In the twenty years or so that I’ve been teaching people how to shoot and the almost forty years that I’ve carried a gun, I’ve heard many private citizens refer to themselves as “sheepdogs.” It’s a cool term to bandy about. But, who among us is really a “sheepdog”?
It has often been said that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. In order to determine which category we fall within, it might be helpful to examine all three.
The sheep are the folks who go about their daily lives without any awareness of the dangers that exist in society or the possibility that they might actually come to harm. These are the folks who believe that bad things happen only to other people. Consequently, anything or anyone who reminds the sheep that the world can be a dangerous place runs the risk of shattering their sheltered view of the world. Hence sheepdogs, a category I’ll get to in a moment, are often disliked, distrusted and even feared by the sheep. Unless and until a wolf shows up, sheep have no use for sheepdogs and do everything they can to emasculate them and turn them into sheep. However, when a wolf arrives, the sheep will quickly hide behind the sheepdog and expect him or her to sacrifice everything to ensure their survival. This explains why society treats police officers with such disdain and then complains when the cops don’t show up fast enough to save them.
Sheep are easy to identify by their public behavior. They will step into a crosswalk when the light changes without bothering to check for oncoming traffic. You will see them focused entirely on their cell phones while they walk into dark parking lots while texting. They give the appearance of being completely oblivious to what is happening around them. They are the sheep and they are the prey in our society.
Wolves are the criminals and scoundrels who prey upon the sheep. Wolves often travel in packs. Where there is one, there are often many. Sometimes wolves are obvious. Prime examples are gang members who stand out because of their clothing, tattoos, gang signs and general attitude. Still, this is not always true. Some wolves hunt alone and are very devious, cunning and manipulative. These are often the most dangerous of wolves. They look and act like sheep. This is why we call them “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Ted Bundy was such a wolf. Wolves are vicious, devious, heartless predators. They hunt the sheep.
Sheepdogs are those who watch over the sheep and stand ready to take on the wolf, if necessary. Sheepdogs often have a natural predilection toward protecting others. They are often better trained, better armed and therefore, better prepared to deal with danger than are the sheep. Among the obvious sheepdogs in our society are those who do it for a living. They include police officers, security officers and military personnel. It is important to understand that sheepdogs watch over the specific sheep that are placed in their care. For example, police officers protect and serve those who are within their jurisdiction. Security officers protect those whom their employer directs them to protect. Military personnel work to protect the citizens of the nation they serve. This is also the case with nonprofessional sheepdogs like parents, spouses and older siblings. As a husband and father, I watch over my wife and children. I do not watch over all the families in the neighborhood. Contrary to popular belief, sheepdogs do not protect someone else’s sheep, random sheep or all sheep. They only protect their own sheep.
Sheep, wolves and sheepdogs are the “three kinds of people” most often referred to in this context. However, I would argue that there is a fourth category: “porcupines.”
Porcupines are the prickly people. They are neither predator, protector nor prey. They mind their own business, treat others with respect and do their utmost to avoid violence and trouble. Porcupines are peaceful, unassuming and calm. They are also well armed and unafraid. Many a predator has tried to kill and eat a porcupine and lived to regret it. If you have ever seen a dog, leopard, lion or wolf with a face full of porcupine quills, you know exactly what I mean.
The problem with categorizing oneself as a porcupine is that sheepdogs are just cooler! Sheepdogs are known to be fast, strong and exciting. Porcupines by comparison seem slow, weak and boring. Let’s face it, who wants to be a porcupine when you can be a sheepdog? All the same, some of the most dangerous and skilled people I have ever had the privilege to meet have been porcupines. Just as with real porcupines in the wild, these folks were each quiet and unassuming, but they were not to be trifled with. I submit to you that armed citizens fall into the category of “porcupines” the vast majority of the time and fill the role of “sheepdogs” only to a very limited degree.
The distinction is an important one, since the roles, responsibilities and priorities of sheepdogs and porcupines are quite different. The primary objective of a sheepdog is to ensure the safety of the sheep entrusted into his or her care. Potential threats to the sheep are numerous. They can be extremely dangerous and there are many sheep that must be protected. As a result, professional sheepdog’s are often equipped with advanced communications, offensive weaponry, armor, command and control structures, special training and other such tools that the average citizen can only dream of. In the sheepdog’s world protecting the sheep is paramount. Securing the sheepdog’s own safety is a secondary consideration. By contrast, the main concern of a porcupine is the ability to go about his or her daily life unmolested and unharmed. In order to accomplish this goal the porcupine is armed with basic, but effective defensive weapons. After all, the porcupine is just trying to keep itself safe. It has no sheep to protect.
As a law abiding armed citizen, I have found myself filling the role of either porcupine or nonprofessional sheepdog, depending upon the situation. When I’m with my wife and/or my kids, I’m a nonprofessional sheepdog. Since I am not acting as a sheepdog for a living, my sheep are small in number and limited to those I love, my family. Therefore, as a sheepdog, the safety of my family members is my primary concern. My safety comes a distant second and the safety of the rest of the world’s sheep comes a very distant third. When I’m on my own, I’m a porcupine. My sheep are not with me and, as I explained above, sheepdogs only protect their sheep. They do not protect other people’s sheep, random sheep or all sheep. When I’m on my own, making sure that I get home to my wife and children unharmed is my primary concern. The safety of the world’s sheep who may be in my vicinity is a secondary concern. I fully understand that if I get myself killed trying to protect somebody else’s sheep, I will not be there to protect my own. I will not be there to protect my family when they need me. My family, my sheep, come first.
In order to make this more clear, I have written my priority lists below.
When acting as a nonprofessional sheepdog my priorities are:
- My family’s safety. They are the most important to me.
- My safety. If I die, I cannot meet the requirements of priority number 1.
- Other people’s safety.
Note: This means that a time may come when I must allow other people to die in order to take care of priorities 1 & 2.
When acting as a porcupine:
- My safety. If I die, I won’t be there to protect my family when needed.
- Other people’s safety.
Note: This means that a time may come when I must allow other people to die in order to take care of priority number 1.
As you might imagine, I’ve taken a lot of heat when I’ve shared the priority lists above. I’ve been called a coward, un-American, un-Christian and a host of other things that are too profane for me to repeat here. Sheep, or what I have come to call “sheeple,” are not happy to learn that someone who might have the ability to save them would allow them to die in favor of saving self and family members. Likewise, armed citizens who envision themselves as professional sheepdogs (which they are not) are unhappy to discover that another armed citizen doesn’t see things that same way. My family members, on the other hand, are quite happy that I have my priorities on straight. My sheep will forever and always come first. So much so in fact, that I have spent years teaching my sheep to be porcupines. How about you?
For all you professional sheepdogs out there…..Thanks for what you do.
From a non-professional sheepdog, sometimes porcupine.
Great article, Joel! I’ll remember this. I once met a true sheepdog with a sheepdog plate on his police cruiser – I never thought I compared to his role. In fact at that time I was a sheep. Porcupine suits me just fine. – Phil
Love the porcupine analogy, what a fantastic perspective!
Thanks for the new term! I’ve been uneasy about the whole “sheepdog” thing as I’m not an LEO, security professional, formal military…and I don’t have a beard, tats, or 511 gear. Porcupine does fit me ( and perhaps my personality) better.
Thank you so much for this! I have shared this to my FB page.
Very well said indeed. I am a retired Professional Sheepdog. SDSO for 30 years.
I can remember the old academy training days. It was pounded into us back in the day. TAKE CARE OF NUMBER ONE FIRST! If I do not arrive on scene, how can I be of help?
Very well said, Joel. I’ve always felt strange referring to myself as a “sheepdog”, like I’m some sort of badass that I’m really not. A porcupine is a much better, more accurate description.