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HomeHomeDiscussionsDiscussionsGeneralGeneralThe Sheepdog ConceptThe Sheepdog Concept
New Post
10/24/2016 6:33 PM

Hey all - 

I did a quick search to see if this had ever been talked about and didn't find anything, so I thought I'd start a discussion, especially since I suspect I may be a bit out of sync with y'all on this topic. 

A very popular metaphor among several circles of friends I run in is that there are sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. To the best of my knowledge, this was started by Lt. Col. Grossman, in his book "On Combat," where he relayed something said to him by a vet, which I'll summarize for those who haven't read the book or who aren't familiar with the sheepdog concept:

Most people - I believe he specified in our (American) society - are sheep. They are good people, kind and gentle, prefer to be productive citizens, and who won't hurt another person except by accident. Sheep - most people - are incapable of violence. Then there are wolves, who are evil and eat the sheep; these - few - people are the ones able to commit crimes, violence, and "evil." And finally, there are sheepdogs - they alone are aware of the wolves (or willing to admit such people exist), and they live to protect the sheep. They are capable of committing violence, but only in defense of the sheep. 

I have profound differences in philosophy with Lt. Col. Grossman, as he seems to think very positively of most people and their reticence to commit violence or to kill. He repeatedly states that violence is "remarkably" rare, and that most people are incapable of committing violence. In my experience, violence is incredibly common, and the exception are those people that truly are kind and gentle and unwilling to hurt someone else at some point for something, justifiably or not. I think most people are completely OK with violence, as their entire world and social order depends on it - many, if not most, people obey laws and follows rules because they are afraid of the violence that will fall on them, most noticeably from the government. 

In addition to my philosophical differences with Grossman, I dislike this metaphor for two major reasons.

1. "Us" and "Them." The metaphor creates this idea of two separate groups in society. There are the myopic sheep, who are unable to defend themselves and blind to the problem; and then there are the sheepdogs, the "enlightened" who are capable of violence and are aware of the threat. Very often, the people I've encountered that cling to this metaphor use it to to encourage their sense of superiority, to say that they are better than those "sheep" who are unaware and incapable. They develop an elitist attitude towards "normal" people. In our society, especially today, the last thing we need is any more divisive ideology. Espousing an idea that promotes the idea that police and military are better than the average member of society is very dangerous. I am very proud of having been in the Army, and proud that I enlisted and served during a time of war, but this in no way makes me "better" than my friends who did not (although sometimes it is easy and feels good to think so). 

Tribalism is an increasingly popular topic and goal among certain groups of people, and sometimes understandably so. But encouraging a tribal attitude or identity among law enforcement or military doesn't seem smart, and someone capable of violence and pursuing a tribal identity would be more identified with the wolf than the sheepdog in this metaphor. 

2. The metaphor itself. I think words and ideas are incredibly important, and taking things out of context really... Bugs me. Sheep are for the most part quite kind and gentle, especially compared to wolves. But anyone who has spent much time around sheep will soon realize that they can be mean and spiteful creatures. Now, I vastly prefer goats to sheep, so maybe I'm being unfair, but they are still social animals. Sheep and cattle might be domesticated and can be docile, but only someone truly naive would think that they are harmless (cattle can be incredibly mean, and they have personalities, and some are entirely too mean). Sheep have an incredible social structure and very rigid dominance hierarchy, which is established by ... Violence. They fight, they argue, they compete, etc etc. Rams can be incredibly violent. (What's hilarious is watching a ram and a buck [goat] battle for supremacy.) Normally sheep don't kill each other, so I guess there's that.  Anyways, the point is -  sheep aren't these kind, gentle, docile creatures who would never hurt another sheep. So maybe people actually are like sheep... They're hierarchical, competitive, argumentative, they fight, and ... they're stupid. 

However, the major part of the metaphor I dislike is the sheepdog. In Grossman's metaphor, the sheepdog is the protector of the flock. In reality, sheepdogs don't protect flocks, or at least very few do. There is a very specific type of sheep dog (well, this applies to more than just sheep), the livestock guardian dog; these live with and protect the flock (and often think of themselves as a member of the flock), but this is not the majority of sheepdogs. The majority of sheepdogs are sheep herding dogs - they take orders from The Man (the shepherd) to control the flock and make it do whatever he (or she) wants. (I can see how police see themselves as a sheepdog, herding people and making them do whatever The Man (the government) says, but I think that this too is a dangerous part of this ideology, where police become above and apart from the law and society.) Anyways - all this runs completely counter to what many so-called sheepdogs that I've met actually think (the ones I know aren't exactly pro Big Government). Granted, the ones I know and have encountered are mostly veterans or good old boys, and very few are police.

I'm not really going to argue about there being predatory people in our society. I like wolves though... I would suggest that it doesn't take much to make someone into a criminal, so separating them into sheep and wolves might be a little ... extreme. While I don't think there is that much difference between sheep and wolves (people, not the actual animals), that ties into how Grossman and I view the world differently. 

Am I being pedantic and focusing too much on semantics? Possibly. I like to be exact, and a metaphor that only makes sense when you completely misunderstand the way something works is a really crappy metaphor. I have much more experience with goats, cows, and chickens then I do sheep, so perhaps my experience with sheep and sheep behavior is not normal. 

So to summarize:

1. Grossman and I hold very different views about what most people are capable of. I suspect my violent tendencies color my perspective of humanity, but my experience with people does not suggest that Grossman's characterization of people is accurate. 

2. It is a crappy metaphor created by someone who's experience of sheep must have been limited to those 90s movies Babe and Gordy

I look forward to any thoughts, comments, or criticisms you might have. Hopefully it generates an interesting discussion!

- J

New Post
10/24/2016 7:08 PM
I think you are overthinking it and trying to be too accurate...or nit picky. Semantics.

Yes, because you are a man of violence, you tend to see it everywhere. I know I do. I trust very few people I meet. Especially when it involves my kids. You could say, it's partly our make up, our training combined with what we have seen.

"Sheep", the vast majority of the public do not...they are reactors, not actors.

Where I agree with you wholeheartedly is the 'superior' attitude that comes with that - if you aren't careful. It's partly why I purposely work to keep friends outside the realm of my work life. I want to stay grounded and in touch otherwise I would withdraw and eventually become very bitter. Screw that. There is too much good in life and in living to go that way through it. Too much I want to enjoy. And I want my kids to enjoy life as well.

"Sheepdog" is just Grossman's way of projecting a certain image. Nothing wrong with that. It paints a picture. That's all. We are a small group. And truthfully, it's probably better that way.

Edited to add: I think there are a lot of "sheepdogs" on this forum. Partly why I like it. But they are sheepdogs with the right attitude - not the chest beating bullshit that make up so many of the other forums out there.
New Post
10/25/2016 2:54 AM

I keep it basic and down to two groups: Those that run toward the sound of gunfire, ready to deal with it, and those that run away or cower in fear, hoping it will just go away.

Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
New Post
10/25/2016 6:30 AM
That might be one of the most thoughtful instances of trolling that I've seen on these boards.

I'm using trolling not in the derogatory sense but the "I can't think of a better word to use" sense. I don't think it was a bad post or anything like that.
New Post
10/25/2016 7:02 AM
Walt Rauch (RIP) described the three classes of people a little differently than Grossman:

1. Sheep
2. Wolves
3. Prickly People

The Prickly People are neither Sheep nor Wolves. The don't seek violent encounters, nor do they view themselves as guardians of the Sheep. Rather, they stand ready to protect themselves and their own.

I forget if this was something he wrote about or we discussed. I was fortunate to know Walt from the mid-90s until he passed earlier this year.

Dave Markowitz
New Post
10/25/2016 8:41 AM
GoKartz wrote:

Am I being pedantic and focusing too much on semantics? Possibly. I like to be exact, and a metaphor that only makes sense when you completely misunderstand the way something works is a really crappy metaphor. I have much more experience with goats

- J

 Yes, and I don't think you have ANY experience around goats.  A metaphor, by definition CANNOT be exact, or it wouldn't be a metaphor.  A good one has descriptive power, and Grossman's sheepdog concept is sound, IMO.  As for the mass of humanity being referred to as "sheep", have you never read the Bible?  Some things simply are because they have been that way for millennia.

New Post
10/25/2016 9:07 AM
My issue is not so much with the concept, but rather the folks who espouse it. I have some reservations saying that the vast majority are sheep, although history seems to indicate that folks by and large just want to be left alone to live and grow, and will make lots of compromises to achieve that. I know lots of folks who at first blush seem to be sheep, but when pushed right they are anything but. My theory is that lots of folks just aren't aware enough of the world around them or themselves to be able to take notice and react. I know some would say that makes them sheep, but I am not sure about that as there are plenty of examples of predators just going about their life oblivious to that which does not directly impact them at that moment. For instance a lion drinking at the same waterhole as his prey, but at that point his belly is full so the prey doesn't matter.

As far as "sheep dogs" I detest the term with a deep and abiding hate. The ones who go around barking that they are sheep dogs usually sound more like bleating sheep. They have the hats, shirts, tattoos (yup actually saw someone with a sheep dog tattoo), stickers, etc... at matches, classes, or wherever are the ones who put away their gun at the end and go about their day. In some cases literally, how can you be a concealed carry instructor and not carry? I kind of understand a cold class, but have no understanding of someone not gunning up as they leave the building or range especially if they just taught a class on that very subject.

The guys and heck dogs that I know that many would call sheep dogs are for the most part polite, quiet, and just do their thing. They aren't crowing about being bill badasses and everything they are going to do. They just handle business as it comes. The elitism that you refer to is part of what I am talking about, but also my perception that the folks yelling the loudest are the least likely to be there when the going gets tough.

"Why is he yelling so loud? He is scared of you." That seems to sum it up for me for the most part.

Is the metaphor a way to discuss how folks are going to react, perhaps, and it might even be accurate, but in a lot of ways I find it too simplistic. The movie Defiance does a better job, I think of showing how different folks react to different things and how and why motivations can and do change than just putting folks into three simple categories. The person of today may not be the person of tomorrow and vice versa.

Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
New Post
10/25/2016 10:09 AM

I'd say that's a pretty fair assessment, Scot.  On a vetted SF site I'm involved with, there are often guys that have been found on social media (and sometimes have made a foolhardy attempt to gain access to the vetted sites) that are crowing loud all about their exploits as warriors and "sheep dogs".  Of course, many of them have a whole bunch of photos of themselves wearing awards they never earned, Green Berets, Ranger tabs, Special Forces tabs, etc.  Those that actually walked that path figure them out awfully quick.  There is a group that has made it their mission to seek out these numbskulls and get them to change their ways, or actually get them busted for real when they are using their false status for monetary gain.  Almost always there will be some type of post they made that they are the protector or sheep dog to their sheep.  Yeah...right.  

Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
New Post
10/25/2016 10:26 AM
alpendrms wrote:

I keep it basic and down to two groups: Those that run toward the sound of gunfire, ready to deal with it, and those that run away or cower in fear, hoping it will just go away.

Kinda like my concept of "actors and reactors"...
New Post
10/25/2016 10:40 AM
scothill wrote:
... how can you be a concealed carry instructor and not carry?

I have no idea.
New Post
10/25/2016 12:07 PM
This all seems to be about public perception. If you live your life in a decent manner and are content with how you conduct yourself, labels public or otherwise are meaningless. I care not what labels are out there that might or might not be affixed to me. I do what is necessary within my abilities when called upon, label that what you will.
New Post
10/25/2016 12:34 PM
snakey3 wrote:
 If you live your life in a decent manner and are content with how you conduct yourself, labels public or otherwise are meaningless. I care not what labels are out there that might or might not be affixed to me. I do what is necessary within my abilities when called upon, label that what you will.

If every able-bodied American did that same thing, this Nation would be in a much better condition.

Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
New Post
10/28/2016 7:01 AM
I think it is important that we differentiate between the “will” or desire (affective) to step into the fray and the ability or skill (psychomotor) to accomplish the goal once you get there. There are separate and not correlated.

There are plenty of people that would no doubt be willing to defend themselves or others but are delusional as hell about their ability or capacity to actually get the job done once things light off. This could be due to lack of gun/knife handling skills, field/street marksmanship, or physical ability and conditioning. They have the will but not the ability.

There are also more than a few very competent shooters and martial artist who clearly have the skill and ability to solve a violent encounter but just do not have the grit, meanness, tenacity, and contempt for the predator when it really comes down to the nut cutting. They may have the ability but lack being hard-hearted and dangerous.

This is just my take and I am sure I will catch some flak for it, but oh well. I think history has proven that cultures and people who consistently hunt and kill game for sustenance tend to make more cool headed killers when it comes to combat whether it is individual or group. I would also contend that those to who have proven themselves in legitimate combatives competition and consistently pressure test their skills will also tend to do better when the hard words are exchanged for busted knuckles.

Will and ability are like two tires on a bike. If EITHER of them is flat you aint’ going anywhere. It is truly rare to find someone with an abundance of both...

Talk is cheap...lets compare fur checks.
New Post
10/28/2016 7:49 AM

I always thought the "sheep dog" types wanted the respect cops and service members deserve with out the the resposibily, accountability, commitment, and paperwork actually involved. Hoping to have a chance to "do the right thing" is is an admirable goal, but if to much time is spent in Walter Mitty land you tend to drive right by the little old lady trying to cross the road. That said I'm going back under my rock....
New Post
10/30/2016 5:31 PM
Just remember what sheepdogs actually do.

While Sheepdogs do work to keep the sheep safe, they ALSO ultimately are working for the Shepard to keep the sheep herded and under his that they can be led to the slaughter in the end.

Just pointing that out.
New Post
10/30/2016 5:57 PM
Taking Evo8dude's point even further...

In the real world, I think most non-rancher types would be amazed at how often a "good sheepdog" is the culprit in predating on it's own flock. Or how often they go "walkabout" and prey on the flock the next valley over. Once you factor in the larger more "guard dog" type hearing breeds it happens at an alarming rate.

The similarities may be something to think about.

Talk is cheap...lets compare fur checks.
New Post
10/30/2016 6:41 PM
I prefer to consider myself a 'wolfdog' or 'wolfhound'
New Post
7/18/2017 6:01 AM
So this guy that I've known fairly well since high school, not a friend but close acquaintance, decides one day that he's a "fighter" and signs up for an amateur MMA fight. Everyone is trying to tell this guy, a misguided wannabe beefcake, to lose weight prior to the fight and fight in a lower weight class. He apparently thinks that's for pansy's and decides to bulk and to fight the big guys. I thought he should be in the 170 class but he weighed in larger than 205, his opponent was 230. I tried to help direct him in some training but he thought weights would be enough.
The fight goes pretty much how you'd expect, he gassed in the first 2 min. The other guy, who luckily wasn't very good, gets a takedown and my guy does all the wrong things. Rolls the wrong way, can't escape, gives his back, and then gets saved by the bell. 30 seconds into round 2 my guy gets taken down again, takes a couple mediocre shots and taps out.
After the fight he comes out to where his gf and me are sitting sits down and proclaims "he's a lover, not a fighter" at least he made my 2 hr trip to watch worth the laugh.

"Perception is not reality unless it's shared reality" (Pete Blaber.) I'm quoting this a little out of context, but most people don't know what they don't know, and most people are not fighters, sheep. "when someone punches you in the snot locker, perception becomes reality." (Pat Rogers.) The boastful ones are either neive, inexperienced, or have a complex.

All in all, I like the metaphor. I've used it but don't live by it. I've had a lot of regrets in life and always figured being a victim or a bystander that did nothing was not a regret I wanted to live with. Never had a duty to protect, though.
New Post
7/9/2019 3:47 PM
Old thread but good. OP nailed my thoughts of Grossman and his pseudopsychology. Same with the idea of "alpha and beta" people; the study that produced that nomenclature for wolves was retracted because in actual wolfpacks not in captivity the pack lives as a supportive community.

Scot also nailed the "Sheepdog" mentality. Right up there with the Molon Labe's and whatnot. Protecting and caring for people is both a privilege and a responsibility. I see a lot of enlisted and police officers who bristle at the idea of accountability for their actions, and that should worry everyone. If you want to protect people, you should think about how to protect everyone. Other people are not sheep and wolves, and you are not a sheepdog. To me, the most dangerous part of this kind of thinking is that it tries to divide people into inherent categories rather than understanding that people are fluid. In times of need people can act poorly or they can help each other, and who's who can surprise you.

Lastly, I think it's an inherently authoritarian philosophy. It appeals most to people who want to be in charge of other people, and I daresay appeals to people who also want a strong, charismatic leader to follow. You're sorely mistaken, I think, if you don't think that the sheepdog mentality would appeal to the volunteers who served Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam's regimes. The danger of trying to categorize people as "good" of "evil" or "actors" and "reactors" is that it forgets that most villains do not think they're the villain. The guys who go shoot up buildings here in the US think of themselves as heroes for a cause, or against a cause. Everyone likes to believe they're a protagonist, and to a certain kind of person power is appealing and unchecked that power will corrupt.

Instead of warriors or sheepdogs or Spartans or rebels or revolutionaries, perhaps the better model is watchmen. We should be watchful. We should be watchful that we don't let other people abuse their power, no matter their political or religious affiliation. We should be watchful that we're not letting the temptation of power seduce us. We should be watchful that we're not letting fear rule our lives. We should be watchful that we're not ourselves becoming a threat to others.

FWIW I always likes the cowboy movies where it wasn't as cut and dry as good guys and bad guys more than the grand tales of good triumphing over evil. They tend to ring more true that way.
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