“Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog – The Navy SEAL Way” book review

At the end of January Putnam books released, “Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog – The Navy SEAL Way” by Mike Ritland with Gary Brozek.  The press release states that with 83.3 million canine companions living in an estimated 47 percent of households in the U.S. it is clear that Americans love their dogs. The press release then says, “But love often isn’t enough, meaning there are a lot of ill-behaved, maladjusted dogs out there.”

I agree that simply loving your pets will not result in having the best mannered pet.  Pets, however, can be trained using little to zero coercion.  Examples of coercion including kneeing a dog off of you when they are jumping up or tugging their collar to make them follow your direction as you walk.  Other examples of coercion include applying pressure to a dog’s hind end to make them sit and the use of bark collars that give them a ‘humane’ mild to moderate pulse.  Using the least amount of coercion on a pet sounds like love, so maybe love is enough.

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I do not know if the same is true for animals working in severe and serious conditions like wars in the Middle East. I do not know if dogs in the military can be trained using mostly non coercive methods. I would like to think dogs can be trained only using positive reinforcement techniques but combat situations may not lend itself to the same principles that can and should be used at the home front.  If dogs can’t be trained using solely positive reinforcement techniques in combat, should they be deployed? To understand more I read Ritland’s new book.

Ritland, a former Navy SEAL, and New York Times bestselling author of Trident K9 Warriors, heads one of the most successful canine training programs in the county for clients such as the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, and elite Special Forces units in the military. He fought as a Navy SEAL in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other deployments. The cover of the book includes muscled Ritland sitting on a park bench, and a white Labrador Retriever, joyfully looking into the camera with a patriotic American flag waving in the background of the park.

The author’s older book, Trident K9 Warriors is being adapted for film. The Warrior Dog Foundation which was established by Ritland is dedicated to serving the special operations community, families and Special Operation Forces working K-9 military dogs. After the K-9’s have served, the foundation helps them transition into civilian life at a state-of the-art kennel facility. They have the ability to process as many as 25 dogs a year.

The book does a good job explaining B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, which is fundamental in training any animal or person including spouses.  The book also details the history and use of clicker training, which many experienced pet owners may be familiar with. If you are not, you should read Chapter 5. Another section that I enjoyed was the following chapter on Care and Maintenance of Your Dog and Your Relationship. The author briefly talked about how he feeds his dogs’ raw food. Long time readers of CCKC, will remember that I am very curious about this topic and often lean towards a raw diet for canines.

Section 8, the “troubleshooting” section may be the most relevant for pet owners. The book includes how to change your dog’s behavior by “Transforming won’t into Can and Does.” This section includes, My dog won’t; stay off the furniture, go into his crate, give the ball/toy back and stop barking. Many times the author includes several positive reinforcement techniques first and then suggested as a last resort other methods like negative reinforcement or positive punishment.

The three most important dog training qualities according to the author are: patience, consistency, and perseverance.  With these three tips in mind, have fun training this week.

Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more and ask your WNY animal questions.

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