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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Dog Breed Information

General Information:

Height: 17–21 in
Weight: 30-50 lbs
Life Span: 10 – 14 y
Coloring:   Varying shades of red or orange
Area of Origin: Canada
Similar Breeds: Golden Retriever, Flat Coated Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Curly Coated Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever and The Kooikerhondje (Kooiker for short), Schipperke, Broholmer, and the Smoushound.

History and Origin:

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium sized dog breed that like most retrievers was bred for the hunt. The Toller is distinctive in color, intelligent, full of energy and alert to ducks in its environment. They are called tolling retrievers because they had the ability to bring the prey – waterfowl- into the range of the hunter. They originating in Nova Scotia, Canada as their name implies and they both tolled and retrieved.

Other names that the Toller went by include Little River Duck Dog, Tolling Retriever, Little Red Duck Dog and Yarnouth Toller. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever uses play and subterfuge to attract prey for the human hunter. They retrieve balls, toys or sticks while running along the waterline while tracking ducks offshore. Once the ducks are in the hunters range the waterproof coated dog will retrieve the injured or dead ducks.

The ducks are attracted because the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has fox like characteristics and appearances. It attracts the ducks interest with its activity and the white on its coat. That water repellent coat is well suited to retrieving in the cold waters of Nova Scotia.

There is no official record of the Toller’s development but most breeders think they came from the Red Decoy Dog that came to Canada with European settlers. There were breed crosses with several types of hunting and working dogs such as setters and spaniels, collies and retrievers.

The Tollers were first known as the Little River Duck Dog in Yarmouth County while others called them the Yarmouth Toller. They have now been bred true for generations. Developed in Yarmouth County, Little River Harbour, the Toller traces its beginnings to the early 19th century. It shares many of its traits with other breeds such as the Kooikerhondle.

The breed was admitted to the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 and in 1955 was declared the Provincial Dog of Nova Scotia. Two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers won multiple breed Best in Show and in 2001 entered into the American Kennel Club Miscellaneous Class and then into the Sporting Group in 2003.

We previously mentioned that often the Toller is mistaken for a small Golden; however the Toller is a much more active breed, athletic, compact, powerful and balanced. They are moderate in build, medium boned with deep chests. They are red and any shade of red is acceptable. They are not brown nor are they buff. They will have some white markings on the tail, feet, blaze and chest. Those participating in confirmation may be all red with no white.

The red coat is usually straight with a soft wave and soft with an undercoat that is very dense. They are soft and the muzzle hair is fine. The do shed their undercoat seasonally. The first Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club in the United States was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2003.

Personality and Temperament:

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a high energy, intelligent, affectionate and outgoing dog. They are very good with children with a reputation for patience. There might be a few dogs in the breed that are reserved but they are not generally shy. They were bred to be working dogs and they need a job to stay happy.

They are truly hunters but can be fine companion and family dogs as well. You just need to provide them with some sort of a job. They excel at agility, fly ball and other sporting events. Obedience is also a strong suit for them. One of their best jobs is as a search and rescue dog.

The Toller is not a barker but rather a singer. They have a high pitched voice and howl more than they bark. This sound is known as the “Toller Scream”. The Toller screams when excited. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a great companion and family dog as they as endlessly devoted to their human family and very easy to train. Their love of children only adds to their benefits as family dogs. They are clever, work hard and are happy when hunting.

Exercise & Training:

They do need physical activity every day or they become destructive. They also should not be left alone for long or they will react the same way. Luring or tolling is part of their playful personality. It is not something they learn it is a trait they are bred with. The young Toller does need to practice but they do not need to learn. They need to play and develop a close relationship with their people. They need an owner who displays authority over them.

As previously mentioned they excel at obedience and sporting events because they are so easily trained. High intelligent and playful, they learn quickly and confidently. They love to play ball or retrieve anything you throw for them. As good as they are with children and as good a family or companion dog as they are, they still need an owner who they know if definitely the alpha of the pack. Just because their personality if happy and somewhat laid back does not mean that they will not try to dominate the pack of a less then assertive owner.


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a dense double coat. The coat is various shades of red or dark orange. It is never brown or tan, but can be a deep rust color with white marking on the face, tail, chest and feet. The double coat is water repellent and sheds seasonally. However they do not shed as badly as many of the other double coated breeds.

They need to be combed and brushed on a regular if not daily basis. Use a firm brush with bristles and make sure you get to the undercoat. Don’t bath them very often but you can use dry shampoos. If you shampoo them too often you can destroy their natural oils that are the basis of their water repellent properties.

Health and Wellness:

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a pretty healthy breed. There are some genetic disorders as there are with every breed. According to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever of Finland the most serious of these for the Toller are eye issues, immune related rheumatic disease, hip dysplasia and meningitis/arthritis.

The eye issues center around PRA or Progressive Retinal Atrophy which about 7% of all Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers suffer from. This PRA causes the degeneration and death of the retina cells resulting in night blindness followed by complete blindness.

There are thyroid issues associated with the breed in the United States more than elsewhere. These are also autoimmune issues with thyroiditis. This issue can cause as many as 1-6 Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers to have skin, weight and hair issues, muscle weakness, infertility and cold intolerance.

About 1% of Tollers worldwide suffer from Addison’s Disease. This is ten times higher than the general population of dogs. A Toller with Addison’s is lethargic, weak, with excessive urination and need for water. They are probably somewhat weak, vomit often, have little appetite, diarrhea and are very very lethargic. They might even shiver uncontrollably.

Another health issue that the Toller faces is Aseptic Meningitis. This disease seems to be increasing in this breed recently. Neck pain, lethargy and fever are the common symptoms, found in over 2% of the Norwegian members of the breed.

There is a form of cleft palate that exclusively affects the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. There are also multiple forms of Addison’s affecting the Tollers. Testing is available for almost all of these conditions. Recent surveys in Canada show that only 7.5 % of all Tollers have any of these conditions or other forms of poor health. The overwhelming majority of the breed are healthy and hardy. Cancer is responsible for the most deaths at 25% and aging at 9%.

The popularity of the breed is increasing and yet there currently is a limited gene pool and an increase in health issues. The increases in health issues as the population increases seem focused on progressive retinal atrophy, thyroid issues and autoimmune problems.

Interesting Facts About the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

  1. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever lures the ducks closer and closer to the hunter. This activity is known as “tolling” and is responsible for the breed name.
  2. According to Canadian legends the first “Toller” was actually a red fox. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever causes ducks to react to it due to its red color and its resemblance to the red fox.
  3. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever does not bark. Instead they produce a loud whining, shrill bark. This is called the Toller Scream and the dogs produce this noise when confronted with anything threatening or excited. Both being happy and sad will both result in this call.
  4. There are many Dutch breeds that resemble the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The Kooikerhondie is the best known of these breeds but the Kooiker, their nickname, is the one most closely resembling the Toller. It is a smaller dog with the same coat but much more white than the Toller. It uses the same tolling behavior to run ducks into traps so they can be banded.
  5. The Schipperke is another Dutch breed that is small, black and tailless. There are two other Dutch breeds closely related to the Toller and they are the Broholmer which is a mastiff and a shaggy dog called the Smoushound.
  6. Unlike other retrievers – Labradors and Goldens in particular – the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is not as quick to embrace every human that comes into their space. The Toller is not shy, aggressive or unfriendly just reserved by retriever standards.

Five Reasons NOT to Get a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

  1. This breeds motor is constantly going. This is an extremely high energy dog. Check into this and known your own energy limits before you get a Toller.
  2. Heavy shedding and water issues. The Toller loves water, loves to swim and blows their coat annually.
  3. Frantic work drive and will retrieve forever and do not know when to stop. You have to be the leader.
  4. Give them an inch and they take a mile. Extremely smart they will step into any power vacuum. They will step right into it. You have to be a loving and firm leader for this breed to respect you.
  5. It cannot be overstressed how smart and cunning this breed is. Give them the training they need to stay in line even if they are bored. Basic obedience training is an absolute must. They need a job. They need to be occupied. Enter them in every athletic event there is – agility, fly ball, rally, barn chase and hunting events. Without a job the motor that is constantly running will drive its owner crazy and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever will be more than you can handle.

Despite these reasons for not getting a Toller, the humans who live happily with this breed would not trade them for any other. They are loyal, loving, calm and gentle when they have the right environment, training and jobs.

Organizations Dedicated to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Breeds Similar to Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Dogs:

Dog Breed Info Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

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