“Navy SEAL Dogs: My Tale of Training Canines For Combat,” by Mike Ritland. St. Martin’s Press. $17.99
Looking for action? This moving hybrid of Middle East warfare and demanding stateside training delivers on all counts.
Ritland, a former Navy SEAL who operate his own California company to supply dogs for SEAL teams, details first-hand accounts in Iraq and Afghanistan of dog teams’ challenges and successes for a wide gamut of assignments, but pinpoints the rigorous training beforehand that can spell the difference of life and death not only for the team but all those around them. In the process, he reflects smoothly how this patchwork quilt comes together with all pieces inexorably linked.
“The dropout/failure rate among humans who want to qualify as Navy SEALs is very high,” he writes. “The rate among the dogs we select and train is even higher.
“The single most desirable quality in a dog that will do SOF (Special Operations Forces) work has to do with temperament. It happens to be the same for humans who want to be Navy SEALs. They just won’t quit.”
Ritland’s partner was a Belgian Malinois with an inner fire and drive he describes as enthusiastic and tenacious. SEAL teams, unlike some other agencies, Ritland says, have to employ dual-purpose dogs – those that excel at apprehension as well as detection.
When characterizing what he’s seeking in a dog, he says: “I want a nose and rest of the dog that comes with it doesn’t really matter. . . . What we need in terms of Navy SEAL dogs are first-ballot Hall of Famers who are in the 90th percentile in all the skills and qualities we look for.”
Like many other dog/owner endeavors, Ritland notes that the key to training a dog is establishing a bond of trust between the two of you, which means positive re-enforcement and continued repetitions of action. “Dogs read body language much better than they respond to verbal language,” he writes.
While consistency is key in his training regimen, Ritland sees a wide variety of Belgian Malinois, from 3-year-old foreign imports to home-bred puppies. His time spent as a SEAL handler and first-hand knowledge of the demands placed on the animals serves him well as a breeder/ trainer, emphasizing, “I can breed dogs with specific qualities they will pass on to their offspring that will help them learn what they need to do.”
“Navy SEAL Dogs” is categorized as Juvenile Nonfiction/ History. Take my word for it, this crisp analysis has plenty to offer adults too, particularly trainers.