Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
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Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, or "tollers," are the smallest of the American Kennel Club's recognized retriever breeds—but they're big on playfulness and personality. Tollers 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. And while they are less well-known than a Labrador retriever or golden retriever, these cuties are growing in popularity.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are medium-sized, compact dogs who are sporty and agile, says Kristina Mott, DVM, CVA, CCRT. A full-grown Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is about 17–21 inches tall and weighs between 35–50 pounds. Compared to a Lab (who can be 55–80 pounds) or a golden (at 55–75 pounds), tollers are all the high-energy fun of a retriever, just on a slightly smaller scale.
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, which protected them from the cold water of their homeland. They shed their fluffy down undercoat seasonally, so you'll need the right vacuum to keep your floor and furniture clean. Mott, a practicing veterinarian who also breeds Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever puppies, says brushing a toller's double coat a few times a week can help keep the fur from flying.
When a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is working, her feathered tail will move quickly and constantly as she lures in waterfowl for her human hunting partner. Her almond-shaped eyes blend in with her coat or can be a bit darker, according to the breed standard, and are always alert. Her ears are floppy but perk up at attention when there's a duck (or a favorite toy) in sight.
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Born and bred hunters, tollers are active dogs. But, Mott says, with proper exercise and mental simulation, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever will flip her "off-switch" at the end of the day and be a calm house pup. But know that she'll be ready to go-go-go again 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 by an adult, and little ones should never be left unattended. But active, older children would make great playmates for Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers.
"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."
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 new people they become more accepting. That said, some of these happy dogs will be friendly from the get-go; Mott says 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'll quickly get bored with repetitive training sessions. They are alert, outgoing, and incredibly fast learners when training is kept positive and fun.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers need a lively environment that prioritizes exercise and mental stimulation. That means a walk around the neighborhood or play session in the backyard is a daily requirement. A toller owner should be "willing to provide chewy toys or food puzzles and indoor training games in inclement weather or when the owner isn't feeling up to outdoor activity," Mott says.
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. Tollers can also be star athletes in many dog sports, according to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (NSDTRC), including agility, flyball, and dock diving.
Although they can adapt to apartment living, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers might not be a first choice for someone with shared walls. They have a distinctive "toller scream"—a high-pitched bark—they let out when excited. This may be music to a duck-hunter's ears, but it can be loud and even ear-piercing when unexpected—and definitely won't make your neighbors happy.
Having been bred as hunting companions, tollers also have a strong prey drive that may prompt them to chase any small animal (like a passing squirrel) they see outdoors. A fenced-in yard will give them a place to play while preventing them from running after anything—and everything—they see.
These redheads need regular upkeep to keep their coats looking pretty. On top of frequent brushing (at least a couple times a week), pup parents will need to pay special attention to their dog's ears and paws. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers should have their ear fur brushed and trimmed to keep the fuzz from matting, and owners should trim the excess hair between the pads of their feet to keep them from slipping on the smooth floors inside.
And while tollers like to keep active, they're not a breed that requires nonstop action every day. A 30-minute game of backyard fetch (followed by some interactive toys inside) will keep her happy. But on the weekends, she might desire something a little more, like a long hike.
Tollers 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 Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers 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.
With regular veterinary care, a healthy diet, and an exercise routine, tollers 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 a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever puppy to your family, make sure to ask your breeder for complete health records.
Mott says tollers are particularly prone to Addison's disease, hip dysplasia, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). 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.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, as long as they are kept at an appropriate weight and muscle condition, are not as prone to orthopedic problems, Mott says.
According to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club, 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."
While it's not 100-percent verified, some toller experts believe the breed was created from a mix of spaniel and setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and farm collies. They may also trace their origins to the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje and the now-extinct St. John's Water Dog.
"Tolling" is from the Middle English "tollen," meaning to entice or pull. Seventeenth-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 their 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.
In 2003, the toller became the AKC's 150th recognized breed. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers continue to be used for hunting today, and they are affectionate dogs who love to play and work hard.
- The breed was declared the provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1995 when two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers were awarded Best in Show at championship events.
- The toller's unique water's-edge dance earned the breed the nickname "Pied Piper of the marsh," and was even featured in a Ripley's Believe It Or Not newspaper column syndicated throughout Canada and the U.S. in the 1960s.
- That's one long name! At 34 characters, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever has the longest name in the AKC Stud Book. Close behind them is the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen.