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BEHIND THE SCENES: Howl about this: Local dog trainer saving money on gas's Alex Flood takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Alex Flood, whose story 'Howl about this: Local dog trainer saving money on gas' was published on Oct. 29.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

Residents of Sault Ste. Marie, particularly those living in the central part of town, may already be familiar with Chris Nielsen and his pack of well-trained huskies.

But even if you’ve seen the furry fleet pulling their proud owner on a skateboard or sled around town, it’s still a sight that doesn’t get old for most locals, according to Nielsen.

“People love it,” he told SooToday. “I get a lot of gasps or pointing, honking, waving — it’s great.”

The father of three didn’t imagine he would be riding around town with five huskies when he got his first dog Keynai, a pure-bred Siberian, back in 2017.

But six years later, he says he can’t imagine life any differently.

“When I got Keynai, I had my skateboard one time, and we went out to see how it would go,” he explains. “He wasn’t quite trained to do it, but eventually he was pulling me around. Once he turned two, he calmed down a bit, and I started off-leash training with him.”

After Nielsen got his second dog, and for every pup that followed, he would take them to Fort Creek for training. But the pet owner admits he didn’t have to do much.

“My Siberian pretty much trained them all,” he says. “I would tandem that dog with my Siberian because he’s my leader — he’s the one who sets the pace. I would let each puppy off-leash at Fort Creek and have them follow my Siberian wherever they went.”

“I never had one of them run off on me ever,” he adds. “At about six months is when I start to tandem them on the skateboard with Keynai. The puppy is always looking at the veteran dog. You repeat with each dog, and before you know it, you have five going across.”

The other four dogs — Koda, Sytka, Denahi, and Odessa — are all Alaskan Malamutes. Nielsen acquired them from a breeder in North Bay, and each animal (except Odessa) is named after a character from the Disney movie Brother Bear.

Using Inuit sled commands to guide them, Nielsen will travel with his huskies all around the area no matter the time of year. He can often be seen going up and down Great Northern Road, through the downtown core, and along the hub trail.

The dogs can travel even further in the winter, so they’ll go for adventures as far as the airport and even Garden River.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “I have a 2018 Kia Sorento that I bought in December of 2017. I haven’t even passed 30,000 kilometres on it.”

Two years ago, Nielsen went viral on social media when a resident uploaded a video of the dogs in action, which garnered around 1.5 million views on TikTok.

“I hear people take videos of me all the time, but I don’t always see them,” he admits. “I tell people to send them to me, because from my point of view, all I’m seeing is tails and dog butts.”

While he gets asked all the time if he would enter the dogs into races or competitions, Nielsen admits he just likes the convenience and recreation of travelling around the area with his canine family.

“I don’t care for racing — I do it for recreation,” he says. “These dogs sleep in the room with us; they’re not kept outside like sled dogs.”

“I honestly don’t even know how fast they go since I let them go at their own pace,” he adds. “They’re the engine. I’m not doing anything; I’m just the spectator. I don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do. If they want to pull over and break, then they will.”

Although the dogs are sometimes just several metres away from vehicles during their travels, Nielsen says the trust he has for the huskies is unlike anything else.

“I have more trust in these dogs than I do in people,” he says. “They’re so well-trained and respond very well to commands. Even if they see a squirrel, I have a command to make sure they stay on track.”

“The kids love these dogs,” he adds. “The smiles on their faces are absolutely insane. I see that consistently around town. People will see me and literally loop around and drive by again so they can show their kids. I love it.”