Before there was Max, there was Mike. A true story much like the touching movie, Navy SEAL Dogs explores the incomparable relationship between trainer and military dog.
Trident K9 Warriors gave readers an inside look at the SEAL teams' elite K9 warriors-who they are, how they are trained, and the extreme missions they undertake to save lives. From detecting explosives to eliminating the bad guys, these powerful dogs are also some of the smartest and highest skilled working animals on the planet. Mike Ritland's job is to train them.
This special edition re-telling presents the dramatic tale of how Ritland discovered his passion and grew up to become the trainer of the nation's most elite military working dogs. Ritland was a smaller-than-average kid who was often picked-on at school-which led him to spend more time with dogs at a young age. After graduating BUD/S training-the toughest military training in the world-to become a SEAL, he was on combat deployment in Iraq when he saw a military working dog in action and instantly knew he'd found his true calling.
Ritland started his own company to train and supply working and protection dogs for the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, and other clients. He also started the Warrior Dog Foundation to help retired Special Operations dogs live long and happy lives after their service.
This is the true story of how Mike Ritland grew from a skinny, bullied child, to a member of our nation's most elite SEAL Teams, to the trainer of the world's most highly skilled K9 warriors.
About the Author
MIKE RITLAND joined the Navy in 1996 and graduated with BUD/S class 215. After years as a member of SEAL Team 3, he became a BUD/S instructor and then started his own company to train dogs for the SEAL teams. Today he continues to supply working and protection dogs to a host of clients, including the U.S. government and Department of Defense. He also started the Warrior Dog Foundation to help retired Special Operations dogs live long and happy lives after their service.
Read an Excerpt
A VISIT TO CHOPPER AND BRETT
Southeastern California, 2010
The dog lay in the shade of a palm tree, his head up and his ears at attention. He was scanning the desert scrubland, vigilant, the muscles beneath the heavy fur of his flanks taut and ready. Even from behind him, I could see his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, flopping like a pink fish.
“Chopper,” the man beside me said.
The dog turned to look at us, his expression keenly alert, his dark eyes intent.
The dog sprang to his feet and made his way across the dusty yard. Under other circumstances, I might have tensed up at the sight of a 75-pound package of fierce determination approaching. However, I could see a very tiny softening of the muscles around his eyes as he neared us and recognition dawned in them. He knew who I was.
He also knew not to approach me first, even though the two of us had spent the first few months of his life in the United States together. As commanded, he came up to Brett, his former SEAL team handler. He sat down alongside the man he served with on dozens of dangerous missions for six years. Now they were living on a small ranch outside Ranchita, California. Brett and Chopper had ceased being on active military duty only three months earlier, but they both would have chafed at being called “retirees.”
Chopper sat, still very much at attention, until Brett told him it was okay. Then Chopper looked at me, and I gave his head a few rubs with the flat of my hand. I ran my hand down his shoulder and along his rib cage. He was still in fine fighting form, but I noticed that he relaxed a bit and leaned into me. I smiled at this sign of affection and appreciation for the attention I was giving him.
I noticed that the fur around Chopper’s muzzle and eyes had lightened a bit since I’d last seen him. It was no longer the deep ebony that had glowed like a spit-polished dress boot. The slight unevenness to the side of one of his large ears was still there, though. Some scuffle as a pup in his kennel outside of Tilburg in the Netherlands had left him with an identifying mark. In my mind it was never a flaw. Rather, it was a mark of distinction.
“He’s doing good,” I said to Brett.
“Always. He’s a good ol’ boy,” said Brett. He pushed his sunglasses up and squinted into the distance. “He likes it here. Looks a little like the sandbox, but there’s a lot less action. I thought we’d both miss it, but we don’t at all.” Brett had spent more than a dozen years as a West Coast SEAL team member, the last of his time as a handler working with Chopper.
Having served my own time as a SEAL team member, I knew exactly what Brett meant. The transition from active duty to civilian life takes time for both servicemen and military working dogs (MWDs). Given my experience as a trainer of both Navy SEAL dogs and their handlers, I also understood quite a lot about the deep bond that the two had formed and would share for the rest of Chopper’s life.
My trip to visit Chopper and Brett wasn’t just a social call. It was a part of a responsibility I take very seriously. I founded a nonprofit organization, the Warrior Dog Foundation, to make certain that retired MWDs are able to live out the remainder of their lives in a positive environment. Though I knew that Chopper was well cared for, I still wanted to check in on him, just like I do with fellow members of SEAL Team Three, or members of other SEAL teams I’ve come to know in my new role. Whether you’re a canine or a human, if you’ve been a SEAL team member that means you’re a brother, and we are all our brothers’ keepers for life.
Visiting Chopper and Brett was a privilege and an honor, and, most importantly, it was a great pleasure to see them still together.
* * *
In most ways, Chopper is still more fit and more capable than 90 percent of the dogs in this country. Even so, that isn’t good enough for the kind of demands a military dog has to meet downrange in places like Afghanistan. Not only is the work extremely demanding, but also the stakes are so high that anything less than the absolute best is not acceptable. It wasn’t a question of heart. Chopper still has the drive and determination, but the inevitable toll of age and years of stress has started to creep in.
I knelt down alongside Chopper and draped my arm around him, “Braafy,” I said. It always amazed me that something as simple as that short statement of approval could mean so much to a dog that, over the years, teams like Brett and Chopper had developed such a bond of trust that the dog would willingly and gladly place himself in positions of peril.
A few minutes later, Brett and I sat down on the deck he’d recently built. Chopper resumed his perimeter position in the shade. Brett told me a little bit about the enclosure he had built out of split rail and wire. Then he nodded out past the line of post holes that he’d dug and the piles of dirt like overturned funnels flanking them.
“I’m not sure if I’m keeping the coyotes from getting in or Chopper from getting out,” he said. “I’m likely doing those varmints a favor either way. Chopper would give them more than they bargained for, no doubt.” Brett’s voice still had a mild twang that revealed his Smoky Mountain roots.
Inevitably, our talk turned to war stories and to stories of Brett’s work with Chopper. Brett recalled one incident, while he and Chopper were still training together, that forged his bond with the dog.
“That time you took us out on that training exercise doing the house-to-house maneuvers.” Brett shook his head and smiled. “He got hold of that target and I thought I was going to have to choke him out to get him to release it.”
“They do like to bite,” I said flatly, underscoring my understatement. “And Chopper does more than most.”
“I remember looking him in the eye,” said Brett, “and neither of us was willing to give in. Then it dawned on that dog that he was the one who was going to have to give in, and it was on account of me, and not because he wanted to. Then I knew I had him.”
Brett said he believed that was the moment when he and Chopper came to truly understand one another. “I think of it this way,” he said. “My daddy raised me to fear and respect him, and I did. But with how you conducted the training, Chopper obeyed me because he got the idea that it was the right thing to do and not because he was afraid of me.” Brett paused, then said, “Never in my life would I have thought a dog could communicate so much with just a look and his posture.”
“It doesn’t always happen,” I said, “but when it does, it almost defies explanation.”
“Hard work and love,” Brett added, summing it up pretty nicely, I thought. “Hey, Bud,” he said gently to the dog. Chopper turned to look at Brett, his eyes and ears alert. Brett smiled and said, “Good boy.”
* * *
Brett reached into a wooden planter on the picnic table and pulled out a tennis ball. Then he let out a soft whistle. Chopper stood and assumed the position, his ears tilting forward and pointing heavenward, his expression intent. Brett reared back and fired the tennis ball over the enclosure’s fence and into the lot beyond. I watched the ball as it arced and then bounced wildly, and then I followed Brett’s gaze from the ball’s landing zone to the dog, who no longer sat obscured in shadow but was in the warm glow of the setting sun.
“Okay,” Brett said at last.
Like a tightly pulled bow and arrow finally being released, Chopper sprang out across the lot, kicking up dust. At the fence he didn’t hesitate but easily bounded over the top rail, looking like a champion horse at a jumping contest. I had to laugh as, in his eagerness, when Chopper stooped to clamp down on the ball his front legs splayed out while his rear ones kept churning, and he nearly tumbled over.
His prize captured, Chopper trotted back, munching on the ball, his mouth twisted into a kind of silly, giddy grin. He hopped the fence again and came onto the deck to show us what he’d managed to capture. He sat at Brett’s feet, then lowered himself into a relaxed, paws-crossed lie-down, still working on the tennis ball.
Brett looked at me half embarrassed, half pleased. “That’s one thing I let him do now,” he said.
I nodded. I knew as well as anyone that, in training, Chopper would have been told to drop the ball fairly quickly at his handler’s feet. He wouldn’t get the reward of gnawing on it. Brett stroked Chopper’s head, working his fingers around the backs of his ears as Chopper cocked his head in pleasure.
Finally, Brett said, “Los,” and Chopper released the ball. Brett picked it up and offered it to me. I took one look at the spit-frothed ball and declined.
Laughing, I said to Brett, as he stood to throw another one for Chopper, “Wilson. U.S. Open Hard Court. You’ve got expensive tastes.”
Settling back into his seat after letting Chopper go bounding off, Brett grinned with satisfaction and said, “Nothing but the best for my boy. He deserves it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Ritland
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
Part I Navy Seals and Dogs
1 A Visit to Chopper and Brett 7
2 A Lifelong Love of Dogs 12
3 A Desire to Serve and Defend 16
4 Combining Passions 20
Part II On Making the Grade
5 Not Your Typical House Pet 29
6 Well Trained 41
7 Prep School for Puppies 51
8 Detection Training: Passing the Sniff Test 60
9 Apprehension Training: Sinking Their Teeth into It 67
10 Distinct Personalities 88
11 The Bond at Both Ends of the Leash 97
Part III Adventures in Battle
12 Cairo and Lloyd: Among the First 111
13 Samson and Dave: Undeterred Underdogs 122
14 Rex and Dwayne: Foiling Insurgents 138
15 Poncho in Pursuit 151
16 Kwinto's Nighttime Raids 155
Part IV Giving Back and Moving Forward
17 Carlos and Arko at Ease 163
More About the Warrior Dog Foundation 171
Appendix: A Brief History of Canines in Combat 172
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The only good non-fiction book I read
I love K9s in the army, the FBI, and the Swat teams.This book sounds sooo amazingly awesome and epic. Sign'n out.#LittleNinja
This book offers an in-depth look at the time, techniques, and requirements for dogs to become Navy Seals. It discussed the importance of training and hoe effective the dogs were at protecting service members who are fighting to keep our country safe.
Awesome! So informative Navy Seals: Dogs Mike Ritland The book that I picked was Navy Seals: Dogs. I picked this because it looked good and I love dogs and how they are used to help our fellow troops to save America. This book is about a man that was in the Navy for and after he did his time, he trained dogs to help these troops to find explosives, guns, drugs, etc. He also teaches them how to attack their enemies, track stuff, smell certain stuff, how to react to gunfire, and other stuff. It takes a lot of time and you can get injured if the dog reacts wrong and bites. I really love this book because it shows that dogs can do a lot of stuff that we didn’t know of. I also really like the Navy Seals how they work. I recommend this to anyone that likes this kind of stuff! Great book!!
Interesting and fun to read. Really enjoyed this book, helpful and informational. Recommended.
So far I have read two books by Mike Ritland and completely enjoyed them both. I am going to order Team Dog and will be looking forward to reading it as well. Mike has a heart for dogs and a passion to train them to help with our armed forces. His books are informative, interesting, and entertaining.
Altogh i have it on paper this is a great intense book that is enjoyable.
The book Navy SEAL Dogs is a must read for anyone into dogs or the military. Navy SEAL Dogs shows what training dogs go through to become part of special forces teams. The author tells us that he starts training the dogs at the young age of 3 days old. Since the author was once a Navy SEAL and worked with dogs during his time as a Navy SEAL, he is able to give insight on what life is like for Navy SEALs and their dogs. I highly recommend this book.
Navy SEAL Dogs by Mike Ritland in my opinion is a very good book, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about dogs. I like how he explains what dogs do to detect scents. He does a great job at keeping you interested; when it gets slower, he picks up the pace or he adds in a small story. He does a great job of describing the dogs personality. Overall I think it is a great book.
If you already think that dogs are amazing than you need to read Navy SEAL Dogs by, Mike Ritland. Dog lovers already know that canines can be our best friends and most loyal companions, but this book explains that they are every bit as much as a soldier as the humans they work with. This powerful story explains how the United States Navy SEALs recruits average household pets and turns them into soldiers. This book is a series of stories about the individual dogs and their handlers and the unbelievable accomplishments that they have achieved. These are real stories collected from soldiers and told to the author. In many cases the dogs are true heroes and save human lives. Just like with humans, picking the right type of recruit is the first step. These dogs must be strong, energetic, smart, and have a keen sense of smell. Right from when a dog is a puppy his preparation for being a soldier begins. Dogs have to be good around people so when the dog is a puppy their trainer has to have them around lots of different people. A dog also has to have a prey drive so when the dog is still a puppy the trainer will play tug with the dog using a rag. Once they get older the dog goes through more advanced training like sniffing out objects that are over one hundred yards away. Once a dog is done with training they will go off to work with the military. In the military these dogs sniff out bombs and even kill enemies. All of the main characters in the book were actually dogs. Since there were so many dogs am choosing my favorite one, Chopper. In 2007 Chopper was with his handler, Brett in Afghanistan on a night mission. As they came up on an embankment Chopper gave the command that he smelled humans. Brett let Chopper go and all the sudden they heard screaming and guns firing, when they approached the embankment they saw that Chopper had killed four armed terrorists. The U.S. Navy SEALs need the help from these dogs that save so many lives. These honorable dogs play an important role in protecting our U.S. Navy SEALs. I thought that this book was one of the most fascinating books I have read in my entire life. I am very interested in dogs and the military so it was a great match for me. This book can be funny at times and very scary at others, but I never wanted to put it down. Because everything in the book actually happened, I think that made me like it even more. I have a German shepherd so when the author was describing some of the things that the dogs did I knew exactly what he meant. The author also used a large amount of detail when he would describe objects or places and I could see them in my head. Overall I thought that that this was a terrific book and I would give it a nine and a half out of ten. I would recommend this book to people of all ages who like action or nonfiction books. I think that this book would be good for boys or girls if they like dogs or the military. If you like Gary Paulsen books than you would love Navy SEAL Dogs because he writes a lot of books about dogs. This book is not part of any series. The general theme of this book is the surprising impact of military dogs. I really loved this book and I think that most other people would too. Ritland, Mike. Navy SEAL Dogs: My Tale of Training Canines for Combat. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Print.
I love to see K9 dogs caues there the bets dogs and the wourld they can fit they are cool !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!they are cool!!!!!!!! Iwant to get one but my mom says I have to get all AAAA and BBBB and I steel have to go to school and work and not get on a bad day and I steel have to do my spellingwords and when I get the K9 I will have to takecare of it
Im gonna be a navy seal and fight for wats right and at below stop making fun of the seals do mething better be an ingineneer
Im skinny and bullied and im gonna be in SEAL TEAM SIX