‘Dogs’ on Netflix: The Surprising Personal Story Behind the Hit Show

How an attorney’s chance encounter with a stray pit bull led to the creation of the show Dogs.

Posted in , Jan 29, 2019

Dogs on Netflix

The show Dogs became an instant sensation when its first season released on Netflix in November 2018. The story behind the show is nearly as inspiring as the show itself.

Glen Zipper, the co-executive producer of the show, had dreamed of being a filmmaker from childhood, but didn’t think it was a realistic career path. Instead, he became a criminal prosecutor.

Everything changed one day when he found a stray pit bull on the streets of Jersey City. He took the dog to an animal shelter and was shocked by what he saw.

“I'd never been in an animal shelter before and was immediately confronted by cage upon cage of animals that might not make it,” Zipper told Guideposts.org.

The shock of seeing animals in cages and realizing that many of them would be put down if they weren’t adopted sparked Zipper to take dramatic action. He adopted the pit bull he’d found and named him Anthony. He also left his job.

“I turned in my badge and began volunteering at the animal shelter,” he said.

Although he’d given up a lucrative career, Zipper noticed a positive change once he began volunteering.

“I realized that I was happy, which was a novel feeling for me at the time,” Zipper said. “I decided that I wanted to be able to maintain being happy for the rest of my life.”

Zipper and Anthony moved to Los Angeles and Zipper began pursuing his film career. He dreamed of working on animal-related film projects, but had to work his way up from the bottom. He made a name for himself in documentary filmmaking and in 2012 won an Academy Award for his documentary Undefeated. Once he started having some success, he was finally able to make his dream project: a show about dogs.

Dogs is a documentary series that tells extraordinary stories of dogs and humans around the world. In six episodes the show covers everything from a Syrian refugee trying to get his dog out of Syria, to Japanese dog groomers competing in America and a free range animal shelter in Costa Rica. Each story is uniquely moving and uplifting.

There’s a lot of dog content on television, but Zipper wanted to do something different with Dogs.

“There was nothing that really told the human story through a dog's eyes or a relationship with dogs,” Zipper said. “There are a lot of shows [about] animals doing funny things or scientifically-based shows. We [realized] what really [hadn't] been done are full-fledged stories that are unfolding in real time where the dog is a true character in the story with a relationship with a human being, and we follow those two characters…on a journey.”

Zipper made it his mission to create premium dog-related content. His co-executive producer is Academy-Award winner Amy Berg and the directors of the episodes are some of the most respected names in documentary filmmaking.

All these years later, Zipper’s experience at the animal shelter is still informing his life. Volunteering at the shelter taught him that sadness was often a barrier to entry for people who might otherwise be interested in adopting an animal. He translated that to Dogs by choosing to focus on uplifting stories. It was this intent that led the show to be dubbed the “feel-good show of the year.”

“Every episode, spoiler alert, has a happy ending,” Zipper said. “There may be need for some tissues during a viewing of a Dogs episode, but they will be to dab away happy tears, not sad tears.”  

Making the show taught Zipper the incredible power dogs have to bring people together.                     

“It was shocking to me how dogs and our relationship with dogs was the one thing that almost everybody could agree on, and have in common,” he said.

Since the show’s release, scores of people have contacted the show asking how to donate to the organizations and people featured in various episodes.

“Even in the last two days, I've come across on my neighborhood block a lost dog and a found dog, and posted it to Twitter, and it's getting retweeted a hundred times,” Zipper said.  “Hopefully in the future, we can enlist people to bigger causes as they relate to dogs.”

For Zipper, making the show has been a dream come true and he has a number of other dog-related projects in the works. It all started with a chance encounter with a pit bull named Anthony—who still plays a big role in Zipper’s life.

“That was 16 years ago,” Zipper said, “and he's lying right next to me right now.”

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