On: On Sheep Dogs and Wolves

Approximate Reading Time: 7 minutes
Working Sheepdogs

Working Sheepdogs

I don’t usually do this, but this is a response to another blog, found here.  The piece I am commenting on is part of a larger post about what Canadian troops are doing in Afghanistan. It is in support of our Canadian Military and repeats a sheep and sheepdogs metaphor written by Dave Grossman. My own thoughts about the military (well, some of them) are below. The quote however, demonstrates Grossman’s ignorance once again. Having been in the military does not, in and of itself, qualify you as the last word on the subject. Not only does he have no real clue about videogames, but he now demonstrates he has no real clue about sheep, sheepdogs, or wolves. If you are going to use a metaphor, at least use one that doesn’t show off your lack of insight. That kind of defeats the purpose.

Hate, anger and vitriol is easy. Compassion, kindness and true diploimacy are hard.

A couple of things are important to know: I am a Quaker. That means, among other things, that I am a pacifist. Contrary to popular belief, being a pacifist is not the same as being a coward. In my case, it means that I don’t believe that violence or war solves anything. That having been said, if a war has started, I DO believe we can and should play a role in helping to end it.

For a long time now I have had this belief: ONCE BEGUN, NO WAR EVER ENDS. Look around – there are places in the world where wars have been going, on and off, for centuries. Millennia even.  This is true even inside of relatively peaceful borders. Take the USA for example. The War Between the States isn’t really over. There is still animosity between the North and the South. Especially in the South. Usually, it is the loser that keeps stoking the fire. The only time a war ends is if one side is completely wiped out.

Though this may seem antithetical, I support a strong military. When I was a teenager, one of my best friends joined the Canadian Armed Forces.  He spent time in Cyprus in the 70’s. He was just a few years older than I was and to this day he is a role model for me. He died in 1989 of cancer, and I still miss him. Through him, I came to understand a bit about what the military can do. Our Canadian military are among the best on the planet.

That’s not the point of this post though. What I really wanted to comment on was the excerpt of Grossman’s. His name always catches my attention because he is one of the big believers/proponents of getting rid of videogames because they “cause” violence. For a commentary on Grossman’s ideas about videogames and violence, try this (check point #5).

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Sheepdogs: a.k.a. Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD)

I happen to know something about sheepdogs. I have poultry instead of sheep but I actually rely on several real sheepdogs to do their traditional jobs guarding my flocks. It is QUITE obvious that Grossman has never met a real sheepdog and doesn’t know the first thing about sheep.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO USE A METAPHOR AT LEAST GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT. But, of course, it is fairly obvious from many of his writings that Grossman doesn’t really care about facts or truth, merely about furthering his own agenda.

“When people have trouble communicating, the least they can do is to shut up.” —Tom Lehrer

Here is the re-post of the quote (my comments follow):

By LTC (RET) Dave Grossman, author of “On Killing.”

“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident. Most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep. I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

“Then there are the wolves and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

Let me expand on this old soldier’s excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident. Most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I’ve been guilty of this myself – calling people sheep. But if we really think about it, we are NOT sheep. Sheep are basically non-violent. On the contrary, we are QUITE capable of hurting others. We do it all the time. We hurt each other ALL THE TIME. Remember the recent brouhaha over Susan Boyle? We (I mean the collective we) were very quick to judge and ridicule this woman. The fact that she turned out to have talent after all is no vindication of our treatment of her before we knew. Sheep DON’T do that. Sheep are quite tolerant, for the most part. They don’t care what colour you are, whether or not your BAAAA is beautiful or melodious, and they don’t care if you are pretty, talented, or compliant. Sheep will not gang up on another sheep who is different. People are NOT sheep. People are apes, and apes have a distinct tendency to be bullies.

“Then there are the wolves and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.”

ALSO wrong. Contrary to popular MYTH, wolves are not without mercy. They kill to eat. They will NOT kill if they are not hungry. If only we could be that true. We kill for “fun”.

And here is the one that actually prompted me to write:

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence.

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Geese and LGD sharing a meal.

Forgive me, but this is pure BULLSHIT and demonstrates just how little this man knows about that of which he speaks. Ask anyone who uses these sheepdogs (a.k.a. Livestock Guardian Dogs) to protect their flocks. The sheep REALLY like the sheepdogs. They trust him/her COMPLETELY. Any time they feel threatened, they will get as close as they can to the sheepdogs. And while we’re on the subject, most people who have more than a few animals to protect also have more than one sheepdog.

Often, these sheepdogs look WAY more like sheep than wolves.

This is a dog being a herd dog.
This is a dog being a herd dog.

I suspect Grossman doesn’t know the difference between a sheepdog and a herding dog. The sheepdog does NOT disturb the sheep – they will happily follow these dogs and run to them for comfort. The herd dog, on the other hand DOES disturb the sheep. And I suspect the sheep DON’T like the herd dog much. It is the HERD DOG, NOT the sheepdog who bothers the sheep. I’ll let you in on a very poorly kept secret that anyone who actually uses herd dogs knows: NEVER LEAVE YOUR HERD DOGS ALONE WITH THE STOCK. They will worry them, chase them relentlessly, and eventually hurt them.

If there is any comparison to be made it should be to notice that the dogs NEVER betray the animals they are protecting.  Puppy silliness aside, these dogs protect their charges, from the biggest to the smallest; they are gentle and deferential – never throwing their weight around – they will back off if a ewe or ram says to and they will allow the lambs to quite literally walk (run and jump) all over them. They SHOULD be a model for our human protectors (“Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors”) and it is to our great shame that we do not live up to this ideal. In truth, many of our human protectors act far more like herd dogs than guardian dogs.

2008-04-05_15-30-10_001While it is true that most sheepdogs have the capacity to be incredibly fierce, it is also MYTH that they like fighting. We, as humans could do far worse than to emulate the ‘philosophy’ of the guardian dog.  Almost every geographic region in the world that has kept sheep has developed its own variety of guardian dog. Some of these breeds have existed essentially unchanged for hundreds if not thousands of years. There are many variations but there is one thing they all share: their approach to dealing with a threat is one of MINIMAL FORCE. Both they and the wolf wish to live to fight and play another day. Any guardian dog worth his salt will ONLY kill a wolf if there is no other way to convince the wolf to keep his distance.

And the sheep LIKE having these dogs around.

Find yourself a better metaphor, Mr. Grossman. This one doesn’t work. Your “vision” of your military and other human protectors is deeply flawed.

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