MIDDLETOWN—Dog fighting is a felony offence in 50 U.S. states, but Steve Nash still worries one of his dogs could end up in the fighting ring—or worse.
“See this white hair?” That’s many years of worries,” he said on a July afternoon at his kennel in Middletown.
Steve and his son Dan Nash run one of the most widely known breeding kennels for Central Asian shepherds, also known by their Russian name Ovcharka, in the country.
Called MaxoMagic Kennels, it has 20 dogs on the family’s 16 acres of land off Route 6.
At first sight, the kennel looks small. Just four pens with four dogs on one side and another side pen with two puppies, Yana and Misha, on the other.
Take the footpath past the barn and a complex of dog kennels appears: two rows of seven chain-link fence pens set on gravel appear against the backdrop of an overgrown field.
Steve Nash, 75, has been raising Central Asian shepherds for the last 11 years—breeding, showing, and judging the breed all over the country.
He is something of a giant in the Central Asian shepherd community, which is not very big; there are only a handful of breeders in the United States on the scale of MaxoMagic.
Still, his kennel stands out among them.
“I think they have the best quality of any Central Asians I have seen in the United States and some of the best in the world,” said Donna Burton, a breeder from Pennsylvania who also shows her dogs. “They are functional but also very good.”
All of her five Ovcharkas came from MaxoMagic Kennel and she uses aiwanhem to guard her 120 sheep and roughly 75 goats on her farm in Herndon, Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Harrisburg.
“I respect his [Nash’s] opinion more than most people that are out there because he is truly dedicated to his dogs and to his breed,” she said.
Career in Dog Years
Steve Nash’s career in dog breeding and showing is a long one, stretching back to when he was in his 20s in college.
A young lady he knew who had an Alaskan malamute invited him to come with her to a dog show. And while he was initially more interested in her company than the dogs, the show piqued his interest.
“I accompanied her to a couple of dog shows and I decided, ‘Gee, I kind of like this, I think I am going to buy an Alaskan malamute myself,” he recalled.
By blind luck, his first Alaskan malamute, named Bismarck, was one of the best in the country. The high from winning shows with Bismarck got him hooked, and as they say, the rest is history.
Forty-three years ago he got into breeding Tibetan mastiffs, which according to the American Kennel Club (AKC) is one of the largest dog breeds in the world. He gained international renown for his expertise in the breed, going as far as the Republic of China to judge them.
Then about 11 years ago, he switched over to Central Asian shepherds, also a big dog of the guardian breed that he describes as more “outwardly affectionate.”
“I can have a Tibetan mastiff for five years and [if] I were to say to you, ‘How would you like this dog?’ and you were to say, ‘Fine,’ I would give you the lead, the dog would go off with you and not think about me twice,” he said.
“These dogs [Central Asian shepherds] bond to individuals and families much more than other flock guardians do,” he said.
Traditionally used to guard sheep, goats, and other herd animals in Central Asia, they are still used for that purpose today. Nash said they are about 80 percent guardian and 20 percent herder, but Burton said they are all guardian.
“If the livestock for some reason got out and ran away, the dogs will go with them to protect them. They are not going to bring them home but they are going to stay by their side,” she said.
Their clipped ears and docked tails are a relic of that job. The less a predator has to latch onto, the better their chances of survival, Nash explained.
He said the tradition of docking and clipping continues today in the show ring because that is how people are used to seeing them. However he predicts that could change over the next 10 years or so.
“The current tendency is not to crop ears or dock tails and you will now be able to go to dog shows and find dogs like Great Danes and Doberman pinschers with ears and tails,” he said.
While the Central Asian is a breed, it is not as narrowly defined as some of the human-created breeds in existence today. Central Asian shepherds have defining characteristics but can vary widely in size, colorings, and markings.
A female can range from less than 100 pounds to 140 while a male can range from 140 to 170 pounds in the winter, Dan Nash said.
Possibly because of their big size and strong guardian instincts, the Central Asian Shepherd Society of America states on its website that they are “not the breed for a novice dog owner.”
“They have an inborn natural distrust of strangers with no training needed to learn how to protect. Thus they require heavy socialization and basic obedience training as puppies,” the society’s website states.
Dan Nash, who does most of the day-to-day work for the kennel, said he tries to socialize the puppies as much as possible, taking them to places like Petsmart to mingle with other dogs and people.
Viktor Skormin, a professor at SUNY in Binghamton who bought his dog Alon from MaxoMagic, said that this socialization has paid off. He bought his other Central Asian from a breeder “because I wanted to take it out of his misery,” and the difference between the two is “very noticeable” he said.
He takes both his dogs to class with him, and even though they are well mannered, he jokes with his students, “This dog can kill anybody who is cheating during the test.”
Economics of Dog Breeding
As Steve Nash walks up the row of kennels to a cacophony of loud barks, he points out the dogs that are of showable quality.
“Vic’s Pik, R.I.P.V.S.E., Kali, Sundance Queen, Famerlane, and Boris,” he said, pointing at the excited dogs.
While there are many award winners at MaxoMagic Kennels, dog show prizes do not translate into money.
“We get a ribbon. No, no, no I fibbed,” Steve Nash said about winning “Best in Show” or “Reserve Best in Show.” “We get a rosette, not just a ribbon. It’s a fancy ribbon. … It costs the show $2.50 instead of $0.50.”
While the ribbons or rosettes do not come with any prize money, what they are good for is getting the kennel’s name out there and showing potential customers that MaxoMagic has quality dogs.
Steve and Dan Nash do heart and hip tests, the most common problems with these big dogs, but don’t bother to get them temperament tested because the shows themselves are a better proof of sound temperament.
“They [the American Kennel Club] do it once and they give you a certificate. When you’re showing, you might have to show to four or five judges before you attain a championship,” Steve Nash said.
Still, showing the dogs is expensive when travel and lodgings are factored in, and when added to all the other daily costs of maintaining the kennel, Nash said they “lose money right and left.”
The dogs they sell as pets cost $1,500 and for those of show and breeding quality, $2,500. Dan Nash estimates they sell only about 20 a year, but they don’t have a problem turning customers away if it’s not the right fit.
“I ask you a bunch of questions,”said Steve Nash. “I say, ‘Do you have a fenced in yard?’ Your answer is ‘No’. I say to you, ‘Thank you, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable in selling my dogs to someone who doesn’t have adequate room and a fenced in yard.'”
The care they show for their dogs has surprised some of their customers. After vetting them as much as they can, Dan Nash tries to follow up, emailing, Facebooking, calling, and even visiting the new homes of some of the dogs he has sold.
“They’re my pals,” Nash said.
Until recently, Central Asian shepherds were a relatively unknown breed in the United States.
Interest in the breed has been gaining momentum however, Burton said, especially among farmers and ranchers who need a guard dog that can fight off bigger predators.
“The nice thing for us is that, we do have coyotes and we have bobcats here … those animals stay away from my livestock,” she said.
She said she used to breed more aggressive guardian breeds, but switched over to Central Asians because they can also be sold as a family dog.
Jessica Lingle who bought her dog Blaze from MaxoMagic to guard her small farm in Huguenot, said she could not have found a better combination of farm and family dog.
“I can’t tell you how many pictures I have of him [Blaze] with my 4-year-old [daughter] walking him on a loose leash around other dogs, in public. He’s 123 pounds, she’s 40,” she said.
Leslie Morrison, who lives about 20 miles outside Anchorage, Alaska, wanted a dog for personal protection when she came to visit MaxoMagic last December. She left with a 10-week-old pup she named Elgin and she said he is everything she was looking for.
“He’s intelligent, more independently intelligent than any other dog I’ve ever had, and I’ve had my fair share of dogs,” she said.
Changing Face of MaxoMagic
Although he doesn’t call it a celebration, Steve Nash just celebrated his 75th birthday and said he is feeling his age in his lower back. He has let Dan take the reins of the kennel for the most part, and “is enjoying his retirement years,” he said.
Dan has learned a lot through osmosis and being around Steve his whole life—his dad jokes he was bred for this job—and almost single-handedly takes care of the kennel now.
It’s a full time job that doesn’t make a lot of money and keeps him busy seven days a week, but his devotion to his animals and their devotion to him is what keeps him going.
“I enjoy taking care of them. It gives me satisfaction. They’re always happy to see me,” he said. “That’s the great thing about dogs.”
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Correction: Steve Nash went as far as the Republic of China to judge Tibetan mastiffs.