“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.” ~LTC (RET) Dave Grossman “ON COMBAT”
As many of us have, I once again came across Lt Col Grossman’s now well known essay “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” from his incredible book “On Combat”. While again considering the points made in his essay, a thought struck me in light of recent events involving some controversy about public sector unions. While this writing is neither for nor against public sector unions, I believe it is an important thought in order to understand my point.
To give you, the reader, some context, I will begin by introducing myself as a Police Officer, a Tactical Commander of an Emergency Response Team, a Military Combat Arms Officer, a twice deployed combat veteran and a Sheepdog. While these identifiers play a very large role in my thoughts, I want to go back a lot further.
As a young boy, I spent a lot of time at my Grandfather Max Roberts’ farm in Southwest Iowa during the summer months. Grandpa Max raised sheep; he also bred, sold and used sheepdogs, in his case, Border Collies.
Later as Grandpa Max got older, he began to use another breed as well, the Great Pyrenees, a huge white breed with lots of fur. This is who I want to focus on first.
While both breeds had the same ultimate goal of protecting the sheep, their functionalities were very different. The Great Pyrenees’ job was to live in the herd and maintain constant watch over the sheep. He lived apart from the other sheepdogs and never became a member of their pack.
One thing that sticks in my head from those days was watching the Great Pyrenees as he moved with the sheep and at times it was difficult to identify the dog from the sheep at a distance.
I don’t remember the dog’s name, so we will call him Frank, because that sounds like a name Grandpa Max would give a dog. I don’t think I ever got close enough to Frank to pet him, but he was a constant presence in the sheep herd. This dog, Frank was the epitome of Lt Col Grossman’s “sheepdog”.
Frank didn’t run with the pack. He was not concerned with the affairs of the other dogs, he only knew the sheep. He was not concerned with being accepted by the sheep or by the other sheepdogs. He simply lived his pure purpose as guardian. He lived his entire life in service. Frank was content to live the life of a sheep until the wolf appeared. Then, he would act.
I believe Frank is a great example of the Sheepdogs in our society who live their everyday lives, yet they are the heroes who run toward the gunfire when all others are running away.
Frank is the teacher, the factory worker, the pastor who, when trouble comes, will rise to the challenge and confront the wolf.
I respect the “Franks” of the world and thank God they exist, but the primary goal of this writing is to address the other dogs, the Border Collies.
“…they aren’t that kind of dogs” ~Grandpa Max Roberts
The function of the pack of Border Collies at Grandpa Max’s farm was very different from Frank. This pack was tasked with telling the sheep where to go, to move the sheep to the safety of the barn when needed. And most importantly, to go out and hunt down the wolf when he approached. While Frank was on alert for the wolf, the pack was looking for the wolf and even longing to hunt him down.
As a young boy, I loved those dogs. I spent hours just following them around and running across the pastures wanting to be one of them. There was nothing philosophical about my desire to be with the pack. I was a young boy who just wanted to pet the dogs but always received the warning that they “aren’t those kind of dogs.”
As I look back fondly on those days with Grandpa Max, I realized something about his dogs, he was right; they weren’t “those kind of dogs.” They had their own hierarchy, their own rules within the pack and only had one focus, the sheep.
The leader of this pack was “Ike” who was without question, the Alpha dog; he rode in the front seat of the truck.
Next down the hierarchy was “Mike” who rode in the back of the truck, but only in the front part of the bed. The rest of the dogs kind of came and went and always stayed in the rear part of the bed in Grandpa Max’s pickup. Of course if I, at the age of 9 or 10, wanted to ride in the front seat, it required some growling and teeth showing to get Ike to slide to the middle of the seat. Most of the time, I ended up sitting in the back with the rest of the pack.
I believe that Grandpa’s dog Ike and his pack of Border Collies are more closely aligned with today’s Law Enforcement. We are not alone against the wolf. We work in a well regulated and very tight pack.
Like that pack of Border Collies, the focus and primary goal of our pack must be the protection of the sheep. Each one of us must be willing to take the role of Frank, the individual sheepdog first and a member of the pack second.
With all deference and respect to Lt Col Grossman, the following is an excerpt from his book “On Combat” to further my point:
“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 f lock 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.”
We, the warriors who have chosen the path of the sheepdog, understand this concept and many of us have taken this idea as a personal code for our lives. I proudly indentify myself as a Sheepdog and most of my fellow law enforcement officers and my fellow soldiers do as well. And here we identify the potential for problems.
The Pack Mentality
“Even the most tame, gentle and loving dog can turn vicious under the right circumstances. Dogs running in groups, or packs, are more likely to exhibit aggression than lone dogs” ~ Michael D. Breed, animal behavior professor, University of Colorado.
Looking back at my Grandpa’s Sheepdog, Frank, I realized that he was alone. Grandpa Max didn’t put the pack of sheepdogs out to live with his sheep herd, he put one. I remember thinking that Frank would be much happier if he was sleeping in the garage with Ike and Mike and the other dogs instead of spending every night in the sheep herd, but there he was day and night, protecting his herd.
Having grown up now and seeing the world through different eyes, I now understand why Grandpa Max only let one dog live with and protect the sheep, though I never had the right questions to ask him before he passed.
Even domesticated dogs have instincts that go back to their roots as predators or as Lt Col Grossman states, “the capacity for violence”.
At some point within a pack, the natural tendency is for the survival of the pack to become more important than anything else.
We have all watched the animal documentaries on wolf packs and watched the wolves as they focused on one thing and one thing only: the survival and care of the pack. But, we are not the wolves. Our duty is to the sheep first. This is a fundamental difference that must be recognized and must be maintained.
And as we have seen in multiple studies, even the sheepdog has the potential to revert to “pack mentality” and this can drastically change the behavior of the sheepdog to the point of leaving its role as protector and taking on the role of predator. Or in the case of Law Enforcement, protecting the pack even at the peril of those we are sworn to protect.
“The unified power, strength, excitement and confidence of the pack transform individual dogs.” Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University and an expert in pack behavior, says that when pack mentality takes over ‘they do insane things that they would not do’ under normal circumstances”.
So how does this apply to us “Sheepdogs” in the world of Law Enforcement and the Military, and even those sheepdogs in society as a whole?
Duty or “The Pack”?
As Lt Col Grossman points out, being a Sheepdog is a choice. We have chosen to be the protectors of the sheep and many of us have dedicated our lives in that service. That was our own personal choice.
I chose to join the Military at the age of 17 because I felt it was my duty to do what others were unable or unwilling to do. That choice along with others later in life have defined and cemented my chosen role as the Sheepdog.
The camaraderie and brotherhood of the military and of Law Enforcement is well recognized. We call it the “Thin Blue Line,” “The Warrior Brotherhood,” “Those who dare,” and any number of other great names that portray how we feel about our fellow Sheepdogs.
But have we gone too far? Have we begun to exhibit the “pack mentality” in which survival of the pack has become more important than our duty to the sheep
We have become very accustomed to the cliché phrases that contain some truth. “Sometimes there’s Justice, sometimes there’s just us.” “Only another cop really understands,” “Don’t talk about it until you’ve lived it,” and one of my personal favorites, “We are the largest street gang in America.”
These cliché phrases contain an element of truth, and we all understand what they mean. The sheep do not understand us, they fear us; and in the words of Lt Col Grossman:
“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.”
But have we as the protectors, the sheepdogs, taken that truth to the extreme? Have we begun to put our “pack” ahead of the sheep that we chose to protect? Have we lost the “deep love for our fellow citizens” that Lt Col Grossman speaks of and traded it for a deep love of the pack.
I recently watched many public sector employees protest and to be blunt, come close to riot, in Madison, Wisconsin and other places around the country. Again, I am not going to debate the relevance of public sector unions other than to say I began to see a potentially disturbing trend.
The focus was only on the pack with no regard for the sheep. While there were many shouts of “it’s our right”, it was very clear to me from the outset that this issue had little to nothing to do with “civil rights” and everything to do with protecting what the pack saw as theirs.
Those officers, along with the other public sector employees made the choice to become educators of children and firefighters and protectors, paid by the taxpayers, the sheep.
I was disturbed to see many of my fellow police officers joining in the screaming and yelling about what they are “owed” from the sheep. I know this will lead to controversy regarding what police officers and soldiers and teachers should and shouldn’t make, but that is not my focus.
I simply pose the questions: what is more important, the sheep that we have sworn to protect, or the pack in which we run? What is our focus? What is our primary objective, protecting those who cannot protect themselves, or protecting the rest of our chosen pack against perceived slights?
One of the known actions of the pack mentality is the territorial defense. A pack will aggressively and even violently defend what the pack sees as its personal space. What we saw in Wisconsin and around the country was an example of the pack aggressively defending what they believed was rightfully theirs, even if it were at the peril of the sheep that were left footing the bill.
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” ~Henry Ford
Having noted the perils of the pack mentality, I believe in the pack. The pack is not only necessary, but critical in the world in which we work. We must have our brothers and sisters beside us as we go forth into the daily battle against the wolf. And in turn, they must know that we will be beside them no matter what. So I simply ask: where do we strike the balance between our chosen duty of protecting the sheep, even if it means giving our lives; and the protection of the pack, if it means at the peril of the sheep?
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the unlikely source of an old “fire and brimstone” preacher of the mid 1900’s named Lester Roloff. He stated many times that “Everything rises and falls on leadership, EVERYTHING rises and falls on leadership, EVERYTHING rises and falls on leadership!”
With our understanding of the pack mentality, we also must understand the role of the Alpha dog.
I go back to Grandpa Max and his dog Ike. Countless times I watched as Ike would lead the dogs to go round up the sheep and bring them back to the barn with Grandpa Max quietly sitting in the pickup, smoking a hand rolled Prince Albert cigarette. The other dogs would stop and crouch, waiting for Ike to move. If a dog got out of line, Ike would quickly snap at them or simply snarl his teeth. Then, Ike would move.
The beauty of watching those dogs work in perfect unison is an image that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Always watching, always ready, and never taking their eyes off of Ike, they all moved with a single purpose.
Ike had one goal. Ike wanted to bring the sheep to the safety of the barn and would not allow any harm to come to them, not from the wolves and not even from the other sheepdogs. His law was supreme, and more importantly, his heart and his cause was pure. He was focused fully on his task of protecting the sheep and his pack followed him without question toward the goal, as if with a single mind.
Officer Corey D Roberts is full time Police Officer and twice deployed combat veteran. Corey is an NRA Law Enforcement Select-fire Instructor and held the positions of Training Officer and Tactical Commander for a Multi-Jurisdictional Emergency Response Team. Corey is also qualified in Police Precision Rifle. Corey D Roberts is not licensed to give legal advice and before implementing any training program in your area, check with your department legal advisors.