From the Publisher
“Navy SEAL Dogs gives a unique insider account of the training and deployment of these special animals and their handlers. Ritland does a superb job of detailing these dogs in combat, as well as the bond between operator and K-9. Readers are sure to be surprised by the different levels of service and skill that go into making an elite team of two legged and four legged SEALs.” Howard Wasdin, former Navy SEAL and New York Times bestselling author of I Am a SEAL Team Six Warrior
“After a stellar career in the Teams, Mike Ritland has gone on to train working K9's for some of the most elite units in the U.S. Special Operations community. These dogs are integrated into Special Operations at all levels of mission planning. They HALO parachute from high altitude, chase enemy squirters, and detect explosive booby traps, to name just a few tasks. If you want to learn about these amazing animals, the sacrifices they've made, and their effectiveness in combat, then read Navy SEAL Dogs.” Brandon Webb, former Navy SEAL, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Circle, and Editor-in-Chief SOFREP.com
former Navy SEAL and New York Times bestselling au Howard Wasdin
Navy SEAL Dogs gives a unique insider account of the training and deployment of these special animals and their handlers. Ritland does a superb job of detailing these dogs in combat, as well as the bond between operator and K-9. Readers are sure to be surprised by the different levels of service and skill that go into making an elite team of two legged and four legged SEALs.
VOYA - Stacy Holbrook
Former Navy SEAL and founder of the Warrior Dog Foundation Ritland provides an in-depth look into how he trains military working dogs (MWD's) for combat. As a child, Ritland found companionship with the birding dogs and farm dogs in his rural Iowa hometown; in doing so, he developed a respect and admiration for their ability to work. Bullied as a teen, Ritland bulked up and learned martial arts to defend himself, helping him achieve his desired position as a Navy SEAL. Ritland discusses how these two parts of his life merged when he started training MWDs for the Navy SEALs. The text provides examples of these elite canines in action, as well as an account of what makes an ideal MWD. As military acronyms and terms are prevalent, a glossary can be found at the end of the book. Additional references and an appendix of the history of canines in combat are also available to help teens discover more about MWDs and their role as our nation's protectors. Though the writing is at times choppy and the overuse of pronouns as identifiers can require rereading of passages, this young adult version of Ritland's Trident K9 Warriors has short chapters and appealing content, making it an ideal selection for reluctant readers. This would be a great addition to either school or public libraries, especially those with populations of teens interested in dogs or military life. Reviewer: Stacy Holbrook
This engrossing if sometimes discursive YA adaptation of Ritland’s Trident K9 Warriors draws from his multiple deployments as a Navy SEAL, as well as his training of dogs for military service. The former inspired the latter, and the book’s most gripping passages are Ritland’s reports of canine feats in high-tension situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though most descriptions are secondhand and involve Ritland’s Navy SEAL peers, he successfully conveys a you-are-there sense of immediacy and urgency. Extensive quotations from participants in these military operations provide behind-the-scenes perspective and underscore the dogs’ personalities and skills. Chapters detailing the training of military dogs and their handlers will be of greatest interest to dog lovers. Back matter includes a glossary of military terms and acronyms, as well as a capsule history of the roles dogs have played in various wars. Ages 13–up. (Oct.)
Special force SEALS are elite enough, but SEAL dogs are a breed apart. Author Ritland was a SEAL for many years, training and handling SEAL dogs, and first told about his training routines and exploits in his book for adults, Trident K9 Warriors (2013). This book is a special retelling for young readers. In solid, yeomanly prose, Ritland and Gary Brozek, uncredited, bring readers through the training process; these are dogs schooled to the nth degree in nonlethal force. They also spend a good amount of time with Brett (a 12-year Navy SEAL veteran--last names are rarely used in SEAL literature) and dog Chopper in Ritland's current work with the nonprofit Warrior Dog Foundation, which hopes "to make certain that retired [military working dogs] are able to live out the remainder of their lives in a positive environment." Great details come to the fore, such as fascinating stuff on "tells," that is when a dog signals that this or that is happening, and just what a dog bite can do to human flesh. There is even a positive note on George W. Bush's weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco--it prompted the formation of an elite K-9 unit. (Photos not seen.) About time these heroes got the attention they deserved for a young audience. (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
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