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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Breed-FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:00 GMT
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 23 Apr 1999
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is"
without express or implied warranty.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
* Cindy Tittle Moore, 22 March 1993
This article is Copyright 1993-1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore, PO Box
4188, Irvine CA 92616. All rights are reserved. Individuals may
download and print a copy for their personal use. Non-commercial
distribution without profit is encouraged: in particular, NSDTR rescue
organizations, NSDTR breed clubs, and NSDTR breeders all have express
permission to freely distribute this article, provided this Copyright
and the article remain intact, and provided the recipient is not
required to pay for it. It may not be copied to another website nor
otherwise distributed in whole or in part without the Author's written
permission. Rather than copying it, please feel free to link to this
article's web site or discuss how to get it. This way everyone has a
good chance of getting the most up-to-date copy when they look for it.
* Mailing lists, web info of interest added. Nov 1995
* Suggested revisions and corrections from personal correspondence
with Gretchen Botner and Gail MacMillan. Includes clarifications
in health section, updates on tolling as an activity, additional
article references, and more NSDTR-USA club information. Mar 1996
* Added homepage information in online section. Mar 1996
* Added info on new book & new mailing list. Nov 1996
* Updated club contact addresses. Jan 1997
* Updated CTC contact. Apr 1999
Table of Contents
* The Toller Today
* Characteristics and Temperament
* Frequently Asked Questions
* Special Medical Problems
The earliest recorded references to the use of small red dogs to
attract game is in the writings of Nicholas Denys, a 17th century
colonizer of both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Denys does not state
where the dogs came from (speculation is Belgium, where they were used
to lure waterfowl into nets) but does comment on their retrieving
ability which was not present in Europe's dogs. Whether these dogs are
the early Toller ancestors, no one knows.
The traditional version of their origin is that a James Allen (or
Allan) obtained a liver-colored flat coated retriever in 1860. This
dog was crossed with a short coated retriever similar to a Labrador,
probably a Lesser St. John's Water Dog (now extinct, but in the
backgrounds of Labradors, Chesapeakes, and Newfoundlands). Puppies
from this cross were then bred with brown cocker spaniels and finally
Irish Setters for the red color. It is also speculated that farm
collies, Golden Retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers may have
played a part.
In their book, Strang and MacMillan outline a persuasive case for the
Tollers being descended at least in part from the Dutch "cage dogs"
called Kooikerhondje. These dogs are strongly similar to Tollers in
physical appearance. In addition, these dogs were used to entrap water
fowl as follows: A large pond with radiating arms away from the pond
(so that one arm could always be chosen according to wind conditions
to keep the birds from scenting the human or dog). The Cage Dogs ran
between alternating screens so that the ducks caught glimpses of the
dog (very much like modern day tolling) and thus drew the ducks away
from the central pond and into one of the arms, or channels. The
channels were constructed to narrow and entrap the ducks at the end
with nets. In this way, large numbers of fowl could be captured
quickly without the need for guns or other expensive equipment. The
authors speculate that the practice emigrated from the Netherlands to
England and thence to the Yarmouth district, potentially many decades
before their traditional beginnings.
Through the efforts of Cyril Colwell, the breed was recognized by the
Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 and at that point christened the Nova
Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. However, the breed threatened to lapse
into obscurity again; the breed had to be re-registered in the late
1950's. In the 1960's, Eldon Pace and Avery Nickerson carried on the
torch for the Toller and dedicated themselves to producing the finest
hunting dogs possible.
The Toller Today
In 1980, two Tollers won Best In Show at separate shows, piquing the
interest of serious fanciers and breeders. Tollers have made steady
gains since then, going on to participate in other current-day
activities such as obedience and flyball with gusto and racking up
further gains in the breed ring. In 1988, the Canadian Kennel Club's
centenary was marked by the issue of stamps bearing the likeness of
quintessential Canadian breeds. These were the Tahltan Bear Dog, the
Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Newfoundland, and, of course, the Nova Scotia
Duck Tolling Retriever. In 1995, Nova Scotia picked the Toller as its
official dog, thus marking 50 years of recognition by the CKC.
The little river dogs are quite popular in Sweden, where there are an
estimated 2,000 Tollers. The first dogs were imported in the mid 80's
and in 1995 there were some 250 new puppies, with more dogs imported
from both Canada and Denmark.
Characteristics and Temperament
Affectionately known as the "Toller," this breed was once called the
Little River Duck Dog since it was developed in the Little River
district of Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. This engaging dog is a
specialist with waterfowl. Tolling, or luring, is the practice of
tricking ducks within gunshot range. Hunters had long observed this
behavior in foxes and deliberately bred a small fox-like dog to make
use of tolling in their own hunting.
Tollers are powerful, medium-sized sporting dogs, intelligent and keen
workers. Males measure 19 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh from
45 to 51 pounds; females average one inch less and weigh from 37 to 43
pounds. The coat is medium long with a dense undercoat in red or
orange. It may be marked with white on the tip of tail, chest, feet
and forehead. The tail is long and heavily coated, and full of action
when the dog is tolling. The coat is a true retriever double coat; the
harsh outer coat waterproofs while the under coat insulates.
The dogs are described as excellent hunters -- some giving their
owners a look of disgust if the shot is missed -- willing to work in
cold and wet conditions. While the breed was developed for waterfowl,
many are used in the upland. They are equally comfortable whether the
scent is on the ground or in the air. Well trained dogs hunt close and
don't roam, but enthusiasm can easily run away with good field
manners! They take well to obedience and some have been used
successfully as therapy dogs.
If hunting ability is of concern, remember to look for responsible
breeders who either hunt over their own dogs or have sold pups into
hunting homes. Working level tests may indicate hunting potential but
unless you know the breeder is producing or using hunting dogs, the
tests may not tell you the full story behind the dogs' ability. (For
example, did the dog breeze through the tests, or did it take many
retries before it finally passed?) However, this is not to say that a
show-oriented breeder is incapable of producing good dogs, or that a
hunter always will. A good breeder will care about both aspects,
conformation and hunting ability, of their dogs and be able to refer
you to pups that they have bred that are doing well in either -- or
both -- venues. The more research you do and the more questions you
ask, the more likely you will find the puppy that fits your needs and
Frequently Asked Questions
Does AKC recognize this breed?
No, although there are current efforts underway to get the Toller
So this means I can't show this dog in conformation or obedience with
This is correct. Remember, though, that since the breed is
recognized by the SKC and the UKC, it is eligible for shows put on
by these clubs. In particular, it may participate in both HRC and
NAHRA hunt tests.
Do Tollers really have fox in their ancestry?
No. This is genetically impossible. They were simply bred to
Are they easy to train?
Young Tollers are rather distractible, as is generally true with
retrievers. At about two years of age they reach a level of mental
maturity that makes the training process easier. This is not to say
that Tollers can't be trained until this maturity arrives, but that
while they learn quickly, they also bore quickly. Training sessions
should be short and light, fun and challenging. It may be difficult
to train them to do things that they were not bred for, as this is
a dog with highly developed hunting instincts.
What is "tolling"? Do they really dance around on the shore?
Tolling means "luring" or "enticing." The dogs do not really dance
at the shore. The hunter sets up several blinds along the lakeshore
or even along the river. When the weather is good, a suitable blind
is selected, and the dog is sent out to retrieve sticks and other
material the hunter throws toward the shore. The Toller goes
directly out and fetches the stick like any good retriever.
However, since Tollers are a jaunty and animated breed, it is
thought that the flash and bounce of their white points attracts
the ducks. After a number of retrieves the ducks are within gunshot
range and the Toller is subsequently sent out to retrieve killed
and wounded ducks.
Is tolling widely practiced?
In Canada, the practice has declined slowly for a number of years
but has recently made a resurgence as interest in the Tollers has
also increased. Tollers are not the only breed that can "toll" --
others have reported tolling with the Curly Coated Retriever, for
example. However, the Toller is the undisputed king of tolling.
Tolling has never caught on widely in the US, but increased
interest in the Toller may change that. Also, with hunters learning
that tolling can help bring the birds in even when there is no
apparent game to be had, more people are looking into it.
Tolling isn't all they do, is it?
Of course not. They are perfectly capable hunting retrievers in the
traditional sense along with the other retriever breeds. In fact,
their tolling should be considered an additional rather than sole
ability, unique as it may be.
Would they make good watch dogs? Guard dogs?
They make very good watch dogs due to their inherent suspicion of
strangers. But they do not make good guard dogs and should not used
Do they make good pets?
Like all retrievers, they make excellent pets, being devoted to
family and children and readily trainable. They do require an
active family that can ensure the Toller gets the activity as well
as the attention it deserves. They are bright and will get into
mischief if they are bored.
Are Tollers a rare breed?
Yes. There are about 400 Tollers registered with the US club, and
about 3,000 registered world wide as of early 1993. The breed
nearly died out in the two decades after it was recognized by the
CKC, but has made steady, although slow, gains since then.
Does this mean I'll have a hard time finding a puppy?
Probably. You may have to wait some time for a litter, and you will
likely have to have it shipped across the country to you. Litters
are few and demand for the puppies high. On the other hand, it's
possible to get the luck of a draw and have a puppy a few months
after your phone call. Be prepared for the grilling you're likely
to get from the breeders.
Special Medical Problems
Tollers are subject to hip dysplasia and eye problems, but no more
than most other retriever breeds, and less than Golden Retrievers. All
breeding stock should be OFA'd and CERF'd before breeding. The
Canadian and US Toller clubs each have a Code of Ethics that prohibits
members breeding dogs without hip and eye certification. Hip
certification need only be done once after the dog is two years of
age, but eye examinations must be done annually and even after the dog
is no longer being bred.
OFA issues a permanent number for a dog over two years of age that
passes the panel of experts at OFA. They will also certify other
joints; it's a positive sign if the breeder has also cleared elbows or
other joints. However, problems in shoulders, elbows, and hocks are
not generally known among Tollers.
Tollers can have several eye problems, including PRA. Some eye
problems show up late in life thus a dog used for breeding should not
only be examined annually, but also after it is no longer bred. You
should check that a breeder is following this general policy with all
their dogs. Unlike OFA, a CERF number merely shows the year the dog
was last examined and the results registered; it is "good" only for a
year. A dog may be properly examined by an ACVO board certified
veterinarian (and the breeder will have the appropriate paperwork)
without necessarily obtaining a CERF number. Some breeders may choose
to renew the CERF number and others may not; either way the dogs
should be examined annually.
The breeder should be happy to show you the paper work and explain how
it all works. When you are looking at puppies, make sure each parent
has an OFA certification number and that they have been examined
annually for eye problems.
Currently, problems with hypothyroidism and immune mediated problems
as well as dwarfism are surfacing. For the most part, these problems
are still extremely rare and the subject of some unfounded rumor.
Deafness appears to be surfacing in a few lines. This is a late onset
(7-8 years) form of deafness that it just beginning to be recognized
and it isn't yet clear whether it is inherited or environmental.
Canadian Kennel Club FCI
Finnish Kennel Club
Kennel Club of Great Britain
Norwegian Kennel Club
States Kennel Club
Swedish Kennel Club
United Kennel Club
(NSDTRC-USA -- Approved 1989)
Origin and Purpose: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was
developed in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century to toll (or lure)
and retrieve waterfowl. The tolling dog runs, jumps, and plays along
the shoreline in full view of flocks of ducks, occasionally
disappearing from sight and then quickly reappearing, aided by the
hunter, who throws small sticks or a ball for the dog. The dog's
playful actions arouse the curiousity of the ducks swimming offshore
and they are lured within gunshot range. The Toller is subsequently
sent out to retrieve the dead or wounded birds.
General Appearance: The Toller is a medium-sized, powerful, compact,
balanced, well-muscled dog; medium to heavy in bone, with a high
degree of agility, alterness and determination. Many Tollers have a
slightly sad expression until they go to work, when their aspect
changes to intese concetration and excitement. At work, the dog has a
speedy, rushing action, with the head carried out almost level with
the back and heavily-feathered tail in constant motion.
Temperament: The Toller is highly intelligent, easy to train and has
great endurance. A strong and able swimmer, he is a natural and
tenacious retriever on land and from water, setting himself for
springy action the moment the slightest indication is given that
retrieving is required. His strong retrieving desire and playfulness
are qualities essential to his tolling ability.
Size: Ideal height for males over 18 months is 19-20 in. (when breed
standards are converted to metric, the figures 48-51 cm. should be
used); females over 18 months 18-19 in. (when breed standards are
converted to metric the figures 45-48 cm. should be used). 1 in. (when
breed standards are converted to metric the figure 2.5 cm. should be
used) over or under ideal height is allowed. Weight should be in
proportion to the height and bone of the dog (guidelines 45-51 lbs,
when breed standards are converted to metric, the figure 20-23 kg.
should be used, for adult males; bitches 37-43 lbs., when breed
standards are converted to metric, the figures 17-20 kg. should be
Coat and Color: The Toller was bred to retrieve from icy waters and
must have a water-repellant double coat of medium length and softness
with softer dense undercoat. The coat may have a slight wave on the
back, but is other wise straight. Some winter coats may form a long
loose curl at the throat. Featherings are soft at the throat, behind
the ears and at the back of the thighs, and forelegs are moderately
feathered. Color is various shades of red or orange with lighter
featherings and underside of tail, and usually at least on of the
following white markings - a tip of tail, feet (not extending beyond
the pasterns), chest and blaze. A dog of otherwise high quality is not
to be penalized for lack of white. The pigment of the nose, lips and
eye rims to be flesh-colored, blending with coat, or black.
* a) Skull: The head is clean-cut and slightly wedge shaped. The
broad skull is only slightly rounded, the occiput not prominent
and the cheeks flat. [...] the head must be in proportion to body
size. The stop is moderate.
* b) Muzzle: Tapers in a clean line from stop to nose, with the
lower jaw strong but not prominent. The underline of the muzzle
runs almost in a straight line from the corner of the lip to the
corner of the jawbone, with depth at the stop being greater than
at the nose. Hair on the muzzle is short and fine.
* c) Nose: Tapers from bridge to tip, with nostrils well open. Color
should blend with that of the coat or be black.
* d) Mouth: Lips fit fairly tightly, forming a gentle curve in
profile, with no heaviness in flews. The correct bite is tight
scissors, full dentition is required. Jaws are strong enough to
carry a sizeable bird, and softness in mouth is essential.
* e) Eyes: Set well apart, almond shaped, medium size, set high and
well back on the skull with the base held very slightly erect;
well feathered at the back of the fold, hair short at the rounded
Neck: Strongly muscled and well set on, of medium length, with no
indication of throatiness.
Forequarters: Shoulders should be muscular with the blade well laid
back and well laid on, giving good withers sloping into short back.
The blade and upper arm are roughly equal in length. Elbows should be
close to the body turning neither in nor out, working cleanly and
evenly. The forelegs should appear as parallel columns straight and
strong in bone. The pasterns are strong and slightly sloping. The
strong webbed feet are of medium size, tight and round with well
arched toes and thick pads. Dewclaws may be removed.
Body: Deep-chested with good spring of rib, brisket reaching to the
elbow. The back is short and straight, the topline level, the loins
strong and muscular. The ribs are well sprung, neither barrel shaped
nor flat. Tuck up is moderate.
Hindquarters: Muscular, broad and square in appearance. Rear and front
angulation should be in balance. Thighs are very muscular, upper and
lower sections bent approximately equal in length. Stifles are well
bent and hock well down, turning neither in nor out. Dewclaws must not
Tail: Following the natural very slight slope of the croup, broad at
the base, luxuriant and well feathered, with the last vertebra
reaching at least to the hock. The tail may be carried below the level
of the back except when the dog is alert, it curves high over though
never touching the body.
Gait: The Toller combines an impression of power with a springy gait,
showing good reach in front and a strong driving rear. Feet should
turn neither in nor out and legs travel in a straight line. As speed
increases, the dog should single track, with the topline remaining
Faults: (to be penalized according to degree)
Dogs more than 1 in. (2.5 cm.) over or under ideal height.
Tail too short, kinked or curled over touching the back.
Lack of substance in the adult.
Abrupt stop. Large, round eyes.
Nose, eye rims, and eyes not of prescribed color.
Bright pink nose. Open coat.
Splayed or paper feet, down in pasterns.
Roached, sway back, slack loins.
Tail carried below level of back when dog gaiting.
White on shoulders, around ears, on back of neck, across back of
Silvery coat, grey in coat, black areas in coat.
Lack of webbing in feet.
Undershot bite, wry mouth.
Overshot bite, by more than 1/8 in.
In adult classes, any shyness.
Any color other than shades of red or orange.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever by Alison Strang and Gail
MacMillan from Alpine Press was just released October of 1996. It is
an excellent book and highly recommended for anyone with an interest
in the breed or an interest in retrievers in general.
Canadian Kennel Club Book of Dogs: Centennial Edition. (Short
description, contains Canadian standard.)
McClure, Bill. "Canada's Unique Toller," in Gun Dog Magazine, Nov/Dec
1986. (2 pages.)
Spencer, James B. "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: A Breed in
Transition," in Wildfowl Magazine, December/January 1986/1987. (Four
Spencer, James B. Hunting Retrievers: Hindsights, Foresights, and
Insights, Alpine Publications, 2456 E. 9th St., Loveland, CO 80537,
1989. Contains a chapter describing the Toller.
Wolters, Richard. Duck Dogs -- All About Retrievers, Penguin Group,
Penguin Books USA Inc, New York, first printing April 1990. (A very
interesting historical recounting of a NSDTR at work and some good
information on the breed.)
Rand, Vicki. "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in H.R.C." in
Hunting Retriever, August/September 1990 pp37-38. (Short 2 page
article, color pictures.)
Rand, Vicki. "Dog Breeds of the World -- The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling
Retriever," in Bloodlines, September/October 1990, pp 28-33.
(Essentially the same as above article; more pictures.)
Howard, Jeff. "The Truth About the Tolling Dog," in Michigan
Sportsman, Sept. 1991. (Several pages, photos.)
Botner, Gretchen. "Here's the Nova Scotia Duck Toller", in Dog World,
April 1992 (v77n4), Maclean Hunter Publication. (Cover and feature
article 3.5 pages with color photos.)
Strang, Allison. "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever," in The
Sporting Life Magazine, May/June 1992. (4.5 pages with color photos.)
MacMillan, Gail. "The Finest Hunting Companion on Four Legs -- The
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever," in Gun Dog, August/September
1992. (5 pages, color photos; issue has a Toller on cover.)
Spencer, James B. "The Toller in the United States," in Gun Dog,
August/September 1992. (3 pages, color photos.)
MacMillan, Gail. "The Pleasingest Puppy," in Dog World, October 1992.
pp 36-39. (3.5 pages, color photo.)
MacMillan, Gail. "Ask Not How the Dog Tolls," in Outdoor Canada,
September 1994. (2 pages, photo.)
MacMillan, Gail. "The NSDTR: no need to toll for attention," in Dogs
in Canada, December 1994. (2 pages, 2 photos -- one circa 1917.)
MacMillan, Gail. "Tolling Dogs Tantalize Ducks," in Conservator,
Volume 16, No. 2, 1995. (2 pages, photos.)
Please contact the club nearest you for a list of breeders. Remember
that you should always check any breeder you come across to determine
whether they are the right ones for you. Most NSDTR clubs have a code
of ethics that breeders must abide by in order to be listed, but
please remember this may not guarantee that the breeder is for you.
Always ask questions, check references, etc. See the Getting A Dog FAQ
for details on choosing good breeders.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada
3784 Red Bluff Road, Quesnel, BC Canada V2J 6E4 (250)747-1472
Ontario Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club
Janice Madjanovich, secretary
RR #3, BObcaygeon, Ontario K0M 1A0
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA)
Gretchen Botner, Secretary
951 Moon Court, Marco Island, FL 33937
This club was formed in 1984 by ten fanciers determined to rescue the
breed from obscurity in the US. The club now has a quarterly
newsletter Quackers, maintains the stud book and registration records,
outlines a Code of Ethics, keeps a breeders list and offers formal
activities in conformation, field, obedience and tracking. The club
has worked for recognition from the United Kennel Club, the States
Kennel Club, and will eventually seek recognition with the American
The NSDTRC-USA works to maintain the Toller as a dual purpose breed,
to avoid the sort of split that has occured in Canada, and that has
occured in the US with other retriever breeds. The club will award
Championships only to dogs that have passed either the Natural
Instinct Test (NIT) or the Working Certificate (WC), both
non-competitive titles. The NIT consists of back to back single land
marks, back to back single water marks and a tolling test. The WC
consists of a land double mark, back to back water singles, and a
tolling test. In both cases, the tolling test requires the dog to
retrieve and object on a shoreline at least six times in succession,
and each retrieve must be done with the necessary animation to attract
ducks (although no ducks are actually used in the tolling test).
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrieverklubben (Sweden)
Viks Norrgaard, 643 93 Vingaaker, Sweden The club newsletter
"Tollaren" is edited by Tina Jansson, at
You can get 3 8.5x14 color copy sheets of Tollers (adults, puppies and
hunt photos) by sending (US) $5.75, payable to G. Botner, to 951 Moon
Court, Marco Island, FL 33937. Expense is for postage and materials
* NSDTRC-USA Homepage, at
http://www.tiac.net/users/smcgrath/tollers/, kept by Scott
* The Swedish Toller Club, at http://home2.swipnet.se/~w-27092/.
* Danish NSDTR Site, at
* Working Retriever Central, at http://working-retriever.com/
* North American Hunting Retriever Association, at
Mailing lists include:
* The Toller-L mailing list. Send email to
firstname.lastname@example.org with subscribe TOLLER-L
Yourfirstname Yourlastname in the body of the message to join. You
will be expected to introduce yourself on the list.
* The Hunting Retriever mailing list. Send email to
email@example.com, with subscribe HUNTING-RETRIEVER in the
body of the mail message to join.
* The Gundog-L mailing list (gatewayed to rec.hunting.dogs). Send
email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subscribe GUNDOG-L yourfirstname
yourlastname in the body of the mail message to join.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever FAQ
Cindy Tittle Moore, email@example.com