Strike Source sat down with medically retired Navy SEAL Will Chesney. Chesney served as an operator and dog handler at the Special Missions Unit for several years. In 2011, he was in Pakistan as one of the Dog Handlers on the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Chesney has written a book about his experiences called No Ordinary Dog: My partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid.
Q: Are there physical requirements to become a dog handler in the SEAL
A: I wouldn’t say there are physical requirements specific to dog handling once you are a SEAL. There are many physical requirements for becoming a SEAL and continuing to operate in that job as well.
As a dog handler and a SEAL, you’re going into situations where you have to handle a 60, 70lb Malinois – lift him, hoist him. You’re going to have to repel with the dog, fast rope, so you need to be in good physical shape.
Q: Once you become a dog handler, what are the mental requirements?
A: An essential mental requirement for handling a dog is patience. I’ve learned a lot as a handler. An adage in the dog training world is your emotions run up and down a leash. If the handler is in a lousy mood, the training will suffer.
All those bad emotions are going to go down the leash into the dog. It isn’t always easy to recognize that. My advice would be to take a step back and try to change your behavior. Come out in a more energetic, happier tone.
It is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. I incorporate that in my life these days as well, with family and co-workers.
Q: What is a good day on the job?
A: A good day on the job is stepping away from a full day of work, knowing we accomplished productive training. The dogs picked up some new skills. A good day is no one getting bit by the dogs!
Well, Jay, even getting bit, is worth it if it’s a good day of training.
Q: What is a bad day on the job?
A: An unproductive day of training. Not recognizing that you’re having an off day will mean the dog training is going to suffer. If your kids say good morning to you, and your response is to tell them to shut up, they will react badly to that. Dogs are the same way. You have to bring positive energy, and that will run down the leash.
The dogs don’t speak English. They feed off your energy. He might understand “good boy,” but he’s going to feel that: it doesn’t matter if you say “pineapple” as long as your energy level is high. Sometimes being surrounded by a bunch of comedians making funny noises with my dogs gets me joked on later.
Q: What are the right and wrong motivations for wanting to be a dog handler in Special Operations?
A: The wrong motivations would be to promote yourself and be a cool guy at a bar telling stories, boosting your status and ego. The right motives are several: knowing what you are getting out of putting in all the work to be good at the job. You have to love being around dogs. You have to want to save lives. That’s what we do.
Q: What value is a K-9 team bringing to a target?
A: The value of the dogs that we see on a target is irreplaceable. A dog named Bolto saved an entire team from a building rigged with explosives. Half of the group was in a house. Bolto’s handler sensed a change in his behavior. He immediately got us out of the building, and seconds later, the building exploded.
Dogs save lives all the time. Bad guys are hiding on target in some bushes, and the dogs sniff them out before they get a chance to ambush our teams. I was in a room full of operators, and someone asked, “who here has been saved by a dog?”. Everyone’s hand went up. These are guys with double-digit deployment numbers. Everyone in Special Operations has stories about dogs saving them.