Interview with Sporting Group Breeder Dan Sayers.
1. Where do you live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
2. What is your kennel name? How many dogs do you currently keep?
3. Which show dogs from the past have been your noteworthy winners?
4. Which have been your most influential sires and dams?
5. Can you talk about your facilities? Where are your puppies whelped? How are they raised?
6. What is your “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do you make your decision?
7. How do you prepare your pups for the show ring?
8. Are Performance and Companion titles important to you as a breeder?
9. In your opinion, is your breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
10. Do you feel that your breed has a promising future as a family companion?
11. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about the sport of dogs in general?
12. For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing experience you’ve ever experienced with a Sporting Dog?
Get to Know Sporting Group Breeder Dan Sayers
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder? I live in Merchantville, New Jersey, near Philadelphia. I went to my first dog show in 1980 and got my first Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) in 1985. I bred my first litter in 1988.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep? My kennel name is Quiet Storm, which I chose because it perfectly described the character of my first IWS. My dog limit is three, with the occasional visiting dog.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners? My most notable conformation show winner has been MULTI BIS, BOSS GCH Quiet Storm My Boy’s Wicked Smart CGC CGCA TKA. “Bayes” was groomed, conditioned, and handled throughout his show career by Mark and Sondra Barker of Oklahoma City. I don’t, however, specifically breed “show dogs.” My goal is to preserve IWS breed type, as I interpret it, for the future. If one of my IWSs has success in the show ring (under judges whose opinions I value), that’s especially gratifying. If that same dog manages to bring new supporters to the breed, that’s even better.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams? CH Mirkwood Cameo Appearance CD was my first brood bitch and the dam of eight champions. “Teala” produced CH Quiet Storm The Devil In Darby CD CGC and CH Quiet Storm Reggae Dancer CD WC TT CGC TDI, the foundation bitches of Dede Selph’s Ballyhoo Kennel. Ballyhoo’s Kurre O’Quiet Storm, co-owned with Dede, is the dam of Bayes and his littermate, CH Quiet Storm Triple Mocha. “Mocha” is the dam of my most recent litter from which two puppies, Quiet Storm Koffi With Cream and Quiet Storm Alchemy, are showing promise.
More important to me than show ring success is a dam’s ability to produce healthy puppies that are “nearer to perfection.” My goal with each litter is to select a dog and a bitch that are an improvement on the qualities of their sire and dam, respectively—without sacrificing breed type.
Can I talk about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised? The IWS is not a “kennel dog” in the traditional sense, and does best when integrated into the day-to-day activities of the household. As a breeder with limited space, I only keep bitches at home. (Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters can make for equitable roommates.) Each dog enjoys daily excursions outdoors individually and with her housemates, and each has her own sleeping spot in the house. Puppies are whelped in the bedroom and remain there until they are weaned. They are then moved downstairs to a large ex-pen where they can greet visitors and learn about the world at large. My last litter was raised utilizing the Puppy Culture program.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decision? Although I have occasionally made my personal selection on “day one,” I prefer to wait until the puppies are up on their feet, interacting with each other and the world around them. Seeing, as they say, is believing, and simple observation has always been my best puppy placement tool. I observe the pups at play as they learn how to walk, run, and overcome obstacles. I look for puppies that use their senses and seem comfortable in their own skin. I want to see a pup use its nose and listen curiously as the birds sing. I want to see how each pup responds to visitors and greets strange dogs. I want to see how a puppy carries its head “out” and its tail “horizontal.” I look for natural balance, front and rear, and I want to see four good legs. (I don’t care much for “stacking” young puppies, other than to understand how amenable they are to being manipulated.) I want to see how each puppy trots, in every direction, and how it stops on its own. This last point is especially important to me, as it provides a great deal of information about a pup’s physiology and its emotional “bandwidth.” I want to know that a puppy can move “freely and soundly” and stand four-square—on its own—by 7 or 8 weeks of age.
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Admittedly, I’m not the best person to give advice on preparing puppies for the show ring. I’ve found that some IWS pups are simply not ready to show until they’re good and ready. Of course, early and consistent socialization and show handling classes are the best ways to condition a pup for the conformation ring. However, the IWS can be reserved with strangers and some need time (and a personal diary of positive experiences) to be convinced that judges have the best of intentions. Once an IWS’s suspicion has been raised, the show ring can become either a battleground of wills or a comedy show with only one headliner.
Are Performance and Companion titles important to me as a breeder? Due to the breed’s innate intelligence and boundless energy, the IWS can excel at virtually any activity. Many compete in Performance Events at the highest levels. This smart and enthusiastic breed is limited only by the handler’s experience and commitment. My skill level in this regard is, sadly, not up to snuff.
Nevertheless, I have enjoyed taking my dogs to Agility and Rally classes and to Dock Diving sessions, and I’ve always appreciated their ability to swim, flush, and retrieve enthusiastically, without the need for a single lesson. Generally speaking, the breed’s instincts to function effectively as a personal gun dog remain strong.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern? Historically, the survival of the IWS as a recognizable breed has been dependent on an exceedingly small number of dedicated individuals. This remains the case today, with a minuscule number of breeders producing what might be considered “lines” within the breed. As a result, the consistency of type within the breed is subject to the vision and capabilities of a handful of breeders who must work together across state, provincial, and international borders.
In my opinion, based on recent entries in the US, quality within the breed is “holding steady.” Several young-to-mature dogs are doing well in the show ring and are also producing nicely. This bodes well for the future. Also, a number of puppies on the ground are showing promise, being free of the “drags” that can plague the breed. These faults include light-colored eyes and wooly coats.
As a breed, the IWS is defined by the qualities of its coat—not by the styling of its hair. Ideal exhibits will have the correct coat texture, pattern, and color. These are “must-haves.” Equally important are the qualities of the eyes. Color is preferably “medium to dark brown, dark amber,” size is “comparatively small,” shape is “almond,” and placement is “set almost flush.” Expression is “keenly alert, intelligent, direct and quizzical” and should not suggest the kind of soft, melting, kindly, trusting, or somber expressions that typify various Spaniel breeds that hail from Great Britain. And unlike the American Water and Boykin Spaniels, the IWS is not defined by its size. Those US breeds are largely expected to work from a skiff or a canoe, where a larger dog would be a hinderance. The IWS, by contrast, is expected to perform in wet environments as rough as the North Atlantic and as saturated as a peat bog. Consequently, the breed must be “strongly built and well-boned.” Unfortunately, many of today’s dogs lack adequate substance and rib spring. Likewise, they frequently lack the essential “large, round, somewhat spreading” feet and a tail that is “low set,” “thick at the root,” and “carried level with the back.” The breed’s unique silhouette is also essential, so please don’t be put-off by an IWS that appears to be “slightly higher” in the rear. Remember, the IWS is a waterfowler, and a good water dog NEVER has a descending topline.
Do I feel that my breed has a promising future as a family companion? The IWS makes an ideal companion for active individuals who are willing to exercise the dog’s mind and body. Conversely, the breed is a poor choice for anyone who enjoys a sedentary lifestyle or expects a dog to keep itself entertained. The IWS craves interaction with its people, so outdoorsy folk often provide the best homes. Be forewarned, however, that the breed’s peculiar intelligence and beguiling sensitivity can prove challenging for all but the most experienced dog people. Harsh training methods can sow the seeds of distrust in an IWS, and a lack of training altogether will result in an otherwise fine dog becoming bored and destructive. It may seem obvious, but active people are always the best match for any dog that enjoys plenty of activity.
Do I have any thoughts I’d like to share about the sport of dogs in general? Ever since Agility was embraced by purebred dog enthusiasts in the 1990s, the Sport of Dogs has broadened in scope significantly. Performance and Companion Events continue to grow in both number and popularity, leaving Conformation enthusiasts in the US searching for ways to remain relevant. In the years to come, several realities are likely to continue: An aging population of club members will mean the discontinuation of more all-breed shows; the vacancy created will be filled with more 2-day shows by those clubs that have active memberships; show entries will grow at these events as the number of dog shows on a given weekend decreases; the number of clusters will expand at the few remaining show sites around the country that still welcome dogs and can accommodate large numbers of RVs; televised/live-streaming shows such as Westminster, Morris & Essex, The National Dog Show, and the AKC National Championship will increase in value, and specialty shows will grow in importance as the most reliable means by which breeder-judges can evaluate breeding stock according to the breed standards.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing experience I’ve ever experienced with a Sporting Dog? Many years ago, I was in the Sporting Group with an IWS that had springs on her feet. (Most IWS have springs on their feet.) As I tossed another treat into the air for her to catch, she jumped and missed, turning in mid-air before landing awkwardly on the ground. As I bent down to pick up the bait, she proceeded to roll around on the grass, and when she stood up, her coat was liberally sprinkled with thousands of grass clippings. We didn’t make the cut that day, though I did learn how to expeditiously remove dead grass from a curly coat.