I’m in the process of becoming certified by the International Association of Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and taking a course called Animal Behavior Consulting: Principles & Practice. The setup of the course consists of teaching videos by animal experts, instructional handouts, a weekly online mentoring session with the teacher and all students, weekly quizzes, and a major assignment. Each week I’ll share highlights here from my studies.
Week seven of my course focused on how to train the client rather than the pet and covered two topics. Therea McKeon introduced TAG (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance), which I’ll cover in more depth in this article. Risa Van Fleet presented a basic training model that included these elements: establish problem, set goals, plan, and problem-solve. She also explained how to set boundaries and to handle resistance.
TagTeach is a way of teaching where animal behavior consultants provide an explanation to a client, then an instruction, and then a specific learning goal called a tag point. In all three steps the number of words spoken decrease, with the tag point consisting of just five words or less. The last step, known as a tag point, is marked by an auditory tag. This tag might be a one-word verbal response or a short sharp sounder such as made by a clicker.
By using TAGTeach, consultants can provide their clients with a way to practice and receive reinforcement for skills that they’ll need to use between visits. TAGTeach uses five tools:
- Focus Funnel
- WOOF Goals
- Tag Points
- Short Phrase Coaching
The focus funnel allows a consultant to reduce the information that a client must remember before attempting a new behavior. Our instructor Therea McKeon recommended that a consultant teach a client first via the use of photos, then videos, and finally the actual pet. In her opinion, this provides a safe learning environment because initially the client’s pet is not the focus. As such, a client can interact with the picture without fear of making a mistake, and so the client can concentrate on learning both the new information and the new behavior. As a client becomes proficient at identifying a behavior through photos, a consultant might make the task more difficult by adding distractions in a photo or showing a different animal. In these ways, the client learns to generalize.
To understand how a focus funnel works, imagine that the consultant wants to teach a client how to identify signs of aggression in a cat. McKeon suggested that in this scenario the consultant would teach the client to focus on one part of body language; it could be the cat’s eyes, ears, or tail. At the top of the focus funnel is the explanation, wherein a consultant would give reasons to the client for watching the cat’s eyes or any other chosen body part. To signal the start of the middle of the focus funnel, the consultant would say, “The instructions are.” Then the consultant might say something like, “Look at the cat’s eyes. Identify the shape of the eyes and recreate that shape with your eyes.” At the top and middle of the funnel is the tag point, which will state the learning goal in five words or less. For example, “Recreate eye shape.”
The second tool in the TAGTeach method is WOOF. WOOF stands for
- What: Phrase the goal in terms of what you want the learner to do.
- One: Include only one thing in the goal.
- Observable: The goal must be a measurable movement of the body.
- Five: State the goal in five words or less; leave out all extra words (you, your, any descriptive words, and instructions.
The third tool in the TAGTeach method is tag points. A tag point is the learning goal that you set with the WOOF criteria.
To understand how these two components work together, imagine that the consultant wants to teach a client to identify their own stress when working with their their pet and do something about it. McKeon suggested that in this scenario, the consultant would teach the client to identify the concrete ways in which his/her stress intensifies. To address this scenario, a consultant might use a few sentences to explain how many cats are in tune with our emotions, then instruct the client to identify his/her high intensity behaviors before interacting with a cat, and end by giving the tag point, “Identify intensifying behaviors.”
McKeon concluded her lecture with an overview of short phase coaching, which allows a consultant to ask for multiple behaviors from a client. Behaviors must adhere to the WOOF goals but will not need a tag point because the client will be proficient in each of the behaviors. For example, to break up a fight between two cats, the client would:
- Clap your hands or shout to interrupt
- Toss toys to redirect
- If needed, put a cushion between them to stop the fighting
The TAGTeach website says that its teaching method will give teachers a way to communicate more effectively, get results faster, and experience success at every step. It’s not only beneficial to animal consultants and trainers but also to classroom teachers. A goal planner can be found at Autism Chaos to Calm. A free course in TAGTeach can be found at TAGTeach Blog.