Although often confused for a small Golden Retriever, the lesser known Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (NSDTR) or “Toller”, the smallest of the retrievers, may have come first and be a breed whose origin is considerably older than many of today’s better known retrieving breeds. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is also one of only a handful of truly Canadian dog breeds - the others being the Newfoundland dog, the Canadian Eskimo or “Inuit” dog, a few unrecognized breeds like the Labrador Husky and a couple extinct breeds such as the Saint John's Water dog and Hare Indian dog.
Like many other retriever breeds the early history and development of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was never documented which does leave a lot to speculation and like many breeds whose history has been lost there is no shortage of theories to explain its existence. The prevailing theory of modern times is that the Toller likely developed from the now extinct English Red Decoy dog or “ginger ’coy dogs” as they were also known we find mentioned in texts of the 19th century. It like the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, comes from origins unknown although it may hail from the Netherlands as the Dutch are credited with perfecting the art of duck decoying with dogs, with the word itself coming from the Dutch word eendenkooi, a duck cage. These Red Decoy dogs, which already had a history of use in Europe probably immigrated into Nova Scotia with the early European settlers.
This being a time in history when people had to hunt game such as ducks to eat and a time in which the keeping of any particular type of dog depended upon its usefulness in contributing to this task, there would have been considerable pressure to further refine and improve any available breed to make it more suitable for its environment, more capable as a hunter or in this case as a decoy dog and retriever; all in an effort to assist the hunter in putting meat on the table. It is at this point in the overall history and development of the Toller that we are again forced to draw a blank as there is no documentation to make a definitive connection between the “Red Decoy Dog” and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. What is assumed, however, is that over the following centuries as other breeds were both developed around and immigrated to Nova Scotia and modern day Canada, selective crossing with other breeds such as spaniels, setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and possibly even a farm collie, led to the production of today’s Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. But again, as has already been mentioned much of this is conjecture.
What we do know is that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a distinctly unique breed of dog, bred to have a physical resemblance to the fox in color while emulating fox-like behavior in acting as a decoy to lure ducks through a process known as ‘tolling’. The earliest written reference to using dogs for tolling dates to around 1630, when Nicolas Denys (1598– 1688), a French aristocrat, explorer, colonizer, soldier and leader in the portion of the French colonial empire of New France known as Acadia that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine began writing about the people and animals that he came across in his travels. His work (having been written in ancient French) was later translated into English and published in the 1908 book “The description and natural history of the coasts of North America (Acadia)”, by William Francis Ganong. On the origin of tolling and the use of dogs for this purpose Denys wrote:
“Of the Foxes there are several kinds distinguished by colours. Some are found wholly black, but those are rare. There are black ones mottled with white, but there occur more of grey mottled with white; but more commonly they are all grey and all red, leaning towards the reddish. Those animals are only too common. All these kinds have the disposition of Foxes, and are cunning and subtle in capturing the Wild Geese and Ducks. If they see some flocks of these out on the sea, they go along the edge of the beach, make runs of thirty to forty paces, then retire from time to time over the same route making leaps. The game which sees them doing this comes to them very quietly. When the Foxes see the game approaching, they run and jump; then they stop suddenly in one jump, and lie down upon their backs. The Wild Goose or the Duck keeps constantly approaching. When these are near, the Foxes do not move anything but the tail. Those birds are so silly that they come even wishing to peck at the Foxes. The rogues take their time, and do not fail to catch one, which pays for the trouble.
“We train our Dogs to do the same, and they also make the game come up. One places himself in ambush at some spot where the game cannot see him; when it is within good shot, it is fired upon, and four, five, and six of them, and sometimes more are killed. At the same time the Dog leaps to the water, and is always sent farther and farther out; it brings them back, and then is sent to fetch them all one after another.”
Whether or not these early dogs are in fact the early ancestors of the modern Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is impossible to tell as the author makes no reference to their origin, although some speculate the dogs originally mentioned by Denys may have come from the Netherlands. Where Dutch “cage dogs” (the early ancestors of the modern Kooikerhondje) were used as early as the 16th century, as decoys, to lure and drive unsuspecting waterfowl into nets. He also comments on the use of these early decoy dogs for ‘retrieving’ the game; a trait that the European breeds of the time were lacking, as the Saint John’s Water Dog, the widely agreed ancestor of all modern retrievers, wasn’t imported into England until the mid to late 18th century. This may or may not indicate that some level of crossbreeding with other breeds such as the Saint John’s Water dog or its early ancestors may have already occurred. Early descriptions such as these, of foxes tolling ducks may also account for some of the early folklore surrounding the breed. Specifically that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever's unique tolling ability and distinctive color resulted from a fox-dog mating, which in modern times we know is genetically impossible.
There may also be some historical basis to the theory that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was derived from crosses with various Spaniels. In the following excerpt from the "The Sportsman's Repository", written by author John Lawrence in 1820, we find reference, not only to tolling and how to train dogs for this purpose but also information on the specific breed used; the Water Spaniel:
“The first objects in training the Water Spaniel are, to teach him to fetch and carry, and to give him a tender mouth. Without the first qualification he can be of no use, and with it, if hard mouthed, half his usefulness is lost: for in bringing us the fowl he will so tear and deform them, that they will be scarcely fit for the table.
“The routine of instruction is mighty simple, and which we have personally, practised with the utmost success. Take the youngster to the side of a river, or piece of Water, not encumbered with heavy weeds, nor bounded by high and difficult banks. Some of the best bred puppies will take the water instantly upon approaching it, even probably as soon as able to leave the bitch, and as naturally plunging into that element, as a hatch of young ducks. Others will just step in up to their bellies, and after looking about them awhile, retire to land. But these will soon be taught to take water, and the more easily, if they already fetch and carry. This last maneuver, every one almost who possesses a dog, is in the habit of teaching him, and an old glove is one of the most proper implements. The next is to couch and lie close upon the ground, without stirring or making" the least noise, until permission to rise be given. To back, or retire behind the Gunner, for the teacher should have his gun with him, is easily taught, walking up and down by the water side. The dog will thus also be accustomed to the Gun and its use.
“In the Decoy Ponds, it is well known that decoy, or trained Ducks which answer to the whistle, are employed to entice the wild ones into the purse nets; the former diving at the sound of the whistle, on approach to the nets, and retreating, whilst the wild ones proceed and are caught. But it often happens that, the wild fowl from weariness and dozing, will not follow the decoy ducks, when the only substitute is the dog, which by virtue of his training, knowingly passes backwards and forwards, between the reed skreens, which have small holes, both for the Decoy man to see, and sufficiently large at bottom, for the dog to pass through. Should the fowl be so torpid as not to notice the dog, a red handkerchief, or something of striking appearance, is put upon him. This having attracted the attention of the fowl, they will sometimes advance upon him in the whole flock, as if with the intention of driving him away. The dog, in the interim, as directed by the Decoysman, playing in the reed skreens, the fowl dare not pass him, in order to escape, and being unable to ascend on the wing, on account of the netting above, rush for- ward into the purse-net and are secured. Towards the Autumn, when the wild fowl having moulted their wing feathers, are unable to fly any great length, and rise with difficulty, they are hunted with Water Spaniels, and considerable numbers taken.”
Much like the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever of today, the Water Spaniel was used to attract the attention of the ducks and lure them to their eventual demise. However unlike the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, these early Water Spaniels were primarily dark colored dogs ranging from black (which was considered the best at the time), too liver, pied or brown. As evidenced above, this often times necessitated that the waterfowlers of the time place" a red handkerchief, or something of striking appearance" upon the dog to attract the attention of the ducks. This may likewise explain the theorized out crossings with Setter type dogs to achieve the red or fox-like coloration present in today's Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
In her 1996 co-authored book "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever", Gail MacMillan reflects upon the strange behavior of ducks to be drawn in by a Toller:
"Is it mere curiosity that draws ducks (and sometimes geese) to their doom? Or is it some strange phenomenon of nature, which will never be understood until someone deciphers the deductions of a duck? Whatever the explanation, the attraction has proven effective for hundreds of years."
Another commonly accepted theory that makes the origin of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever a much more recent occurrence revolves around James Allen of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia creating the breed in the 1860's by breeding a Flat-Coated Retriever female with a male Labrador dog and subsequently breeding the offspring to various other breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and Setters. The earliest written reference to this theory comes from an article written in the early 1900's by H.A.P Smith titled the "The Tolling Dog or Little River Duck Dog", who describes the origin of the breed as such:
"The history of the Tolling dog from all I can gather is as follows. In the late sixties (1860's) James Allen of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia received from the captain of a corn laden schooner a female flat coated English Retriever, colour dark red, weight about forty pounds. Mr. Allen had her bred with a Labrador dog which was a fine retriever, the first litter of pups made very large dogs, even larger than their parents, and were splendid duck dogs. Several of these bitches were bred to a brown cocker spaniel imported into this province from the U.S.. These dogs were bred throughout Yarmouth County, particularly at Little River and Comeau’s Hill and a majority of them are a reddish brown colour. Later on a cross of the Irish Setter was introduced. Occasionally a black pup appears and of course makes just as good a retriever and water dog as his red brothers, but is not so valuable because he can not be used as a Toller."
Lending credibility to the Smiths rendition of the breeds history is that he was one of the earliest and most respected breeders of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in Nova Scotia and a man who would have had the benefit of possibly talking to sources still alive at the time that had firsthand knowledge of how the breed was created. Additionally Mr. Smith was apparently so well known for this breed that he is referenced by name in the works of other authors of the time. In "The American hunting dog: modern strains of bird dogs and hounds, and their field training", written by Warren Hastings Miller and published in 1919, the author makes reference to the practice of tolling, Tollers and Mr. Smith in the following:
"While the English Retriever has but small vogue in our country, there being but one entry in the big 5-point Westminster show, any breed that has some special virtue will always find adherents among our sportsmen. The Retriever has been in the main supplanted by our own Chesapeake, and the Irish Water Spaniel, but there is another dog, called, Down East, the Tolling Dog, which hails from Newfoundland and seems destined to have a future with us. His admirers have written me at length concerning the virtues of the breed. I shall content myself here with a brief statement of the particular claims of the breed on the attentions of American sportsmen. Suppose you had a dog that bred true to type, was an unexcelled cold-water retriever and would "toll" ducks for you. Sounds interesting, but just what is "tolling" ducks! Well, Down East they have solved that vexatious problem of a raft of ducks playing out in front of your blind (but most warily keeping well out of gun range), by using a tolling dog. This dog is trained to perform antics in the sedge; now in sight, now down in the grass, appearing and disappearing, until the curious ducks begin to swim in, little by little, to satisfy themselves what it is all about. They seem to have no fear of the toller which is a rather small dog, and soon are in range, when the gunners up and at 'em, whereupon the toller swims out, retrieves the slain, and again begins his tactics when another flock settles out in front. By this means a good bag is secured under adverse circumstances familiar to us all, those aggravating days when the ducks will not trade but persist in rafting out in the bay considerably out of range.
"Such is the toller, seemingly a breed produced by crossing the English retriever on the wellknown Labrador dog or Labrador retriever, a close relative of the Newfoundland. Mr. H. A. P. Smith of Nova Scotia is at present the principal breeder of these dogs."
Although the above provides no information in regards to the Setter, or Spaniel characteristics found in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever of today. It does agree with Smiths contention that the breed originated from the crossing of an English Retriever with a Labrador Dog. This is also seems to be one of the earliest specific references to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever being used to lure ducks. Additionally we know that it was also around this time in the early 1900s, that area of Little River in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, was being credited with having produced a unique type of medium-sized, rusty-brown colored dog that bred "true" called the "Little River Duck Dog."; the first unofficial name for the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever of today. Capable and unique as they were, the fame of these tolling retrievers, however, did not spread and was mostly limited to southwestern Nova Scotia. This is the reason they would later become known as one of Nova Scotia's best kept secrets.
In the 1930's the wonderful fishing and hunting opportunities provided by Yarmouth County led to celebrities such as Babe Ruth frequenting the area where they were introduced to the astonishing skills of these little tolling dogs. Their unique ability to draw in waterfowl by performing their trademark water's edge dance would eventually earn the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever the nickname "Pied Piper of the marsh.". Additional events held in the area such as the International Tuna Cup Competition; a sport fishing competition founded in the 1930's brought affluent hunters and fisherman to the area which helped to further introduce the breed to the world and elevate their popularity. It was also around this time that Colonel Cyril Colwell took an interest in the breed and set about creating his own breeding program for Tollers. He would eventually write the first standard for the breed and through his efforts the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) would officially recognize the breed as the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in 1945. From this point through the 1960's the breed, although officially recognized remained largely unknown. That is until Ripley's famous "Believe It Or Not" featured the breed and its unique tolling ability in a newspaper column syndicated throughout Canada and the United States.
Although this did, once again briefly boost the popularity of the breed, it wasn't until two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers won Best In Show, at separate shows in the 1980s that the breed began to experience more widespread popularity by piquing the interest of serious fanciers and breeders. This led to the formation of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA)-NSDTRC(USA)- in 1984 by ten breed fanciers determined to rescue the breed from obscurity. Working dillegently the club outlined a Code of Ethics for its breeders, began keeping a breeders list and offering formal activities in conformation, field, obedience and tracking. In 1988, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, along with other purely Canadian dog breeds was featured on a series of stamps marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CKC. An even greater honor came in 1995, when the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was picked by Nova Scotia to be the Provincial Dog of Nova Scotia-the first and only breed to be awarded this distinctionon, thus marking 50 years of recognition by the CKC.
All of these accolades and the associated popularity boost led the American Kennel Club (AKC) to approve the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever for admission into the Miscellaneous class in June of 2001. A short 3 years later in July of 2003, the breed was officially granted full recognition into the AKC's Sporting Group. Going from a relatively unknown breed in the 1960's to sitting in 107th place out of 167 breeds in the AKC's list of "most popular dogs of 2010", the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever of today is no longer a well kept secret and can be found all over the world from Canada, to Australia and even Sweden where they are used for shows, hunting and as loving members of the family.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a compact, athletic, and powerfully built medium sized retrieving breed. The smallest of today's retrievers, a male Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should weigh 45-50 lbs and stand 18-21 inches at the withers. While females are smaller weighing 40-50lb and standing 17-20 inches at the withers. The standard for the breed states that the ideal height for males and females is 19 and 18 inches respectively. Placing this in perspective the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is about the same size as a large Brittany Spaniel. Going back to weight for a moment, like most working breeds a suggested weight is just that; a suggestion. The weight of the dog should be in proportion to its overall height and build; so some Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever's may be slightly heavier based on having a little thicker build while the opposite is also true in that lighter built specimens may weigh slightly less; both would be acceptable.
As an athletic and agile breed, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is slightly longer than it is tall; the standard calling for a ratio of 10 to 9; however, not so long as to give the dog the impression of a long back. The slightly wedge shaped head should be clean-cut giving the dog a crisp, clean appearance. The skull is broad but only slightly rounded, such that it would appear nearly flat when the ears are alert. The muzzle is slightly shorter than the skull with the length from occiput to stop being slightly longer than the length from tip of muzzle to stop. The nose is fairly broad with the well open nostrils and tapers at the tip. Like the yes the color of the nose should blend with that of the coat, or be black. The well spaced, almond shaped eyes should be of a color that blends with the coat or is darker. The triangularly shaped, high set ears should lie well back of the skull, framing the face. The length of the ears should be that they would reach approximately to the inside corner of the eye. The tips should be well rounded and well feathered on the back of the fold with the rest being short-coated. Carriage is typically in a drop fashion.
Slightly angular in appearance the muzzle tapers in a clean line from the moderate stop to the tip of the nose, with a well defined but not overly prominent lower jaw. The jaws should be of sufficient strength and substance to carry a large bird. The upper incisors should lie in front of the lower incisors when the mouth is closed, with a smooth curve from canine to canine without misplaced or rotated teeth. The lower canines should lie exactly between the upper lateral incisors and upper canines, yet touching neither forming a scissors bite.
The medium length neck of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is strongly muscled and well set with no indication of throatiness. The only listed requirement for the back is that it be straight, short, flat, and strong. For a medium sized breed of dog, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a rather deep chest well formed chest. the brisket or forechest should extend down to the elbow. The ribs are well sprung from the body but should not give the dog a barrel shaped appearance. The muscular shoulders of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should be sufficiently strong and well angulated to provide the dog with smoothness and flexibility of motion. The blades of the shoulder should be roughly equal in length to the upper arm. As a dog that is required to swim, run jump or otherwise be active during the course of its work, the elbows should work close to the body, cleanly and evenly; neither throwing in or out which would place undue stress upon the joints lessening the overall durability of the dog. When viewed from the front the legs should lie under the shoulders giving them the appearance of parallel columns. The medium sized, slightly oval shaped feet should be compact with well arched toes and thick protective pads. Additionally, like all retriever breeds, the feet of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should be webbed to aid them during the swim on the retrieve of game downed in the water.
The powerful and well muscled loins of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should provide it with adequate propulsion when both going for the retrieve on land or in water. Likewise both the upper and lower thighs are both muscular and of equal length. The overall structure of the hindquarters should be broad, muscular and square in appearance with a slightly sloping croup. There should be symmetry to the dog with the angulation of the rear being in balance with that of the front. The well let down hocks should turn neither in nor out. Rear dewclaws are unacceptable. The luxuriant and well feathered tail of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should follow the natural very slight curve of the croup while appearing to be a natural extension of the spine. The tail may be carried below the level of the back except when the dog is alert, at which time it should be held high in a curve, though never curling over to touch the body.
As a Canadian retrieving breed, the medium length, double coat of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever must be very near water-proof to protect the dog when exposed to icy cold waters on the retrieve. A slight wave to the coat along the back is acceptable, although the rest should be otherwise straight. In the winter when the coat is fully grown in there may be a long loose curling of hairs at the throat. The featherings are soft and moderate in length. While neatening of the feet, ears, and hocks for the show ring is permitted, the Toller should always appear natural, never barbered. In order to properly emulate the appearance of the fox the acceptable colors for an Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever are 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. Proper markings for and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever will consist of at least one of the following white markings -tip of tail, white feet (not extending above the pasterns) chest and blaze. Although some wiggle room is given in the standard by its statement that a dog of otherwise high quality should not be penalized for a lack of white.
The Toller is a breed whose personality exemplifies the work in which it was bred to do. A happy go lucky breed of dog the Toller entices ducks by embracing the fun loving aspect of its nature. When a hunter is tolling for ducks he will typically hide in a blind and from there he will toss out a small object such as a stick to be retrieved by the tireless Toller over and over and over again. In so doing the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever will perform a myriad of crazy antics such as bouncing about, rolling, puppy pouncing, twisting in the air and waving it’s plume-like tail. To further entice bewildered waterfowl observing this seemingly pointless display of absurdity the Toller will splash in the water then disappear into the blind only to suddenly re-appear and begin this strange "dance" all over again.
Intrigued or bemused by the dogs’ antics, the waterfowl swim ever closer to the shore. When they are within rifle range, the hunter will call the Toller into the blind and take aim upon the unsuspecting waterfowl; after which the Toller gleefully leaps into the water to retrieve the downed birds. The dance of the Toller is not mere happenstance or pointless play, for the Toller is cunning like a fox; all the while aware he is drawing the waterfowl in for his master. A well trained Toller knows all too well that this requires him to ignore the rafted birds and to focus on the task of playing and retrieving in order to entice the birds to their demise.
The modern Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is marked by its beauty, versatility, strong working drive, eagerness to please, intelligence and friendly nature. No longer just a hunting dog, today’s Tollers are known to use these attributes to excel in all manner of obedience and high-energy dog sports, including, flyball, agility and field trials; as well as some that have recently been adapted for use as service dogs in the fields of drug detection and search and rescue. Tollers were designed to be a high energy and versatile working dog and are not the best choice for people inclined to the sedentary lifestyle. This is a breed, very much like the Australian Shepherd that is considered to be not just high-energy but also high-maintenance in that they require a great deal of mental stimulation and physical exercise to remain both healthy and happy. A good rule of thumb for owning a Toller is ‘better behavior through exhaustion’. Owning a Toller means that you will have to dedicate at the very least an hour to providing the dog with exercise every day that includes plenty of swimming, running and fetching. Additionally a Toller will need a job to do (teach them to bring the paper, have them carry the mail in, teach them tricks); lest he will make one for himself that could include digging holes in the yard, escaping, chewing out of boredom or otherwise being destructive, mischievous and downright obnoxious. It is not uncommon for many Toller owners to actively engage in several dog activities such as hunting, agility, flyball, tracking, and competitive obedience just to keep their Tollers occupied.
Tollers are known for their love of people and eagerness to please their master. A happy life for a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever would consist of being the best friend of an active owner that includes the dog in his/her daily activities. This breed is noted not only for its loving nature but also for its loyalty and intelligence. In the home, as in the field the Toller is ever alert to what is happening in the world around him and when combined with the breeds natural wariness of strangers they make excellent watchdogs that are quick to sound the alarm. They keyword is watchdog, as it is highly unlikely that a Toller would act out aggressively or attempt to bite and intruder. There job is to provide warning and your job is to investigate and handle the problem if one presents itself.
The breed is also noted for being naturally gentle and patient with children. This is also a breed that makes an excellent companion for children. The boundless energy of both will provide each with hours of entertainment. Known as a fanatical retriever that will go as far as to climb a tree to retrieve something tossed, the Toller will be just as eager on throw 200 as it was on the first throw. However like all play between larger dogs and smaller children, it should be supervised to ensure that the dog is never placed in a position through rough handling, teasing or torment that it feels it would need to act out aggressively to protect itself from further mistreatment. Additionally younger Tollers can be a bit overzealous in their play which can result in the toppling of smaller children.
Another uniquely Toller trait is what’s known as the “Toller scream”, an exceptionally high-pitched, and penetrating scream that is an indication of happiness or excitement. An excellent description of this was written by Peggy O'Connell of Caliber Tollers':
“The Scream - Many Tollers have a penetrating scream which they produce to indicate excitement and eagerness. To the uninitiated, this can sound like the dog is being fed into a wood chipper; it's high pitched, frantic and loud. Not all Tollers scream, but many do. If you are unable to teach quiet manners,or live in a neighborhood where dog noise will get you in trouble, or just don't like dogs who make noise, this is not the breed for you. The scream is usually a reaction to an exciting stimulus (water, a toy, a ball) rather than a constant behavior, but it can be annoying.”
Training from a young age is of utmost importance for all Toller owners regardless of whether the dog is being kept as a pet or groomed to compete. Not only does this provide the dog with an outlet for his energies but it also helps to establish the Alpha and Beta roles between owner and dog; because if you are not in charge, the Toller will be. It is also important that training be kept interesting as this is a breed noted for having brains to spare and a breed that will quickly tire of monotonous or non interesting training commands. Remember to keep training short, focused, and fun by working the dog for 15 minutes then taking a small play break as a reward.
As a working breed, that is fanatic about retrieving, Tollers have a strong prey drive. Although many will do just fine with cats, the majority will take great amusement in turning your home upside down chasing the cat. To the Toller this is all about fun but to the cat this can be terrifying. Not to mention that if cornered the cat could and probably would react aggressively toward the dog setting the stage for disaster.
Tollers also love to swim, so it should be expected that if there is a usable standing body of water available for the dog; he will use it, to play, to cool off, and to muddy the home.
Although much of the above may scare away potential owners, it should be made clear that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a brilliant and talented working dog and a devoted family friend. The playful antics of this breed, combined with its jolly nature and unique zest for life have affectionately led to these dogs being described as "clowns in red dog suits" or "Border Collies with an on/off switch."
Shedding is the Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent breed of dog. Much as the Newfoundland dog leaves “Newfie Foliage” lying about, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is known to deposit “snowdrifts” about the house. This is especially common during the spring and early fall when the shedding is in full swing. Thus it becomes a necessity to brush the dog regularly during shedding season to lessen the amount of hair floating through the air, interwoven into the couch, stuck to your clothes and choking out the vacuum cleaner. In most cases this will require that the dog be brushed thoroughly every two days to remove loose and dead hair. During the rest of the year the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is considered to be a moderate shedder that only requires weekly maintenance brushing to assist in removing dead hair and help to evenly distribute the natural oils of the coat.
Dry shampooing regularly is acceptable but bathing with water should be done as little as possible and no more than once a month. Over bathing can lead to dry skin as it will strip the coat of its naturally protective and waterproofing oils. In most cases a wet cloth can be used to wipe down the coat and remove excess grime.
Tollers are for the most part considered to be a healthy breed of dog. However like nearly all purebred dogs they are prone to certain genetic disorders. In most cases these problems have been attributed a lack of genetic diversity created by the Tollers relatively small gene pool. This unfortunately allowed affected dogs to pass problems forward into future generations. The most common problems known to affect the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever are hip dysplasia and eye problems, although no more than many other retriever breeds and less than Golden Retrievers.
As with the purchase of any purebred dog it is imperative that you choose a reputable breeder and one in good standing with the parent breed club that strictly adheres to good animal husbandry practices. A good breeder will genetically test breeding pairs and should be able to provide both Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) certifications to verify this. The Code of Ethics for both the American and Canadian Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever clubs prohibit the breeding of dogs that do not posses certifications of a clean bill of health from the above organizations. Hip (OFA) certification is only done once after the dog has reached two years of age; however, eye (CERF) examinations must be done annually and even after the dog is no longer actively being bred; as eye problems have a tendency to develop in later life.
More recently problems such as hypothyroidism, immune mediated problems and dwarfism are surfacing. However rest assured that these problems are considered to be extremely rare and the exception not the norm. A few lines have also begun to show signs of late onset deafness, although, the jury is still out as to whether this is an inherited problem or has environmental influences i.e. active use as a gundog.
Problems that have been recorded in this breed include: