The Sheepdog concept has been around in its modern form since 2002 from Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing. He later expanded on this concept in his follow-up book, On Combat. I own and still am working through both of these books and highly recommend them as sources of training material for those of us who have never killed or seen combat, but can anticipate the value in some knowledge and lessons from a man who trains our military, police and special forces.
Many of us identify with the term Sheepdog and there are many different interest groups who proudly consider themselves members of this affiliation. The groups range from proponents of self-defense, preparedness, military, law enforcement and defenders of the 2nd Amendment. All will proudly ascribe to Mr. Grossman’s philosophy and picture ourselves standing in the breach whenever we are called.
To give you a concise explanation of this concept, here is an excerpt from the man himself. This is taken from Mr. Grossman’s site, Killogy Research Group.
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because 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,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” Or, as a sign in one California law enforcement agency put it, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”
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? Then you are 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.
Do you believe you are a sheepdog?
Like I mentioned above, many of us identify with that symbolism. We have normal day-to-day lives but feel in our bones that if called upon, we would act in defense of our fellow citizens. We would come to protect the “sheep” that are the rest of the citizens who either would not or could not come to their own aid or rise to the aid of others. We can rationalize, at least outwardly the use of violence to defend someone in dire circumstances and use that rationalization to form our opinions on not only day-to-day interactions we may witness, but our overall guiding philosophy. This is one reason why so many of us carry concealed firearms.
This act of helping in that way is comforting to me on many levels. I feel on a gut level that type of behavior, of shared responsibility to our fellow-man, is what we are all called to do if we have that capacity in us. It is this concept of protecting people, in some measure that shaped my decision to join the Army as a young man. I signed up for the express purpose of defending my country even though I was never afforded the ability to do so in an overt way. My desire was not to be considered some type of hero for my service. I didn’t want any credit or special treatment for my choice, but I was ready if needed. Apparently, God had other plans for me.
The internet is filled with images and memes describing Sheepdogs and almost always these are reserved for the most outwardly obvious examples in our society. The soldiers we send to foreign countries and the law enforcement officers that protect our streets back home but these men and women only make up a small percentage of the total number who consider themselves sheepdogs. Millions more average every day citizens will say they are ready to do what is necessary and I wonder if this Sheepdog term isn’t misunderstood or is becoming trivialized to those whose job is not dealing with crime or war every day.
What happens if the sheep decide to gang up on the Sheepdogs?
It is very easy for me to say I am a sheepdog and envision how I will honorably try to defend someone when a wolf comes down the street. That is the easy part of calling yourself a sheepdog. If you are never called to action, who could argue with you? But what happens when the sheep decide they want to take the teeth away from those who would be their protectors at least in our minds? We sit here in front of our computers and in online forums railing at the politicians who seem intent on taking our means of defense away, but what about all of the people, not elected? What do you say to them?
I think that the traits and actions of a true sheepdog go much deeper than simply stating that you would defend someone from a wolf. Yes, it is true that real sheepdogs protect the sheep entrusted to their care, but they also have to guide them, to get them safely to the right location. A sheepdog doesn’t just sit on the outside of the flock, enjoying the sun while they can, staring at all those fat fluffy butts waiting on the wolf. A real sheepdog has to use skill and their instincts to corral the sheep and guide them to where the shepherd wants them to be moved.
What am I trying to say?
I think it is not enough to sit back and quietly plan, train and envision situations where we could be called into action. If we wait for the wolf to show up it might be too late if the sheep have already decided that it is the Sheepdogs who are the problem instead of the wolves. Think about it, do you believe the sheep want the sheepdogs telling them where to go if there is no wolf around? Do you ever hear any “sheep” say they expect a sheepdog (like you, not a cop) to defend them? If you consider yourself a sheepdog in the sense of what Mr. Grossman related above, are you getting out there? Are you making yourself known? Are you talking to the sheep and guiding them where you want them to go?
Or are you laying in the grass waiting for wolves?
I do think there is some risk we face of having the rug pulled out from under our feet by sheer complacency. Without dramatic action or overt crisis, we fail to raise our hackles at the small offenses happening daily. We simply ignore the danger if we can’t see it on TV. When we don’t see the wolf attacking with teeth and claw we think everything is good, but the sheep are still huddled together, talking and listening. Maybe they are really annoyed by these sheepdogs. I think the wolf is in the middle of them, whispering words, trying to turn the sheep. To make them believe the sheepdogs are the threat and to completely ignore the wolf.
You may forget that there are many more sheep than sheepdogs. We are outnumbered and we could find ourselves at the mercy of the fears of the sheep. If this happens, to a logical extent, we would all be rendered ineffective at doing much about it if we aren’t careful. If you do consider yourself a sheepdog, I think we need to be more intentional with our role. It isn’t enough to sit back and wait for an attack. You can’t just put up a nice graphic on your Facebook page. You have to get out there and try to move some sheep. What will you do?