Fred Shanks – The Biography of a Security Working Dog

Some stories are hard to tell. These stories are usually the ones that are most important to remember. This is the story of my dog Fred, his biography and the lasting Memorial of his life and service. There are lots of tales about once in a lifetime dogs. We hear about legendary Togo (Wikipedia, 2020), who led his sled team for over 420km. Togo led his team over rugged terrain in terrible weather, to complete his leg of the Great Race of Mercy. Balto who took all the glory for the Great Race of Mercy didn’t run as far, but he did lead his team through a storm so severe that the musher couldn’t see the dogs tied closest to his sled. Another great dog from modern times is Lucca (Goodavage, 2014), who served with distinction as a Military Working Dog in the US Marines finding explosives and hunting terrorists. She lost her leg after triggering an IED, her handler and the fantastic medical teams that the US Military employ saved her life. She continued to serve as a mascot and inspiration for injured veterans until she passed on. 

german shepherd puppy
Figure 1: Puppy Fred stared down the scary Dyson until it blinked

Fred’s exploits do not match these legends. However, a lack of opportunity to prove his metal does not detract from his courageous spirit, unique personality, or singular insight and intelligence. Fred demonstrated to me that he understood his job perfectly. He would identify intruders in the rail corridor, locate holes in fences, and perform customer-service however, Fred’s primary role was to deter or combat violence. Fred was a consummate professional and a favourite among the rail workers and customers on the South East Queensland City Train Network.

Fred taught me so much about dogs, their behaviour, communication, training and potential. He protected me when I was in danger. Fred made my job easier in so many small ways, he charmed the ladies and played pranks on me. I am going to miss him immensely.

This biography will form his Memorial. Many people who were touched by Fred didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Being able to share his story is a way they can honour him. There are pet cemeteries and other ways that people memorialise their companions. But Fred was a Warrior. And I’m reminded of the line in Troy where Achilles says “That is why no one will remember your name.” Our legacy is maintained by the people who share our stories. While our story is told and remembered, our memory, our spirit, and our legacy live on. I believe Fred deserves this immortality, so I will tell his story to anyone who will listen. And I hope that others will too.

Chapter 1: Arrival

Fred was born on the 26th of May 2011. He was the most dominant puppy in his litter. Fred was a black and tan German Shepherd. I purchased him from a breeder in Jimboomba, Queensland on the 17th of July 2011. My sister supplied the money for the purchase as she wanted a fluffy puppy to cuddle but did not want to train a dog or take care of an adult. And so, Fred came home with me.

german shepherd puppy and toddler
Figure 2: Fred on the way home with my little brother Benjamin

Fred was not my only dog at the time. I also had a two-year-old female German Shepherd named Jazz. Fred’s first order of business when he met Jazz was to beat her up. Jazz was surprised that a seven-week-old puppy could beat her, but she could not raise an objection.

German Shepherd Puppy and German Shepherd Adult
Figure 3: Fred and Jazz

As anyone who has had working dog puppies can attest, the shenanigans started on Day One. These included chewing anything at puppy height, hanging out in the most dangerous locations, and taking all Jazz’s bones and toys.

My sister and I were living in a high-set house, and he fell off the stairs once. He didn’t appear to be injured, but in later life, the vet and I noticed a calcification on one of his ribs. He also developed a phobia to standing on the edge of things. This phobia became a training scar as an adult, but he would work through it.

German Shepherd Puppy on Lead
Figure 4: Learning to “respect” the lead

Chapter 2: Adolescence

If you think a working dog puppy is a problem, wait until they become an adolescent. Now they don’t just get into trouble, but they cause trouble. Now, he can run faster, jump higher and lift his leg when he pees and he’s got his adult teeth so he can bite harder too. Adolescent puppies require theme music with electric guitars and a fast rhythm. But they’re also clumsy and make for fantastic, funny home videos.

I worked as a security officer, and sometimes I would get a shift where I could take my puppy. These were good shifts because they helped desensitise him to different environments and gave me a companion. One time at a sewage treatment plant in Clontarf, Fred came along. He was approximately six months old. We were patrolling and found a mob of kangaroos grazing in the field. Naively I thought I could let him off the lead, he would run about halfway get scared and come back. As he reached the halfway mark, the roos saw him and bolted. Fred found an extra gear and accelerated. He had no chance of catching them, and he wouldn’t listen to me to stop and come back. Panicked I watched Fred disappear into the lantana after the roos. I had no idea how I’d get him back. Fortunately, after he realised he’d lost the mob, Fred decided to come back. He couldn’t see through the lantana, so Fred jumped as high as he could so he could poke his head above the canopy. Fred could then see and hear me and came back. He had to check his bearing a few times. Seeing his head pop up above the lantana was both amusing and relieving.

German Shepherd Dog
Figure 5: Yeah, I chased the roos, and I’ll do it again too.

Fred, Jazz and I also started attending Caboolture Sports Dog Obedience Club. This is where we met my Best Friend, Nicky and created many fond memories. Fred did very well at the club and became an example dog for Nicky and me when we became instructors. Fred would often be running from one end of the field to the other to help Nicky and me with our classes. Dog club was good for Fred. It taught him to work around other people and animals and discipline. It also allowed him to goof off. If he thought a class was boring, he would feign an injury. However, we eventually cottoned on to that when he forgot what leg he was supposed to be limping on.

Chapter 3: Now the Real Work Begins

On the 25th of April 2013, Fred, Nicky and I travelled to Greenbank for his security assessment. This started a new era in our lives. I was concerned because I didn’t think I had prepared Fred enough for the evaluation. Thankfully, Fred was a natural. For the next six months, we learned how to fight as a team against bad guys. Then our Decoy Jamie gave us an introduction to Infront Security who gave us a job straight away.

German Shepherd Attacking Bite Sleeve
Figure 6: Fred Destroying Jamie

Our first shift was close to home. We worked at the Caboolture Stabling Yard to make sure that trains did not get vandalised. We learned all about walking on this shift. For 12 hours, we hiked around the perimeter of the yard, making sure no unauthorised persons entered. I’m proud that we never had a tagger enter our yards for our entire career.

We spent a lot of time in stabling yards and construction sites at the start of our career. Queensland Rail was getting ready to commission the new Springfield Train Line. So, many of our shifts were down at Elen Grove to stop pranksters throwing rocks off the rail overpass onto the Centenary Highway. One time, we started a patrol across the bridge, and Fred indicated that there might be someone in the opposite direction. He charged back, pulling me along with him and stopped at the car. We were two hours into our shift, and he decided it was boring, and we should go home.

German Shepherd not using his bed
Figure 7: The Caboolture East Stabling Yard – Fred not using his expensive bed.

Chapter 4: Patrols

The next stage of our career was Mobile Patrols. These patrols had us travelling between rail stations and performing customer service and deterring and reporting antisocial behaviour. This meant we were in the public eye a lot more. But this is where we got the most anecdotes.

As mobile patrol officers, our primary job was to instruct people on using the ticket machine and telling them when the next train was coming. However, occasionally we had to solve problems. During 2014 a recurring problem was a phenomenon known as a “Facebook Party”. When the police would shut down an out-of-control party, all the people go to the train station. And because it is an unscheduled event, Queensland Rail isn’t prepared for it. They don’t have extra services available or staff at the station. The party-goers are also intoxicated and unpredictable. The mission was to keep the people off the tracks and break up fights. One party, we had police help as well. One intoxicated male wanted to go to the toilet and insisted that the police open the door for him. The police refused because they don’t have keys. The intox man got in a heated argument with the officer about public urination and getting arrested, so the officer was obligated to open the toilet or give him an exemption. The circular argument was going nowhere, and the intox man was getting very irate. So Fred and I walked up behind him, then I asked Fred to activate.

Fred lit up at this guy, he did the whole thing, reared up charging forward to the end of his lead and told this moron precisely what he would do to him and his member if he dared whip it out. Well, intox man no longer had to worry about urinating, he had to figure out where to get new undies. The intox man walked off, his shame was evident to everyone nearby. And the officer looked at Fred, who was now silent, having achieved his goal, then said to me “That is an amazing dog.”

German Shepherd Wearing Boots and Hat
Figure 8 Fred Patrolling Train Stations

Another time, we were called to Loganlea train station to break up a fight. Thankfully, the police arrived before we did and moved the people on to the bus stop, and they weren’t fighting any more. We were asked to stay at the station until the belligerents left the area. A short time later, the belligerents returned to the station, but they weren’t fighting. Fred and I were standing off to the side so we were out of everyone’s way but could respond if we needed to.

One of them decided to test Fred. He was wearing his shorts halfway down his backside and a wife-beater singlet. He affected a swagger, designed to exaggerate the size of his testicles. The type of swagger when they lean back instead of standing up straight and roll their shoulders as they walk. And the gait requires them to swing their legs in outwards semi-circles, you know so that he doesn’t squash the giant pair he has riding there while he’s walking. If anyone reading this sees someone walking towards them like this. The only appropriate response is laughter. Fred was in a charitable mood until he opened his mouth. “Your dog tuff, cos my pitty…”

He didn’t say anything else, because Fred told him precisely what he thought about his “pitty”. He lost his swagger and went to hide behind his friends until the train arrived.

German Shepherd barking at Decoy
Figure 9: Fred telling Jamie about the poser at Loganlea

Later that evening, we had another incident. This incident was the closest Fred came to a live bite. We were back at Loganlea station, two Asian tourists were waiting for the train. A large islander crossed the station using the overpass carrying a full beer bottle. His original intention was just passing through, but when he saw the tourists, he began verbally harassing them and threatening them. I told him to stop and leave them alone. Then he started threatening us. Fred immediately started barking at this guy and telling the islander to go.

The islander than made a mistake that will haunt him forever, he raised his beer bottle like a club. I removed Fred’s muzzle. Fred stopped barking, looked at me for a heartbeat, a look that communicated that he was ready and we’d win this fight. He turned back to the islander, and his bark dropped several octaves. He was no longer telling the islander to go, he was telling this guy how much he would enjoy tearing him to pieces.

That bark change frightened the islander so much that all the melanin left his skin and turned him to albino. I told the islander to drop his bottle and go. He rapidly complied.

German Shepherd biting a bite suit
Figure 10: Fred shows Jay how you deal with Aggressive People

Another time, Fred and I were tasked to find some taggers that had spray-painted a train at Shorncliffe station. We were sneaking through the golf course (we had permission from the golf course for these operations) and we had to jump over a small fence. Our procedure was that I would go over first, then Fred would follow. This was established so that he wouldn’t charge off after something while I was precariously positioned on the fence. Fred must have known that the taggers had already departed because while I was balancing on top, he jumped, hitting me in the back and pushing me off the fence.

I made a startled yell as I landed unceremoniously on my backside. I looked back at Fred, looking at me with his tongue hanging out his mouth’s side. He was laughing at my humiliation and was quite pleased with himself. We didn’t find the taggers, but Fred had fun.

For a little while after that we had to do static jobs there, to deter the taggers. They aren’t the most exciting jobs, but they are easy money.

German Shepherd Under a Tarp
Figure 11: This is the camp we set up for one of the static jobs at Shorncliffe (The sign was supposed to read Camp Shanx but I stuffed up the letter sizing.)
German Shepherd laying in the Mud
Figure 12: This is Fred lying in the rain at Camp Shanx instead of under the tarp where he would have been dry

Fred and I worked perimeter security at an event in Maroochydore. Fred and I were there for 12 or 14 hours. We were in a static position (marked on the map), there was a canal running behind the Sands Tavern in front of our location. Our task was to deter people trying to get into the festival for free. This was a completely different task from what we normally had to do. Usually, Fred wasn’t allowed to bark unless he noticed some overt aggression. He was aware of that constraint. So, when Fred figured out that this site he could bark and chase people out of our site as soon as he saw them, he was completely stoked. He was on the lookout all day. When I stopped for lunch, Fred was still on the watch. He saw some people coming in to our site about 300 metres away. He pulled me off my chair and dragged me on the ground for two metres until I got onto my feet so he could bark and chase these people away. As the day turned to evening, patrons of the Tavern and nearby apartments listened to the festival’s music. There was also an increase in the number of attempts at trespass.

German Shepherd in Crate on Ute
Figure 13: Our Static Site at the Maroochydore Fine Arts Festival

And Fred was in his element. Chasing people out from one side and the other. And every time he chased a group out, the people at the Tavern and the people on the balconies cheered and applauded. Fred has always been a showoff. So this attention fueled his enjoyment and drive to chase these freeloaders out. The last group started throwing golf balls at us (poorly aimed because they had soy-boy arms, but still). So, I radioed through and got permission to cross our perimeter fence and confront them. These punks thought they could attack us with impunity. The moment we crossed the fence line and started charging towards them, they filled their trousers and fled. Fred thought that was the best thing ever.

Map of Maroochydore
Figure 14: Map of the Maroochydore Fine Arts Festival

The final work anecdote that I’ll share is when Fred demonstrated he knew precisely what a security officer’s job is. The fact that a dog can observe and report better than many “professional” security officers I’ve worked with is a story for another time.

Map of Nambour Stabling Yard
Figure 15: Map of the Nambour Stabling Yard

On the map, you can see the points that I’ll be talking about. It starts at the top at ‘First Gate’ and follows the train tracks down on the left side. So, after going through the first gate, I parked my ute at the Yard Entry Gate to open it and drive-in. After opening the gate, every time I tried to get in my ute, Fred barked, and he was pointing his nose towards hole number one. I shone my torch over there, couldn’t see anything, but Fred kept barking when I tried to get in the car.

So I walked over there and found a massive hole cut in the fence. Fred had somehow noticed this hole in the dark. His perception foiled a pre-planned attempt to spray paint trains. There were three holes altogether, Fred found the first one. Because Fred reported the first hole, I was more perceptive. I found the second one despite their attempts to disguise the hole, the police that responded discovered. The vandals had also moved a camera to create a blind spot. Fred’s professionalism prevented a well-orchestrated attack on our client’s property.

Hole in the Fence
Figure 16: The Hole that Fred Found
Bent Strapping on the Fence
Figure 17: The second hole was located by the bent strapping.
Hidden Hole in the Fence
Figure 18: They tried to hide it, but we found it.
Boot through Fence
Figure 19: They also cut the chain wire behind the tin, giving them easy access.
Repaired Fence
Figure 20: We repaired the fence as best we could.

On our last shift together at Infront Security, Fred knew that it was retirement day. Because of his degrading joint health, I had been reducing the number of shifts he did each week. His vet, Dr Kate, was concerned about his mental health if he was forced into early retirement. But I was moving on to another job, so we had our last shift together in November 2017. Fred always knows everything. He knew it was his last chance to get a live bite. So Fred was cranky at everyone despite being on one of the quietest lines. He did not get a bite. It was an uneventful shift. Fred ended his career without getting a chance at causing me a metric ton of paperwork for justifiably biting an enraged junkie.

German Shepherd and Security Guard
Figure 21: Our last Shift Selfie
German Shepherd Licking Face
Figure 22: Goof off pic

When Fred wasn’t on the job, he enjoyed showing off. At the Caboolture Sports Dog Obedience Club, he was the dog that both Nicky and I used for demonstrations. We trained in Agility for a while, and he really loved that anything for a cheer from the crowd.

Fred would often get babysat by Nicky when I had to be away for work. He would be protective of her and her children. Even being a trained security dog, Nicky felt comfortable letting her four-year-old daughter fall asleep on top of him.

German Shepherd and Woman
Figure 23: Nicky and Fred

His favourite game to play was Fetch. When people visited or visited someone, he would find a ball where no one thought a ball existed. And he would throw it at people until they’d play with him. He would play fetch past the point of exhaustion. Even towards the end, when his spine debilitated to the point it was starting to paralyse his back legs, he would want to keep playing despite the pain. It was tough to say no even when we knew we were causing him pain.

After a procedure one day, Fred was staying overnight at the Vet Surgery. When Fred woke up after the surgery was closed, he opened his crate (which the vets didn’t think he could do). He started wandering around the vet surgery, setting off the intruder alarm. The alarm company woke up the everyone at the vet surgery up so that someone could reset the alarm. When Dr Kate arrived, she saw Fred patrolling inside the surgery. Despite being the vet that he’d seen since he was seven-weeks-old, she was concerned Fred might bite her as she thought he might have switched into security mode. But he was as happy to see her as always. She was able to put him back in his crate easily and secure it. Despite these shenanigans, Fred was a favourite at the vets. They liked his kind nature and manners. We were very fortunate to get his vet nurse from when he was a puppy to say goodbye on his last day.

Fred had some Canine Siblings. Jazz who passed away in 2017, Jaeger, Reaper and Waverley. Jaeger is also a security trained dog. Though through good luck Jaeger never had incidents, unlike Fred. They had a bit of a rocky start together, but they eventually came to an understanding. Reaper is a Border Collie crossed with Husky, he trains as a sheep herding dog and would love nothing better than to live the farm life. Waverley is a relatively new addition to our family. She is a German Shepherd and has trained in Sheep Herding and will also do personal protection work soon. When Waverley arrived, Fred assessed her character and was confident in passing on the torch to her. It’s not that he felt he was replaced because that would be impossible. But I believe he felt there was finally a dog that could succeed him. Waverley arrived in 2019, and that was when Fred’s decline started to accelerate.

Dogs on a Bed
Figure 24: Left to right, Jaeger, Waverley, Reaper, Fred

Despite feeling comfortable passing on his mantle, Fred still had a lot of life in him. He loved car rides, and if the door was open, he’d jump in hoping for an adventure. He was often indulged, and I’d often organise supply runs around which locations he could accompany me on and which ones he couldn’t.

German Shepherd going for a ride
Figure 25: I just got home from Uni, and Fred jumps in the car hoping for a ride.

Fred also loved to hang out with me, whatever I was doing. If he was allowed, he’d accompany me on handyman jobs. Refusing to listen when I’d tell him to move and getting covered in sawdust. Finding random balls left behind by previous dogs and basically bringing joy with him. He enjoyed these adventures and our frequent trips to Bunnings because they were reserved for him alone.

German Shepherd Sleeping under Sleeping Bag
Figure 25: I just got home from Uni, and Fred jumps in the car hoping for a ride.

Chapter 6: Fred’s Legacy

Fred’s legacy is one of courage, determination and loyalty. He loved his family and his work. He enjoyed learning new things and visiting new places. Fred knew how to turn it on for the ladies and how to frighten junkies. Uniquely among the security dogs I’ve worked around, he had enough discernment to know when to act not just how. He would cover my lapses when I was tired from overwork, he would comfort me when depressed and lonely, guard me when I was anxious and force me to find purpose when I felt I had none.

The bond we shared is one that only working canine handlers understand. Where you can act in unison, you know each other’s thoughts and moods, and you have complete trust that you have each other’s backs no matter what. When I made the fateful decision to put him to sleep, he gave me a look of gratitude and relief. It was an upsetting decision, but I have no regrets. Fred spent the next three weeks being spoilt rotten by those who knew and loved him.

He was nervous the morning of his final day. He understood what was coming. He declined to eat a bone while I got myself ready. We arrived at Greencross Vet’s Morayfield at the appointed time. Fred got to say goodbye to the nurses and vets that had taken care of him throughout his life. He bore the final journey that we all face alone, with courage and fortitude. He passed quickly and peacefully. I buried him at Nicky’s house next to his sister Jazz. I held a service for him and filmed it for those who would wish to witness it. Fred taught me so much, the happiest memories I’ve had over the last 10 years were with him. It was an honour and a privilege to be his trainer and his handler. I’ll miss waking up to his sloppy kisses, insisting that if the sun is up, we should be too. I’ll miss his dreams where you can see him chasing and catching bad guys. But mostly, I’ll miss the comfort of knowing he was nearby and nothing could possibly be wrong if Fred was with me.

Appendix

I composed and read the following poem for Fred’s Funeral

Here lies a warrior
His story has ended
He served with distinction
His courage inspired
His dedication was faultless
His legacy lives on
The memories he leaves
the lessons he taught
Comfort his companions

I recorded the service, there are two links available.
https://open.lbry.com/@JakobAShanks:c/FredFuneral:6?r=2qgbeHBCjY1243Z2Xi6Raztu226FbhZu
https://youtu.be/ZdJ4CdcgG_Y

References

Goodavage, M. (2014). Top Dog – The Story of Marine Hero Lucca. Dutton.

Various. (2020). 1925 Serum Run to Nome. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1925_serum_run_to_Nome

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