David Grossman Never Heard of Guard Llamas

Photo Credit: Rocking Dog Ranch

Odd, sometimes twisted connections are made when you’re both military law enforcement and an alpaca rancher. Watching the public reaction to the Michael Brown shooting made me think about llamas. Yes, llamas.

Lt Col (ret.) David Grossman is an expert in the field of understanding violence. One of his books, “On Killing,” is required or recommended reading for several law enforcement and military organizations (fun fact: this book was the first gift my husband gave me. Romantic, right?).

In one of his books, he illustrates a metaphor about Sheep, Wolves, & Sheepdogs:
“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…

As a shepherd to alpacas, I cannot always be there to protect our herd, so I researched options for guard animals to do the job in my absence. One of the cons in “hiring” a dog to protect a herd is a dog is still a carnivore and therefore instinctively seen as a predator by the herd, or as Grossman describes, the flock:

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

Despite the fact that the sheepdog’s mission is to ensure no harm come to the sheep, “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.” (Which might be why so many livestock guardian dog breeds are white, but I digress).

While his teaching using this metaphor continues and is valuable, the metaphor itself ends there. The issue of the flock’s fear and distrust of the sheepdog persists.

Allow me to continue this metaphor further by introducing guard llamas. Because llamas are also prey animals, the flock or herd does not see the llama as a threat. They have similar social behavior so the flock readily listens to their commands without coercion. They do not cause stress or uneasiness because they see the llama as one of their own.

The presence of guard llamas does not replace the need for sheepdogs as a llama is not equipped to fight off a pack of wolves. However, they have a substantial presence, are alert to potential danger, and have a decent capacity for violence if the situation calls for it.

Who are the guard llamas in our communities? What would they look like?