Interview with Matt Beisner of Dog Impossible
Matt Beisner, dog behavioral specialist and star of the Dog Impossible series on Nat Geo WILD, shared the story of his beginnings in the industry, as well as his philosophy on training challenging dogs.
Matt Beisner is a busy guy. He’s gotten busier in the past few months, but he was always busy working with dogs that others considered impossible. And his uplifting and inspiring teaching methods help dogs live happier lives with their humans.
Q:Matt how did you get “found” and land a show on Nat Geo WILD?
A: I’m the owner of The Zen Dog, a facility in downtown Los Angeles and I think I was discovered after I worked with actress, producer Lena Dunham and her adopted dog, Lamby. We worked with her and Lamby, and Lena was very open on social media about it, and how ultimately, it was best for him to be re-homed. He found a wonderful home and he’s happy. And even though it was extremely difficult for Lena, it was best for her and Lamby to part ways.
Q:What went on in your life with dogs even before The Zen Dog and Lena’s dog?
A: I had been bitten by a dog when I was a child and I spent years—decades—being afraid of them. It was only eleven years ago that I overcame my fear of dogs. As my life went on, I was spiraling and had some addictions I needed to kick. When I was detoxing, I stayed with a (now former) girlfriend. She had a dog named Kingston and that dog hated me. Here I was trying to regain control of my life, and I was being attacked by this dog. After a while I knew I had to come to an agreement with Kingston: we were sharing the same space and needed to learn to get along. I realized then that he was afraid, just as I was. When that realization hit me, I knew I wanted to work with him to overcome his fear and conquer his aggression.
Q:And did you help him overcome his fear?
A: Yes! My a-ha moment came when I realized I was trying to interact with Kingston on my terms. I was thinking about what I wanted (to not be bitten), and I didn’t think about what Kingston needed (to learn to not be afraid). It was then that I realized many people operate from a “what do I want from my dog” position, rather than “what does my dog need” position. What this means is, the pet owner wants to pet his dog, but does the dog need that attention? It’s a difficult realization for many dog owners that just because they feel the need to be close to their dogs, their dogs don’t necessarily or aren’t necessarily in a place to receive that attention.
Q:What do pet parents need to do if they’re living with an impossible dog?
A: When I work with a dog, I am also working with a family. I am teaching the family how to interact with their dog—many of whom are aggressive. Many dogs, I have found, are misunderstood and because of that, they seem dangerous and act aggressively. Many dogs operate from a level of anxiety and that leads to their aggressive behaviors.
Q:I’ve heard you teach “detachment training.” Can you explain what that entails?
A: Detachment is one of the most difficult things I teach the dog owner. It’s natural for a dog owner to want to talk to her dog and to reach out to pet her, thinking that will calm her down. I have found that what dog owners should do is detach from the situation: ignore the dog until the dog has calmed himself. It’s difficult, but once the dog has calmed down, then the dog owner can talk to him, pet him, or let him out of the crate. When the dog owner interacts with a dog, who is obviously over wrought, the situation escalates because the dog is already operating from anxiety.
Q:What happens at The Zen Dog?
A: I started The Zen Dog because I truly believe there are no bad dogs. I know that every dog is able to transform. Sometimes there are dogs and families that will never happily co-exist, and that is not a cause for guilt if the dog owner needs to surrender the dog. Safety always needs to be front of mind—for the dog and his family.
Q:Isn’t it risky to work with impossible dogs?
A: Yes, but I keep in mind that I used to be like those dogs. I was wild and out of control, but I changed. I know that dogs can change too.
Q:How do you teach the dogs and their families?
A: The first thing the families need to know is that you can only work with your dog if you operate from a place that’s based on love, trust, and respect. I want to work with “hopeless dogs” and transform them so they have better, happier lives.
Q:If I don’t have a dog, will Dog Impossible be something I want to watch?
A: Yes! Dog Impossible is about relationships. Whether you’re with a dog or with a person, you’re in a relationship. Everyone needs to understand how love, trust, and respect figure into every aspect of their lives. Dog owners need to understand what the dog needs, not what they (the owner) wants, and that is important to the relationship.
Editor’s Note: You can watch Matt in action on Dog Impossible on Nat Geo WILD. The show airs on Sundays.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.