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The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or Toller for short, is a medium-sized breed of gundog bred primarily for hunting. It is the smallest of the retrievers, and is often mistaken for a small Golden Retriever. Tollers are known to be intelligent, alert, high-energy dogs. Tollers get their name because of their ability to lure or “toll” waterfowl within gunshot range. The breed originated in southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada, where they were used for tolling and retrieving ducks.
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 and as an all purpose hunting dog. 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 possibly spaniel and setter Pointer-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and rabbit hounds were used to develop the breed. Farm collies also went into the mix as many became herding dogs as well as hunting dogs and family pets.
The Toller was officially admitted to the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945. Declared the provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1995, the breed is the only Canadian breed recognized in this way.
Use in Hunting
Tollers are named for their ability to entice or lure waterfowl within gunshot range, called “tolling.” The hunter remains 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. The dog’s appearance is similar to that of foxes which are know to hunt waterfowl by attracting the birds to the shore’s edge. The unusual activity and white markings catch the attention of ducks and geese, who swim over to investigate.
Tollers are often mistaken for small Golden Retrievers, but the Toller is both physically and mentally different. According to the breed standard the Toller should be athletic, well-muscled, compact, medium boned, balanced and powerful. The chest is deep allowing for good lung capacity. The standard describes a dog which is of sufficient strength and structure to be capable of picking up and repeatedly retrieving birds in a day of hunting . They should be of moderate build—a lack of substance or a heavy build both detract from the type and the dog’s 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 other retrievers. 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.
Colour 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.
The Toller usually has at least one of the following white markings: tip of tail, feet, chest and blaze, however a 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.
Size and proportions
Tollers are the smallest of all the retriever breeds. They range in height from 43–53 cm (17–21 in) at the withers, and weigh 14–23 kg (30–50 lb), with females being slightly shorter and lighter. Tollers are always a medium-sized breed, never large, however, there have been trends towards larger and smaller dogs at various times within the breed’s history.
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 adult dogs should not be overly shy.
Duck Tollers are working dogs and are happiest when they have a job to do. Tollers are excellent hunting companions. They excel at many types of sporting competitions such as agility, dock diving and obedience. Their keen sense of smell, intelligence, working drive, and small size also make them perfect search and rescue dogs.
Physical stimulation should be provided for these dogs each day since 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.
Tollers bark as do most dogs, but it is more of a warning than an aggressive bark. Some will express their intense excitement with a high-pitched, howl-like sound which is often referred to as “singing” or the “Toller scream.”
Tollers have the capacity to be very social dogs, as long as they are sufficiently socialized early on in life. While Tollers are energetic and outgoing around their owners and family, their cautious nature makes them reserved around strangers. Exposure to new people, locations, smells and sights are crucial to the healthy development of each dog. They tend to get along well with other dogs; however, they have a strong prey drive and may chase after cats or other small animals. This prey drive can be avoided if cats, for example, are introduced early in the Toller’s life. Failure to properly socialize Tollers at a young age may result in aggressive, destructive, or timid behaviour in maturity.