Book Review: Navy SEAL Dogs: My Tale of Training Canines for Combat


by Michael Ritland

New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013. Pp. x, 190. Illus., glossary, appendix, biblio. $17.99. ISBN: 1250041821

This reviewer is an unapologetic dog lover; not just any dogs but big dogs: German Shepherds.  I have three.  So, I began reading Ritland’s newest work with a deep-seated interest and the book does not disappoint.  His first book, Trident K9 Warriors is the “adult” version, and his one is aimed at teens, and they will love it!  Ritland was a Navy SEAL who found his way into the military working dog (MWD) program when it was in its infancy.  He grew as the program grew.  After retiring from service, in his second life he found his passion, training dogs for the SEALs.  

Ritland tells a compelling story, the selection, raising, and training of the SEALs’ dog of choice, the Belgian Malinois.  As he describes the process, “It takes a combination of different physical traits and specific qualifications of temperament.  The dropout/failure rate among humans . . . is very high.  The rate among the dogs we select and train is even higher.”  (p. 31)  A physically fit, well bred, well trained dog is not enough.  They must be extremely energetic and highly motivated, mostly by their two favorite rewards, the bite, or a ball.

We all know that dogs have a far greater olfactory ability than humans.  What I didn’t know was that when we smell a stew cooking, they smell each individual ingredient.  It is no wonder the military makes such an extensive use of MWDs to save lives.  The book includes many heart-warming stories from California to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I was tempted to share a few of my favorites here but decided potential readers might not like the “spoilers.”  I also learned some very interesting tips on how to raise my future puppies, especially concerning their interaction with humans and how important it is early on. 

Ritland knows how important his work is and his passion for the dogs shows throughout.  His work is important, as it saves lives on very complex battlefields, where friend and foe alike are often interspersed and indistinguishable.  This is a dog story of training, battlefield operations, and retirement.  The U. S. armed forces have not always been so compassionate towards their canine companions.  It is good to see the dignity and respect given these warriors when their deployment days are through.

In the final section, Ritland tells us about his Warrior Dog Foundation, dedicated to serving Special Operations Forces dogs as they transition from active duty and the appendix gives the reader a brief history of man’s best friend in combat.

The book is well written and will, no doubt, be a favorite of teens as it flows quickly and easily.  I cannot but highly recommend this book for all dog lovers, parents who have trouble finding something their teen will read, and anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the role these magnificent athletes play in our military.


Our reviewer: Bill Speer is a graduate of  the Pennsylvania Military College (formerly the Delaware Military Academy and now Widener University).  A long-time instructor in history at American Military University, he has written for the Office of Signal Corps History and North & South, among others.  Speer is the author of the series From Broomsticks To Battlefields, dealing with PMC alumni in the Civil War, From Broomsticks To Battlefields: After the Battle, The Story of Henry Clay Robinett, who held “Battery Robinett” at Corinth, and the forthcoming Harum-Scarum: The Story of David Vickers Jr.  His previous for StrategyPage include Animals at War: Studies of Europe and North America, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, and Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Espionage and Terrorism

Reviewer: Bill Speer   

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