TAGteach Tip: Set Observable Goals for Yourself and Your Learner

TAGteach tip3


When you are setting goals for yourself, or for teaching others, it is important that you can tell exactly when the goal is attained. This seems obvious, but in fact it takes a certain amount of thought to make this happen.

In order for a goal behavior to be attained and then repeated, the behavior must be reinforced. That is, a pleasant consequence must occur immediately after the behavior happens, and this consequence must increase the chance of the behavior happening again. In other words, the most effective way to teach something requires the following sequence:

Behavior happens >> something good happens >> behavior is more likely to happen again

Positive Reinforcement

As a teacher (even if teaching yourself) you strive to explain the teaching goal clearly, notice when the learner gets it right and give reinforcement to the learner so that they know that they got it right.

As an example, say you wanted to teach a dancer to kick her leg higher. You could say to her: “kick your leg higher”. But, how much higher? What do you mean exactly? How will you know if she has achieved the goal? How will she know how high? “Kick higher” is a vague goal that is ill-defined and neither teacher nor learner knows exactly what it means. The chances of getting a consistent performance and being able to give clear, timely reinforcement for a vague goal such as this are slim, and progress will be inconsistent at best.

How can you clarify the goal “kick higher” to make it observable and thus reinforceable and repeatable? The way to do this is to attach some very clear criteria to the goal so that both teacher and learner can agree and understand exactly what it means to achieve this goal. One possible strategy with this example would be to hold your hand at the goal height and define the goal as “Kick to hand”. Or you could put a line on the wall or the mirror and define the goal as “kick to line”. This gives you and the learner a clear definition of what it means to succeed and makes the goal clearly observable for you as the teacher.

Maybe you want to set a goal for yourself to get more exercise. “Get more exercise” is another ill-defined goal. What does this mean? How can you observe this and know if you achieved this goal? In order to be successful and to be able to say to yourself “Yes, I did this”, you need to define the goal in terms of something specific that you can easily track. Let’s say that part of your exercise goal is to use your elliptical trainer more often. A specific and observable goal related to this could be to go 5 seconds longer than the last time. You goal is “Go 5 seconds longer”. Now you have something very specific that you can observe and measure and reinforce yourself for achieving.

Set Goals that Impact the Underlying Behavior

Another aspect related to creating observable goals, is to ensure that the goal actually impacts the behavior so that reinforcement can come at the exact moment the goal behavior happens. This is best explained with an example.

Say you want to teach someone to sink a 50 foot putt on the golf course. The most obvious goal would seem to be getting the ball into the hole. Surely that is an observable goal? The problem with this, is that the behavior (the muscle movements) that caused the ball to travel the correct distance with accuracy happened several seconds before the ball went into the hole. In order for reinforcement to work effectively, it has to occur exactly when the goal behavior happens. The ball going into the hole makes the golfer happy, but it doesn’t teach him exactly what he did correctly to make that happen. The ball falling into the hole happens way too late to reinforce any specific movements. As a teacher you need to figure out what exact movements are required in order to strike the ball with the desired speed and accuracy and teach those one at a time.

Other examples like this include, “run faster”, “hit the baseball farther”, “ get the puck in the net”, “serve the ball inside the court”, “clean your room”, “stop smoking”, “eat less”. These are all end results of some behaviors that happened previously to cause that end result. To create an observable goal that you can reinforce, you need to put aside your concern about the end result and focus on specific behaviors that lead to that end result.

Deliver Timely, Effective Reinforcement

With the TAGteach method we use a click sound to signal to the learner that they got it right. This is called a tag, and it happens immediately to tell the learner “Yes! you got it right”. This is a very effective way to provide immediate, clear, precise reinforcement. As the teacher, it is your job to tag (using a handheld clicker) exactly when you see the behavior happening. In order to tag effectively you need to be able to see the goal behavior precisely when it happens. The goal behavior must be clearly OBSERVABLE as outlined in this article.

Video Example

Here is an example of a teaching session with a clearly observable tag point. The teacher can see it exactly when it happens and the learner understands what he needs to do to meet the goal.


Make it Observable!

Make the goal behavior (the tag point) observable. Define it clearly so that both teacher and learner agree on its definition. Relate the tag point to specific muscle movements that cause the goal behavior to happen.

The TAGteach Goal Setting Process

This article describes one aspect of the TAGteach goal setting process. There are four parts to creating a clear, precise, consistent goal. These are:

  1. What you want (express the goal in positive terms)
  2. One thing
  3. Observable
  4. Five words or less

You can easily remember these with the acronym WOOF

woof with words


We have explained each of these in detail in separate articles. Here are the links to the rest of the series:

  1. What you want
  2. One thing
  3. Observable (current article)
  4. Five words or less

WOOF Planner

We also have a free WOOF planner with instructions to help you create effective tag points (or teaching goals):

Download WOOF Planner

Related Webinars



The Three Try Rule – How to Make Sure Your Learners Stay in the Game

How do you feel when you try something and make mistakes over and over? How do you feel when it seems that you are disappointing the person trying to teach you? Do you feel energized and excited to be “learning from your mistakes” or do you feel frustrated and discouraged? For most people, repeated failure and “just one more”s make them anxious, frustrated and wanting to escape to do something less stressful. Sometimes the result of too much pressure to try something too hard results in a full-on meltdown. Once this happens, there is no more learning.

This is why we suggest the three try rule. If a learner fails three times (or fewer) to meet the specific learning goal (the tag point), go to a past point of success and move forward in smaller increments. A point of success is something earlier in the learning process that you are 100% sure the learner can get right. By starting at a point of success and moving forward in small steps you build on existing success instead of searching blindly for a good starting point. Of course the ‘three try rule’ isn’t really a rule. The learner doesn’t HAVE to fail three times. If it is clear the learner will not likely achieve the tag point criterion after the first failure, or the learner is very sensitive to failure, jump right in and clarify or break the skill down further and change the tag point.

Read More

TAGteacher Spotlight: Emelie Johnson Vegh and Eva Bertilsson

evaemelie1Swedes Emelie Johnson Vegh and Eva Bertilsson are Certified Level 3 TAGteachers, authors of the book Agility Right from the Start and work together under the name Carpe Momentum. Emelie studied to be a high school teacher in English and Swedish, and Eva has a degree in education and psychology – but after getting together to work within Carpe Momentum, giving classes, hosting seminars, writing articles and the recently published book Agility Right from the Start, neither has time to pursue a more traditional career in their field.

Emelie and Eva came into contact with clicker training at roughly the same time (around 1997), but before knowing each other. They met while competing in agility one hot summer, and found that they both shared a great passion for training and discussing training. After having begun teaching together, they noticed that clicker training made them good animal trainers – in their classes everything was split into small pieces for the dogs and the rate of reinforcement was kept high. But for the human part of the team? As instructors they felt that they wanted to share everything and give all the tools they could to their students, but just cramming their heads full didn’t feel right. How was that setting anybody up for success? Eva spent some time searching the Web, looking for ideas. She came across TAGteach and promptly wrote an email to Theresa McKeon and Beth Wheeler, and that is how the first Primary Certification Seminar came to be hosted in Dingle, Sweden, in 2004.

Since then, Emelie and Eva have worked their way to a Level 3, now educating and certifying others in TAGteach in Scandinavia. They’ve written a few articles in Swedish on the subject and in their book Agility Right from the Start, there is a passage briefly introducing TAGteach and many of the exercises come with suggestions of TAG points for the trainer/handler.

We highly recommend this book! It is not just agility done right it is TAGteach done right as well! Click here to find out more or buy the book

 Parenting Webinar with Emelie

TAGteach Tip: Ask for One Thing (Understand Multitasking)

You know when you really want someone to learn to do something? And you really want them to do a bunch of other things as well, because all the things are really important? They’re all so important that one can’t be done without the others and they all have to be done right? We’ve got the solution for you! Could it be multitasking?

Actually… it turns out that there’s really no such thing as multitasking as far as your brain’s concerned. Neuroscience research has shown us that when you’re doing many things at once, your brain is task switching, rather than multitasking.

Are You as Good a Multitasker as You Think You Are?

Here’s a simple exercise from Psychology Today that illustrates this (it’ll take you less than a minute – so come on – try it):

Read More

TAGteach Tip: Ask for What You Want (Don’t Think About Elephants)

You’re thinking about elephants aren’t you? I know you are! Despite the very explicit and clear written instruction in the title and even a carefully designed picture (worth a thousand words apparently), you are doing precisely the opposite of what I have wanted you to do. Is this a reflection of your inability to understand and follow even the simplest of instructions? Perhaps you are stubborn, slow to comprehend, lazy or just plain contrary? Or perhaps I have gone about the whole “not thinking about elephants” thing entirely the wrong way?

Read More

Back Chaining: The top secret teaching tool that is the key to professional success

Professional trainers and professionals with advanced degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis know about the trainer/teacher’s secret weapon for extreme reliability. That is… back chaining. If you are a teacher, coach or parent who teaches skills to others, you need to know about this too!

Back chaining is a concept foreign to many and counter-intuitive to most who first learn of it. We want to talk about it briefly here, because it is a very effective way to build highly reliable behaviors and it is one of the key techniques that any TAGteacher should understand and apply properly. A reliable behavior is one that looks the same each time the subject performs it. For example, with forming the letter “E”, we would consider the behavior to be reliable if the child drew the letter the same way every time and the letter was drawn correctly.

Read More

Surf’s Up! TAGteach Without a TAGteach Instructor

by Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT, KPACTP, TAGteach Level 2

Following the amazing-as-always ClickerExpo, I headed southeast to join friends and family for a Caribbean vacation. It was delightful; home was 4 degrees Fahrenheit when I left for San Francisco, where the rainy 60s felt lovely, and 80 degrees on a sandy beach felt positively euphoric.

And I learned to surf.

Well, sort of. Our ship was equipped with a FlowRider, an artificial surf machine. I’d seen one before at a water park, but I’d never tried it, and some of us decided to give it a whirl. We joined the others, a mixture of novices and really talented surfers, and I braced myself on a board, listened to the instructor, and gave it my best.

Read More

TAGteaching to TAG Thinking – So Much More than Just Dog Training for People

By Ann Aiko Bergeron MFA, Level 3 TAGteacher

It all began with a Border Terrier named Ninja. Then a clicker in my hand. Now it’s simply a way of life. As a university professor who trains dancers, TAGteaching came as a natural progression of my obsessive interest in clicker training. At first I was hesitant to bring the techniques into a professional adult training program. Would my students think I was crazy? Would my university colleagues think I had gone off the deep end? Encouraged by Theresa McKeon, who sent me a box full of clickers after we had discussed the possibilities at a Clicker Expo, I told my classes that they were going to be my guinea pigs – that I had no idea where TAGteaching was going with them, but please humor me. Fortunately, I’m not known as the most conservative dance teacher, so they moved forward with goodwill and playful curiosity.

Read More

TAGteacher Spotlight: Laura Monaco Torelli

Laura mt circle2Laura Monaco Torelli, Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) and a member of the KPA faculty, is the Director of Training for Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago. She works in collaboration with veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi at Animal Behavior Partners, and is staff with Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants. Laura is also TAGteach Level 2 certified. Since 1991, Laura has worked with and trained beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, river otters, and penguins (at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago), primates, large cats, birds of prey, reticulated giraffes, Arctic foxes, horses, parrots, macaws, tree kangaroos, and red pandas (at the San Diego Zoo, Brookfield Zoo and Niabi Zoological Society) and of course, dogs (just about everywhere).

Read More

The TAGteach Approach to Challenging Behavior in the Classroom

By Luca Canever, TAGteach Faculty

At School

A new pupil with ADHD (I’ll call him J.) arrived in my sixth grade class a while ago. As soon as I was able to find the right reinforcement for him, I was also able to strengthen “good” (for the teacher) behaviors, such as sit, write or watch what is written on the blackboard. I was able to tag (make a click sound with tagger) in order to mark (bring to his attention) his “good” behaviors and follow up with a reinforcer (something he liked and wanted to get more of). After the first hour of practice, J. understood the significance of the tag sound and began to exhibit these behaviors more consistently. There is just one problem remaining to be solved, and that is the subject of this article… transitions.

Read More