by Michael Ellis

This is a portion of an article that appeared in the first issue of PCM. Bart Bellon started in dogs while living in N. Central Africa in the 70’s. Dogs were used for protection and he worked with a variety of different dogs, none of them Malinois. When he returned to Belgium he lived near the town of Mechelen, the birthplace of the Malinois, and began to visit the local ring club, where he was enlisted as a decoy (villain). Bart played football (soccer) avidly and was often torn between his work as a villain and the sport he loved. Later the dogs played a progressively larger part in his life. He won the Belgian ring championships in 1992. He now trains dogs professionally and gives training seminars, especially on electronic collar work, all over Europe and the US. He is the Innotek representative for Europe.

•Michael: Do you breed dogs?
No, I only train.

•How many dogs do you have currently?
I have two males. A father and son. The older male is just three years old.

•Do you compete with him?
Yes. I recently scored 392 points out of 400 with him. He is a very strong dog.

•Wow, that is an amazing score! You won the 1992 championships with Flip, is this dog better?
Yes, he is the best dog I’ve had. I’ve had him from a younger age than Flip, from 8 weeks. I prefer to start my dogs from puppyhood.

•At what age do you start your puppies training? Bitework, obedience?

I start at 6 or 7 weeks. Not with bite training but with building the desire to retrieve, the intensity for the chase, the passion to use their mouths. I love a dog that is very high for the pursuit. I start obedience at 3 months or so, sit, down, recalls.

•Do you socialize your puppies in public?
No. I go only to the training field, in my car. If the dog is good then he does not need to go all these places, if he is afraid then you can make it a little better, but you can never change the fact that he is afraid. This is not the dog for me.

•How do you choose a puppy?

I go to the litter, only the males, and I want to see puppies that are curious. They should want to chase and use their mouths. I throw something, like keys, and the good ones will go grab them, not necessarily bring them back, but they will get them. Then I take a very soft jute sleeve and let them bite.

•With your puppies when do you start serious training?
I play retrieve games when they are young. I call this the observation period, from 6 weeks to about 4 months, when they start teething. During teething time I expect nothing from them, I’m not critiquing them. After the teething I start the orientation phase, from 6 months to about 1 year. The early bites I give my young dogs on a soft sleeve, with myself on a bicycle, I give the sleeve and I let the young dog pull me around carrying the sleeve. It is very important that the dog learn to breath through his nose, to breath with his mouth full. Some dogs cannot do this. After a year I start the routine training with no variables, this I call the determination phase. The dog only has one option and he learns what to do, later I introduce variables, choices for the dog. When he makes the wrong choice I use the electronic collar, at a low level, to direct him to the choice I want.

•Do you use food for training your young dogs in obedience?
No, never. I hate the use of food. I want the dog working for me, with me, not for food. The ball or tug can be useful for motivation, but not too much. If you use it too much the dog is working only for the ball and your relationship suffers. Dogs also don’t learn well when they are very high in drive. I want the dog to submit to my will during the teaching process, then I can build him back up with motivation.

•So, how do you start obedience? With the electric collar?

Yes, for instance with heeling. I put the young dog on a leash, not attached to the e-collar, and start with a little correction when he is getting away from me, then when he is responding I start with the collar at a low level. Sometimes you must show him the power of the collar at a little higher level then go back to very low levels. I can teach exercises very fast with the collar. I can teach the positions, sit, down, stand in five minutes. Ten years ago we were using the collar only for punishment, very crude, now we’ve learned to use it to motivate the dog.

•Do you condition your dogs for sport work?

Yes, very much. I have the dog pull me on a bicycle, about 2 kilometers, always carrying something in his mouth (a sleeve, a tug) to make him breath through his nose. Then I would play ball with him very hard, and when he is tired I would make him bark. If he does not bark then I use the collar at a low level to make him bark. He learns to turn off the collar through barking. Then he must also stop when I tell him. He should be able to turn it off or on at my request.

•Do you swim your dogs?
No, I do not have access to a good place for swimming. But I very much like swimming as an exercise, it is very good for the dog.

•Are there any bloodlines you prefer for the work you do? Any breeders that you think produce this kind of dog?
No, I look at individual dogs. All breeders sometimes have a good litter, next time not so good. I look for a very strong dog and the breeding is not so important.

•Are your dogs registered?

No. The Belgians have for a long time mixed many breeds together in the Malinois. To me the Malinois is the working shepherd of Belgium. The dog I won the championships with in 1992, Flip, was a Malinois and German Shepherd mix. He was a very good dog. I think this is the best system for making really good working dogs.

•Do you work bitches? Do any of the good breeders work their bitches?
No. Only males are really worked. It is like American football, a sport for the males. Some people used to work females occasionally, but if they worked well they were aberrations and did not produce themselves. The bitches for breeding are selected for their background.

•Do they test the bitches?
No. We just like a nice, friendly bitch from good parents for breeding.

•If you were choosing a stud dog what would you look for?
How do I say this… I want a dog that has too much of everything. If this dog gives 30% to his offspring it is good for most people. The training is getting better and better, and people are breeding to the dogs that get very good points, but this is not always the good dog for breeding. There are many mediocre dogs winning competitions through good training. The dog for breeding should be one with much too much.

•What is your opinion of the other European dog sports? IPO, KNPV, Mondioring? What are the difficulties you see in these sports as opposed to Belgian ring?
There is a problem with people making the sports easier. French ring is a good program, but it is always the same, too much pattern training, and they care nothing for grips… which is very bad I think. But the program is difficult, the jumps are hard like Belgian ring, and the decoys can be difficult, but sometimes their work is too much the same. Mondioring I do not like, it is a weakening of both the French and Belgian rings. IPO is a beautiful program to watch but is not much of a test. For me IPO selects more the good dog handler instead of the good dog. It is always the same and the agility is very weak. Already the Germans are having problems with their Malinois jumping. The Malinois was the breed of the poor man in Belgium. It was a dog that ate bread and water and did not go to the vet. The agility is a test of soundness, if the dog gets hurt too much it is a problem. KNPV, I like this sport, they are also testing the dogs hard. The Ringsports (French, Belgian) and KNPV are good programs, but we must be careful about making them weaker.

•Is there anything you would like to add?

The training has changed very much in the last ten years. It is important for people to see the change. The electronic collar used to be only for punching the dog off the sleeve. Now we use it to actually motivate the dogs. Actually the training is getting so good it is harder to pick the really strong dogs, because many weak dogs are being well trained. We must stay open to new training ideas from many places. I like the French and German techniques for training the guarding. There is much to be learned from many sources.

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