Can Alex's dog train her to love unconditionally?

“Jackie Bouchard gives us Fido-friendly fiction at its best. We fell in love with Alex and her rescue dog, Marie. As dog lovers, we related to Alex’s struggle to stretch her heart to include her four legged and two legged loved ones! Witty and winning, House Trained will tug on your heart strings in all the best ways.”
- Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, co-authors of The Status of All Things

My new book, House Trained, is coming from Lake Union Publishing October 20, 2015. It's available for pre-order as an ebook ($3.99), paperback ($10.99), or audiobook ($9.99). It will also be available from Barnes & Noble as a paperback or audio, AND the paperback will be in Walmart stores from Oct 20 through approximately the beginning of the year.

Alex Halstad, a childless-by-choice interior designer and dog mom, is a true perfectionist. But her orderly life turns chaotic when the teenage daughter her husband, Barry, never knew he had, shows up on their doorstep . . . with a baby of her own in tow. While Alex’s dog enthusiastically welcomes the new arrivals, Alex struggles with the loss of her steady routine. She desperately needs peace and quiet to get her business back on track before Barry finds out she’s spent most of their savings. Meanwhile, the arrival of the girls stirs up old insecurities, and Alex can’t help but worry that Barry’s ex will make an entrance too. With her tidy life a distant memory, will Alex be able to learn from her dog the true meaning of love and acceptance?

From bestselling author Jackie Bouchard comes a humorous and heartwarming look at how life creates opportunities to love in surprising ways.

Below, you'll find an excerpt. Please email me at jackie AT jackiebouchard DOT com if you'd like a readers' discussion guide.  

I hope you'll unconditionally love this story of unconditional love.

Please consider leaving a review on Amazon, B&N or GoodReads. Reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations are still the best way readers discover great new books. Thank you!

This scene talks place when Alex and her dog, Marie, get to her sister's house a little early to help get ready for her nephew's second birthday. Perfectionist Alex is less than impressed with her sister's party prep. With three little boys under the age of seven, the house is understandably a bit chaotic.


Cyn tells the boys to go get dressed for the party, then heads for the kitchen. Marie stays with me, as I follow along after Cyn, surveying the scene. Legos flood the family room floor. The dining room table hides under canary-yellow plastic place mats, half-empty cereal bowls, and spilled milk. It smells like a mix of ant spray and cupcakes. A grape-jelly stamp of a hand stands out on a cream-colored wall. The area rugs are shoved against the baseboards, signaling that the boys have once again turned the hardwood floors into their hockey rink. In the kitchen, cereal boxes, dirty dishes, unfrosted cupcakes, and two six-packs of beer jockey for space on the counters. I’m glad to see the beer.

Marie trots over and sniffs at the jelly handprint, situated perfectly at her nose height. After a quick glance back at me, presumably to see if I might try to stop her, she starts licking the wall. I would stop her, but at least she’s helping to make a dent in the mess.

“Ready for the party?” I ask. Cyn pushes through the saloon doors into the kitchen, and I brace my shoulder for impact as the doors swing back. “Give me a screwdriver, spackle, and some paint, and in like thirty minutes, these doors will be history.” This is, conservatively, the tenth time I’ve made this offer.

“A.J.’s still in his cowboy phase. He loves them.”

I point at the cupcakes. “Are these Mom’s recipe?” Maybe I can sneak one before lunch without the boys seeing.

“Of course. Did you think I’d use a boxed mix?” She holds a bowl of Sponge Bob–yellow frosting out to me. “Can you frost them while I get dressed?”

“Maybe you should frost them while I straighten up.” I demonstrate being better suited to this task of cleaning by grabbing two cereal boxes and putting them in the pantry.

“I’ve got to get the boys dressed. Unless you want to help them?”

“That’s okay. I’ll frost.” I take the bowl. “But what about cleaning up?” Scanning the room, I hope the look on my face adds “this mess” to the end of my question.

“That’ll take five minutes.”

I want to say, No, it will take two days, a power washer, and a hazmat crew. I don’t really care if her house is messy. She’s always been messy. It’s just the thought that people will be here soon for the party . . . it makes me cringe. I’m mortified for her, but obviously she doesn’t care, so I guess I should try not to care as well. I shrug and attempt a smile. “Okay. It’s your party.”

Thirty minutes later, cupcakes line the now-clean counters like frosted soldiers, and the dishwasher hums its way through the breakfast dishes. My three nephews, now clothed, sit at the bar and beg for cupcakes. Marie’s black nose peeks over the edge of the high counter as she balances on her back legs, trying to see what the boys are so interested in. A.J. tells her to get down and sit; Bobby and Fuzzy parrot their older brother. The boys love to boss Marie around—it’s a welcome change of pace for them. Marie makes their day by obeying. With their success at “sit,” they begin firing all the other commands she knows at her. She looks so cute, running through all of them at top speed: she shakes with A.J., high-fives Bobby and Fuzzy, then plays dead, then sits again. I laugh and tell them to go easy on the poor girl. “I think she’s earned a treat,” I say. I snitch three slices of strawberry out of my fruit salad and hand each of the boys a piece to feed her.

After the treats are dispensed, the boys turn back to me and rest their elbows on the bar. Although dressed, they are not what I’d call ready. Their toffee-colored hair sticks out in various directions: up for A.J., out for Bobby, and in strange swirls on Fuzzy. Fuzzy’s face, predictably, sports a shiny veneer of some type of juice. A long white hair from Fernando, their Persian cat, adorns his right cheek. I assume Fernando’s gone into hiding, since he’s not as big of a fan of Marie as the boys are.

“Tell you what: I’ll let you guys share the bowl if you go pick up your toys.” I hold up the stainless-steel bowl streaked with the remaining frosting to display the bounty that awaits.

“Mom always just gives us the bowl,” A.J. says.

I assess them for a moment. They can’t be trusted with the tidying job anyway. “Fine. Have at it.” I push the bowl across the counter, and they clamber onto their knees and fall upon it. “Don’t get any on your clothes,” I say over my shoulder. “And don’t give Marie any,” I add, as Bobby extends a frosting-laden finger in the dog’s direction. The finger changes course and pops into his own mouth as he looks at me with wide-eyed innocence.

I know I said I wasn’t going to care, but I can’t resist doing at least a tiny bit of straightening up while Cyn’s getting dressed. Marie, realizing she’s not going to get any frosting, follows me into the family room. I’ve trained her to put her toys away, so I hand her a ball and point at an oversize chest. “Toys! Away,” I say. She helps as I shove, toss, and cram everything in the box. If Marie can be trained in this art, why can’t the boys be as well? Oh, wait, they can be; it’s just that Cyn does everything for them.

I go to the powder room to wash up. The hand towel feels damp, in an I’m-the-439th-person-at-the-truck-stop-to-use-it way. I grimace, pull it off the rack, and find a fresh replacement under the sink.

When I come back out, Cyn appears, ready for the party. Lime-green, form-fitting Bermuda shorts show off her tan legs, and a matching plaid sleeveless top with the shirttails tied in a knot reveals her brown stomach. I have to hand it to Cyn—she looks great, thanks to her regimen of running while Fuzzy rides in the jogging stroller and Bobby and A.J. pedal their bikes alongside. She strikes a cocked-hip pose, and I know she’s waiting for me to say how cute she looks.

I ask if she got a new outfit for the party and leave it at that.

She looks around and asks, “Have you been cleaning again?” This is not said with a “thank-you” tone, but with a “did you take my favorite earrings?” accusatory tone, which I’ve heard before. (And I didn’t take her earrings. I borrowed them. Big-sister prerogative.)

“Just a little.” I untie my apron and head for the kitchen, ignoring her harrumph.

Jamie comes through the door lugging the gas tank for the barbecue.

“That took forever,” Cyn says. “I thought you were going to help get ready for the party.”

“You know how crazy Home Depot is on weekends.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’ve been telling you to do it every night this week.”

“Some of us work. Some of us like to relax when we get home after a long day. I don’t see why you couldn’t have done it this week.”

“Don’t start with the ‘I’m the only one that works around here’ thing.”

I know Jamie has been repeatedly asking Cynthia when she’s going back to work. She had a good job as a dental hygienist in Santa Barbara before they moved, but the boys have given her an out. She’s forever dreaming up work-from-home ideas, and the various projects she’s started (custom-embroidered booties, hand-painted T-shirts, baby-shower favors) clutter their fourth-bedroom-turned-office/craft room/storage space. I’m not sure what her latest venture is.

The doorbell rings, averting a full-blown argument, and the boys and Marie stampede to answer it.

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