Information about the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or Toller for short, is a medium-sized breed of gundog bred primarily for hunting. The dog originated in southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada. It is the smallest of the retrievers.

Tollers are named for their ability to entice or lure waterfowl within gunshot range, called “tolling”. The hunter stays hidden in a blind and sends the dog out to romp and play near the water, usually by tossing a ball or stick to be retrieved. Appearing similar to a fox, the dog’s unusual activity and white markings pique the curiosity of ducks and geese, who swim over to investigate.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred to “toll”, or lure, ducks into shooting range by causing a disturbance near the shore. After the duck is shot, the dog brings it to the hunter.

When the birds are close, the hunter calls the dog back to the blind, then rises, putting the birds to flight, allowing him a shot. The Toller then retrieves any downed birds. They are particularly suited for retrieving in cold water climates because of their water-repellent double coat.

The breed was developed in the community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, around the beginning of the 19th century to toll waterfowl. The breed was originally known as the Little River Duck Dog or the Yarmouth Toller. Its exact origins are not known but it appears that some possibly spaniel and setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and farm collie may have gone into the mix. It may share origins with the smaller Kooikerhondje, which has a similar method of work.

The Toller was officially admitted to the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945. Declared the provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1955, the breed gained greater national notoriety in 1980, when two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers were awarded Best in Show at championship events that included many breeds. On June 11, 2001, it was approved for admission into the Miscellaneous Class of the American Kennel Club and was granted full recognition into the Sporting Group on July 1, 2003.

The breed is often mistaken for small Golden Retrievers, but the Toller is more active, both physically and mentally. According to the breed standards, the Toller should be athletic, well-muscled, compact, medium boned, balanced and powerful. The chest is deep. Conformation judges require Tollers to be capable of tolling, and physical faults that inhibit working ability are heavily penalized. They should be of moderate build, a lack of substance or a heavy build are penalized by judges, as both detract from the type and athleticism. The legs are sturdy and solid. Tollers have webbed feet.

Those who breed Tollers for conformation shows consider the head (clean cut, slightly wedge-shaped) to be an important feature, and believe it should resemble that of a fox and must never be blocky like that of a Golden Retriever. The ears are triangular and set high and well back from the skull. The tail is well feathered and held jauntily when the dog is excited or moving.

Color is any shade of red, ranging from a golden red through dark coppery red, with lighter featherings on the underside of the tail, pantaloons, and body. Even the lighter shades of golden red are deeply pigmented and rich in color. The Toller should not be buff or brown. Although very rare, there are chocolate/liver brown Duck Tollers.

The Toller has usually at least one of the following white markings: tip of tail, feet (not extending above the pasterns), chest, and blaze. Lack of white is not a fault. Dogs with white on the shoulders, around ears, back of neck, or across back or flanks, or with silvery, grey or black areas in coat are disqualified from conformation shows.

The Toller was bred to retrieve from icy waters and must have a water-repellent double coat of medium length and softness, and a soft dense undercoat. The coat may have a slight wave on the back, but is otherwise straight. Some winter coats may form a long loose curl at the throat. Featherings are soft and moderate in length. The hair on the muzzle is short and fine. Seasonal shedding is to be expected.

Tollers are the smallest of all the retriever breeds. They range in height from 17-21 inches (43-53 cm) at the withers, and weigh 40-55 pounds (18-25 kg), with females being slightly shorter and lighter. Tollers are always a medium-sized breed, never large; however, there has been a trend towards larger dogs in recent years.

Tollers should be slightly longer than tall (a ratio of approximately 10 to 9). However, they should not appear long-backed.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are known to be very intelligent, alert, high-energy dogs. They tend to be very affectionate and outgoing animals with family members and are known for being very patient with children. Some dogs may be reserved in new situations but they are not shy. They excel at many types of competitions, such as agility and obedience.

Duck Tollers are working animals and are happiest when they have a job to do. Physical stimulation should be provided for these dogs each day, as they may become destructive when they are not exercised enough or left alone for too long. The breed standard states that the dog should have a strong retrieving drive, intense birdiness, endurance and a love for water.