Hola is a heavyweight (literally) in the dog world. She's a Bernese mountain dog, and, as Martin Kihn can tell you, they don't come small. Considering her size --- at a strapping 95 pounds --- you might think that training is an obvious essential. Good manners would seem to be Priority One for a large girl like Hola. Unfortunately, Marty just doesn't get it. Smitten by her beautiful face, he overlooked any unpleasant traits she tended to exhibit. In short, Hola stole his heart, wrapped him around her little, um, toe, and blinded him to her altogether unsavory conduct.
It takes Marty's wife, Gloria, walking out on him --- and Hola --- before he understands that there is a problem. A serious one. The myriad puncture marks and angry bruises that habitually adorn Gloria's arms have done little to sharpen Marty's sensibilities. Hola is just too gorgeous. But what about Gloria? She's gorgeous, too, and she's made it clear that Hola scares the dickens out of her. When she's finally fed up to the point of leaving him, he faces her abandonment with his usual confusion and denial. It only takes a few days to drive the point home, though: Hola needs a drastic adjustment in her approach to human interaction. He writes: "I mean no disrespect to her when I say that all things considered, taking the long view and giving her the full benefit of the doubt, she was a horrible bitch."
Thus begins Marty's journey to help Hola earn her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award and prove to Gloria they can all live happily together. How hard can it be, really? A dog only has to pass a test of 10 items, most of which appear to be a cakewalk. Well, if the test involved real cake, maybe Hola would have an easy time of it, but treats are frowned upon, including cake. Good behavior comes at a cost. It also comes with a lot of hard work and many trips to classes and dog camps inconveniently located. Just ask Marty.
As if Gloria walking out wasn't enough, Marty has another problem that needs immediate attention. Lately, he's been having fewer and fewer days without a drink. Gloria's complaint --- that even when he's home he's not there --- starts to make a sickening sort of sense to him. So, while Hola is learning the 10 steps to the CGC, Marty is learning the 12 steps to sobriety. Achieving both will radically change all of their futures.
Now add to those hurdles brutal winter weather, an AA-sponsor gone rogue, and some understandable trouble at work, and you can see that Marty has an uphill battle. What keeps him going is that both of the ladies in his life are worth it.
There's no question that dog lovers will eat up this book. So, too, will cat lovers, for I haven't yet mentioned Ruby, a saucy feline who is thrust on Marty when he least expects it. But while pet owners may be more drawn to BAD DOG than other readers, there is something for everyone here. It's hard to decide which is tougher: Marty's battle with the bottle or Hola's struggle with transitioning to GOOD DOG. It would be an amusing adventure if it weren't all true. Because of that, BAD DOG is a heartwarming memoir written with fine introspection and canine wit.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 25, 2011