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Bad Dog

Cover of Bad Dog

Bad Dog

A Love Story
Borrow Borrow

(A true story.)

Meet Hola. She's a nightmare, but it's not her fault if she tackles strangers and chews on furniture, or if she runs after buses and fried chicken containers and drug dealers. No one ever told her not to. Worse yet, she scares her family. Hola may be the most beautiful Bernese mountain dog in the world, but she's never been trained. At least not by anyone who knew what he was doing.

Hola's supposed master, Marty, is a high-functioning alcoholic. A TV writer turned management consultant, Marty's in debt and out of shape; he's about to lose his job, and one day he emerges from a haze of peach-flavored vodka to find he's on the verge of losing his wife, Gloria, too, if he can't get his life--and his dog--under control.

Desperately trying to save his marriage, Marty throws himself headlong into the world of competitive dog training. Unfortunately, he knows even less than Hola, the only dog ever to be expelled from her puppy preschool twice. Somehow, together, they need to get through the American Kennel Club's rigorous Canine Good Citizen test. Of course, Hola first needs to learn how to sit.

It won't be easy. It certainly won't be pretty. But maybe, just maybe, there will be cheesecake.



From the Hardcover edition.

(A true story.)

Meet Hola. She's a nightmare, but it's not her fault if she tackles strangers and chews on furniture, or if she runs after buses and fried chicken containers and drug dealers. No one ever told her not to. Worse yet, she scares her family. Hola may be the most beautiful Bernese mountain dog in the world, but she's never been trained. At least not by anyone who knew what he was doing.

Hola's supposed master, Marty, is a high-functioning alcoholic. A TV writer turned management consultant, Marty's in debt and out of shape; he's about to lose his job, and one day he emerges from a haze of peach-flavored vodka to find he's on the verge of losing his wife, Gloria, too, if he can't get his life--and his dog--under control.

Desperately trying to save his marriage, Marty throws himself headlong into the world of competitive dog training. Unfortunately, he knows even less than Hola, the only dog ever to be expelled from her puppy preschool twice. Somehow, together, they need to get through the American Kennel Club's rigorous Canine Good Citizen test. Of course, Hola first needs to learn how to sit.

It won't be easy. It certainly won't be pretty. But maybe, just maybe, there will be cheesecake.



From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Introduction

    Introduction

    Entering the Ring

    "Is it just me," I ask my ninety-pound copilot, framed in the rearview mirror like a hairy Warhol Marilyn, "or is everyone losing their minds?"

    I'm sorry to say, she seems to be sorry to say, it's just you.

    "Did we miss our turn? I can't see the signs."

    And I, she says, can't read.

    Now I will advise that when you're going somewhere that is not so easy to get to, don't let me drive.

    There are few guarantees in life like the one I will make to you now: you will get lost. Very lost. So far from your destination you'll be looking out the window as darkness descends, watching street signs change into another language. During my days as the world's most ungrateful management consultant, I tooled around London in a rented Ford Fiesta with one of the firm's partners, who spun on me after a string of boneheaded turns and said, "Who was it that hired you again?"

    Losing her religion, my copilot—a five-year-old Bernese mountain dog named Hola—stretches herself out on the backseat of our alarmingly small car and moans softly, serenely, like a butterfly being sawn in half by wind.

    "You're not helping," I say to her, as the Sprain Brook Park­ way is glazed with a silver coat of fear.

    Neither are you. Did you bring any cheese?

    "If you're driving," says the guy on 1010 WINS news radio, "think about getting off the road. We have a severe weather warning. It's going to get ugly out there."

    Not as ugly as White Plains, New York.

    A gray blanket stuffed with old malls, it claims to be thirty minutes north of Manhattan. Ninety minutes after setting out, Hola and I finally slide into the parking lot of the Port Chester Obedience Training Club, where we're scheduled to take the Canine Good Citizen test ten minutes ago.

    The PCOTC is a legendary facility that relocated from Port Chester to an industrial district in White Plains without changing its name. It readies little woofers and their handlers for everything from crate training to all-breed shows, and five years earlier, Hola had the distinction of being the only dog in her puppy kindergarten class to be invited to leave. Twice.

    Let it not be said that my dog is not a legend in the canine obedience world.

    She's a beautiful, tricolored purebred dog; a spectacularly fluffy, optimistic creature with true Broadway spirit and an explosive commitment to now.

    I keep expecting her to stand up on her hind paws to make her Tony acceptance speech:

    "I remember when I was a little puppy, lying on my doggie bed watching Beethoven's 3rd on DVD and thinking, 'I can do that!' . . ."

    And 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.

    Storm clouds morph from a hazy gray to an oily, ominous rust as the volume of snow per square inch of air throttles up.

    "Hola, come!" I say, holding open the car's back door.

    Because I have enough cut-up raw liver in my snow jacket pocket to open a meat market, she jumps out.

    I saddle her into her little harness, lock the car, check that I have her dog license, rabies tag, hairbrush, and—the critical item—her complete attention. Then I tuck myself into classic dog handler's heeling position, left arm bent with my hand on my sacral third chakra, body erect and as still as the truth.

    Stepping off on...

About the Author-
  • Martin Kihn is an Emmy Award--nominated former writer for MTV's Pop-Up Video and the author of House of Lies and A$$hole. He has worked at Spy, Forbes, and New York, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, GQ, Details, and Cosmopolitan. He lives in Minneapolis.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 4, 2011
    Kihn, a television writer turned management consultant, recovering alcoholic, and dog lover, shows how healing can come from the most unlikely of sources. He introduces us to the overzealous and energetic Hola, his five-year-old Bernese mountain dog who greets friends and strangers alike with full-body slams, chases buses, terrifies her family, and has the distinction of being expelled from two obedience schools. When we meet Kihn, he's doing no better. An out-of-shape, deeply in debt alcoholic, Kihn is on the verge of separating from his wife. He trades his need for booze for a need for Hola to win a Canine Good Citizen rating in the hopes of convincing his wife that both master and pooch are deserving of forgiveness and another chance. As Kihn struggles to stay sober, Hola's training becomes a lifeline—and a clue to his recovery: he comes to realize his wayward dog is actually very intelligent; he's been her greatest obstacle all along as his anxiety has been causing her to act out. This wry memoir of the human-dog bond is one that eschews the usual treacly sentimentality in favor of a raw, deeply sincere, and self-aware homage to this powerful bond.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2011

    A recovering alcoholic finds redemption in the training of his 90-pound mountain dog.

    Kihn (A$$hole: How I Got Rich and Happy By Not Giving a Damn About Anyone, 2008, etc.) recalls hazily "swimming in moonshine" when his wife Gloria announced she wanted a puppy. His incremental descent into alcoholism, intensified by volatile behavior and frequent absences from their Manhattan home, spurred Gloria to seek a "a friend in the house for a change." So she bought Hola, an expensive female Bernese mountain dog from a nearby breeder. What was initially a squirming, adorably fuzzy ball of tri-colored fur grew into a muscular, lumbering animal "bred to pull carts up steep Swiss mountains." Hola's aggressive shredding of paperback books and bed-hogging would become the least of Kihn's problems, however. The author painfully describes life at the bottom of his downward spiral in striking detail: desperately chugging whole bottles of mouthwash while hiding in sidewalk telephone booths, sneaking shots of vodka in the bathroom at the break of dawn and passing out on the floor while Hola tried to rouse him with her paws. Yet his love for both Gloria and Hola was enough incentive to galvanize him to attend early-morning Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Gloria, he writes, grew to become the family enemy. Exasperated with Hola's threatening attacks and Kihn's erratic, irresponsible behavior, she retreated to their vacation house in the Catskills. The author's solution involved obedience training for unmanageable Hola and the inspired, passive-dominance process toward achieving a Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club. That, alongside reconcilement with Gloria and an honest, clean and sober life made him whole. Memories of the writer's upbringing and photographs of Hola further leaven this bittersweet tale of renewal.

    An endearing read full of hope, humor and humility.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2010

    Marley has nothing on Hola, possibly a Bernese Mountain dog but definitely out of control. After all, overdrinker Kihn was himself out of control when he got her, failing to train her not to chase Volvos and drug dealers in his Washington Heights, NY, neighborhood. But then his wife left, and Kihn decided to straighten himself out--by getting involved in competitive dog training. A story about recovery (and about a dog who loves cheesecake), this reportedly sharp and acidulous mix of Cesar Millan and Augusten Burroughs should have an audience beyond dog folks.

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor "Martin Kihn is just too talented--I still don't know how a writer can be that laugh-out-loud funny while chronicling a major life crisis--and his story is just too good to miss. (And of course the soulful pictures of Hola, his lovely Bernese mountain dog, don't hurt either.)"
  • Katie Stroh, The Daily Texan "It's the special relationship between man and animal that form the heart of the memoir. . . Any dog lover is bound to tear up over the love and trust that can exist between a person and their dog, which Kihn captures perfectly with a blend of earnest emotional catharsis and wry humor."
  • Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (Starred Review) "Not a cozy Marley and Me duplicate or Cesar Millan–type training book (though readers will learn a lot about the value of appropriate training from someone who's been there), this sharply written, darkly funny memoir–cum–dog story–cum–recovery tale is a quick, absorbing read that will serve a wide audience well."
  • Publishers Weekly (Starred review) "This wry memoir of the human-dog bond is one that eschews the usual treacly sentimentality in favor of a raw, deeply sincere, and self-aware homage to this powerful bond."
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