Spring Grove family finds hobby in dog sledding
Thursday, March 02, 2017 9:34 AM
JORDAN GERARD/NEWS LEADER
Dawn Prahl poses with two of the family’s four Siberian huskies. On the left is Aspen, and Sequoia is on the right.
Two large Siberian huskies named Aspen and Sequoia run together over a snowy cornfield outside of Spring Grove pulling a small dog sled behind them.
Riding on the dog sled is their owner, Dawn Prahl. “Let’s go home,” she called to the dogs, and they turned back to the farm running at full speed.
Prahl put on the brake to slow them down, and they stopped where they had started out.
Prahl said her family’s huskies have been pulling a dog sled for about three years now, ever since they got their first husky, Tahoe.
“Kendra (Prahl’s daughter) wanted a husky when she was about 17 years old,” Prahl explained.
Having had other dogs and their current non-husky, Annie, a 12-year-old border collie, the Prahls knew they wanted one, but were a bit apprehensive.
“They were expensive, and we live close to the road,” she explained.
Then they saw an ad for husky puppies in the Spring Grove Herald. After meeting three “beautiful puppies,” from Pine Ridge Siberians, Prahl said they almost came home with two, but little black-and-white Tahoe joined their family.
Pine Ridge Siberians is located in Hayfield and is run by a family who breeds huskies and also rescues and rehomes huskies and other breeds.
With a busy schedule, it was hard to get in exercise for the new family member.
Then Prahl saw a small dog sled for sale at the Alpine Nursery in Houston. She asked if dogs could pull the sled, and the staff told her, “That’s what they’re for.”
Home came the sled and training Tahoe to pull the sled began. The Prahls also acquired more huskies after Tahoe, including: Sierra, Aspen, Sequoia and Timber.
“Tahoe needed a playmate,” Prahl laughed.
Tahoe has since passed away, but with four more huskies, the family is on their toes with sled-dog training.
“They’re really smart, but they can be stubborn sometimes,” Prahl said. “It’s been a learning curve.”
Prahl said it’s been pretty easy to train the dogs. Since they have two of each gender, the females are harnessed to each other while the males are next to each other.
Each dog wears a collar and harness. A neckline connects the two dogs paired to each other while the harnesses are connected to the gangline, which is connected to the sled.
The sled has a foot brake to let the dogs know when to slow down or stop.
“Gee” and “haw” are traditional terms used to tell dogs to go right or left, respectively, Prahl explained, but she tells the dogs, “this way” and leans that direction on the sleds, and the dogs learned those commands.
She also tells the dogs, “Let’s go home,” and they turn around to run back to the farm.
Currently, they have up to three dogs pulling the sled. Prahl said she’d like to get all four pulling at the same time.
“We try to sled as much as possible with them,” Prahl noted.
Kendra has also been out sledding with the dogs and helps train them in the summer by having them pull the family’s all-terrain vehicle – the Gator.
“She loves the dogs, and the dogs love her,” Prahl said of her daughter and the huskies.
According to the American Kennel Club, the Chukchi people in Siberia bred Siberian huskies over 3,000 years ago.
Their claim to fame is saving Nome, Alaska, in 1925 from a diphtheria epidemic; teams of sled dogs went through blizzard conditions to get supplies to the town.
The Prahls recently hosted the Newhouse Norsmen 4-H Club members. She likes to share her love of huskies with others.