A lamb basking in the fields

 Why Are Sheep So Docile? (Interesting Facts To Know!)

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Why are sheep so docile? Well, sheep and goats were among the first domesticated animals. Archaeological evidence shows that people started keeping sheep over 10,000 years ago. However, the animals were morphologically wild then, meaning they were much larger than typical livestock.

They also had unruly behavior, forcing people to trap them in enclosures to enable easier control. So, why are sheep so docile, and how did they become as tame as they are today?

a sheep and lambs being docile in the fields

How Domestication Started

According to research, people decided to capture sheep because hunting was becoming tedious. In addition, keeping a meat source like sheep and goats at home gave them time to engage in crop farming and other domestic activities. This is where animal domestication began.

Since most animals were too large and wild, humans chose to keep the less aggressive breeds. This explains why some sheep are still in the wild while people keep the smaller variants home for wool, meat, and milk.

Understanding Sheep Behavior

The best way to understand sheep’s docility is to learn the reasons for their actions. So here are some facts about sheep behavior.


Many people believe that sheep are stupid, while they aren’t. In reality, sheep are among the most intelligent domestic animals, along with pigs and cattle.

This explains why sheep’s reactions depend on the way you treat them. Since most humans are friendly toward sheep, they respond by being docile.

On the contrary, sheep will show aggression if you don’t treat them right. This is especially common among rams and ewes with lambs.

Running from Potential Attackers

Sheep are grazers that mainly feed on grass and shrubs. Before domestication, they survived by grazing on open fields, exposed to all kinds of attacks.

To protect themselves from predators, sheep ran away and banded together in large numbers. This behavior persists to date, with the animals feeling or flocking together whenever they sense potential attacks.

READ ALSO: Do Wolves Kill and Eat Sheep? 


Sheep are naturally gregarious; they like crowds and traveling in herds. However, despite being social animals, the gregariousness isn’t because the animals like each other. Instead, they stay in groups for protection.

It’s worth noting that the degree of sociability varies in different breeds. For example, fine-wooled breeds like the Ramboiulllet tend to stay together more often than black-faced sheep, such as Suffolk sheep. This is because the latter are more docile.

Gregariousness is inherent to all sheep, including domesticated animals. This explains why sheep band together as a defense against potential attacks. What’s more, this instinct makes guardian dogs effective.

When a shepherd brings a dog to the grazing field, the sheep consider it a predator and flock together. In addition, sighting a dog triggers a self-defense instinct, indirectly allowing the shepherd to control the sheep.

Do Sheep Remember Humans?

Due to sociability, sheep tend to move toward familiar faces, whether other sheep or a known human being. In most cases, animals show a friendly attitude toward their feeder. This explains why sheep act docile whenever shepherds are around.

On the other hand, shepherds capitalize on this behavior to control large herds. When the ‘leader’ approaches them, the others follow, making it easier to direct the sheep to the desired position. However, shepherds must be careful so that the sheep don’t detect they are falling into a trap.

READ ALSO: Do Sheep Recognize Their Owners?

Sheep Maintain a Flight Distance

Like humans, sheep maintain a distance until they’re comfortable with you or other sheep. This space is called the flight distance and will remain until the sheep deems you or other animals safe.

It’s worth noting that flight distance varies according to the prevailing situation. When the sheep is relaxed, it keeps a short distance. However, in case of a perceived threat or any uncomfortable situation, such as a predator or an unfamiliar face, the animal will stay farther away.

Repeated interaction with your flock is the most effective way to reduce the flight distance. When the animals familiarize themselves with you, they’ll likely stay closer and become more docile.

A lamb basking in the fields

Do Sheep Pose a Threat to Humans?

As mentioned above, sheep are mostly docile and sometimes fearful. If you try to get too close, they will move away.

However, some sheep might respond aggressively to human approaches. Rams are particularly notorious for charging or head-butting people when approached during the breeding season.

This is because they perceive you as a threat to their territory. Lambing ewes might also protect their offspring but tend to be more reserved.

READ ALSO: Do Sheep Attack Humans?  (Things To Know!)

What Affects Docility in Sheep?

Despite being docile, sheep can become uneasy and aggressive sometimes. Here are some stimuli that might prompt adverse behavioral reactions.

Invading the Flight Distance

As mentioned above, sheep don’t like unfamiliar people or animals invading their flight distance. If this happens, they’ll likely become agitated and might confront you.

This behavior is more common among new flock members who aren’t used to your presence.

Loud Noises

Sheep don’t like loud noises. Yelling, blaring music, and even barking dogs agitate the animals, resulting in a flight or fight response. So try to lower your volume and avoid other noisemaking objects when you’re near sheep.

Maternal Instincts

Lambing ewes are protective of their offspring. Going too close to them prompts a negative reaction and possibly a confrontation.

Be gentle if you must separate the two for medical assessment or something important. More importantly, ensure that the ewe maintains eye contact with her lambs.

Poor Vision

Sheep see relatively well, but they have poor depth perception. As a result, they aren’t comfortable in new environments, which might trigger a negative reaction.

Final Words

Sheep are docile because of unnatural selection. Simply put, they are submissive and unassuming because humans made them that. The objective of domesticating was to use selective breeding to preserve docile species and eliminate the aggressive ones. Over the years, humans have killed and eaten belligerent animals and kept the peaceful ones.

Regardless, sheep still have a wild touch to them. For instance, petting a ram will likely result in head-butting, especially during the breeding season. The same applies to getting too close to a ewe nurturing her lambs.


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