Defense Media Network

Book Review – Trident K-9 Warriors: My Tale from the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines

By Michael Ritland; St. Martin's Press; 288 pages

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Though the use of military working dogs (MWDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan was common knowledge, it did not become headline news until it was revealed that a SEAL MWD accompanied the team that killed Osama bin Laden. Trident K-9 Warriors: My Tale from the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines by Mike Ritland with Gary Brozek tells for the first time ever the fascinating story of the less than one percent of working dogs that qualify as Navy SEALs.

Trident K-9 Warriors stands as an inspiring account of an exceptional group of four-legged heroes with unwavering devotion to duty, courage, loyalty and strength.

The battlefield accounts of SEAL MWDs and their handlers in the field serve the dual purpose of being examples of training regimens and highlighting the impact of MWDs. The stories range from detecting IEDs to capturing suspected terrorists, breaking up ambushes, and, in one amusing instance, why it’s not good for even a fellow SEAL to annoy a SEAL MWD.

The concept of elite MWDs in special operations units is a recent one. Ritland, a former SEAL, first came in contact with MWDs in 2003 during a deployment in and around Tikrit in Operation Iraqi Freedom. At that time SEALs did not have MWDs, but the Marines working with Ritland’s team did. That experience so impressed Ritland that following his discharge he created a company that trains MWDs for elite special operations units and other clients. In addition he established the K9 Warrior Foundation to assist retired MWDs.

Trident K-9 Warriors

Trident K-9 Warriors: My Tale from the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines, by Michael Ritland; St. Martin’s Press; 288 pages.

The narrative smoothly presents the entire selection and training process, interweaving it with asides that help emphasize a particular point and with accounts from the battlefield. It’s a well-rounded story that covers everything, including how battlefield stress affects MWDs and protocols used to alleviate it.

Ritland not only knows how to train, he also knows how to explain training in an engaging manner that even non-dog owners will enjoy — the best comparison being that of a teacher whose upbeat attitude and enthusiastic methods made you want to attend that teacher’s class. Needless to say, the training is very rigorous and demanding, the only difference in methods between canines and humans is the emphasis on positive reinforcement with the dogs. Ritland repeatedly goes out of the way, without becoming pendantic, to explain the necessity of positive reinforcement over the use of even mild negative methods such as the use of prong collars.

Ritland’s style is relaxed, but tightly focused and clearly conveys a love and passion for his work and the dogs he trains. He presents the criteria a MWD must meet in order to qualify as a SEAL MWD, noting the similarities and differences between human and canine candidates. His breed of choice is the Belgian Shepherd, or Malinois (it was a Malinois that was on the bin Laden mission), and he not only gives his reasons why, but also includes the informal statistic about attrition rates between Malinois and humans qualifying for the SEALs: 30 to 40 percent for Malinois and 75 percent for humans.

The battlefield accounts of SEAL MWDs and their handlers in the field serve the dual purpose of being examples of training regimens and highlighting the impact of MWDs. The stories range from detecting IEDs to capturing suspected terrorists, breaking up ambushes, and, in one amusing instance, why it’s not good for even a fellow SEAL to annoy a SEAL MWD. There is a particularly harrowing incident involving an IED that explodes and severely wounds a SEAL MWD and his handler and how the Malinois, despite his wounds, manages to reach his handler and guard him until both can be medevaced. Fortunately both survived.

Trident K-9 Warriors stands as an inspiring account of an exceptional group of four-legged heroes with unwavering devotion to duty, courage, loyalty and strength.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...