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Opinion: Training new hunting dog a work in progress

It seems like his name is going to fit perfectly.

His paws are growing as fast as flowers on Miracle-Gro, and his food intake seems to double daily.

An eight-week-old black lab, Bear is my new hunting dog.

He's clumsy. He chews on everything -- mainly my four-year-old rat terrier Lilly. Poor girl.

He is dominant like a bear.

I wake up way earlier than I should most mornings to let him outside and find he's already done his business inside his kennel. He's learning, I continue to tell myself.

Tuesday, my wife and I went to buy him food and ourselves some groceries. We bought a 40-pound bag of IAMS, which took up three-fourths of the cart and left us little room to fill our own bellies.

Since I got him a little more than two weeks ago, he's already gobbled through an eight-pound bag of food. If my Minnesota math is correct, he's going to finish that monster bag in a little more than two months.

He sure eats like a bear.

His nickname is "Cub" because he's full of energy and is curious about everything. We've learned not to keep anything of value on the floor, because whatever it is, he'll put it in his mouth.

Bear runs and plays and gets into all the little nooks and crannies around the house, until he's so tired he stretches out on the floor and snores like a grizzly in hibernation.

When I brought him home from Brookings, he slept nearly the entire drive in my left arm, only to wake up and leave a wet stain on my T-shirt. The first two days, Bear acted as if he was in hibernation. He spent hours on end sleeping on top of our futon in our living room, acting as if it was his cave.

He sleeps like a bear.

The little guy has doubled, maybe even tripled in size since I got him, it seems. And although it's not my first time raising a puppy, it never gets old to see a dog take form.

One of the biggest things I'm excited about is his retrieving ability. The fact that he picks up everything around the house and puts it in his mouth thrills me to death. Unless he's chewing, I never scold him for picking up items in his mouth, as I don't want to discourage the retriever in him.

Outside, he'll carry four-foot long sticks, and other times he'll spot a cricket and attempt to hunt it down. After two-plus weeks of training he's learned "no," "come" and "Bear." We're currently working on "sit."

Growing up in Minnesota, I'm a huge waterfowler -- I love to shoot ducks. Last winter, I enjoyed three hunts with three area residents who brought me on my first pheasant hunts while working with a dog.

Talking with those three men, they all agreed a black lab would be a great compromise to hunting waterfowl while still getting to enjoy the phenomenal pheasant shoots South Dakota has to offer.

Currently at eight weeks old, Bear is definitely too young to hunt this fall. Right now, I'm starting to introduce him to loud noises while he eats to prevent any gun sensitivity.

But the thought of all the time I'm spending with him now -- and all the time I'll work with him in the future -- excites me, knowing I'll have a hunting partner for years.

The memories of the little Bear cub growing up -- and knowing that I trained him -- will make it that much more meaningful.