TAGteacher Spotlight – Luca Canever

tagteach italia


luca circleAbout 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.


TAGteacher Tale – Can Students Learn Too Fast?



Students Learning 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 interpret 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!

Hmm, 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!

More About TAGteach for Dog Trainers

Lots of dog trainers are using TAGteach with the human end of the leash. Because guess what? The science and the effective techniques developed by clicker trainers work just as well with people. Click here for more about TAGteach for dog trainers and to get a free WOOF planner download to help you plan your teaching goals.

About Fanna

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,  www.dogtrainingnation.com.

TAGteach in the Classroom

TAGteach classroom

By Luca Canever, TAGteach Faculty

Managing the reinforcement for a group of people is one of the major difficulties that we may encounter. Especially if the people in question are 20 kids, 11 years old, with interests and personalities different from each other.

For the last two months I’ve been working in a school as a teacher. For the first time, I have the chance to use the marker with a large group — a group with no particular desire to be at school! How can we reinforce them? Some of the kids enjoy candies, some others like beads or extra time for recess. There are (they exist!) students who find study itself reinforcing, but, they are very, very, very rare.

What I have decided to do is to take a continuous rotation between different schedules of reinforcement: today we work for extra time for recess; tomorrow we will earn beads and bracelets; after that we will earn points for watching a movie, or to enjoy some favorite activity. It may seem an insurmountable obstacle and demoralizing at a first glance to find reinforcers suitable for a group of people. I think it could be done with a little imagination and desire to come up with new strategies. The more we become able to grasp behaviors to reinforce the easier it will be to reinforce these behaviors.

I used TAGteach in different situations; and even if I’m not using the marker, the principles of the methodology are always present (or at least I hope so…).

TAGteach for Writing Skills

PEN HOLDING: Many students have an incorrect pen holding habit. This can cause problems with the joints of the wrist, and difficulty in writing that could translate into, “I do not like to write,” or “I cannot write.” So if we want to educate future Shakespeares properly, holding the pen properly is the first step.


In this case I used two tag points:

  1. Squeeze your thumb and forefinger
  2. Push with the middle finger

The pen must be taken between thumb and forefinger and then it should rest on the middle finger. I found two good targets for these behaviors on YouTube.

First: put the pen on the table with the tip facing you.

Second: use the index and middle fingers of the left hand to position thumb and index of the writing hand to the correct height on the pen: exactly on the edge indicated by the index finger. The two photos show the two targets.

TAGteach for cursive writing and improving cognition

DYSGRAPHIA: One of my boys has some (fortunately light) cognitive problems. He writes in a disorderly manner and has few skills in the area of working memory. Instead of using some fallback strategies such as writing in capital letters or writing with the computer, I decided (respecting the personality and the expertise of the student), to have him write in cursive. I started with a tag point “Letters on Line,” to improve correct writing.The picture shows the first session we had. The red line shows his “standard” writing. Notice all those ups and downs? The blue line shows where I started marking (tagging “Letters on Line). The tagging session lasted throughout the green line. Then he continued on his own.


The difference is immediately obvious. 15 days after this intervention, the writing is still stable on the line, without me having to do other sessions. Not only that. I noticed that the way the boy is able to organize his thoughts for writing is becoming more streamlined and flowing — as if being able to write in order helps him think in order.

TAGteach for reading

READING SKILLS: Punctuation is not something that my kids are confident with. But reading with expression helps with understanding the text; and the positive experience of reading, according to the motto that I’ve just invented is, “If you can read, then you like to read.” Reading without difficulty means having the skills to study better, faster and more proficiently.
So I started to teach how to respect the pauses of punctuation with peer tagging. In peer tagging, two students work together from the same material. The exercise took place as follows: the first student reads, the second student tags his correct reading of punctuated text. The first tag point is “breathe on commas.” But it could be, at the next level, “Pause on dots,” After five tags the second peer starts reading and is tagged by the next student. That’s if you want the whole class to follow along. If you want to liven it up, just form groups of two or three students, setting shifts for the reader and for the markers with the kids doing the tagging!

About Luca

Luca Canever is luca circlea scientist, teacher and TAGteach Faculty member from Italy. Luca has been with TAGteach since the beginning and has been involved with development, application and training for many years. Luca has used TAGteach in sports, parenting, dog training and classroom teaching. He is dedicated to promotion of positive reinforcement based teaching and training. Visit his website at: http://www.tagteachitalia.com/


TAGteach in the Classroom Webinar with Luca

Learn more about how to use TAGteach in the classroom in this 1 hour recorded webinar with Luca. You’ll find out how to improve your learners’ success with reading and writing skills, how to encourage them to help and teach each other, how TAGteach can help with classroom management and safety drills training.


Register Now


Questions for Luca or Other TAGteachers?

Join our Facebook group: TAGteach Forum and ask Luca and the other TAGteach Faculty and practicing TAGteachers your question or share your successes.



Teachers: Here’s a Surefire Way to Help Your Learners Get it Right the First Time


Do you want your teaching to result in success the first time? Here’s how to do it: Set a learning goal that the learner can already do. It’s that simple. Start every new lesson with success and then keep building on this to get more success.

What is the Point of Success?

The point of success is something the learner can already do and where he is guaranteed to earn a tag. For example a kindergarten student can certainly pick up a pencil with her writing hand. The first tag point in teaching letter formation could be “pencil in writing hand”. Starting with the point of success ensures success on the first try and provides a rewarding introduction to the lesson. The point of success will gradually change as the learner gains competency. The point of success is a place to return to if the learner is having trouble with more difficult tag points.


TAGteacher Spotlight: Martha Gabler

Martha in door for Gravatar

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to have Martha join our team of TAGteach Instructors as a Level 3 TAGteacher. Martha has made a huge contribution to the development of TAGteach for autism.

By Martha Gabler MA, Level 3 TAGteacher

My name is Martha Gabler. My husband and I are the parents of two boys. The younger one, now 20 years old, was diagnosed at age 3 as having severe autism and being profoundly non-verbal. He had all the common difficult behaviors typical of children with autism, including self-injury and aggression.

By sheer chance, I learned about TAGteach and realized instantly that this method for positive behavior change could be a huge help for us. This turned out to be the case. My son is now a delightful, happy teen who loves life and loves going places. He still has autism, but life is much, much better for us all.


More Than Just a Sticker: How TAGteach Prevents Kids from Being Punished by Rewards

rewards!, 3D rendering, rough street sign collection

There is a book called “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. I saw the title and thought “how can that be?” and so I bought the book. Dr. Kohn explains how endless stickers and charts and ribbons and praise and approval to children for every single accomplishment no matter how small is creating children who cannot function without outside approval. They have no confidence in their own abilities and low self esteem because they judge themselves through the eyes of others. They are not self motivated and do not derive satisfaction from achievement for its own sake since they have been systematically trained to look to others for approval as a result of the frivolous doling out of rewards by parents, teachers and coaches. This is of course an over-simplification, since it is quite a long book with lots of scientific references, but you get the idea.

The Praise Junkie

Theresa McKeon (TAGteach cofounder and professional gymnastics coach) calls these kids “praise junkies”. They are the ones that always want the coach to look at them. They can’t work independently. They are not focused on learning, but are focused on what the coach (parent, teacher, etc) thinks. They require constant approval and encouragement. They may even misbehave in order to have the attention focused back on them if other children are getting in the way of this.


Should We Pay Kids to Behave and Do Well at School?


By Karen Pryor (first published in 2010)

Last week TIME magazine ran a cover story about paying kids cash money to get better grades.
The objections to cash ‘rewards’ for schooling have been around for a long time and can lead to tremendous political uproar. There are moral objections—children should do what’s expected of them without reward. There are philosophical, theoretical, religious, and of course financial objections.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.

Well, this fellow at Harvard, economist Roland Fryer Jr., decided the first thing to do was to find out if paying kids to do better in school actually worked or not. Forget all the existing studies and opinions. Forget those specific schools where reinforcers, large and small, are built into the system. According to TIME, Dr. Fryer “did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment.” (Just think about THAT for a minute. They opine stuff and put it into the schools and they don’t TEST it?)


Show ‘Em the Money! What Kids Want Teachers and Parents to Know About Reinforcement



Parents, teachers and other adults need to realize that it is all very well to hope that an innate sense of moral obligation will cause Jimmy to clean his room or raise his hand in class, but if you want the job done easily and well, then you need to pay with currency that kids value.

What do kids really want for reinforcement? How can we possibly find out? Social worker Lynn Loar PhD decided to ask them. The simple answer  was candy, for one thing; money for another. But it’s more complicated than that, as these kids explain in an article published in the the Summer/Fall 2009 issue of the Latham Letter. The article is authored by Lynn Loar and five young co-authors.


TAGteacher Tale: Spelling and writing, oh my! TAGteach saves the day

Kindergarten teacher helping students with writing skills

By Martha Gabler MA

TAGteach is so Versatile

Not only does TAGteach help with behavior, you can also use it to help kids overcome learning obstacles.

Here are two examples of how people used TAGteach to help kids who were unhappy about completing their spelling and writing assignments. These were quick, spur-of-the-moment interventions, but they created great outcomes.


How to Get What You Want

woof with words

By Joan Orr MSc and Anne Wormald MADS

She never listens! He’s lazy. She’s not smart enough. He has ADD. She’s from a single parent family. He’s stubborn. She’s a Libra. He’s got special needs. She’s too smart. His dad’s a lawyer. Her mom is a feminist. He’s from Boston.

There are lots of labels and excuses to explain why people don’t do what you want. Let’s just put all those aside for now and think about the most important thing. Which of course is you getting what you want. Sometimes you need others to act in order for you to get what you want and sometimes it is you who needs to act.

The internet knows that the way to get stuff done is to set goals and work on one small thing at a time. Look it up. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and all that other irrefutable wisdom. Productivity experts agree that we need to break big tasks into smaller ones. Ironically the instruction “break it down” is itself ill-defined. It is particularly vexing for people with no training in behavior analysis to come up with goals that are easily achievable and upon success can be reinforced. This is the reason that most New Year’s resolutions have failed by the end of January (if not sooner). Most people want to do too much at once in order to save time, but the result is that everything takes longer, seems increasingly impossible and is more frustrating for all involved.