The Origins of NePoPo®: A Modern Training Method

NePoPo® is a system of dog training was inspired by nearly 50 years of experience which encompasses history, education, life experience, politics, and practicality.  Bart originated the NePoPo® system, and with the contributions of his wife, Michael, NePoPo® has evolved to the system it is today and the system that is taught at the NePoPo® School.

 

Bart grew up in Burundi, East Central Africa between 1960 and 1974. It was a wonderful childhood, on the one hand, with loving and intelligent parents and siblings. On the other hand, it was a childhood in a region notorious for war and genocide and predatory leadership where the prerogatives of individuals and interest groups superseded national interests. Bart's interest in dogs began there, in Burundi, where dogs were used to protect the land. Thieves and bandits used poison meat to kill dogs in order to gain access to property. The only dogs who survived were dogs who were taught to eat only a particular kind of food, from a certain bowl, from a specific person only, with a designated hand, and with a special release command. (This strategy of having a series of backup plans in dog training was retained and never forgotten.) In Africa, people taught the dogs what they wanted them to do, and they paid them (with the particular kind of food, from the certain bowl…) when they did it. In spite of that, when the opportunity to cheat (the conflict) arose the dogs would jump on the booby- trap (go for that forbidden meat). Therefore, when dog were proofed, old- fashioned aversive techniques were used: a bb gun in the flanks from a distance with no verbal command diminished infractions, and the new rules were quickly understood. This technique was also used in those days by hunters who wanted to keep their dogs on point. They shot dogs with a shotgun with cartridges used to shoot pigeons. This was Bart's first real experience with dog training.

After the genocide and massacre of Hutus and Tutsis in the early 1970s, the region became even more unstable. Bart's family returned to Belgium in 1974. Bart lived in Sit-Katelijne- Waver, a small town close to the city of Mechelen. As a boy in Africa, he was always researching the city of Mechelen because Mechelen was the city that was the origin of the special shepherd called the Malinois. Once in Belgium, Bart immediately bought a Malinois. It was a bitch from the breeding of a neighbor who was a ringsport trainer. The neighbor was an important person at the ringsport club near Bart's home and that club was one of the most successful clubs in Belgium. Once Bart went to the ringsport club, he was addicted to the sport. In those days, however, a boy of 14 (even with an adult body) was expected to keep his mouth shut around his elders, as he was the lowest in ranking. The club members did not speak to Bart. They ignored him. He went every day and watched. After six months of watching silently, the opportunity came. One day the helper was sick, and Bart was asked to suit up to be the temporary helper. They never kicked him out the the suit again.

 

The members did not take Bart's training capacities as a dog trainer seriously, and no one helped him with his dog. Bart started training and playing with his dog on his own: tying a potato jute bag around a tree and having the dog bite on the “dead rabbit”. Bart learned the value of training on his own. (This is another aspect of training he has never forgotten.) Bart always had inventive ideas of his own which were often ideas “thinking outside the box”. It was spontaneous playing that was not intended to be a system but

 

when he was smart enough to analyze what he did on instinct (which was after he went to University), Bart realized that he had inadvertently invented a system that makes dogs accurate, quick, tough and flashy. NePoPo® did not have a name at this point but it was already a system that Bart spontaneously utilized. The club members and other trainers scoffed at how he trained because they didn’t understand. For four years, Bart trained at the club amidst the old timers.

Throughout high school, Bart was an avid soccer player and would possibly have had a career in soccer if he had not had a debilitating knee injury. Bart enjoyed athletics and had a thoughtful and social nature so when he went to University, he studied to be a sport teacher. He learned about learning. He learned about psychology. Bart studied Skinner, Pavlov and Maslow. Bart was fascinated by the Maslow Pyramid which describes a hierarchy of needs. The base of the pyramid is the most primitive, physical needs (food, shelter, reproductive sex) and the top of the pyramid is more high level intellectual and emotional needs. As Bart considered the pyramid with respect to dogs, he realized that this pyramid can explain what is a reward and how long is a reward a reward, and what is a punishment and how long is the punishment a punishment. According to Maslow theory, if one is truly hungry one will eat whatever is offered. When a person is truly cold, he or she will accept every jacket regardless of color or style. On the other hand, if a person is  already full, saturated, he or she will only be open to a favorite dessert with some aged cognac. Maslow theory when applied to dog training can be understood when you consider the mental attitude of the dog who is trained in an existential fashion: working to live. This is the way that wild animals survive. For example, when a hawk is hungry, he is motivated to find food and he is concentrated because a mistake could cost him his meal. There lies the ideal balance between motivation and concentration. When Maslow theory is used in training, the dog trainer can prepare the dog to be more motivated and more concentrated. The dog shows high drive and no lack of precision.

Bart graduated from college in 1982 and immediately served two years in the Paratroopers as an officer. There he learned military training techniques: hierarchy, how to lead, and how to motivate. Bart learned military reward: the reward is that there is no punishment. What Bart learned is that he was a spoiled young guy living in Maslow V and the military took him to a more basic level. What Bart learned at University, along with the skills and knowledge he learned in the paratroopers, showed him that the old fashioned training techniques at the clubs were not good. Those old fashioned techniques conflicted both with the scientific teachings of learning theory and with laws of Animal Welfare which state that it is forbidden to give pain and suffering to an animal without valid reason. Bart understood that he had not been on the wrong track all along although his dog training methods were certainly singularly unique and universally ignored. He felt like Copernicus. He began thinking about how he could incorporate all this knowledge within dog training to formulate a total system for dog training that would apply to all disciplines.

 

Starting in 1986, I began looking beyond Belgian Ring Sport. Bart developed interest in and followed all the international sports that utilized bitework: French Ring Sport, Mondio Ring, KNPV, and IPO. If you are on the road telling people how to train dogs with positive and negative reinforcement and aversive and corrective stimulation, with the tools of choke collar, pinch collar, whip, e-collar, ball, clicker, food, etc: all that had to be incorporated in a system that could be politically acceptable. In half the countries in Europe where protection sports are popular, pinch collars and e-collars are official banned although used clandestinely. Helmet Raiser was one of the first guys in world who was able to tell people what he was doing in training; his honesty about his training methods were accepted. He could explain things to make them politically acceptable. However, in the midst of a training revolution in Europe in the mid-1990s, we were confronted with the book of Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot The Dog. The politically active animal protection lobby used this book as the Bible of evidence that only strictly positive training was needed to be effective and humane, and all other methods were demonized. We all had to re-evaluate our training techniques to counter the Animal Protection Lobby again.

 

There is when the NePoPo® training got its name. It is a negative-positive-positive system. The NePoPo® system is a system where correction of a dog does not lead to submission. The negative reinforcer followed by positive reinforcement creates a behavior. Due to that, an unpleasant feeling announces a nice event (Pavlov). Later you can use that same negative stimulation in correction mode which will immediately bring the dog from unwanted behavior into wanted behavior. Using the NePoPo™ system, the dog is prepared for the day when he will receive a conflict, he will do the wrong thing, he will will receive a correction, but that correction will immediately push him from unwanted behavior into wanted behavior with understanding and confidence and speed. Trainers cannot deny that training must come with consequences. There must be a consequence for both doing and not doing the exercise. That is why strictly positive training does not work when there are distractions or conflicts present which are stronger than the reward. For all training, one must ask the following questions: what do I do when the dog does? What do I do when the dog does not, but he cannot? What to I do when the dog does not do in spite of the fact that he knows very well what to do? This applies to every aspect of dog training: for pet dogs, police dogs, military dogs, and sport dogs.

 

Bart won his first NVBK Championship in 1992 with a talented but out of control dog that he purchased in 1986 when the dog was three years old. It was an ugly performance, but he won. Bart wasn’t entirely happy with my performance. IPO has nice style; ringsport, however, is not required to be pretty. In ringsport, the dog must do; there are no extra points for elegance. After the 1992 win, Bart began to utilize the system that would provide a flashy picture while keeping the dog strong and tough and perfectly obedient. In NePoPo®, the dog does not fight the system because he finds his advantage in the system. From 1992 to 2002 when Bart was Training Director at his club, they boasted seven Belgian Ringsport Champions (Bart with two different dogs and five club members with five different dogs.) While Bart's techniques seemed to some to be too cerebral for dog sport, they are effective and when people understood and followed the system, they met with success after success. By 2002, Bart had refined my techniques with my dog Zodt. Bart scored the highest scores ever achieved (before or since) in a Championship in Belgium Ring Sport. Now people wanted to know: how did he do this? After that, the NePoPo® system became popular in IPO.

 

Until 2002, Bart was organizing Dances with Malinois. The idea for Dances with Malinois was an annual competition with a different showy theme every year. This became so popular that hundreds of people would come and enjoy the show. The Club eventually began making DVDs of these events. This venue made ringsport accessible to the public and familiarized people with the sport we enjoyed. This was an excellent publicity move to help win friends of the public who in turn could feel less threatened by us. Bart worked together with a German State Veterinarian and Andreas Legnowski (around 2002) where Bart's job was to train dog handlers to pass the electronic collar licensing exam given by the German State Veterinarian. Unfortunately, a few years later the law did change and the use of electronic collars (although

not the possession or sale) became prohibited . Needing more staff with expert knowledge of training dogs the modern way with modern electronic collars, an advertisement was placed for training positions and 60 people responded to the ad. After a lot of selections, there were four left over. This group of five (including Bart) founded the Prostaff Team which is a group of trainers with a similar philosophy. While they all had their own particular specialities, every member of the Prostaff Team abided by the following series of four steps in training: the first step is to make a dog learn his job; the second step is to motivate him to do the job; the third step is to motivate him to do the job when he is not motivated to do the job; and in the fourth step, the dog must look flashy and look like he loves it.

The Prostaff Team used to give a two-week seminar in Germany every summer. One of the most exciting jobs of Bart's life was when he was working as a consultant for Charles Martin and with two of his brilliant engineers to create the new direction where electronic collars must go. Martin System™ has revolutionized electronic collars, designing miniature electronic collars with a transmission of three kilometers that: give you an immediate signal when there is contact with your dog or not; have the ability to insure consistent reliable electrical sensation for the dog no matter what the conditions; unique identification codes where radio interference is impossible; and are hands free with a blue tooth ring which controls the transmitter and that gives a person the freedom to enjoy all the work and all the private life a person does with the dog. With an accompanying and compatible USB stick, the collar settings (among other things) can be changed to adapt to the political legislation of any country. Bart also worked as a consultant for Radio Systems Corporation and have been working there for more than a year.

Radio Systems Corporation is the biggest electronic collar company in the world. Their goal and expertise is providing affordable technologies to the consumer. This company has the resources to continue in the worldwide political debate around dog training and associated tools (positive and negative reinforcement and aversive and corrective stimulation.) The Americans should not forget that the political debate contesting the use of certain tools will make it to America soon. It is better to be prepared. Bart has his signature on many World Class Competitors and National Competitors from different countries. Bart has worked with police departments and governmental agencies throughout the world and military k9 units. Whether it is training a dog to sit, take out a suspect, scenting a track or perform a call off: the techniques used in the NePoPo® system are the same. They do not conflict.

Modern dog training is what Bart and Michael do. Dog training needs to be changed from the old systems to accommodate both the cultured dog and to counter the apostles of morality. For example, tying a dog to a tree and making it fight back is rarely successful in building toughness for a cultured house dog. That is old-fashioned and did work for how working dogs used to fit into our lives. Additionally, throughout the world there is an active component of people who are against anything except for positive training. They are against negative reinforcement tools, and they fight for what they think is in the best interest of the animal. What they forget is that the Karen Pryor theory only worked when the dolphins were hungry and the food did take away unpleasant hunger feelings which is the theory of negative reinforcement: discomfort (hunger) stops when the animal does. These activists have significant power because they can and do lobby governments to take away the rights of dog owners and trainers and breeders. In order to keep our rights to breed dogs how we want and train dogs how we want and utilize certain equipment, we need to be able to educate and compromise. We need to make an open door which welcomes newcomers, and we must present our beliefs and techniques in a politically correct fashion. Using these NePoPo® techniques, it is always fair to the dog. It has the secondary benefit of being politically palatable. The NePoPo® System is humane and effective, and there is no sacrifice between control and drive.

 

A farmer long ago told me some wise words about dog training. He said, the trainer can use a stick to guide a dog. He can use that same stick to pet a dog. He can use that same stick to activate a dog (e.g. “go!”). He can use that stick to punish the dog. When the training is clear and understood, that same stick with which the dog was just punished can be used as a stick for a quick reward game of fetch. Now we are training dogs!

(NePoPo® is developed by Bart and Michael Bellon. The name Bart Bellon® and NePoPo® are registered trademarks of Bart and Michael Bellon.)