Former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland is a soft-spoken guy — but he knows how to get a dog's attention. "It's all about how you carry yourself," says Ritland, who is now paid up to $100,000 per animal to train dogs for the military and homeowners at his Trikos school in Dallas. "Training dogs for the military is no different than training your dog to not bark — They always respond to non-verbal communication, reinforcement and psychology." In his new book How to Train Your Dog—The Navy SEAL Way, out today, Ritland explains how to use the SEAL mindset to transform your dog into an elite pet. "Whether I'm teaching a Belgian Malinois how to search a building for someone to bite or training my grandmother's Sheltie to stop dragging her around the block on a leash," he says, "I'm using all the same principles."
1. Gain Their Respect: "There's a huge difference between respect and love. People say ‘I walk my dog all the time, give him treats, let him sleep on the bed, spoil him rotten and he blows me off.' There's a reason for that. No different than if you're at a bar and a woman is throwing herself at you — there's a difference between enjoying that and respecting that. Same thing for a dog. Of course he'll love attention and being spoiled, but it doesn't mean he'll respect you for it. That's the biggest thing that surprises people. They think they're doing the right thing but it's counterproductive."
2. Take Charge: "Carry yourself the way you would as if you were on a job interview. When you're interacting with your dog and trying to get them to do something, you need to exude authority and leadership and emotional stability. Dogs are nonverbal which is hard for humans to understand because we talk so much. It's not what you tell them or how you say it, it's more about what you're doing with your body. Like any animal, dogs respect power, authority, leadership and emotional stability. Take the dog, put them on a leash and spend some time with them. Interject your physicality on them to say ‘Hey there's a new sheriff in town.' Use a leash, tugging, and body blocking to get into their space so they realize it. You don't have to be big. My kennel master is a 5'2" 110-pound woman who can control dogs as big as she is because she carries herself a certain way. Works on all breeds."
3. Reinforce Good Behavior: "Pay your dog for doing his job. Dogs have currency the same way we do—but theirs isn't monetary. Its rewards, treats, chasing balls, affection. You need to know what motivates your dog. Some dogs don't care about tennis balls. Most dogs like treats but some dogs don't care much about them—although they may be crazy about tennis balls. You have to be fluid. When training, I communicate by using a clicker. When the dog does the desire behavior, I click it to mark the behavior. It's classical conditioning with a Pavlovian response. Time the action of the desired behavior with the click. Tell him to sit and the instant his back end touches the ground, that's when you click. He needs to understand the click equals the reward. Make the noise, give them a treat. Do this 15 to 30 times a day for a few days in row. Once you click and he looks around like ‘Where's the treat?' you know he's made that association. And it doesn't take long."
4. Know When to Punish: "Certain camps are 100% anti-punishment and I frankly disagree in the same way I think children and human beings in certain circumstances need to be punished. It needs to be non emotional and commensurate with the crime. In other words, don't fly off the handle and lose your mind on a dog for doing something very very small. But the punishment needs to be very direct and to the point. Make them understand that it's undesirable behavior. That will extinguish it. With most dogs there are certain things that you can't top with a treat. It's like if you're eating ice cream and I start throwing brussels sprouts at you to get you to stop. Same thing with dogs chasing squirrels. Your tennis balls, treats, and clicker can't compete. A punishment is specific to the dog. Depending on the situation, I may make a bad "ach" noise, give a stern tug on a flat collar, use a stainless-steel Herm Sprenger prong collar, or a Dogtra e-collar. You have to know what motivates your dog and what hurts his feelings. Overall your training should be positive like in elementary school. But that doesn't mean there aren't consequences for throwing something at the teacher."
5. Exercise Your Dog: "Nutrition and exercise play a vital role in a dog's mental health and ability to train. If you sit at your desk all day, eat fast food, go home, sit on the couch and go to bed, how do you feel? Terrible. If you work out regularly then you feel better. Your mental acuity is better. You can stay awake longer and get up earlier. Dogs are no different. Taking them to exercise sets you up for a lot more success in training than people realize. People will take a dog that's been cooped up all day and wonder why he wants to chase squirrels. Exercise them regularly so they're mentally more prepared for learning and training. They won't have cabin fever."