More about those sheepdogs: what do they think of the sheep?
In my recent "sheep to sheepdog" post, the following question was posed here in the comments section:
Richard, I hope NNC really thinks about your question: what do the sheepdogs think about the sheep? Because they prolly have some superior / contempt feelings. Sometimes quite a bit like the wolves, actually, though the wolves are more open and honest. (And many sheepdogs are NOT contemptuous at all, more supportive).
If you've read my post (or Bill Whittle's essay to which it refers), you'll know that "sheep," "sheepdogs," and "wolves" were meant to be metaphorical. The word "sheep" refers to those regular folk who don't have much capacity or aptitude for violence, and the word "sheepdogs" refers to those people who have a capacity for violence but choose to use it to protect "sheep" against the "wolves," those who prey on the otherwise innocent and defenseless. "Sheepdogs," then, are typically members of the military or the police, for example.
I don't really know the answer to the question "what do the sheepdogs think of the sheep?", but I can certainly speculate. My guess is that the attitude of such "sheepdogs" to "sheep" is a combination of responsibility, love, and a frustration which sometimes borders on anger--depending on the particular sheep and the particular sheepdog in question.
Strangely enough, I happen to know a bit about sheepdogs. Actual sheepdogs. Not from personal experience, but from some research I once had to do for an editing project. And although I think the Whittle-Grossman metaphor of sheep/sheepdog/wolf is an excellent way to express some thoughts about the distinctions between these three types of people, it turns out that "sheepdog" is really too general a term to apply. Whittle and Grossman aren't really talking about sheepdogs as we commonly think of them; they are talking about guard dogs for sheep.
This may all seem quite irrelevant, but please bear with me. There are actually two types of sheepdogs: herding dogs and livestock guard dogs. The former are the ones we think of when we ordinarily speak of sheepdogs--the Border Collies and the Corgis and Old English Sheepdogs and the like. They don't actually fight off predators, they guide the sheep to where the owner wants the sheep to go. The livestock guard dogs are something else entirely. They are mostly larger dogs such as the Great Pyrenees and Komondor, for example, and they are the ones that will protect the flock against predators.
The interesting thing is that these two groups of dogs are raised very differently from each other, and they exhibit different attitudes towards the sheep they guide or guard. Here is an excellent article that explains the difference, which is that herding dogs make use of prey behaviors towards the sheep, whereas guard dogs make use of protective behaviors towards the sheep and prey behaviors towards animals that threaten the herd.
So this is the key to what's going on with herding dogs--they see the sheep as prey and begin to stalk them, but stop short of killing them:
[B]asic canine predatory behaviors [consist of] seven steps: orient, eye, stalk, chase, grab-bite, kill-bite, dissect...Orientation on the prey animal starts the sequence. The dog focuses on the prey with an intent stare honed to perfection in the Border Collie, then stalks the prey with a slinking motion to get into position for the chase or pounce...Herding dogs orient, focus, stalk, and chase livestock, but with few exceptions, the behavior chain is broken before the grab-bite.
In similar fashion, hunting dogs go part of the way in this behavior sequence and then stop. With hunting dogs, we are aware that they consider their quarry prey; with herding sheepdogs, that attitude is more veiled. But it is still present; it's an interrupted predator behavior.
Livestock guard dogs do not exhibit any of these behaviors--towards the sheep, that is. They direct them only towards animals that threaten the herd. How is this done? The trick to raising a guard dog is to convince him that he is a sheep (or rather, perhaps, that sheep are dogs). This is done by raising the guard dog from early puppyhood to live with sheep, until he is completely bonded with them and considers them part of a pack of which he is the alpha dog:
Flock guardians exhibit none of these behaviors towards sheep because farmers place their puppies with the sheep before stalk and chase behavior are triggered, so the dog becomes accustomed to the sheep and never learns that they might be fun to chase and even kill.
And, from another article on the subject:
...[the guard dog has a] unique ability to bond to the livestock, accepting the flock as its "pack." Because of this bond, the guard dog spends the day moving with the sheep as they graze, ever vigilant for hungry predators. At night the guard dog is found with the flock in the "bed" ground – usually a small, protected natural pasture central to the area the flock will graze for the next 7 to 10 days...
It is important to realize that "posturing" – confrontation and warning off the intruder – rather than outright attack is an important part of a flockguardian’s behavior. The ultimate goal is to protect the flock, not necessarily kill predators.
How does this all relate to people? Perhaps not at all. Perhaps it's just a metaphor that I'm trying to extend way too far.
But perhaps not. Perhaps somewhere in all of this lies an answer to the question that sparked this post. And that answer would be: it depends. It depends on whether the sheepdog is a true guard dog--that is, how much love the protector has towards the people he/she protects, and how closely bonded to them he/she is.
If dogs can bond so closely with sheep, a very different species, it stands to reason that most people who are protectors are very bonded with their human protectees--their "sheep," as it were. And this can carry them through a lot of the inevitable frustration that comes with the task of protecting those who might not be all that cooperative or appreciative, or who even might be getting in the way of the protectors and making their task more difficult.
That would be true of protectors who are the guard dog type. But are some protectors more like the herding dogs, in which there is still some predator instinct towards the sheep, and the bonding with them is less? Do these "herder" types turn out to be those members of the police and military who would be more inclined to crack under the strain of serving, to commit abuses of power, or to become bitter at those who don't appreciate them?
I don't know. As I've said, perhaps I've already stretched the metaphor to the breaking point. But I suspect that it is love and bonding that drives the true protector, and that the true "sheepdog" actually operates more like the livestock guarding dog than the herding dog.
I welcome any comments, especially from sheepdogs themselves.