Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers (NSDTR), or "tollers," are the smallest of the American Kennel Club's (AKC) recognized retriever breeds. They are a medium-sized sporting breed with a striking red coat and white markings. Originally bred and trained to hunt in Nova Scotia, the dogs continue to be used as hunting companions but can also be affectionate family dogs. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are extremely active and let out their distinct toller scream when over-stimulated or excited. They are less well known than a Labrador retriever or golden retriever, but their popularity is growing.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are a medium-sized, compact dog who should be sporty and agile, according to Kristina Mott, DVM, CVA, CCRT. Mott is a practicing veterinarian who also breeds NSDTR pups. Tollers' crimson coats range from a golden red to a coppery orange, with white markings typically present on their feet, chest, and sometimes tail and face.
Tollers have a double coat with a dense undercoat to protect them from cold water. They shed their fluffy down undercoat seasonally, but it tends to vacuum up easily. Mott suggests that a Toller's double coat be maintained with brushing a few times a week. This should include brushing their ears and feet. Trimming excess hair from between the pads of their feet helps them maintain traction indoors.
When they're not working, tollers may have a slightly sad or worried expression. According to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA)'s breed standard, "the moment the slightest indication is given that retrieving is required, they set themselves for springy action with an expression of intense concentration and excitement." When they're working, their feathered tail will move quickly and constantly.
A full-grown Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is about 17–21 inches tall and weighs between 21–35 pounds.
"Different lines tend to have more snuggly temperaments than others," Mott says. "Some are more independent, lay-at-your-feet dogs whereas others are more snuggle-on-top-of-you dogs."
Mott says that tollers are active dogs, but with proper exercise and mental stimulation, they should have an "off-switch" at the end of the day. But these energetic pups are ready to go at a moment's notice.
Although sporting dogs by definition, tollers can also be cuddly family dogs. As with any dog, playtime with young children should be supervised with an adult, and little ones should never be left unattended. However, active older children would make great playmates for tollers.
With proper socialization, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers can get along well with other dogs as well as cats. Generally, the breed is cautious with strangers at first, but as they get to know them they become more accepting. Mott adds that some tollers may have "missed this memo and will love on anyone."
The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is an intelligent breed that requires training that's mentally stimulating. They are alert, outgoing, and incredibly fast learners. Activities that play into these dogs' drive to hunt and retrieve waterfowl (hence the name!) are great ways to burn off steam and keep their minds engaged.
Because of their distinctive "toller scream"—which may be music to a duck-hunter's ears but can be loud and even ear piercing when unexpected—tollers might not be a great fit for a home or apartment with thin walls.
Although they can adapt to apartment living, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are extremely active dogs. Having been bred as hunting companions, tollers have a strong prey drive that may prompt them to chase small animals they see outdoors. A fenced-in yard will prevent them from running after anything and everything they see.
Since they were originally bred to hunt and be active in the field, they require regular physical and mental activity. However, after a full day of work, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers enjoy laying around and cuddling with their family.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers need regular trimming to keep ear fuzz from matting and feet tidy. In general, brushing a couple times per week will decrease shedding. Spaying can affect the density and texture of a dog's coat. Females specifically may experience a thickening of their coat referred to as "spay coat." Mott advises that spayed females may require this downy-soft excess coat to be occasionally stripped out or trimmed.
Tollers require moderate physical exercise on a daily basis. They have a strong retrieving desire, coupled with a love of water and what Mott describes as an "intense birdiness"—or passion for finding waterfowl. They love activities that allow them to engage with their owners.
Because tollers were originally bred to hunt alongside their owners for hours at a time, they bond closely with their family and prefer not to be alone. Over time, they can grow accustomed to being left alone.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are an intelligent breed that thrives with positive reinforcement training techniques.
With regular veterinary care and a healthy diet and exercise routine, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are generally healthy dogs. Though like any dog breed, they can occasionally have neurologic, orthopedic, or cardiac disorders that show up. If you're adding your toller to the family as a puppy, make sure to ask your breeder for complete health records.
Breeders can conduct a genetic test for juvenile Addison's disease, an immune mediated disorder. Health clearances and genetic testing are also available for both hip dysplasia and PRA. Although tollers may carry the genes for these conditions, breeders can selectively breed away from them to eliminate their occurrence.
Mott says NSDTRs, as long as they are kept at an appropriate weight and muscle condition, are not as prone to orthopedic problems because of their medium size.
According to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA), Tollers were developed in the beginning of the 19th century in the community of Little River Harbour in Nova Scotia's Yarmouth County. Because of this origin, the breed was originally known as the "Little River Duck Dog" or the "Yarmouth Toller."
"Tolling" is from the Middle English "Tollen," meaning to entice or pull. 17th century records recall Nova Scotian hunters using the breed for tolling ducks. Hunters, inspired by the way foxes play along shorelines to lure in waterfowl, started training their dogs to mimic the action. They threw sticks and rocks for the dogs to retrieve. The sight of a toller, with its feathery tail and red coat, draws curious ducks within gunshot range. After the hunter fires, the Toller retrieves the game and returns it to their owner's hand.
While it's not 100-percent certain, some toller experts believe the breed was created from a mix of spaniel and setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and farm collie. They may also trace their origins to the now-extinct St. John's Water Dog and the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje.