefits of this way of teaching.  


We hope you will join us on May 6th, 2014 for a fun and exciting webinar with Marissa!         

Click here for more information or to register.


In celebration of its International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge, non-profit Doggone Safe will donate a Shelter Family Safety Kit in a random draw to one attendee at the end of this webinar. This kit contains materials to help educate the families that visit the shelter about how to treat pets with respect, read dog body language and prevent dog bites. The retail value of this kit is over $300 and it contains:

1 Be a Tree Teacher Kit (contains 15 large heavy weight dog body language posters and more)
50 Coloring Books
20 Story Books
2 Posters
500 stickers

Anyone with a shipping address in the US or Canada who registers for the webinar will be eligible for the draw. So even if you can't attend, register anyway! You will automatically receive the recording when it is available.

To find out more about the contents of the Shelter Family Safety Kit, visit the Doggone Safe store.

BONUS#2! When you register for this webinar you will receive a discount code for 25% off our recorded webinar: TAG! Not Just Another Game at Camp. If your shelter runs summer camps for kids, this webinar will give you lots of great ideas for fostering cooperation and fun for your campers

BONUS #3! When you register for this webinar you will receive a discount code for 25% off our recorded webinar: Leave it! Impulse Control for the Teacher with TAGteach cofounder Theresa McKeon, since this is a great complement to this webinar for training shelter volunteers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TAGteacher Tale: Junior Scholars Love TAGteach

By Sarah Cook

After many happy years as a teacher at A Dancer’s Dream, I recently branched out into the world of public education, accepting a position as a full time dance teacher in a charter School network in Boston, MA. For those unfamiliar with A Dancer’s Dream, it is a wonderful studio where every teacher is TAGteach certified and the children are very tag savvy. This particular charter school network is a high performing K-8 charter school with 3 campuses. The schools are academically rigorous, have a very strict behavior policy, and are huge on positive reinforcement and behavior narration.  They also have every student take dance. The dance classes are large, with 27-32 students per class.  Needless to say, I have my hands full.

After a year and a half of struggling with huge classes, no mirrors, and less than perfect dance ‘studio’ conditions, I asked my principal if I could start using TAGteach. She said yes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I could finally introduce TAGteach and the audible marker to all my classes.  Below are a few highlights from our first week using TAGteach.

Sixth grade:  We are well into our tap unit. With 27 kids in class, it’s challenging to see and correct the mistakes of every child.  How do you solve problems like too many kids, not enough time? With TAGteach, of course! After watching the entire class attempt flaps (a tap skill) and making a mental note of the most common errors, I chose one student to start the process.  I explained what a tag meant and how it helps your body and brain learn.  In less than two minutes and with only two tag points, his flaps were fixed. Not only did it fix his flaps, but everyone in the class vastly improved after watching the TAGteach session. They were thrilled and just a little amazed. I was just reminded of the effectiveness of TAGteach
First grade:  There are 32 children in this class (THIRTY-TWO CHILDREN!!) In an effort to streamline my classes, I decided to start using TAGteach to work on class management first. As the class began, I kept an eye out for the first scholar who quietly sat down in crisscross. Without saying a word, I tagged him and voila!  The room went from chaos to silence in 3 tags. It was so easy, They figured out right away that if they didn't get a tag, they could look at a friend who did get tagged and fix their behavior to match. My entire class was silent, ready to go without redirection from me and in less than a minute. One scholar told me “I like the tagger because when you tag one person, we all know what to do without you talking and wasting our learning time”.  Right on, kid - me too.

I am so excited to have brought this tool to my school. We accomplish more in less time, our practice is more deliberate, and everyone is happier. I know it makes helps me stay calm and focused. 

Now, someone remind me why I hadn't done this before…? Stayed tuned for more Adventures of Tagging in the classroom!