Sawyer and his lessons continued over the next couple of years. I have always said that in every interaction, someone is training someone. For me to think that I was always training Sawyer was at best short sighted. When I got over myself and was no longer motivated by ego, I began to see what he was teaching me.
I remember one night coming home exhausted from work. I worked in Human Services at the time and was in no mood for dysfunction. I was lying on the couch and here comes Sawyer with my shoe in his mouth. I was too tired to get up and try to get it or teach him to let go. I looked at him and said, "Wow, Sawyer look at you! Aren't you a retriever extraordinaire!" He looked back at me and I swear he smiled. He started wiggling his butt and showing me the shoe over and over and it suddenly made sense to me. He simply needed validation for a skill that he was bred to do. Now we did not have ducks nor would I ever hunt, but he made do with my shoe. From that point on, whenever I came home, Sawyer would be there with my shoe in his mouth. He never chewed or destroyed them, he only wanted to present me with something. As he aged and did not walk as well nor see as well, he still would find a shoe to present to me. I would call him "A Retriever Extraordinaire" and he would wiggle and feel content.
This lesson that Sawyer taught me has proven invaluable in my training career. We all need validation. I fear that too often humans are telling dogs what they are doing wrong. We need to allow them to feel valuable and loved for who they are and what their purpose in this world is, even if it is simply bringing you a shoe.