Breed of the Week: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Video) - Simply For Dogs
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Breed of the Week: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Video)


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, often simply referred to as a “Toller”, is a fairly new, quite rare breed with a fascinating origin. Tollers were originally called “Little River Duck Dogs,” after the community where the breed began.

Little River is a very small community of just around 200 people, located in the province of Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. As such, you can understand why Tollers are very much water dogs, loving to frolic along the shores. They’re mainly used for attracting water fowl, and then retrieving them once the hunter has done his work.


The idea of using dogs to “toll” for water fowl actually began with Canada’s Micmac Indians, who observed foxes dancing and frolicking along the shorelines, creating quite a display, and then grabbing any ducks that were inquisitive enough to come closer to see what all the fuss was about. The Micmac people began to encourage their own dogs to behave similarly.

Then, in the 1800s, hunters began to train dogs to retrieve downed fowl. Usually, they’d name the dogs after the places where they were developed. Hence, we have dogs like Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

In the Little River area, hunters took it a step further, working to breed dogs that would not just retrieve birds but actually attract them the way the dogs of the Micmac people did. They began with dogs that they acquired from the Micmac, and began to breed in a bit of this, that and the other thing – Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels and Collies. This led to the Little River Duck Dog, and for many years, this breed was known only in the Little River area. However, in 1945, the Canadian Kennel Club recognized the breed and gave it the name “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.”

Tollers weren’t all that popular in the United States to begin with, and in fact, they’re a very new breed in America, having been introduced as recently as the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1884 that the breed had gained enough popularity to warrant the forming of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the AKC recognized the breed. Even then, the AKC considered it to be worthy only of the “Miscellaneous” class. It wasn’t inducted into the “Sporting” class until 2003. Today, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is 110th in popularity among the 155 AKC-recognized breeds.


A male Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever will usually stand anywhere from 18-21 inches at the shoulder. 19 inches is considered ideal. Females typically stand 17-20 inches, with 18 inches being the ideal height. Weight for either sex is proportional to height, and will usually range anywhere from 35 pounds to 50 pounds.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are highly intelligent. They are typically friendly, and many owners insist that they have a highly refined sense of humor. They love to work, but when they’re not doing the job they were bred for, they’re quite content to snuggle with their humans. They can be aloof with strangers, but generally speaking, if you like someone, so will your Toller.

The typical Toller is very adaptable but, as is the case with practically every breed, benefits from early socialization. Tollers also respond best to a firm leader. This doesn’t mean, though, that you need to be heavy-handed when it comes to training. Tollers respond very well to positive reinforcement. So, train kindly but firmly, and expose your Toller to all manner of different people and experiences from a young age.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are usually healthy, but there’s simply no such thing as a breed of dog that is going to get a pass on any and all health issues. The following are some that you should know about if you’re thinking of getting a Toller. Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that your Toller will ever become ill from any of these diseases or disorders; they’re just possibilities, and definitely not etched in stone.

Hip Dysplasia

Many people react with horror to the term “hip dysplasia,” but the reality is that many dogs can have the condition and live full, healthy lives. Sometimes, it’s as simple as offering pain mediation on bad days, but in severe cases, surgery might be needed.

Hip dysplasia is inherited, and it occurs when the thighbone and hip joint don’t fit snugly. Your dog might appear lame, or might display no symptoms at all. Ask your breeder to show you proof that your puppy’s parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and given a clean bill of health. There is no way of really testing a puppy for this condition, since it doesn’t usually show up until about age two. Responsible breeders will not mate animals that have hip dysplasia.

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

This is an eye disorder that is caused by insufficient photoreceptors at the back of the dog’s eye. There is no cure. PRA can be identified in a dog long before any symptoms actually appear. Ultimately, if the dog lives long enough, he will likely go blind.

Don’t think, though, that this is the end of the world, or the end of your dog’s quality of life. The reality is that many dogs adapt very well to blindness, using their other senses to compensate for their loss of vision. Just treat your dog pretty much the same way you would a human who had impaired vision. Keep his surroundings consistent so he’s not bumping into objects that have been moved around, and give him a bit of extra help negotiating stairs or rough terrain.

Collie Eye Anomaly

This is another condition that is not treatable, and can eventually cause blindness. It’s most common in Collies, but since Collies did form part of the genetic background of today’s Tollers, it does sometimes affect the breed. It’s a hereditary condition, so if your puppy should end up diagnosed with Collie Eye Anomaly, you should notify your breeder. That’s information that he or she should have in order to be able to progress with their breeding program in a responsible fashion. Dogs with this condition should not be bred.


Given that deafness usually doesn’t affect Tollers before the age of seven, and appears only to affect a few lines, it’s probably not something that you really need to worry about. As is the case with blindness, a deaf dog can still have a very fulfilling life. Of course, you’ll need to exercise additional caution around traffic and other potential hazards.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are active dogs, and do best when they have access to a fenced-in yard. They’re very adaptable, though, so there’s really no reason why you can’t keep a Toller in an apartment provided that you make sure to walk him a couple of times each day. Puppies in particular can be very high-energy, but as they age, their activity level will taper down somewhat.

Of course, all puppies can be destructive, so crate training is advised. For that matter, an un-exercised adult can also be quite destructive, so aim for at least two 30-minute walks daily. Your Toller will also appreciate vigorous activity in which you participate, so get out a ball or Frisbee and play with your dog!

Swimming is also a great exercise for your Toller, and most of them will take to water right away. Just be sure, if you’re exercising him in your backyard pool, to hose him down afterward; chlorine can be hard on your dog’s skin.

As to training, be gentle but firm. If you’re forceful or prone to impatience, you’ll lose your dog’s respect. Tollers can become very stubborn if treated harshly, and if you end up in a battle of wills, there’s a good chance you’ll lose. Rewards are always better than punishment, and that goes for every breed, not just Tollers.


I’m a believer in free feeding. I know that a lot of people would disagree with me on that, but I’ve raised many dogs this way, and I’ve found that when food isn’t made to be an “event,” weight is a lot easier to manage; generally, the dog will eat as much as he needs and no more. Feeding a Toller this way shouldn’t create any problems, since they’re not prone to gastric torsion or bloat.

However, if you prefer to feed on a schedule, give your Toller 2.5-3 cups of dry food per day, spread over 2 meals. Keep in mind that the amount of food your dog will need is going to depend on his size, build, age, activity level and metabolism. Obviously, a dog that is very active is going to need more food than a “couch potato.”


Generally speaking, Tollers aren’t prone to obesity. If you’re wondering, though, if your dog weighs too much (or not enough), try this simple test: stand behind him and look down. Do you see an easily identifiable waist? If you do, he’s probably not too fat. Now, put your hands on his back with your thumbs next to his spine and your fingers down. You should be able to feel ribs but not see them. If you can see ribs, he needs more food. If you can’t feel them, he needs less food, or more exercise, or both.

Coat and Grooming

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers have a double, water-repellent coat that is usually orange-ish or red. Some people who actually know nothing about the breed will tell you that the coloring means your dog is part fox, but this isn’t true. Dogs and foxes cannot breed with one another.

Tollers also often have white on their face, chest, feet or tip of the tail. A white tip is actually very desirable if you’re using your Toller for hunting, as you’ll be able to see him from pretty much any distance. The tail should be bushy and full.

As to grooming, this medium-haired breed doesn’t really need much. Weekly brushing is a good idea. You might need to brush daily in the spring and fall, though, when your dog begins to shed out.

Otherwise, bathe as needed, trim your dog’s toenails when you start to hear “clicking” as he walks on hard surfaces, and check his ears from time to time for redness or infection.

It’s also a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth regularly for the same reasons as you brush your own. Good oral care can reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease. If your dog seems less than enthusiastic, there are several pet toothpastes on the market that come in flavors that are very pleasing to dogs, so give one a try. Brush daily if you can. If that’s not possible, at least try for two or three times a week.

Most Tollers respond very well to grooming, especially if it’s combined with a lot of praise and the occasional treat.

Kids and Other Animals

Tollers are generally quite fond of children, but they can be a bit rambunctious. It’s very unlikely that your Toller would be hostile toward a young child, but there’s a possibility that he could knock a toddler over without meaning to. So, with that in mind, if you’re going to bring a Toller into a household with young kids, be vigilant about supervising them during play.

For that matter, you really shouldn’t leave a dog of any breed alone with a toddler. The gentlest dog in the world can bite if a little one yanks his tail or pulls on his ears, so please, don’t ever think that your dog can be your babysitter.

Tollers are wonderful companions for older kids, and that can be a very good thing. I’ve often thought that there’s little point to having children if you can’t put them to work, so get the kids involved in walking the dog, and put them out in the yard together with toys when you want a little “quiet time.”

As to other animals, Tollers are good with other dogs, and also get along well with cats if introduced to them early on.

The Final Word

If the idea of owning an unusual dog appeals to you, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever could be just the thing; there aren’t that many of them. They’re typically compliant and a decent choice for the novice dog owner, but you do have to be a bit assertive with them; if you let your Toller get away with misbehaving, you’ll lose his respect, and once lost, it can be hard to get back.

Overall, Tollers are fun-loving, friendly, and make very good family dogs.

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