What is Bad Dog (A Love Story) about?
It’s a story about a man and a dog whose lives are both totally out of control. I’m secretly drinking, and my dog Hola is basically attacking my wife. We’re living in Manhattan, my career is going nowhere—your basic alcoholic situation. Understandably, at a certain point my wife decides she’s had it and leaves town. That’s my bottom. Thank God I manage to get help to stop drinking and decide to take Hola’s training seriously. Most of the book is the story of how, step by step, Hola and I train each other to become responsible citizens. My goal was to get my wife back. Hola’s goal was to earn her Canine Good Citizen award from the American Kennel Club. There won’t be a dry eye in the kennel.
What inspired you to write the book?
It was an amazing moment, actually. I can still remember it vividly. I was driving Hola around pretty aimlessly one day not knowing how I was going to get my life together, and I ran across an event in Madison Square Park in Manhattan called Responsible Dog Ownership Day. Unbelievable. We went and it was there I found out about the Canine Good Citizen award. It’s basically a ten-step test of good manners, but you really need a well-trained dog to pass. That became our goal: to pass that test. I remember getting tears in my eyes thinking how impossible it seemed. The book grew out of that moment. It became the story of our journey toward the Canine Good Citizen.
Does it have a happy ending?
Of course it does. In fact, that was my intention from the beginning—to write a happy dog book. All the dog stories I’d been reading were basically tragedies in one way or another. I was determined to make this one funny and optimistic.
Is it a true story?
Yes. Everything in the book happened. Because it’s about alcoholism, and I take the tradition of anonymity seriously, I changed a lot of names and descriptions. But this is a memoir about Hola’s and my life together.
What one thing do you want people to take away from the book?
Set goals—goals that seem impossible. I don’t mean goals that are impossible. Hola and I are never going to get asked to compete in the National Obedience Invitational. But focusing on the Canine Good Citizen helped us get organized. We knew what we needed to do, and got going. The thing about goals you think in your gut “I can’t do this”—well, when you actually do, the world becomes a better place. It opens up.
You describe your alcoholism and recovery. Was that a difficult topic to write about?
Only in the sense that people who know me would be reading it, and I worried how they would react. But that’s a common problem with memoirs. I just had to write it totally uncensored and hope for the best. Talking about alcoholism itself isn’t hard for us recovery types. It’s what we do in our meetings every day.
You say your Bernese mountain dog, Hola, helped you stop drinking. How?
She helped me to get less selfish. It was a tremendous gift, actually. Her being such a terrible dog was a gift. Focusing on another living being all those months, supposedly to fix her problems, let me get outside of my own head. And Hola is just really great company. It’s impossible to be lonely with her in the house—she has so much enthusiasm for life. It’s infectious. Of course, in the end I realized she wasn’t a bad dog at all. I was a bad owner.
Hola really is the star of the book. What is she like?
She’s a beautiful, tri-colored Bernese mountain dog. About eighty pounds now, so a smaller Bernese. She stops traffic—literally, people stop and get out of their cars to look at her. She loves people. She’s never been a mean dog, just badly-trained by moi and my wife. Like I said, her joy is infectious. A friend of mine once said, “Hola is the Bill Clinton of dogs.” The word is charisma.
You try a lot of different dog training methods. Which one worked the best?
We did them all. We started at a club out in White Plains that did all positive training, mostly through treats. My problem with Hola was that she’d do anything for a treat, but if I didn’t have one she wouldn’t obey at all. We went to a very famous week-long camp in Virginia, where we were the worst team there. Their method didn’t involve treats but focused on the animal’s basic “drives.” It was too abstract for me. We didn’t make real progress until I found a trainer in New York who practiced a dominance-based approach. Hola needed a leader, and I wasn’t stepping up.
How did Hola react to you being more assertive?
She’s a dog, not a person. Dogs don’t take this kind of thing the way we do. Basically, we had some adjustment issues as she figured out things were changing in our relationship. But she’s fine being number two. Most dogs are. She just needed me to be a whole lot more competent as number one. She needed to trust me to be consistent and clear. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
You used to write for “Pop-Up Video” in the 1990’s. What was that like?
Hardest job I’ve ever had—and I’ve been a management consultant! I was head writer for the show for a few years before business school. It was a lot of research. I got to talk to stars I’d admired from the 1980’s—Deborah Harry, Billy Squier. Video directors. It was a cool job, but it couldn’t last forever.
Both your previous memoirs were sold to Hollywood. What’s happening with them?
My first book was an exposé about management consultants called House of Lies, and it was recently filmed as a pilot for Showtime with Don Cheadle playing me. Kristen Bell is in it. If it gets picked up, it should air early next year. My second book A$$hole sold to Warner Brothers and is still “in development,” as they say.
You recently moved from New York City to Minneapolis. Why?
My wife is from Minneapolis. She’d been pressuring me for years to move back here. One thing I’ve noticed since we got here is that Minneapolis is full of married guys whose wives suggested they move back from wherever they were living. It’s a town of happily imported men.
How do Hola and your wife Gloria like their new hometown?
They love it. Hola is a cold weather dog—a Swiss mountain breed. She was made for this place. My wife has her family, her sister just across the street. Every day is like a high school reunion for her. After what I put her through, packing up Hola and the cat and driving out here was the least I could do. And I’m surprised how much I like it. Turns out it’s a fabulous, friendly place to live.