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The Dog Whisperer 101: Bipolar yet calm and assertive

I don’t watch much television but lately I have been watching a lot of re-runs of The Dog Whisperer.

I love dogs. All dogs. Big, little, good, bad. I am passionate about dogs and I don’t understand why there are entire channels devoted to food and shopping, which, when you think about it, is kind of messed up. But no dog channel.

"Dog" my main man
“Dog” my main man

I believe in the healing power of dogs. My dearly-departed weimaraner, Belle, dragged my butt out of bed on long walks when I was in my last deep depression.

In the middle of the night, when I could not sleep, she was there saying, “Hey, since you can’t sleep, let’s go for a walk!” She slept beside me. Watched me and waited for me to get better. She didn’t give up on me.

Now, watching The Dog Whisperer, I am learning about my energy. I have hypomania – bipolar II. Even before I was diagnosed 7 years ago, I knew I had what is known as “a strong personality.”

When I am manic, I can walk into a room and folks lean back in their chairs or take a step back, like they were hit by a strong, unexpected wind. I feel like a racehorse in the starting gate, wild-eyed, pawing at the dirt – “Open the frickin’ gate!”

I never really paid much attention to the effect my energy had on others but The Dog Whisperer is teaching me. “Calm and assertive,” Cesar Millan says. Do you have any idea how hard “calm and assertive” is for someone with bipolar disorder? The assertive part I can do. No problem. But simultaneously being calm AND assertive – that’s the pinnacle of enlightenment for folks with a bipolar disorder.

I probably wouldn’t give a damn about “calm and assertive” if I had not seen the astounding effect is has when The Dog Whisperer does it. Every episode I am shown how a dog reacts to its owner’s anxiety, fear, anger and affection and then how an owner reacts to her dog’s anxiety, fear, anger and affection and so on and so on…

London, former hater of ironing-boards

The Dog Whisperer arrives on the scene and explains how the energy thrown off by the owner affects the dog.  Then he starts throwing off calm and assertive energy and the frickin’ dog behaves! It’s like the dog is some kind of psychic sponge and soaks up his calm and assertive energy. Be mindful of the energy you are throwing around, The Dog Whisperer says.

I was skeptical until I tried it on my dogs. It worked instantly. As soon as I threw out some calm assertive energy the bulldog stopped attacking the ironing board – which is kind of unfortunate because I hate ironing and I used the bulldog’s demonic behavior as an excuse not to iron.

Then I tried the calm and assertive thing when I come home from work. That’s when my dogs do their happy-happy-joy-joy break-dance. One night, instead of bursting in like a high-school cheerleader, I walked in the door without a word. No touch. No talk. No eye contact.  Calm and assertive.The dogs politely wagged and followed me into the kitchen, where I calmly poured myself an iced-tea and asked them how their day was.

Now I am practicing the calm and assertive thing on people. I inventory my energy and adjust it if necessary. Last week I had a big loud guy tell me how he used to be afraid of me. I was shocked, because I falsely see myself as such a sweet pea. But he was right. I’m sure I did scare the sh#t out of a lot people.

I think this is what psychologists call “cognitive behavioral therapy” and it probably costs a lot to learn on their couches. It’s a lot easier – and cheaper – to do in my living room with The Dog Whisperer, my pooches and the remote control.

Unfortunately, right now I have to go. I need to iron a shirt and get to work. Thanks, Dog Whisperer.



The Dog Whisperer 101: Bipolar yet calm and assertive

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2013). The Dog Whisperer 101: Bipolar yet calm and assertive. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jun 2013
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