Thursday, September 08, 2005

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.


At 2:39 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Holmes said...

Unrelated to this post, I wanted to let you know I point all of my liberal friends to your site. You are the most even-handed neocon- one who doesn't fall prey to the acerbic rhetoric some conservatives use.

At 3:33 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A longer post disappeared, probably because I did a couple of things between filling in the weird word and posting it.

Just as well. Nothing lost.

Figure this, though:

If I, as a guard dog by default (something happens, something needs to be done, I look around, and...oh, crap)take on a risk because somebody played stupid or self-indulgent, how would I be expected to feel?

If I were a regularbyGod, one of The Old Breed, and I saw my civilian masters playing their stupid games and the pacifists preening, and knew the result would be war, and that I'd be expected to sell my life hard to make time for my society to get its act together, I'd be likely to be REALLY PISSED.

If there's any love, it's probably pretty distant.

At 3:51 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a long-time ownee of Border Collies, I can tell you with certainty that mine are too busy working on that cure for cancer to worry about this "sheep" thing...

At 4:37 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

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 think firemen would also fit the sheepdog type - they are protectors, and they are willing to take considerable risks in their jobs. From what I've seen from the firemen or veterans I've known, I think you're right.

It seems that the main difference between the human "sheep" , the "sheepdogs" and "wolves" is the reasoning behind their willingness to follow the rules in a society.

Sheep follow the rules because they know that they'll be punished for breaking them. They're afraid of pain and they're afraid of punishment, so they obey.

The Sheepdogs have affection and empathy for the sheep - that, more than fear of punishment, is why they do their jobs and follow the rules. A fireman or a soldier's biggest fear isn't dying - their biggest fear is of screwing up and letting people down.

Wolves, like the sheep, see only one reason to follow the rules - fear of punishment. Since they're able to overcome that fear, wolves do as they please. Which is one reason why sheep often admire the wolves more than the sheepdogs. They understand them. They don't get the sheepdogs at all.

At 5:33 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Kalroy said...

A very astute observation neo, I'd say that if you didn't hit it on the head you're darn close.

ex-USAF, current USAF CIV

At 5:35 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mostly liked the Whittle essay. Don’t like calling people sheep. I was raised on a farm, met sheep, broccoli are smarter. Whittle noted that people select their own tribes, or species to keep consistent with this thread. People can and mostly do switch roles/species fairly easily. (Sheep got to be sheep; we have free will.)

I think that ones’ attitude toward the protectors, the protected, and the predators is going to depend mostly on ones’ psychological health. Some of the protected may fear their own aggressiveness so much that they hate the protector. Protectors may likewise turn their fear of the passive or softer side into contempt for the protected.

At 5:55 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Why would the protector fear the softer side?

Theoretically, the softer side would be what motivates the protector. Not necessarily. Could be the desire to live up to his/her self-image.

But, anyway, why would the protector fear it?

At 5:59 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Joe Schmoe said...

Richard nails it.

To me, the biggest source of the frustration is the ideal that when danger threatens, ALL sheep are supposed to BECOME sheepdogs.

In the naive haze of the pre 9/11 days, I actually believed that most Americans would live up to this ideal. If we were attacked by a savage enemy, Americans would want to fight back. We'd be united. Determined.

Extreme leftism, pacificism, and misguided idealism would melt away in the cold light of reality. It's fashionable to be anti-American, but hey, it's just that -- fashion. Once the Hate America First crowd is faced with real evil, like Al Quaeda or Sadaam, they'll drop all of that Chomskyite rhetoric and pick up a rife. Or so I thought. Ditto for the pacifists, the internationalists, etc. That stuff is all well and good when we are at peace, but when the head-choppers come, all Americans will naturally put it aside in order to defeat an evil foe.

Obviously, this didn't happen. It shocked me. Really shocked me. If I were a professional soldier, I'd feel betrayed as well as hurt. I'd think "hey, maybe the civllians don't want to join up -- military life isn't for everyone -- but they are supposed to join up in times of need, or at least support and be grateful for our efforts."

Last month we drove down to San Diego, past Camp Pendleton. We saw the Marines practicing manuvers while driving down I-5. It was really sobering to realize that they weren't just practicing manuvers -- they were training for war. Also, I personally felt consumed with guilt. I should be in uniform too. I have two kids, a 2 year old and an 8 month old, and I have a responsiblity to them, but damn it, another part of me thinks that we are at war and I should be in uniform. A couple of months ago I went to see the National Guard recruiter. He missed my appointment -- didn't show up -- but my God, it felt so good to be at the armory. It was one of the best feelings of my life. I didn't push the issue becuase I still feel conflicted b/c of my kids. But I want to join.

The thing is, I work with a bunch of sheep. Not one of them has felt a single one of the emotions I just described. They see the soldiers on TV, but they don't feel guilty. It has never even occurred to them that it is their duty to join the military, or at least do something, in time of war. This makes me -- another civillian -- feel alienated from them. Imagine how it makes military people feel.

Military people are well aware that the sheep don't aspire to become sheepdogs.

Sadly, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they hate the sheep for this. The sheep have failed --morally. They are expected to grab a rifle and fight, but they chickened out.

But it gets worse. Some of them didn't just chicken out -- they are actually working against the military.

This has got to turn disgust into white-hot rage.

Military people are pretty reserved, and they are all committed to the ideas of democracy and civillain control, so they don't often express what they think about civillians. But they probably hate many of them, especially leftists. Not disagree. I mean, really hate them. They sheep have failed to live up to their obligations.

At 7:00 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thing is, the sheep are productive. Protect them, and they provide you with wool to keep you warm at night, and food for the sheepdogs (at significant personal sacrifice). The whole reason we farm animals is so they grow up happy, healthy, and far more productive than they would ever be in the wild.

The "sheep" Bill Whittle talks about are the same way (well, without the "dying to feed you" thing). They produce the food the "sheepdogs" eat, the fabric they wear, even the weapons and machines they use to defensd themselves and the "sheep."

I've long resigned myself to being one of Whittle's "sheep." But just because I don't grab a rifle and charge out (only to get in the way of the sheepdogs and get myself killed at the most inconvenient time), doesn't mean I'm not contributing to the sheepdogs' effort.

At 7:18 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Alex said...

How do guard sheepdogs and herding sheepdogs interact with each other? I could imagine conflict. Are they ever used together?

At 8:00 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

Bill didn't mention one protective "sheepdog" group - parents.

People who wouldn't turn to violence to protect their community will go to extremes to protect their kids. Terrorists deliberately target families and children, which may explain why so many women became "security moms" after 9/11.

And there are the parents' perpetual herding responsibilities...

At 8:09 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex. Are you speaking of canines, or the metaphor?

Cops, soldiers, and firefighters are first-rate examples of guard dogs, but they aren't the only ones.

The guys on Flight 93 weren't pros, but they were up to the job when it presented itself.
They were forthright, courageous, and had spent a certain amount of time getting physically ready. One had been a college judo champion, another a rugby player.

Here's a suggestion: Think about things that might happen as you go through the day. Think your way through dealing with them. Two examples. Some years ago at the Wisconsin Dells, I tuned out the geology lecture and wondered what to do if a kid fell off the bridge. You couldn't count on him to hold himself in a loop of a rope. Most common knots would tighten up and strangle him, unless he slipped out. So I made a note to relearn the bowline, which is supposed to prevent those things. When I drive, I keep track of where I am by watching mile markers, road signs, exit numbers, and mutter the call I would make to 911 if I saw something. Keeps me awake, gives me something to do, and it might pay off if the accident I spot is 'way out in the country.
Learn first aid. Learn some unarmed combat. Pack something legal and useful/dangerous.
Work on being a what's-wrong-with-this-picture guy. What's wrong with this picture might be important.
Sooner or later, you'll be the guy on the spot, and you either will or will not "get stuck in" as the Brits say.
Among other things, being prepared to get stuck in--to whatever it is--will help you feel as if you are contributing. Even before The Day.

I haven't been a pro in about thirty-five years, but I've had the opportunity to get stuck in a couple of times since and being prepared has paid off.

At 9:17 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Alex said...

Actually I was talking about the dogs, not the metaphor.

At 9:40 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as long as you're talking about dogs, check out the Anatolian Shepherd.

Supposed to be able to take a cougar, a pair can chase off a grizzly. They are protective withot being aggressive, but will fight like hell. They, curiously, are said to prefer to be formally introduced. I don't know what that means, exactly, but if they want me to give my card to the butler, I am not about to argue.

As we are moving into the country, losing small farms to stand between the wilderness and the far 'burbs, and as our protection of predators causes them to lose their fear of humans, we're going to need the genuine guard dog--canine type--more and more.

You can always get a bruiser, breeding a mastiff and a pit bull or something, but you can't bank on the attitude. With Anatolians, you can.

At 9:40 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's obvious that there are plenty of sheep. They just want nice green grass and don't want to think about the rest. They don't want to stockpile even three days of water, or three days of food, or even a roll of duct tape. It's just too upsetting. They refuse to see the risk in the world.

Do you remember how many people objected after 9/11 when those in charge asked people to be on the alert and keep an eye out for anything unusual? "What do you mean? What can we possibly do? You're just fearmongering!" That kind of reaction. If someone couldn't tell them exactly what to look out for, then they just didn't want to hear it. Being on the lookout for something "unusual" was just too much for their brain to handle. They obviously weren't sheepdogs.

I've never been in the military or on a police force but I certainly recognize the debt I owe to those who are. And I know I can do my part to be alert and look for anything unusual. I haven't been severely tested yet but my trial runs in smaller incidents have led me to believe that I'll do all right if the time comes. As much as anything it has to do with attitude, and deciding ahead of time that you will be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

At 9:47 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

Richard Aubrey,

Is situational awareness a sheepdog/guarddog trait or a survival trait? I went through basic training thir- a long time ago and I don't recall specific situational awareness training but I never sit down in a movie theater, restaurant, church or any other assembly area without checking both the closest exit and the second closest exit. When pedestrian crowds get thick enough, I move my wallet to a front pocket. If a crowd is so thick that I can't see through to the edge I either move to the edge or leave. I don't consciously think about those things so they must be engrained but I can't figure out how they became engrained.

At 2:49 AM, September 09, 2005, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

I would point out that amongst cops, it is well known that many of them divide the people into three classes:

1) Other cops
2) Criminals
3) Civilians

... and civilians only rank slightly above criminals... so this may answer some aspects of your question.

I am curious about the difference between paramilitary and military mindsets in this regard. I don't believe the above holds true for the professional military.

I suspect a reason for that correllation has to do with the match cops and criminals make on the Kolbrook (sp?) scale, which matches up the attitude towards "the rules". Cops and criminals have almost the same score -- one group just chooses to enforce the law (i.e., guard the sheep) the other to break it (i.e., prey on the sheep)...

I suspect that the military probably has the protector dog attitude rather than the herd dog attitude, if the analogy is worth anything at this point.

At 6:40 AM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick. It's a survival trait. But, as natural variation tells us, some have more and some have less--of any trait.

Things are the way they are for a reason. That reason is generally benign, since we've learned or evolved to live with it. Leaves are green in the summer. A tree whose leaves are not green in July, while its neighbors' are, is an anomaly and those are always worth thinking about. For a forester, the worry might be emerald bark beetle, a big deal in our area just now. For a grunt, it might mean old camouflage. As a friend of mine used to say about one thing or another, it's got to mean something 'cause it can't mean nothing, which is the point.

My wife teaches Spanish and I've helped chaperone trips. Once, looking at Gaudi's Holy Family Cathedral, I noticed that, set back from the sidewalk, were a couple of tables of cheap touristy things. A man, about thirty, came walking briskly down the sidewalk. He was in a track suit, Nikes, empty hands and no fanny pack. He moved in among our kids to stare at the tables of stuff instead of the cathedral behind him. I figured he was a local, not bothering with the cathedral others come from other continents to see, but then why was he bothering to look at trinkets. My guess was that he was up to no good, planning on grabbing a purse, well fixed for running. So I stood next to him, fascinated by the trinkets, until he left.
Something was wrong with the picture.

I'm sure you know people who have to be told twice they're about to get run over by the marching band. That's one end of the scale. It's probably a good idea to work at moving toward the other end. You never know, and it gives you something to think about to pass the time. May even delay the onset of Alzheimers. What's not to like?

At 6:43 AM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick. Cops work primarily with civilians who are feckless, helpless, self-destructive, stupid, or evil. There are victims, to be sure, but the cops think that they, in the same situation, wouldn't have been victims. THey may sympathize with the battered wife, but they, on the other hand, think having stayed with the bastard is stupid.
The civilians the cops see are generally a bad advertisement for civilians.

At 6:29 PM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Unknown said...

I see we're thinking along similar lines.

At 12:30 PM, September 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The ultimate goal is to protect the flock, not necessarily kill predators."

That points at another conflict that's been popping up since 9/11. A lot of "sheepdogs" want to stick with the "whack-a-mole" process of just playing defense against terrorists (Richard Clarke is a good example). Meanwhile the national strategy is to go to the source of the predators to eliminate them permanently as a threat.

At 1:28 PM, September 13, 2005, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

A great topic! Thanks for writing about it. And I've found a lot to agree with (and disagree with) in the comments.

Richard Aubrey makes a strong point, in re looking for incongruities. He reminded me of a time, not long after my honorable discharge from the Israeli Army, when my mother and I happened to be running errands. We parked the car at the bank, and were about to go inside when I saw something. I cautioned my mother to stay in the car, and I went out and observed inconspicuously from a short distance. When I was sure that there was no danger, I waved my mother inside.

(I had seen a man in his late twenties, pacing nervously outside the bank. He was well overdressed for the hot weather in an overcoat; he was sweating, and visibly nervous about something. By the looks of him, he was an Arab. I stood down from alert when I saw his wife and baby girl join him; they then left the vicinity, and so did I.)

The interesting part was that I didn't think any of this through at first. I saw something, a voice in my head screamed DANGER!!, and I took a moment to decide what to do, i.e. to keep my mother out of range, but to go on the scene myself and continue observing. Later, thinking through it, I understood why I'd seen him as a potential threat. But at the time, I just saw and acted.

Oh, and for the record, I'd been a military policeman, so I guess I'd qualify as a "sheepdog". But I didn't then, and I don't now, think of civilians with contempt.

You might want to be careful with the assumption that sheepdogs "of course" have contempt for their sheep. It wasn't true in my case, nor was it true for most of the people I served with.

Daniel in Brookline

At 2:05 AM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel. Exactly what I was talking about.
But, as for contempt, what about the Israeli lefties who made your job so much harder?

At 10:32 PM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should have thought of this earlier.

Some years ago, I went to a fraternity reunion of the classes of, roughly, 63-70. I was surprised at the number of guys who'd turned out to be productive citizens, were married to the girls they'd been going with in college, and had served.
One guy, who'd been a tanker navigator (finessed his assignment with another brother as pilot) flying in Southeast Asia observed that "at a party it takes about fourteen seconds to tell who's a vet" and who isn't (who will be ignored).

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