Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever aka Toller is a compact, powerful, energetic medium-sized dog. He is a member of the Retriever family and stands at a foot and a half to a foot and nine inches at the shoulders, weighing about 35-50 lbs. Actually this is the smallest member of the retriever group.

They get their name from the tolling actions of playing or “dancing” at the shoreline: while the dog is tolling with a toy or stick the ducks become curious and move toward the shore for a better view. Once they are there, they are sitting ducks, so to speak. The Toller lures them in for the kill and retrieves them once the hunter shoots them.

The Toller is an energetic dog that needs lots of exercise, entertainment and training. They are also brilliant dogs, independent, smart, and make excellent guard dogs. They are small enough for apartment and condo life, but if Tollers are alone for extended periods of time, they will get bored, becoming destructive and noisy. That’s why a second dog for company is a good idea.

We can definitely say that this is a Velcro breed. The dog loves his humans and suffers if he is stuck in the yard with little or no human interaction. He is happier when he is with his owner and can follow him through the house taking his role as a guard dog seriously.

Breed Characteristics

Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Sporting Group
Height:1’ 5” inches to 1’9” inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 35-50 lbs.
Life Span: 10-14 years

Their double water-repellant coat can be any shade of red accented by white markings on the face, legs, tail, or the body. The Toller is pleased with himself and his appearance and he makes an excellent show dog. With his bearing and attitude he can go up against any dog in the ring. He is quick and alert with a desire to please which makes him a dog that is easy to train. His presence in the agility and freestyle ring make him a top contender

Once retrieving is required, he jumps to attention and springs into action. His focus is absolute, and his heavily feathered tail continuously moves as he lures in the ducks and retrieves. You would vow that one of his ancestors is the Border Collie, and that may be true as the Toller’s concentration when working is just as intense as a Border Collie’s.

The expression on the Toller’s face is one of melancholy when he is not working. Tollers have an abundance of energy, and it needs to be channeled into positive activities. Training them in agility, flyball, flying disc games, and freestyle will give them an outlet for said energy. However, keep in mind that they are very stubborn and will want to do things their way.

Training should start early, and you need to establish consistent rules. To train a Toller, you will want to use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, food treats, and play. When the motivation exists this breed learns easily and quickly.

Main Highlights
  • The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is for the most part a healthy dog however, because of the limits on the size of the gene pool, some mutations and diseases have begun to occur. His red fur and his cream-colored nose may mean he has a higher incident of an inflammatory disease which will attack the joints and soft tissue.
  • The coat is of medium length, which is low-maintenance.
  • The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is in the sporting class. They are active dogs and need at least an hour of exercise a day. Without it they will turn their energies to more destructive behaviors like chewing on furniture and digging.
  • This is not a good dog around feral or neighborhood cats or other small animals. Their high prey instinct will lead them to chase smaller pets and possibly hurt them.
  • A fenced in yard is essential with Tollers. It will keep them from running after prey through the neighborhood.
  • Living in a noise-controlled apartment is not a good idea with this breed. When he is excited, he lets out a high-pitched scream which is nerve racking.
  • Tollers like to get down and dirty in the mud. If you relish a pristine house, the Toller is probably not for you
  • This is a rare breed, so if you are interested in finding a breeder it may take some time, and there may be a waiting list for puppies. You could end up waiting for six months to a year, but you should make sure you get your puppy from a reputable breeder and not from a puppy mill or store.
Breed History

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was not the first toller! Actually, the first Tollers were a group of foxes. The Micmac Indians watched the foxes playing along the rivers and lakes, luring the ducks in and grabbing them when they swam too close. Since they couldn’t base their hunting on foxes, the Micmac tribe trained their dogs to do the same. And this is how the breed we know today was born.

«Tolling» comes from the Middle English «Tollen» or the Old English «Tyllan» which means to entice or pull. The tolling of the bells drew the villagers to the town square just like the tolling of this dog draws the ducks out of their safety zone.

Tollers of today were bred in the community of Little River Harbor in Yarmouth County, Nova  Scotia and the original breed was known as the little river duck dog or the Yarmouth Toller. The hunters in southwest Nova Scotia along the Little River district went a little further with training and, through selective breeding, created a dog that would attract birds as well as retrieve them.  They skillfully blended several Retriever Breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, and even farm collies and this is how the Little River Duck Dog was born.

In 1945 the Canadian Kennel Club finally recognized The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever but the breed first came to the U.S. in the 1960s. While there was little interest in them at the beginning, by 1984 the breed had enough fans that The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of the USA was formed. The AKC accepted the breed in the Miscellaneous Class in 2001 and into the sporting Group in 2003.


The Toller is a compact medium-sized dog. He stands about: 1’ 5” inches to 1’9” inches tall at the shoulder and weights 35-50 lbs.

Personality and Character

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is an excellent pet with curiosity, an independent nature, and the intelligence to keep everyone on their toes. If they need to be categorized, you could place them between a retriever and a terrier as they have sense of humor and an outgoing, happy attitude.

Adult Tollers are gentle dogs especially with children. If they are not working or playing, they are content lying quietly next to family members. They are adaptable and quickly move from one environment to another as long as they have their crate and their family.  Tollers will take their cues from their owners and if they meet new people, they will be reserved until their owners accept or reject the new folks.

Tollers are very intelligent and can become easily bored and destructive. They will become noisy and start tearing things apart if they don’t have another dog for company or more time with their owners.

One problem with a Toller in the city is his remarkably loud scream. If he gets excited, bored, or frustrated he breaks out his operatic holler which can make many enemies in an apartment complex or an area where there are noise restrictions on animals.

So a dog from this breed will roll in dead fish or other stinky things to mask his scent, he screams when he is excited or frustrated, he sheds, and for the most part, he is smarter than the average person. If that makes you love him even more, then the Toller is for you.

Health and Potential Problems

Some strains of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever can be prone to health issues, diseases and physical ailments. Among those problems are Hip Dysplasia, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and Juvenile Cataracts.

  • Hip Dysplasia: This inherited trait is when the thighbone refuses to sit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs are afflicted by pain and limping on one or both back legs, and yet other dogs show now outward sign of it. Arthritis will develop as your dog ages and dogs with this condition should not be bred. If you are buying a puppy from a breeder, ask to see proof that the parents have been tested for the disease and are not afflicted by it.
  • Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) — an inherited disease is causing defects in the formation of the eye. Although it is usually seen in collies, it has also been observed in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in the last couple of years. It is an inherited condition that leads to blindness in some dogs. It usually happens by the time a dog reaches two years.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: If your puppy has this condition he has a decreased flow of blood supply to the head of the femur bone. The top of the femur that connects to the pelvis begins to disintegrate. One tell-tail sign is if your puppy limping between four to six months of age. Surgery can correct the condition, and the puppy will be pain-free.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This eye disease causes deterioration of the retina in the eye. The dogs will first have trouble during the night because of night blindness, and they will gradually lose sight altogether. Most dogs can adapt if owners take care not to change their surroundings.
  • Juvenile Cataracts: This condition can strike relatively young Tollers. It is thought to be hereditary and cataracts form before they are six years old. When you are purchasing a new puppy make sure you ask the breeder to show you proof that pups are certified by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation.
  • Deafness: A few lines of Tollers appear to be prone to deafness. It tends to develop late in life, between 7 and eight years of age.
  • Cleft Palate (CP1) — a birth defect whereby a hole in the roof of the mouth develops while the puppy is in utero.

If you are buying from a reputable breeder, they will be eager to show you certificates of health for the puppy’s parents. These documents prove the parents have been tested and cleared of any condition. You should expect to see certificates of clearance for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s disease and thrombophilia and a certificate attesting that the eyes are healthy.

Care Features

The Toller is an easy-care dog. Their medium-length, water-repellent double coat requires only weekly brushing to keep mats and tangles at bay. The dog will blow his coat twice a year, in the spring and the fall and, during this time, daily brushing will keep the excess fur under control. Also, you’ll need to trim the nails as needed, clean the foot pads, and the ears, and dry.

Tollers are best suited for family life and f you must leave your Toller at home, it is wise to have a crate or an enclosed area where he can play with chew and interactive dog toys.

Exercise is a prime part of your Toller’s care. He needs to get out, play and run. Dog parks are ideal for this level of energy as this is a social dog and he will play well with other dogs. Running and romping at the dog park for a couple of hours will let him wear off excess energy and leave him quiet and content at home.

Feeding Schedule

The recommended daily feeding schedule is 2 ½ cups to 3 cups of high-quality dry food a day split into two feedings through the day. However, keep in mind that the amount of food will depend on his size, age, build, and level of activity.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The red variegated, medium, double-coated fur of the toller is made up of a dense undercoat to protect him from heat and cold. The outer longer guard fur is hollow and waterproof and it protects the toller from damp and dust.

Its coat might be ginger, or rustic or muted red, but all tollers will sport white markings on their feet, chest, face, or tail tip.  Hunters will prize a white tail tip because it lets them keep an eye on the dog when it is retrieving. The tale should be full and bushy, never trimmed. The toller’s look is completed by a black or flesh-colored nose, lips, and eye rims that blend nicely with the coat.

Because of their dense fur, they shed a lot. Brushing every day will keep his shedding to a minimum and will prevent mats, especially behind the ears. Using a pin brush will reach deep down into the undercoat.

Their ears should be checked for dirt, redness or a bad odor — that can signify an ear infection. Wipe them out once a week with a cotton ball with a pH-balanced ear cleaner. Their toenails should be trimmed once a month unless they are worn down by outdoor activities.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Toller is an excellent companion and shares affection with everyone in the family, including children and other dogs and cats.  Adults should supervise interactions between the Toller and children as their energy can get out of control if they get too excited, and it can be overbearing for a child.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a wonderful addition to any home. His intelligence will make him a quick learner and you will find training him to be an easy exercise especially if you use positive reinforcement to reward him for desirable behavior. He is eager to please and earn the affection of all those around him.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.