Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog--the Navy SEAL Way

Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog--the Navy SEAL Way

by Mike Ritland


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425276273
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/05/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 81,141
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mike Ritland joined the Navy in 1996, and after twelve years started his own company to train dogs for the SEAL teams. His clients include the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs, the TSA, and the Department of Defense. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Trident K9 Warriors, which is being adapted for film.
Gary Brozek has coauthored and ghostwritten nearly twenty books, including four New York Times bestsellers.

Read an Excerpt


It all started with a black Labrador retriever named Bud. I was just a kid when we got him, and the connection between us was instantaneous. I realize now that our initial bond was a bit one-sided. I thought he was the greatest, and he thought, well, I couldn’t say for sure what Bud thought. He liked whoever had a leash in hand and was willing to take him on a walk. He liked whoever fed him or offered him popcorn. He was willing to sit, stay, speak, come, and roll over when he knew that popped treat was his reward. He also liked whichever of the upright two-legged creatures fed him, allowed him to empty his bowels and his bladder, tossed him balls, and went with him to explore the outdoors, where his nose was nearly overcome by a series of odors that pleased and sometimes perplexed him.

My dad was usually the one who took Bud on his morning walks. I did the same in the afternoons when I returned from a day at school. Bud wasn’t my own dog; he belonged to the family, and each individual member bonded with him to different degrees. It wasn’t like I didn’t have any human friends, but Bud and I really seemed to like doing a lot of the same things—being outside and exploring the neighborhood, doing anything but sitting around inside. We got along well, and the only real problem we ever had with each other was when my Rollerblade “walks” with Bud turned into off-pavement excursions, thanks to Bud’s squirrel and rabbit obsession. I probably ended up looking like a bronco rider with one hand firmly grasping the leash and the other flapping in the breeze above my head.

Bud was an amazing companion, and nothing could beat coming home from a rough day at school and having him greet me with his tail thumping on the floor and him rubbing up against my legs, letting me know how glad he was to see me. That kind of display of affection is most likely the reason why, according to the American Pet Products Association, an estimated 47 percent of households in the United States have a dog. That brings the total number of dogs kept as pets in this country to 83.3 million.

That’s a large number, and I wish I could say that every one of them is a well-adjusted, well-behaved, well-mannered dog. I’d also like to say that those dog owners have the best kind of relationship with their dogs. You’ve most likely seen some version of what I just described with Bud and me on my Rollerblades—a dog taking an owner for a walk, a hard-charging threat, a jumper, or a food stealer. Those actions don’t make them bad dogs, just dogs with bad habits. That doesn’t mean that their owners are bad people, just people with bad habits and a poor sense of their own authority.

No one in my family had formal instruction as a dog trainer; we just used the passed-along wisdom of having owned dogs before—the trial-and-error method combined with a few bits of old wives’ tales. We were fortunate that Bud was good natured, and that my dad, who did most of Bud’s early training, applied the same sense of discipline to raising Bud as he did to my two older brothers, my sister, and me. The only difficulties we ever encountered were with lax owners who let a couple of dogs wreak havoc on some of the neighborhood kids and dogs. For a long time, I had a healthy dislike for German shepherds based on my unpleasant interactions with a member of that breed who was the town bully. If you were to ask my dad, he’d tell you about an Airedale terrier who ran off his property and jumped Bud. My dad had to intervene, risking serious damage to himself, but he was able to separate the two of them. Bud was on the ropes and my dad saved him.

I share that story because it illustrates a couple of things. First, dogs are animals, and as much as we like to believe that their sweet and gentle nature rules the day, they do have a potential for violent action either when threatened or simply because their genetic makeup drives them to it. That’s true for any breed of dog, though natural faulty wiring is somewhat rare. We never found out what set off that Airedale terrier. His owner was equally mystified. To hear him tell it, the dog had no history of such extreme boundary aggression, but something none of us humans could determine had prompted him to attack on that particular day and in that particular encounter. That said, the dog didn’t just suddenly lose his mind, as I’ve heard many people say about their dogs—something in the dog’s history caused him to respond to my dad and Bud as a perceived threat.

There’s always a reason why dogs react the way they do—the trouble is that we aren’t always able to discern that cause. This book will help you better read your dog, other dogs, environments, and circumstances to prevent those kinds of unfortunate events from taking place.

The second reason I told that story is because it illustrates the bond between man and dog. Dad was willing to get torn up in order to keep Bud from suffering the same fate.

It’s beyond the scope of this book to go into the long history of human/canine relations, but at some point humans and dogs figured out that by working together they would enrich their lives in some way. I’d imagine that at some point early humans hunted prehistoric versions of dogs for food. That eventually transitioned into humans recognizing that dogs were also very good hunters and could be used as a tool rather than seen as an adversary. From the dogs’ perspective, humans had something they wanted, too. They had resources like food and shelter. Most likely that came about as their natural scavenging efforts put them more and more in contact with us. When either we offered them some scrap or they laid claim to what we’d left behind, their natural associative way of thinking produced this equation:

Humans = benefit

Similarly, we arrived at the same conclusion. If dogs could help us collect more resources and also provide us with some security, then:

Dogs = benefit

In its simplest form, that is what a symbiotic relationship is all about. We both benefit from being around and interacting with one another.

Understanding how the initial relationship between dogs and humans developed is the underlying basic principle of my dog training methodology. When you begin training a dog and developing a relationship with him, you are repeating the historical human/canine evolution in a compressed time format.

Keep in mind several points about this relationship that we’ve come to cherish:

What’s implicit in taking this approach is that human beings took charge of the relationship. Let me repeat that: Human beings took charge of the relationship. We saw dogs’ natural abilities and then shaped their genetic destiny to a certain extent to meet our needs. Today, our needs are different from those of our ancestors, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship dynamic should be inverted. We are still in charge. When I see so-called problem dogs, the problems stem from an imbalance of power in the relationship and not from the dog.

That is why it is important that you be in command of yourself, your understanding of dogs and their psychology, and my approach to training in order to be better able to control your dog.

Dogs are intelligent animals, but in comparison to humans, they are simple-association creatures. If you’ve owned a dog, you already know this to be true. If each time you pick up your car keys and then take your dog with you to some location and he has a positive experience, then he will come to associate that sound with some kind of reward. A dog doesn’t understand that the keys are used to turn an ignition switch that results in an internal combustion engine propelling your car. What he understands is that the sound of the keys = good. In the same way, dogs came to associate humans with an expected future benefit.

We have given dogs enough resources to allow them to survive more easily, and we have gotten them to do tasks for us in exchange. If you look at any history of the modern domestication of dogs, you will likely come across discussions regarding the roles that dogs have played: hunting, tracking, herding, retrieving, and so on. At some point, because humans wanted to refine and preserve certain characteristics, breeding purebred dogs became an important exercise.

I’ve heard and read arguments that present dogs as nature’s greatest con artists. That belief states that in exchange for being furry, cute, and charming, dogs have manipulated humans into providing them with lives of luxury. When you look at the last hundred years or so of human/dog interaction, it’s kind of hard to find fault with the reasoning. I’d go so far as to say that many dogs in this country live lives of far greater ease than many human beings.

Because of my experience in seeing what dogs can do for us besides being good companions and a source of entertainment and affection, I don’t buy into that con artist theory. After high school, I joined the Navy and eventually became a Navy SEAL. Bud was long since no longer a part of my life, and I had infrequent interactions with dogs. During my time as a SEAL, I was dating a woman who had what most people commonly refer to as a pit bull. (I prefer to use the term bulldog for the American Pit Bull terrier because of all the negative, and wrong, associations many people have with the breed.) One day she asked me to watch the dog for her while she was at work. When I took the dog for a walk, we encountered a raccoon tearing through the trash. The next thing I knew, the dog had basically turned the raccoon inside out. I was amazed at that dog’s capabilities. I’d hunted with dogs before, bird dogs, but this was something different entirely. A fire was lit inside me, and I became very interested in hunting with dogs and seeing how they could test their mettle against prey.

I read everything I could about animal husbandry, breeding, and genetic theory and completely immersed myself, when I wasn’t deployed, in the care, training, and capabilities of dogs. In a way, I was going back to an earlier place in human/dog history. While I liked dogs and all the qualities that they possess as pets, I also developed a greater appreciation for what they were capable of as tools to help human beings. In my case, at least initially, the application of this living tool was in hunting. That would also eventually evolve.

In the course of my training myself as a breeder, trainer, and user of hunting dogs, I was shaped by a couple of people’s thinking. First was Dr. Stanley Coren, the author of The Intelligence of Dogs: Canine Consciousness and Capability. A professor of psychology, Dr. Coren was one of the first thinkers and writers to develop the field of dog psychology. His later book, How Dogs Think: What the World Looks Like to Them and Why They Act the Way They Do, also helped shape my approach to training dogs. The second person was Karen Pryor. Pryor also has written several books on dog training, and I think that her later book (after Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training), Reaching the Animal Mind, is far superior. Being introduced to these two authors really opened my eyes, and their philosophy became the meat and potatoes of my approach to animal training, particularly as it relates to the psychological aspects. After reading those two books, I then read everything I could find by B. F. Skinner and Konrad Lorenz, among others in the field of animal behavior.

All that reading helped bridge the gap between the old-school notions I’d been exposed to in talking to other trainers to a more science-based approach. I began to better understand the anatomical differences between a dog’s body and brain functions and our own and how dogs learn.

I was interested in understanding how a dog’s mind works, how he perceives the world, and how a person could maximize his capabilities. I wasn’t solely interested in getting a dog to be obedient and well mannered. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having those goals in mind, and that is the focus for this book. But I wanted to go beyond that baseline, first through hunting with dogs and later by training military working dogs (MWDs). The emphasis for me was always in testing the limits of dogs and their capabilities to be as beneficial to human beings as possible.

The first time I saw a military working dog in action was in 2003 as part of a SEAL team deployment in Iraq. I was a couple of years into my working with dogs, primarily bulldogs, when I was deployed there in the early stages of the war. A few weeks in, we were working in support of the 1st Marine Division. The city of Tikrit had fallen rather quickly, but pockets of resistance had to be rooted out. Clearing operations of that type, especially in an urban environment, are always fraught with danger. One day, members of our team were responsible for rooftop security while a group of Marines were conducting operations in the area. That evening a report came back that a member of the Marine unit had approached a small cavelike structure, with dirt piled around a small doorway. The Marine, with his explosives-detecting canine, approached the entryway. The dog worked his way steadily forward, nose to the ground. Suddenly, his tail started flagging and then he sat down immediately, his posture erect and his ears pointing to the sky.

As it turned out, that doorway was rigged with explosives, and if the Marines had tried to breach it without the dog having done his work, at least two or three of them could have lost their lives and several others would have been seriously wounded. Thanks to the dog, an explosive ordnance team was brought in, the threat was terminated, and the operation continued.

That was another lightbulb moment for me. I knew a few things about how dogs had been used in warfare throughout history. Seeing a dog saving the lives of my fellow soldiers firsthand put a dog’s capabilities into sharper perspective. I couldn’t do anything other than file that experience away at the time, but eventually, I contracted valley fever and was no longer able to be deployed operationally. So I separated from the SEAL teams, dusted off that mental file, and decided to combine two of my main interests—preserving our nation’s security and working with dogs.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve been involved in the importing, breeding, and training of various types of working dogs. I worked for a time as a trainer of both dogs and handlers for the SEAL teams. Dogs I’ve trained have gone to work for the Department of Defense, U.S. Customs, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security as well as to private individuals who want an added dimension of security in their lives.

To be honest, the kinds of dogs that I work with daily to perform these crucial tasks are not the types of dogs that are ideally suited to be housepets. Many of them can be, but more often, they should not be. When you train a dog to be a multipurpose military working dog—to detect explosives or to track and take down (detain) bad guys—you need dogs who are incredibly athletic and aggressive. I’ll go into more about the term aggressive later, but for now imagine the kinds of dogs you’ve seen in movies and television who are able to literally bring down a human being, that kind of snarling, snapping, biting power that subdues an individual.

The purpose of this book is not to teach you how to make your dog into a Navy SEAL or other Special Forces operationally fit and skilled dog. Besides the incredible legal liabilities inherent in that, most of you reading this book don’t want a dog who is that capable. The goal here, then, is a bit different.

I want to help you develop the kinds of skills necessary to effectively train your dog. This is a book about training you to be able to carry yourself like a Navy SEAL, to develop those traits within yourself to use in interacting with your dog, to develop your abilities to take command in a way that will help you most effectively control your dog.

As a consequence, I can’t give you a step-by-step guide for every scenario that occurs when training a dog. I’d need to account for far too many variables in order to do that. A ten-thousand-page book likely wouldn’t be sufficient to reach that goal. Explaining that many concepts and analyzing each of the particular elements peculiar to those situations would be like me spraying you with a fire hose after you told me that you were just a little bit thirsty. That wouldn’t be pleasant or productive for either of us. What I can do is provide some step-by-step procedures to either prevent or address common issues. I will also teach you how to carry yourself in such a manner that you communicate to your dog by using your own body language.

The bulk of the book will be taken up with understanding how dogs think and behave, understanding what image you need to present to your dog, and how by effectively projecting authority, stability, situational awareness, problem-solving ability, and other traits—key components of what the military calls command and control—you will be able to develop the kind of relationship that will be most beneficial to you and to your dog. If you can master the skills, inhabit the proper mind-set, and understand a few basic principles, then training your dog will be relatively easy. Training yourself will be hard but worth it in the long run.

I’ve worked with lots of individuals who have asked me to help evaluate dogs, eradicate problems, and generally show them how they can restore the proper balance of command and control in their human/canine relationship. That relationship is based on trust and respect and produces a similar kind of bond or brotherhood that exists among members of the Navy SEAL teams. In my mind, that’s the kind of relationship most of us want to have with our dogs. A lot of old-school methodology talked about dominance and reinforced the idea that the only way to be at the top of the hierarchy was by making a dog fear you. For example, there were many early advocates of performing something called an alpha roll. That consists of taking a dog in the earliest stages of training, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, and pinning him to the ground to let him know who is in charge.

Yes, I do believe that it is important to establish your authority over a dog. Dogs want, need, and seek that kind of presence in their lives. But there are other, more effective, and decidedly more humane ways of achieving that goal. It is easy, in some respects, to get a dog to fear you, but it can be equally easy to get your dog to respect you. Just as is true in human relationships, a dog will have more respect for you if you make it clear that good behavior gets rewarded and poor behavior has consequences. That may seem obvious, but I’m constantly made aware that dog owners understand this in theory but fail to execute it in practice.

You may have noticed that I’ve not used the word like or love up to this point in describing the human/canine relationship. That’s not an accidental omission. I’ve purposely not used those words because far too often I encounter people whose immediate response to a dog is to try to get that animal to like them. In doing so, they make fools of themselves in that dog’s eyes, possibly put themselves in danger because they assume that how they treat their own dog is okay with a different dog, and mistakenly believe that because of all the nice things they do for their pet, the dog should obey their wishes and desires unconditionally.

If you take one concept away from this beginning part of the book it is this: Don’t mistake liking for respect, and don’t mistake obedience for trust.

At the risk of sounding like I’m trumpeting too loudly the connection I have with the Navy SEALs, I developed this training approach, which closely parallels the kinds of training emphases of the SEAL teams, because of one indisputable fact: It works. If you do what’s demanded of you as a SEAL team candidate and later as a member of the teams, you earn tremendous rewards. If you screw up, you suffer the consequences—from getting hazed to being taped up to having your ass kicked. You don’t get a free pass and listen to a lecture or have a report put in your file. You play by big-boy rules, and if you break those rules you’ll know about it. Navy SEALs have an international reputation for a reason, and it all starts with that basic principle of expectations and consequences. You have to carry yourself a certain way, get the job done, be held accountable for your actions, and earn the trust and respect of your fellow team members. As much as Navy SEAL training emphasizes teamwork, when operational, there is one person in charge.

In working with your dog, you have to be that person in charge. Lives may not be on the line as they are in the teams, but the quality of your life and the quality of your dog’s life are at risk. So is the bond that exists between you and your dog.

Without that bond in place first, training your dog will be a much more difficult task.

I distinguish between the areas of emphasis in overall training. In the first, you will build a trusting relationship and exert your authority to establish respect, manners, and boundaries. This will help you create the proper learning environment. Think of this as command. In the second, you will do additional behavioral and formal “obedience” training to maintain that authority, solidify your relationship, and truly enjoy each other’s company. Think of this aspect as control. In the first, you will primarily use body language to communicate with your dog; in the second, it is all about using positive reinforcement enhanced by the use of a mechanical clicker to mark desirable behaviors that are immediately followed by positive reinforcements. In most cases, they are distinct phases, but in some instances you will work on the two more or less simultaneously, depending on the specific circumstances of your dog—his age, energy/attention level, and so on.

I believe many of you would like to have the ideal relationship with your dog that you’ve either seen on television or in a film or witnessed firsthand. Whether we are talking about a Chihuahua that stands six to nine inches at the shoulder or a Great Dane that reaches thirty inches in height, the theory and principles and practices that I advocate will help you take important steps toward establishing that ideal bond.

The responsibility for developing that ideal relationship is on your shoulders. The single most important aspect of building that relationship and firmly embedding your ideals of manners, boundaries, and skills is how you conduct yourself around your dog. That means from day one you have to develop and project a strong presence of authority and command. You have to exude confidence and authority. You have to take command of your body and carry yourself consciously and precisely; you have to use your voice sparingly and accurately as a tool, and you have to have control over your emotions and be able to move swiftly from expressing precisely modulated positive and negative states of mind, all in the service of presenting your most assured and confident self to your dog.

If you can master yourself you will then be the kind of master your dog is looking for and provide him with everything he wants and needs in his life.

There is no doubt in my mind that dogs are the most loyal creatures in the animal kingdom. I’ve seen and heard accounts of the amazing things they’ve done in combat and elsewhere. I’ve seen the kind of heartbreak that occurs when that human/canine bond is broken, whether it’s when a handler loses a dog or a dog loses a handler.

Because I’ve seen how incredibly beneficial this relationship can be, and because I’ve seen how my principles and practices have worked with some of the most elite military working dogs as well as more typical housepets, I will say the following:

Many people get a dog because they see other people with good relationships with their dogs, or they see a puppy and he is cute so they want one, too. I want to make it clear that having a dog is essentially adding another family member, and it is not something you should take lightly or act impulsively on. Far too many times, people get dogs for the wrong reasons, or are in the wrong circumstances to achieve an ideal relationship with a dog. You have to understand that dogs take work, they take dedication, they take consistency, and you have to do the work to build that relationship and do the training yourself.

All that means that you have to make some sacrifices in your life, just as you do when you decide to bring a child into the world.

You can’t outsource your relationship with your dog. If you truly want a dog to be “your” dog, and to bring to life the idealized vision you have of your relationship, then you have to put the time in and do the work and develop and execute the kind of work ethic required. All relationships, human and canine, require work in order for them to be fulfilling. The rewards that come from doing that kind of work far outweigh the expense of time and effort. Also, all relationships are dynamic, and you will have to continue to work through various issues and devise solutions to problems and make adjustments throughout your time with your dog.

No shortcuts here.


Excerpted from "Team Dog"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Mike Ritland.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

1 Establish Yourself as the Team Leader 1

2 Understand and Work with Our Differences 27

3 Set Yourself Up for Success with Proper Selection 53

4 First Steps-Building Trust and Establishing Command and Control 85

5 Basic Training Principles 113

6 Care and Maintenance of Your Dog and Your Relationship 147

7 Fitness and Fun and Their Multiple Rewards 179

8 Transforming Won't into Can and Does 203

Afterword 225

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Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog--the Navy Seal Way 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 A must have for any dog owner who seeks a great relationship with a responsive loyal companion. Well written, a great resource  providing the training building blocks as well as the insight into why they are successful. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective  and experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely informative for my family and our 3 year old lab rescue. Mike does a great job of explaining how to modify my behavior so I will be successful training my dog. Team Dog covers all of  the important aspects of dog ownership and training. I learned a lot and so has my lab. Great Book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read on dog training and behavior. I have been involved with dog training and behavior for over twenty years, and I learned a lot from this book. I wish I had this book back when I was a Military Working Dog handler. Mike Ritland clearly knows what he is talking about, and he offers advice that is practical and easy to follow. A must read for anyone interested in dog training and behavior.