Note: A segment about these dogs, “Sniffing For Bombs: Meet America’s most elite dogs,” appeared on 60 Minutes on April 21, 2013.
Growing up in Iowa, my best friend was a black Labrador Retriever named Bud. We did everything together. My parents came home with Bud when I was in the sixth grade, after much pleading and pestering. I had always marveled at our friends’ and neighbors’ dogs — on duck and pheasant hunting trips, their amazing athletic abilities and drive fascinated me.
In 1996, I decided to join the Navy, and I went on to graduate with BUD/S class (specialized training program only for SEALs) 215. During a combat deployment in Iraq, I saw a military working dog in action and I immediately knew I wanted to work with these incredibly impressive animals in the future. After years as a member of SEAL Team 3 and later as a BUD/S instructor, I decided to merge my two passions — dogs and SEALs — and I started my own company to train and supply dogs for the SEAL teams, the U.S. Government, and the Department of Defense.
The task was not easy. Less than 1 percent of all working dogs have what it takes to work with the SEALs. These dogs have to be head and shoulders above any dog that you’ve ever seen. I began searching the globe for animals that fit the profile, and even then, these specialized canines had to pass rigorous selection tests before I could begin to seriously train them. But the final results were a revelation: highly trained working dogs capable of handling both detection and apprehension work in the most extreme environments and the tensest of battlefield conditions.
Though fiercely aggressive and athletic, these dogs develop a close bond with the handlers that they work side-by-side with, as well as the other team members. Truly integrating themselves into their units, the dogs are much like their human counterparts — unwavering in their devotion to duty, strong enough and tough enough to take it to the enemy. I am amazed every day by what these dogs are capable of doing to protect our country.
My book, Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale From the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines, gives an inside look at my life and the lives of the dogs I work with every day. I go in depth into 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 some of the smartest and most highly skilled working animals on the planet.
I started the Trident K9 Warrior Foundation to help retired Special Operations dogs live long and happy lives after their service. Because they have such specific characteristics and training, their needs are different from those of other military working dogs, and only a trainer who has the necessary experience can successfully bridge the gap between the active duty and retired lives of these dogs.
I’m lucky to be able to work with such incredible dogs, and constantly reminded of the lives they have saved and the as-of-yet untold heroism of those that will come.
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, upon retiring from the SEALs, started his own company to train dogs for the SEAL teams. He also started the Warrior Dog Foundation.