Top Dog

Top Dog

The Story of Marine Hero Lucca

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9780525954361
  • 320 Pages
  • Dutton
  • Adult


The New York Times bestselling author of Soldier Dogs returns with the incredible, true story of K-9 Marine hero Lucca, and the handlers who fought alongside her through two bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In Top Dog, Maria Goodavage takes readers into the life of Lucca K458, a decorated and highly skilled military working dog. An extraordinary bond develops between Lucca and Marine Corps dog handlers Chris Willingham and Juan Rodriguez, in what would become a legendary 400-mission career. A Specialized Search Dog, Lucca belongs to an elite group trained to work off-leash at long distances from her handler. She served alongside both Special Forces and regular infantry, and became so sought-after that platoons frequently requested her by name. 

The book describes in gritty detail Lucca’s adventures on and off the battlefields, including tense, lifesaving explosives finds and firefights, as well as the bravery of fellow handlers and dogs they served with. Ultimately we see how the bond between Lucca and her handlers overcame the endless brutalities of war and the traumas this violence ignites.

Here is a portrait of modern warfare with a heartwarming and inspiring conclusion that will touch dog lovers and the toughest military readers.


Praise for Top Dog

“An eye-opening account of the job these intelligent dogs and their courageous handlers do…[a] riveting title that is filled with excitement and heartbreak.” – Library Journal (starred review)

“Whether someone likes to read “war” books or not, this story is one that transcends “war.” I have read nothing that so adroitly weaves together the relationship between our young warriors and man’s best friend, from Iraq to Afghanistan and then coming home in body, mind and spirit. If I could write half so well and capture the essence of things largely left unspoken, I would write letters to God!” 
—Marine General James Mattis (Ret.)

“…an absolutely fascinating and an accurate portrayal of the importance of military working dogs and their handlers on today’s complex battlefield. The book is extremely well written and skillfully paints the picture of the passionate relationship between military working dog and its handler. It has my highest recommendations.” — Army Lieutenant General Rick Lynch (Ret.)

“I LOVED Top Dog. With a single glance into Lucca’s soulful knowing eyes, you will fall in love. Heartwarming and heart-rending until its joyous conclusion, Maria Goodavage brilliantly renders the growing love and loyalty between Lucca and her handlers — a bond of such incredible strength it transcends war, distance, and time. Meet the amazing Lucca, and you will wish she was yours!”
—Robert Crais, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Suspect

“Maria Goodavage’s Top Dog is a true war story with a heart as heroic and bold as any account ever told, only here the tale centers on a four-legged warrior, specifically one named Lucca, a courageous and stalwart war dog of incomparable bravery. This is no dry accounting of Lucca’s service, but a gritty, boots-on-the-ground portrayal of what it means to share the battlefield with such a remarkable animal. Written with authority, warmth, and genuine honor, here is a story that not only needs to be told, but should be read by all. It’s a new classic, one that will inspire everyone.”
—James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of The Kill Switch 

“A masterfully told epic of one of the canine heroes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I doubt many readers will finish the book with a dry eye–this veteran of 28 months in Iraq, for one, could not. Semper Fi, Lucca.” —Col. (Ret.) Peter Mansoor, author of Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War

“Written like an adventure, with heart-pounding combat sequences, high tension, and suspense as well as moments of deep emotion and bonding, “Top Dog” is a must read for anyone who appreciates heroes of both the two-legged and four-legged kind.” – Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs, How to Speak Dog, and others

Praise for Soldier Dogs:

“A moving portrait of the loyal, courageous, furry warriors who truly are an enlisted Man’s Best Friend.”

“A fascinating window into a different kind of military life.”

“A well-deserved salute to the military’s ‘paws-on-the-ground heroes.’ ” 
“A must read — I say again must read — book if you have ever served anywhere they’ve had paws on the ground.” 
—David Reeder,

“[Soldier Dogs] is written in an easy and entertaining style and will acquaint you with dozens of canine heroes ranging from Stubby, who fought in WWI, to Cairo, who was a member of the raiding party that took down Osama Bin Laden. It is a great read for anyone who appreciates dogs and heroes.”
—Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think

“Inspiring personal stories of the many canine allies (and their handlers) who have dramatically enhanced military command units . . . [Soldier Dogs] examines how this indelible human-canine bond often transcends the atrocities of wartime violence.” —Kirkus Reviews

“If the idea of dogs at war conjures up thoughts of harsh methods and unrelenting discipline, think again. Maria Goodavage’s revealing and engaging book exposes the unexpected trust and affection that flows both ways between dog and handler. You may already care about dogs: This book will heighten your respect for them.”
—John Bradshaw, author of Dog Sense





This past Sunday, the image of a beautiful military working dog named Lucca graced the cover of Parade. Lucca and her handler Chris Willingham are the subject of Top Dog: The Story of Marine… Read more >

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