Monday, November 17, 2014

TAGteach: Better than a Jedi Light Sabre!

This is an account by Seany Fdm Pogson, the father of a non-verbal child with severe developmental delay. Seany has been shaping new behaviors with his daughter, Tink, using TAGteach. Former efforts by therapists to teach Tink using hand-over-hand methods had not worked well and in fact Tink had rebelled against this touching by refusing to cooperate and regressing in some previously learned behaviors. Seany has had huge success with shaping many new behaviors and Tink is very tag savvy (and Seany is an excellent shaper!), so when Tink got sick and required oral antibiotics via syringe, Seany was able to avoid force and shape Tink to accept the syringe and happily take her medicine. Here is his account of this process:

TAGteach Jedi moments

Tink's not well and has an ear infection and the flu. Having an ear infection is also amplified by sensory processing problems, so making sure she has her medicine on time is important. Normally Tink's very good at taking her medicine but this morning not a chance. She pushed the syringe away. I tried once more this time Tink pushed the syringe away and avoided any further attempts by hugging her pillow in her play pen and biting it. This she will do when excited, stressed or if she just needs a hug and gets a hug from her pillow because sometimes she can't cope with the sensory of being hugged. So it was a no go, I couldn't even get anywhere near her mouth. Then I had a Jedi moment and a calm reassuring voice popped in my head like Ben Kenobi (Martha Gabler) "use the tag Seany". Straight away my own voice of determination popped in to my head and said "I can do this shit".

So I got the clicker from my pocket and sat near the playpen for a moment till Tink calmed down a bit from her rocking and biting on her pillow. Then I calmly reached over the to her with the syringe of medicine till I was about foot away from her face were she was burrowing it in the pillow whilst biting it. This was the first tag point and clicked and I paired it with praise "did it " (the clicker now has become a conditioned reinforcer). So I moved it forwards again a bit but waited till a brief pause in the biting as I moved the syringe closer and tagged again (clicked ) and verbal praise. This time as I tagged I noticed a brief sideways eye movement in my direction at the sound of the tag, so I seized the day and moved the syringe closer, tagged again and rewarded with "did it". Tink then moved her head up a bit sideways off the pillow, so again I moved the syringe closer about 2 inches from her mouth and tagged her. Then I moved the syringe to her lips were she grabbed it and put in her mouth and I was able to get over half in and tagged her and rewarded her with "did it yeyyyyyyyy ". At this point I was confident that she would do the same as the last time so I moved the syringe to her lips and she did exactly the same and she emptied the syringe so tagged and big "DID IT " and passed her drink to her.

This is how TAGteach and Applied Behaviour Analysis is teaching me to think. As I use it more, the more effective it and my thinking become. It's teaching me to think on my feet and apply it on my feet. This is far greater than any light sabre and more useful than any force. This is teaching me and my daughter at the same time.

Read more about Tink:

TAGteach Tale:  From Sensory Avoidance to Self-Feeding – Tink’s journey to success
TAGteach Tale: Tink rocked her blood tests!

Find out more about teaching a special needs child with TAGteach:

Martha Gabler (autism mother) TAGteach blog - free tips and step-by-step descriptions 
Free ebook by Martha Gabler: Behavior Basics - A Primer for Parents - ABA terminology explained in simple terms for parents

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!  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Using a Verbal Marker to Signal Success for Your Learner

By Joan Orr MSc

Let me just apologize right up front for the title of this article. I am not in fact going to explain how to use a verbal marker, or to expound on the benefits of verbal markers. In fact the opposite is quite true, if disappointing to some.

I am not a fan of the verbal marker (that is using a word such as "yes" or "good" to mark a correct response). The more experience I get with TAGteach and clicker training, the more firmly I believe that the verbal marker is inferior to the tag sound (click) in teaching new skills. We have used taggers (clickers) with everyone from tiny tot ballerinas to business professionals to fishermen with lots of muscles and tattoos who work in the Bering Sea (see previous blog posts for the tale of the fishermen). We have used taggers with elite athletes, kids with autism, kids with Down syndrome, business professionals, prison inmates and medical students to list a few examples. Using the tagger absolutely works and it works with every population of learner that we have encountered.

Why Did She Get a Better "Good" Than Me?

We at one point back in the time before we had as much experience as we have now had suggested to people that they might use the word “good” or another verbal marker to signal success to the learner. In practice this has turned out not to work well. The verbal marker becomes very repetitive and annoying very quickly. It seems condescending in a way to say “good, good, good” over and over especially to another adult. It is also very difficult to keep the tone of the “good” the same each time. People tend to want to convey additional information with the verbal marker. They tend to vary the tone and give a more expressive “good” if there is a particularly good effort. It is hard to avoid the big excited “YES” when they finally get it, or the desultory "yes" when you're tired, hungry and have a headache.

A teacher may inadvertently vary the tone of the "good" for different learners, and trust me - they notice! The learner wonders why they didn’t get the big “good!!” the next time or why another person got a bigger “good” than they did. Learners no matter how young can tell the difference between genuine praise and a rote "good job".

The verbal marker inevitably mixes praise with information. This defeats the purpose of using a marker. The marker must be the same every time and must convey only one piece of information “you got it right”. There are no degrees of “rightness”. It is either tag or no tag (click or no click). This allows the learner to focus only the task at hand, the tag point, and not to have to process verbal information at the same time.

Praise is Great, but Not as a Precise Marker of Behavior

I am not saying that praise is bad, or that there is no place for it. What I am saying is that words cannot be used as markers as effectively as a neutral sound because words inevitably convey more than just the critical information (yes! you got it). The way to use praise effectively is in concert with the marker. Tag without talking and at the end of the tag session, give the verbal praise. For example, the learner might get 10 tags and then you end the session and say “You’re doing really well” or “you are hitting your tag point much better than yesterday” or “Fantastic!!!”

Our classic Highjump Video demonstrates this nicely. There is no talking other than to give the tag point, no feedback other than the tag and then the verbal, heartfelt praise at the end.

We have been trying to work out in our own minds the problem with the verbal marker and over time we have come to the conclusion that is the mixture of praise with information that is at the heart of the problem. Separate praise from information and you will get better results and more satisfied learners.

But I Just Can't Use a Sound Marker

There may be times where it is not appropriate or not possible to use a sound marker. You may have used the tagger for an intense teaching session and your learners are starting to fade. Not to worry! You can still use the principles of TAGteach in all your teaching. While you will not get the incredible power of TAGteach without using a tagger, you will still benefit from using the TAGteach principles. We call this Naked TAGteach (TAGteach without the tagger) and we have a webinar that explains this in detail. Click here for more information or to purchase.

More About Verbal Markers and Why the "Tag/Click" Sound Works so Well

Read an article by Karen Pryor: Bingo! You Win!

Watch a video clip from Karen Pryor on the neurobiology of TAGteach and why the tag sound works so well:

Related Resources


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TAGteacher Tale: A Winning Approach to Transforming Your Instructor

TAGteacher Joey Iverson has successfully introduced TAGteach to the tennis world, although she said it’s for selfish reasons. “I want to be the best tennis player I can be and that will happen faster if my coach uses TAGteach!”

"I explained a few of the tools to my coach Grant Grinnell (USPTA) and he was willing to give it a shot. After just a few tries, he was totally sold on the value of TAGteach and the powerful learning it facilitates. He commented that there was more improved play in my game within a single lesson. He also noticed that although it was easier to get information to me with the marker, it also required a different focus. In a group lesson he is usually trying to take in what each of the players is doing. To tag me for the skill, he had to momentarily keep his focus on just me or he would miss the marker timing. Both of us had complete focus and that brought about immediate improvement."

It seems Joey’s coach is as excited about TAGteach as she is:

“I love everything about what you've taught me. I love the tag, I love the positive reinforcement. I love no negative connotation. I love the focus of what I need to do and I love the focus of what students can do if they are tagging somebody else. I love everything about it, it's fantastic and I plan on using extensively in my teaching in the future.”

The word is spreading fast. After watching a TAGteach session between Grant and Joey, another coach, Chad Smith USPTA wanted in. It wasn’t long until he found exactly why TAGteach worked for him.

“TAGteach worked for me because I could mark the exact point I need my students to feel in my lessons. My students quickly associated the tag with what I was trying to get them to understand in their technique. It made my instructions that much more effective.”

Thank-you Joey for spreading the word effectively and kudos to Grant and Chad for being coaches that are open to new concepts that improve learning for their students!

USPTA Tennis Coach Grant Grinnell Talks About TAGteach

Join us for a webinar with TAGteacher Joey Iversen on May 20, 2014 where we will learn about strategies for helping to transform your instructors, teachers or coaches so that they can begin to teach the way YOU want to learn. Click here for more information or to register.

BONUS! Register for this webinar and you will get a discount code for 25% off our recorded webinar: Sport Coaches: 4 Things Your Athletes Wish You Knew. This webinar covers specific details of TAGteach for Sport Coaches.

DOUBLE BONUS! Register for the Sport Coaches webinar recording and you will get a 50% off pass for your coach or instructor.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Upcoming TAGteach Events - Learn to Be a More Effective Teacher, Instructor, Coach or Parent

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Apr 5-6, 2014
Location: Seattle WA
Get more info and register 

TAGteach Webinar: Fluency - Who Needs It?
Date: Apr 10, 2014
With Luca Canever
Get more info and register

TAGteach Webinar: How to Use TAGteach to Teach Handling Skills to Animal Shelter Staff and Volunteers
Date: May 6, 2014
With Marissa Marino
Get more info and register

TAGteach Webinar: A Winning Approach to Transforming Your Instructor
Date: May 20, 2014
With Joey Iversen
Get more info and register

Seminaro TAGteach
Date: May 17-18, 2014
Location: Arezzo, Italia
Informazioni e Iscrizioni

En kv√§ll om TAGteach med Eva Bertilsson
Date: May 22, 2014
Location: Halland, Sweden
mer information

TAGtots! for Parents and Teachers of Young Children
Seminario TAGteach per Genitori ed Educatori
Date: May 24, 2014
Location: Verona, Italia
Get more info and register/ Informazioni e Iscrizioni

TAGteach Advanced Workshop and Level 1 Certification
Date: May 29-30, 2014
Location: Birmingham UK
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Jun 6-7, 2014
Location: Sornetan, Switzerland
Get more info and register 

TAGteach Advanced Workshop and Level 1 Certification
Date: Jun 8-9, 2014
Location: Sornetan, Switzerland
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Jun 21-22, 2014
Location: Valencia, Spain
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Jul 16-17, 2014
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Jul 19-20, 2014
Location: Brisbane Australia
Get more info and register

TAGteach Advanced Workshop and Level 1 Certification
Date: Jul 22-23, 2014
Location: Brisbane Australia
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Jul 26-27, 2014
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Get more info and register 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Everybody Needs Fluency!

By Luca Canever

How many times, during our lives, have we been told to "Pay attention"? At school, driving our cars, playing sports, at work, at home or crossing the streets. The world is constantly demanding our attention. The problem is that we shouldn't pay attention… At all!

D. Eagleman, in his book "Incognito, The Secret Lives of the Brain", wrote:
When athletes make mistakes, coaches typically yell: 'Think out there!' The irony is that a professional athlete's goal is NOT to think. The goal is to invest thousands of hours of practice so that in the heat of the battle the right maneuvers will come automatically, with no interference from consciousness. The skills need to be pushed down into the players' circuitry. When athletes ‘get into the zone’, their well-trained unconscious machinery runs the show, rapidly and efficiently.  Imagine a basketball player standing at the free throw line. The crowd yells and stomps to distract him. If he's running on conscious machinery, he's certain to miss. Only by relying on the overtrained, robotic machinery can he hope to drain the ball through the basket".
In my webinar "How the Brain Learns" I discussed some of the mechanisms used by the brain to learn. In this next webinar we will explore how the brain uses the learned information to attain that which should be the goal of every learning experience: Fluency. As Eagleman writes fluency allows us to perform difficult tasks even in noisy and distractive environments. We don't have to think about our behaviors. We, simply perform them. We don't think which muscles and joints we use when we walk. Try this experiment: stand up and take few steps forward, naming - or paying attention - to each single movement. Your performance will be poor and extremely slow. We don't pay attention, but we can walk to the kitchen efficiently to have a glass of water.

Fluency allows us to pay attention only to the new things: potential new threats or new reinforcers. All the rest runs smoothly, controlled by many other brain circuitries whose workings are largely unknown (do you have to think to breathe?).

How do we become fluent? The answer is rather simple: we need to practice. The more we practice the more we become fluent. But, practice is not just the repetition of an action. Deliberated Practice (as Dr. K. Anders Ericsson named it) is purposeful, with clear goals, and precise settings. It requires a great amount of self-sacrifice and great self-control to engage in this kind of practice. But, if you want to play with the Seattle Seahawks this is the only way. Obviously genes matter and if you're tall you will have more chance of playing for the Lakers. But, as we'll see genes aren't enough by themselves. You have to master the component skills of your discipline, put them together in complex behaviors and merge the behavior in stunning performances. AND, above all you have to find the practice reinforcing to keep going.

TAGteach is the perfect methodology to give us the reinforcing practice we deserve to explore our talents, and during the webinar we'll see how TAGteach methodology fits well in the theoretical scaffold scientists are discovering. We'll visit also some Renaissance painter's shops. Leonardo needed fluency to paint his Mona Lisa.

Click here to register for Luca's upcoming webinar: Fluency - Who Needs It? (Apr 10, 2014 3-4 PM EDT)

Register for the Fluency Webinar and you will get a 25% discount coupon for the recorded webinar: How the Brain Learns (not applicable on top of the member discount)


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

TAGteacher Spotlight - Marissa Martino

For the past 7 years, Marissa Martino has been working with dogs and their human companions in a variety of settings.  She started her career working for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, CO. There she implemented a Behavior Modification Program for shelter dogs with various special needs: such as fear, separation anxiety, resource guarding and dog-dog aggression.  After two years in Colorado, she moved to San Francisco to expand her horizons. There she started her position at the East Bay SPCA as the Director of behavior and training. During this time, she attended a Clicker Expo in California. There she attended a TAGteach seminar taught by Theresa McKeon.

After listening to Theresa and observing a TAGteach demo, Marissa was hooked! She loved how the emphasis of the seminar was on the human learner instead of the dog. As a dog trainer it is very important that we know how to train dogs; however, training the owner is even more important! The owner is the one living with the dog and following through with the training plan. If he/she does not fully understand the concepts and how to implement them, the dog’s behavior may not change or may even get worse. This is both detrimental to the trainer as well as the relationship between the owner and the dog.

During her time at the East Bay SPCA, Marissa has developed nine volunteer programs where volunteers have hands on experience with dogs and cats of the shelter. The main purpose of these programs is to enrich and enhance the lives of all involved, the dogs and cats as well as the volunteers. Marissa’s main priorities were to articulate how to safely handle shelter animals and empower the volunteers to make smart decisions during their shifts. She decided what hands on skills they needed to know and used the TAGteach principles to educate the volunteers. The feedback she received from the volunteers was astounding. They were able to remember the skills they had learned during their shifts since their education experience was simple, easy and fun! Marissa not only uses TAGteach in her curriculum designs but also in her everyday life and with her loved ones. She believes in its powerful messaging of identifying what you want people and animals to do, reinforcing this behavior and ultimately empowering the learner!                          

Join us for a webinar presented by Marissa on the topic of Teaching Handling Skills to Animal Shelter Volunteers on Tues May 6, 2014 at 11 AM EDT


$9.97 for TAGteach Members

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TAGteach and Autism: The Time Has Come!

Hand holding clicker

By Martha Gabler MA 

The purpose of this article is to introduce you to a new type of support for children with autism: the acoustical support. Most people are familiar with adaptive equipment for children with physical disabilities such as wheel chairs, braces, and work platforms. In the autism community, most people are familiar with visual supports: picture systems, schedules, token boards, and so forth. These visual supports play a crucial role in educating children with autism and have proven to be extremely useful in both home and school settings.

Introducing the acoustical support

Now, for the “acoustical” support:  An acoustical support is a neutral sound: a tap, click or ping. The purpose of the sound is to inform a learner that he has done something right. The sound says, “YES, you did it.” The instructor, therapist or parent makes the sound at the exact moment that the child has performed a desired behavior. This behavior may be pointing to a picture of a cat, putting a puzzle piece into place, or, one of those rare beautiful flashes of meaningful eye contact or comprehension. As soon as the child has performed the task and the instructor has produced the sound, the child receives a treat (reinforcer). After a few trials, the neutral sound becomes a “conditioned reinforcer.”  Behavior scientist Karen Pryor explains, “A conditioned reinforcer is some initially meaningless signal—a sound, a light, a motion—that is deliberately presented before or during the delivery of a reinforcer.”

The child starts to pay attention

After a few experiences of hearing the sound and receiving a treat (reinforcer), the sound itself becomes meaningful for the child, and he starts to watch out for it. After the child is paying attention to the sound, he starts to pay attention to the behaviors that produced the sound. When he realizes that his own behaviors are producing the sound and the reinforcer, he learns to produce those desired behaviors more often. At that point, you have learning and communication! The use of a sound to signal success to the learner is called Teaching with Acoustical Guidance or TAGteach.

As a parent, when I started using a neutral sound (a “tag” or click) to indicate to my son which behaviors of his would earn treats, he started doing more of those behaviors. My son was loud, chaotic and wild in the early years. He had self-stimulatory and aggressive behaviors. With my conditioned reinforcer (sometimes referred to as an “event marker” or a “tag”), I was able to tag my child every time he did something good. “Good” things were behaviors like Quiet Mouth, Both Feet On The Floor, Hands Still, or Eye Contact. The procedure is: Observe child, press clicker (tag) when child performs the desired behavior, then reinforce child (give a treat or token).

Tantrum busting

The first time I ever used a TAGteach acoustical support, my son had just erupted into a tantrum, complete with shrieking, stomping and storming about. I tagged every split second of “Quiet Mouth” or “Both Feet On The Ground,” and handed him a tiny piece of candy with each “tag.” Twelve minutes later he was sitting quietly and calmly on the sofa, and we were able to go about our day. During those twelve minutes I said not a word and did nothing other than press the tagger and hand out tiny pieces of candy. It was easy to do, and the result was amazing. It was an incredibly empowering experience for me, compared to all the previous tantrums when I always felt panicky, demoralized and helpless. I never feared a tantrum or meltdown again because I had a powerful tool to help him calm down.

autism tagteach special needsMy son became more skilled and happier the more I tagged

The more I communicated with my son via tags and positive reinforcement, the more skills he gained and the happier and better behaved he became. Despite the lack of speech, despite the sensory issues, the tag rang loud and clear and told him he had done something good. He loved it and responded beautifully. He had many difficult behaviors, but I was able to tag a split second of a good behavior whenever it occurred, with the result that the split second became two seconds, then three seconds, then four seconds of the desired behavior, plus it occurred more often. Gradually I was able to “shape” disruptive behaviors into positive learning behaviors, and he gained many useful skills.

Clear, precise information for the child with no emotional or sensory burden

The reason the tag works so well is because of the precise information it provides to the child. It tells the child, in real time, exactly what he did that was right, at exactly the moment he did it. From the viewpoint of a child with autism, he receives precise, timely information from a neutral sound; there is no emotional burden, language processing or sensory issue to deal with. Thus the child is free to focus on the priceless information he is receiving: the wonderful knowledge that he has done something right.

The time has come for TAGteach for autism

The time has come for the use of acoustical supports in the autism community. There are many reasons. From an autism family's perspective, this method is wonderful because it is easy, effective and low cost. From an autism treatment perspective, this method is wonderful because it is based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. It is flexible, portable and wonderful for teaching in the natural environment as well as in structured settings. It is an invaluable tool for weary, dispirited parents, and for over-burdened instructors in the classroom. Thank you for reading to the end of this article! I hope you are interested in learning more about using acoustical supports for a child with autism. If you have questions, please contact me via the Questions for Martha link on her blog. For more information on TAGteach and autism please visit:  

About Martha

3D_Book_Image_no BackgroundMartha Gabler is the mother of a non-verbal teenager with severe autism. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Vassar College and a Master's degree from the George Washington University Martha lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband and two sons. Her older son is at university pursuing a degree in mathematics. Martha runs a tutoring company called Kids' Learning Workshop LLC, and is the author of the book entitled Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism. Martha writes articles to help other autism parents solve or prevent behavior problems at her blog: Martha loves to hear from readers and to answer questions at her Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TAGteacher Spotlight - Luca Canever

Luca (on right) with fellow TAGteachers
Eva and Emelie
About ten years ago, Luca had an idea: to give his girlfriend a puppy as a birthday gift. The puppy, named Iris was a starting point. After a few months, Luca bought a clicker and started to train Iris. The discovery of clicker training was his light bulb moment. Luca gained the CAP3 certification in 2006. After this he started his career as a professional dog trainer, even though his main activity remains Archaeology. Luca holds a Bachelor’s degree In Archaeology from Padova University. In 2008, Luca’s first son, Alessandro, was born. As a new parent, Luca became more focused towards using positive reinforcement with his son. Karen Pryor’s "Reaching the Animal Mind" introduced him to TAGteach. This was a real life changing event, that led Luca to attending one of the first TAGteach seminars in Europe.
“Working with animals through positive reinforcement is an experience that enriches you. Bring this same experience on the relationship with people is something that changes your life! The first time I read about TAGteach I immediately said "I MUST do this!" And it's true: my life and myself changed. TAGteach has increased my awareness of what the other people are doing and why they’re doing it (and I can guarantee you. if you have a four years old boy this a really helpful skill). I became a "TAGthinker". Constantly I strip down things happening around me and reassemble them in tag points. The challenge now is to be able to introduce the TAGteach here in Italy. In this my thanks go to TAGteach International for their help and support and to Theresa McKeon who last year agreed to held a Primary workshop here in Verona, and this year she took on the challenge of co-present with Laura Monaco Torelli and myself the Dynamic Duo Seminar. My goal with this seminar is to share the deep similarities that exist between education and training humans and animals. When we all will know that there’s a new, caring methodology –that works-, to deal both with people and animal I think the world will be a better place to be in”.
Luca has used TAGteach with volleyball and basketball teams, with his clients and with his son. He also learned medieval swordplay with his nephew using TAGteach methodology.

Luca is a Level 3 TAGteacher and offers TAGteach Workshops and Certification Seminars in Europe in both English and Italian. Visit for more from Luca.

TAGteach and Neuroscience - How the Brain Learns

Luca is a scientist with an interest in the neurobiology of TAGteach and how learning works in the brain. One of the amazing thing about TAGteach is the speed at which it works. Sometimes it seems almost magical! Turns out that the reason for this is because TAGteach is perfectly suited for optimal learning, because of the way the brain learns and retains information. Luca explained this in a fascinating webinar. Click here for more info or to register for the recording.