Interview with Mark Barker, DVM & Sondra Barker, Breeders of Sycomore Irish Water Spaniels
Where do we live? How many years in dogs? How many years as breeders?
We live in Oklahoma. We both grew up with purebred dogs, Mark with a Lhasa Apso, Standard Schnauzer, Rough Collie, and Labrador Retriever, and Sondra with a Shetland Sheepdog and Pomeranians. Since being married, we have had Labrador Retrievers, a Standard Poodle, and now, Irish Water Spaniels. We became involved with the sport of Conformation in 2014 with our first Irish Water Spaniel, GCHB Quiet Storm My Boy’s Wicked Smart CGCA TKA (BAYES), bred by Dan Sayers.
Being involved in veterinary medicine, Mark as a veterinarian and Sondra as practice manager, and owning a purebred beef seedstock herd, has given us a solid foundation in animal health, nutrition, husbandry, reproduction, and evaluation. We have utilized these experiences in breeding Irish Water Spaniels and preparing them for the Conformation ring.
What is our kennel name? How many dogs do we currently keep?
Our kennel name is SYCOMORE. We currently own and co-own six bitches and four dogs.
Which show dogs from the past have been our noteworthy winners?
Although our past in show dogs is relatively short, we have put multiple all-breed Bests in Show on our first Irish Water Spaniel as well as on a daughter from his first litter.
Noteworthy winners to date include:
- GCHB Quiet Storm My Boy’s Wicked Smart CGCA TKA (BAYES), Multiple Best in Show Winner and Best of Opposite Sex at the 2018 IWSCA National Specialty;
- GCHB Réalta Sycomore Spry CGC (SPRY), Multiple Best in Show Winner and Best in Specialty Show winner;
- GCH Sycomore Ballad of Blue CGC (BLUE), Best of Winners at the 2021 IWSCA National Specialty and a Multiple Group Placer;
- CH Sycomore Irrepressible CGC (KICK), 2021 National Specialty Best in Sweepstakes.
Which have been our most influential sires and dams?
GCHB Quiet Storm My Boy’s Wicked Smart CGCA TKA (BAYES) has been our most influential sire. Although we are not his breeder, he is the foundation of SYCOMORE Irish Water Spaniels. We have co-bred two litters with Réalta and leased a bitch from Poole’s Ide.
Our latest co-bred litter is out of a BAYES son, GCH Sycomore Ballad of Blue CGC, and we are very pleased and excited about his potential to be an influential sire for us.
Can we talk a bit about our facilities? Where are our puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Our puppies are whelped and raised in our home. We use a combination of Puppy Culture and Avidog rearing programs. We do both Early Neurologic Stimulation (ENS) and Early Scent Introduction (ESI). We keep our puppies until they are at least 10 weeks of age.
What is our “process” for selecting Show Puppies? Performance Puppies? Field Puppies?
The puppies are continually evaluated, freely moving about to assess their proportions, structure, movement, and carriage. At six weeks the puppies are introduced to birds. We temperament test and do a formal evaluation for conformation at seven weeks.
Do we compete in Companion Events? Performance Events?
We have dabbled in Obedience classes, Dock Diving, Scent Work classes, and Fast CAT to give our dogs experiences, but do not actively compete in those events. We encourage all of our puppy homes to find an activity or event to engage in with their dogs.
Are Field Trials or parent club Hunt Tests important to us?
Yes, although we do not compete in Hunt Tests, we are fortunate to have a co-breeder, Rosemary Sexton, whose passion is field work. Réalta’s Élan! MH (ÉLAN), a BAYES daughter, is the youngest Irish Water Spaniel to obtain the Master Hunter title and receive an invitation to the 2022 Master National. Unfortunately, she did not get to compete because she came into season.
How would we define “conditioning” as it relates to our breed?
For us, “conditioning” of an Irish Water Spaniel includes mental and physical training as well as coat care and maintenance.
This starts at an early age with exposure to a variety of controlled experiences. We also use classical conditioning methods in training.
Our preferred method of physical conditioning is swimming, and Irish Water Spaniels love to swim.
Coat Conditioning for the Show Ring:
Although we are not showing every weekend, we do weekly brushing, baths, nail trims, and teeth scaling along with sound nutrition.
Are there any health-related concerns in our breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Cancer is currently a concern in most all breeds. As a veterinarian, I have not experienced any one health issue within the breed that seems to be more exaggerated than the general population of dogs I see. In our dogs, we have not found any special nutritional needs aside from providing a high-quality kibble blended with a raw topper and fresh water in clean water bowls.
Do we think our breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
In purebred dogs in general, and in rare breed dogs specifically, we feel there is a need for more informed and dedicated new breeders.
Is our breed well suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own our breed?
The Irish Water Spaniel is a wonderful family dog when placed in the appropriate home. They do best in families or with individuals who provide both physical and mental stimulation for the dog.
What is the biggest misconception about our breed? What is our breed’s best-kept secret?
The biggest misconception is that the Irish Water Spaniel is hypoallergenic and non-shedding. The breed’s best-kept secret is its keen intelligence.
If we could share a comment or two with judges of our breed, what would we like to say to them?
The Irish Water Spaniel is not a refined breed. Per the AKC Breed Standard, they are “strongly built and well boned.”
Do we have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?
As newer breeders ourselves, we do not feel we can pass along any words of wisdom that might come with spending a lifetime in dogs. However, with our past experience in cattle breeding, we would encourage an understanding of what you are breeding for and to determine your breeding goals; that phenotype and genotype are both important factors to make a breeding decision. Find mentors within your breed as well as outside of your breed who have been successful.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing we’ve ever experienced with a Sporting Dog?
Daily life with an Irish Water Spaniel is filled with amusement, so picking the most amusing experience is hard. One thing does come to mind. We were at a show and our young male decided to escape his pen at our RV set-up. When we went to look for him, a fellow exhibitor yelled, “The Water Spaniel is in the WATER!” The dog had gone to the pond behind our RV set-up. (This dog had never escaped his pen before nor since.) We now pay attention to any body of water that may be at a show site.
Are you looking for an Irish Water Spaniel puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder?
Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home an Irish Water Spaniel dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
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