If you're looking for a warm fuzzy dog tale, this isn't it. Well, it is... kind of. It's the story of a recovering alcoholic (Marty, the author) and a recovering bad dog (Hola), and how they face obstacles and hurdles together. And while there doesn't appear to be a 12-step program for Bernese Mountain Dogs, perhaps Hola's steps toward her GCG (Good Canine Citizen) qualify, making her a friend of the canine Bill W.
Briefly, Marty and his wife adopt an adorable puppy - a Bernese mountain dog who's missed the obedience train. As Marty's drinking escalates, he pays less attention to the dog, whose behavior deteriorates until, ultimately, Gloria leaves both of them.
The book is Marty's struggle for sobriety, reconciliation, and a dog who doesn't attack strangers, inhale unattended dinners, and drag humans behind her in the pursuit of a squirrel.
That being said, here are the top ten things about "Bad Dog (A Love Story)"
10. I always look for new bodies of information in anything I read, fiction included. "Bad Dog" is jammed with information about dog training, obedience, GCG, methods of training, breeds, trainers, and everything canine. At times it gets pretty technical, but you'll survive.
9. Marty is a huge fan, of Susan Conant's Holly Winter books, as am I. (Well, I'm a fan, though, unlike Marty, I don't put her in my Top Ten Authors List.) He pulls certain bits of philosophy from her book -- things we learn from dogs and the lessons they teach us. It a perfect teaser for Conant's books, and brings us some of her best philosophical moments and quotes. A favorite, re: Holly Winter's malamute is that "He doesn't necessarily do anything more than take my opinions under advisement."
8. It's a dog story. Who doesn't love a dog story?
7. Kihn writes good characters, from his seemingly put-together sponsor to the dog ladies with their sweatshirts ("You had me at woof"), to the trainers who treat dog training as a religion, to the doorman. Each is unique and masterfully described.
6. Kihn writes good dog characters, too. Besides Hola, you'll meet the teacher's pet, the kiss-up dog, the perfect dog... There are as many types of dog personalities as human personalities.
5. Doggie insights. The book is full of them, and you'll learn a lot about your dog (and how your dog manipulates you for the greater canine good.) For example, a trainer points out that Hola, who is a pretty dog, has trained Marty. By batting her eyes and turning on the charm, she gets Marty's attention. He rubs her belly, he sweet-talks her. The book can make us more aware of behaviors we may have unwittingly encouraged.
4. Dog training insights. (See 6) Different trainers have vastly different philosophies of how to train a dog, and Mart samples many of these. You'll encounter many points of view. The moral? There's no one right way. The right way is the one that works for the dog/human combination. And a great piece of advice for those who wish to achieve dominance over their dog? "Ignoring attention-seeking behaviors is the highest form of dominance." (Now stop yelling at the dog when he barks at the mailman.)
3. Dog dialog. Marty talks to Hola, and Hola talks to Marty. Admit it. You do it, too. You probably have a special voice your dog uses when answering you. Marty (en route to his estranged wife, with Hola in tow):
Marty: Hola... what if Mommy doesn't want to see us?
Hola: She'll want to see me. Everyone loves me.
Marty: Don't count on it, girlfriend.
Hola: Do you think she made crab cakes?
2. It's a powerful story of addiction and the struggle for sobriety. The author writes clearly and painfully about the steps, the slips, the obstacles, the support, the fellowship of AA, and more. It's realistic. It's harsh. It's inspiring. It's more than a little scary. We see that recovery is always fragile. You'll hear tales of bottoming out that will make you cringe. You'll see people struggling forward and feel huge amounts of admiration.
1. Marty tells an inspiring story of recovery, about regaining trust that has eroded away over years, through the love of a human and a dog.