Sun, Dec 17, 2017
English German Norwegian

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: An Overview

Meet the Toller

This rust-colored canine, occasionally also referred to as the Little River duck dog or the Yarmouth Toller, hails from Nova Scotia originally. The breed was developed in the early 1900’s to lure (or “toll”) ducks within rifle range by exploiting the waterfowls’ natural curiosity. Hunters would lie in the hidden recesses of a hunting blind and covertly toss their tolling retriever a ball or stick to initiate a session of play meant to pique the surrounding ducks’ interest. The hunter would subsequently shoot the birds when they came in close enough, with the dog aiding in the downed waterfowl’s recovery.

Thought to be influenced by possible mixes of Irish setter, golden retriever, Border collie, and cocker spaniel, the Tolling Retriever was bred to be a versatile dog with the ability to excel at a variety of tasks requiring a combination of intelligence, obedience, and agility among other traits. Tollers did not come into their own as an established and refined breed until more recent years. In 1945, at the tail end of World War II, the Canadian Kennel Club officially accepted the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever as a member.  The pathway to becoming recognized in the United States has been a more circuitous one for this particular dog. It’s only since the recent 80’s that the breed gained its momentum, and not until 2003 was the Toller added to the ranks of the American Kennel Club.



Physical Characteristics

According to the standards set by the American Kennel Club, you can expect a well-bred Toller to have a coat shaded some hue of red with white markings possible on the tale, feet, blaze, and chest. The head should be wedge-shaped with high-set triangular ears. The expression is often described as engaged and friendly but can show hints of what can only be described as sadness when not working.

Duck Tolling Retrievers are the smallest of the retrievers, with males standing 18-21 inches measured at the withers and weighing in at 45-51 pounds (20-23 kg), and females at 17-20 in and 37-43 pounds (17-20 kg). Their more compact size makes them easier to travel with and involve in a variety of acitivies.

Because this breed of is fairly uncommon and so striking in appearance, Toller owners can expect their dog to turn a few heads and draw in curious bystanders.


These dogs have an unusual coat well-suited to their original breeding for luring and retrieving waterfowl, often in chilled waters. There are two layers: the upper coat is a dense water-repellant layer of medium length fur while underneath resides a softer dense undercoat. While adapted to colder environments, tollers and their people have reportedly lived with comfort and ease in a variety of climates.

Tolling Retrievers are a generally clean and low-odor breed but do shed, so prospective owners can expect to be dealing with dog hair on a regular basis. Considerations should be made for household members suffering from allergies; however, the issue can be significantly curbed by regular brushing. In particular, owners may find the furminator, a specially designed grooming brush an de-shedder tool, invaluable.


Nova Scotia Duck Toller Retrievers are considered an extremely versatile breed due primarily to their striking intelligence and perceptiveness. Tollers are hardy dogs and make excellent companions for hunters and those inclined to spending time outdoors.  Their eagerness to interact with their surroundings means they are always ready to engage and enjoy the presence of their companions. But while they value the mental stimulation of work and play outside, you can expect your Toller to be equally content curling up next to you on the sofa.

This breed is well suited for family life and is known to be gentle with children. They may be perceivably restrained when interacting with unfamiliar people which speaks both to their loyalty to family and their potential as watchdogs.


Tollers can and should be trained at a young age. Their mental acuity means they will learn quickly but also may become bored if not challenged in new and novel ways while learning.  Tollers can develop habits like counter surfing because they will continually revisit behaviors they find rewarding. These mannerisms can be easily  avoided by being mindful that your dog doesn't develop them in the first place.

Clicker training may be an incredibly effective way to guide your dog's learning. The reward system associated with using a small clicker to reinforce positive behavior also may pique and satisy your dog's natural curiousity, and make the process fun for the both of you.



Considerations for Prospective Owners

As any future pet owner knows, it pays to do your research.  Many of the same traits that make this breed of dog an excellent choice to own also can prove problematic to the uninformed dog owner. For those assuming the Toller equates to a more compact version of the golden retriever, you will find yourself sorely disappointed.

These dogs can certainly adapt to family life but are prey dogs at heart and benefit from being treated as such. You and your Toller may find yourselves in an uneasy face-to-face if you are unable to provide the exercise and mental stimulation vital to a healthy bird dog. This may be manifested in restless and occasionally even destructive behavior.

Tollers also have distinct vocalizations, many of which are pleasant and amusing, but an excited dog can let out what can only be referred to as the “Toller scream”. This behavior can be lessened or modified through training at an early age, but in a small apartment where noise is a consideration, you’d be better served choosing a different breed. They also, as previously mentioned, are well adapted to serve as watch-dogs, but not necessarily as guard dogs.

This information is not to dissuade people from seeking to bring a Toller into their life, but rather to guide prospective adoptive parents on whether this breed is a good fit in a decision that will affect the life quality of both you and your dog. While the breed is not for everyone, those who after careful consideration find the Novia Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever a good fit will find their lives enriched in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Useful Resources for Prospective and Current Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers:

American Kennel Club Breed Description

Canadian Kennel Club Breed Standard

Nova Scotia Duck tolling Retriever Club (USA)

Breed Profile

An Introduction to Clicker Training

Living with the high prey drive dog

The Versatile Toller

Tollers vs Goldens

Top Ten Reasons NOT to Get  a Toller


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Puppies For Sale

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Breeder Quick Search

Site Login