Book Review: Top Dog


Credit: Clare Knutson / The Foothill Dragon Press

Clare Knutson

If you are a dog lover, there’s nothing quite like a wagging tail and a few wet kisses on your cheek to brighten your day. But what if your day involves fighting the Taliban fearful that every step might be your last? In war zones, dogs become far more than just a cuddly four-footed friend, they often become the soldiers’ most prized and greatest weapon, not because of their sharp teeth, powerful bites or menacing growls but because of their noses.

Maria Goodavage’s book “Top Dog” introduces the reader to specialized search dog Lucca, a Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix trained to sniff out improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban to pick off unsuspecting soldiers. The true story follows Lucca from her early days of training in the Netherlands with her original handler, through their two deployments, her subsequent deployments with another handler and a devastating injury.

Unlike other explosive detection dogs, Lucca is trained to work off-leash, far away from her handler. Her job is to detect explosives before any soldiers get anywhere near it. Lucca aces her detection training and during her deployments becomes so sought after that the troops begin to ask for her by name. There are other specialized search dogs out there, but Lucca is popular, because she is beautiful, intelligent, hardworking and affectionate, as well as a crackerjack detection dog.

Goodavage drops the reader right in the moment with her vivid descriptions and engaging dialogue. It is an exciting read that makes for a feel good story. While the book tends to gloss over the sad or upsetting moments, such as Lucca’s injury and the deaths of both soldiers and other search dogs, it is nonetheless an inspiring story. The characters are engaging and likeable, mostly comprised of tough military guys who have a soft spot for dogs.

The book is heavily pro-military and focuses on the comradery and brotherliness of the soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan with Lucca. As mentioned before, the author puts a positive spin on almost every situation Lucca encounters. It isn’t a book for someone interested in how military dogs are trained or a discussion about the war on terror. Overall, “Top Dog” is a good book for dog lovers or anyone who likes a good heartwarming story. It is an easy and fun read that is perfect for a dreary day inside or an afternoon by the pool.

What do you think?