Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
An example of an adult male Toller with minimal white flash
Other names Yarmouth Toller, Tolling Retriever, Little Red Duck Dog, Little River Duck Dog
Nicknames Toller, Scotty, Novie
Country of origin Canada (Nova Scotia)
Weight Male 20–23 kg (44–51 lb)
Female 17–20 kg (37–44 lb)
Height Male 48–51 cm (19–20 in)
Female 45–48 cm (18–19 in)
Coat Medium-length coat with a softer, dense undercoat
Colour Varying shades of red or orange
Litter size 6–10 pups
Life span 10–14 years [1]
Notes Provincial dog of Nova Scotia
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or Toller for short, is a medium-sized breed of gundog bred primarily for hunting. It is the smallest of the retrievers, and is often mistaken for a small Golden Retriever. Tollers are known to be intelligent, alert, high-energy dogs. Tollers get their name because of their ability to lure waterfowl within gunshot range. The breed originated in southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada, where they were used for tolling and retrieving ducks.[2][3]

Use in hunting[edit]

Tollers are named for their ability to entice or lure waterfowl within gunshot range, called "tolling". The hunter stays hidden in a blind and sends the dog out to romp and play near the water, usually by tossing a ball or stick to be retrieved. The dog's appearance is similar to that of a fox. Its unusual activity and white markings pique the curiosity of ducks and geese, who swim over to investigate.[3]

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred to "toll", or lure, ducks into shooting range by causing a disturbance near the shore. After the duck is shot, the dog brings it to the hunter.

When the birds are close, the hunter calls the dog back to the blind, then rises, putting the birds to flight, allowing him a shot. The Toller then retrieves any downed birds. They are particularly suited for retrieving in cold water climates because of their water-repellent double coat.[3]


The breed was developed in the community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, around the beginning of the 19th century to toll waterfowl.[2] The breed was originally known as the Little River Duck Dog or the Yarmouth Toller. Its exact origins are not known but it appears that some possibly spaniel and setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and farm collie may have gone into the mix.[3] It may share origins with the smaller Kooikerhondje, which has a similar method of work.[4]

The Toller was officially admitted to the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945.[5] Declared the provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1955, the breed gained national recognition in 1980, when two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers were awarded Best in Show at championship events that included many breeds.[6] On June 11, 2001, it was approved for admission into the Miscellaneous Class of the American Kennel Club and was granted full recognition into the Sporting Group on July 1, 2003.[7]



This Toller has the rich orange coat color and "foxy" head shape that are desirable for the breed.

Tollers are often mistaken for small Golden Retrievers, but the Toller is more active, both physically and mentally.[8] According to the breed standards, the Toller should be athletic, well-muscled, compact, medium boned, balanced and powerful. The chest is deep. Conformation judges require Tollers to be capable of tolling, and physical faults that inhibit working ability are heavily penalized. They should be of moderate build—a lack of substance or a heavy build are penalized by judges, as both detract from the type and athleticism. The legs are sturdy and solid. Tollers have webbed feet.[2][3]

Those who breed Tollers for conformation shows consider the head (clean cut, slightly wedge-shaped) to be an important feature, and believe it should resemble that of a fox and must never be blocky like that of a Golden Retriever. The ears are triangular and set high and well back from the skull.[2][3] The tail is well feathered and held jauntily when the dog is excited or moving.[2][3]

Color is 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. Even the lighter shades of golden red are deeply pigmented and rich in color. The Toller should not be buff or brown.[2][3]

The Toller has usually at least one of the following white markings: tip of tail, feet (not extending above the pasterns), chest, and blaze. Lack of white is not a fault. Dogs with white on the shoulders, around ears, back of neck, or across back or flanks, or with silvery, grey or black areas in coat are disqualified from conformation shows.[2][3]

The Toller was bred to retrieve from icy waters and must have a water-repellent double coat of medium length and softness, and a soft dense undercoat. The coat may have a slight wave on the back, but is otherwise straight. Some winter coats may form a long loose curl at the throat. Featherings are soft and moderate in length. The hair on the muzzle is short and fine. Seasonal shedding is to be expected.[2][3]

Size and proportions[edit]

Tollers are the smallest of all the retriever breeds.[2][3][5] They range in height from 17–21 in (43–53 cm) at the withers, and weigh 30–50 lb (14–23 kg), with females being slightly shorter and lighter (the breed standard does not specify weight).[8] Tollers are always a medium-sized breed, never large; however, there has been a trend towards larger dogs in recent years.[2][3][citation needed]

Tollers should be slightly longer than tall (a ratio of approximately 10 to 9). However, they should not appear long-backed.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are known to be very intelligent, alert, high-energy dogs.[9] They tend to be very affectionate and outgoing animals with family members and are known for being very patient with children. Some dogs may be reserved in new situations but shyness in adult dogs is considered a flaw.[10]

A Toller retrieving

Duck Tollers are working animals and are happiest when they have a job to do. Tollers are excellent hunting companions.[11] They excel at many types of sporting competitions, such as agility,[12] dock diving[13] and obedience.[14] Their keen sense of smell, intelligence, working drive, and small size, also make them perfect search and rescue dogs.[15]

Physical stimulation should be provided for these dogs each day since they may become destructive when they are not exercised enough or left alone for too long. The breed standard states that the dog should have a strong retrieving drive, intense birdiness, endurance and a love for water.[3]

Tollers do not have an aggressive bark. Some have a unique sounding bark known as the "Toller scream", a high-pitched, howl-like sound which is often referred to as their "singing".[16] They do not use this in violent situations, however; for these they have a harsh growl.[17] The Toller scream is used to express excitement.


Tollers are generally hardy.[1] However, like almost all dog breeds, certain genetic disorders are known to occur in the breed. This is sometimes blamed on a relatively small gene pool. The Finnish breed club states the largest health problems in the breed to be immunity related.[18] They can be affected by eye problems and hip dysplasia and are predisposed to immune-mediated rheumatic disease and steroid-responsive meningitis–arthritis.[18][19]

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) affects about 7% of Tollers with an estimated 40% being carriers.[20] The type of PRA associated with the breed is known as progressive rod-cone degeneration. The disease causes cells in the retina to degenerate and die, causing night blindness at first and complete blindness eventually.[21] Collie eye anomaly is estimated to have a carrier rate of 5% and an affected rate of 0.5%. It generally only causes mildly impaired vision, but in more severe cases can lead to retinal hemorrhaging and detachments resulting in blindness.[22]

Thyroid problems have been identified by American breeders as a priority issue, together with epilepsy and hip dysplasia. As many as 1 in 6 Tollers may have autoimmune thyroiditis. Symptoms of thyroid problems includes weight gain, skin and hair problems including hair loss, weakness, cold intolerance or infertility.[23]

Addison's disease affected 1% of Tollers in a health survey, an incidence rate 10 times more than the general dog population. Carrier rate is estimated at 18%. This disease is also considered an important issue in the breed. Signs can include lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, increased drinking and urination, and shivering.[24]

Aseptic meningitis (sometimes called steroid-responsive meningitis) has been diagnosed in increasing numbers in the Norwegian Toller population in recent years. Symptoms include intensive neck pain, fever, and lethargy. Prevalence is estimated at 2.5% in the Norwegian population.[25]

Health tests are available for both eye diseases and autoimmune thyroiditis. A test for Addison's disease is available but it is only for one form of the disease and there are other forms which also affect the breed.[26] A test is also available for one form of cleft palate that is exclusive to Tollers. Early testing shows a carrier rate of about 15%.[27]

A survey conducted in 2002 by the Canadian breed club to discover which diseases and conditions occur in the Toller population, involving owners of 1180 dogs worldwide, showed 73% reported in excellent health and a total of 7.5% reporting poor or bad health. 141 dogs (12%) were reported as deceased with the average age at death being 6.4 years. The most common cause of death was cancer, reported in 25% of deaths, with old age being the next most common at 9%.[28]

Genetic diversity[edit]

A worldwide study of the Tollers' registration history in 17 countries shows that about 90% of the genetic diversity present in the founding population has been lost. Tollers born between 1999–2008 have an effective founder size of 9.8, realized effective population size of 18 and an average inbreeding coefficient of 0.26. Breeders are working to prevent losing heterozygosity and to maintain sufficient genetic variations, but high kinship value means the breed is not able to maintain a steady level of inbreeding in the long term.[18]



  1. ^ a b Burke, Don (2005). The Complete Burke's Backyard: The Ultimate Book of Fact Sheets. Murdoch Books. p. 842. ISBN 1740457390. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Canadian Kennel Club. "CKC Breeding Standards: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever". Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m American Kennel Club. "Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever". Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Kooikerhondje". Retrieved December 23, 2013. "Although there are still Kooikerhondjes working in a duck decoy, most dogs will probably not be able to do that." 
  5. ^ a b Government of Nova Scotia. "Symbols: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever". Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Nova Scotia Legislature: Duck Toller". March 29, 2012. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  7. ^ Perrin, Terri. "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: A true Canadian canine (eh?)". Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Palika, Liz (2007). The Howell Book of Dogs. John Wiley & Sons. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-470-00921-5. 
  9. ^ "Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever : Dog Breed Selector: Animal Planet". Animal Planet. Retrieved November 3, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Breed Standard | NSDTRC (USA)". Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Hunting | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Agility | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Dock Diving | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Obedience/Rally | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Search & Rescue | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Temperament | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Top 10 | NSDTRC (USA)". January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  18. ^ a b c Mäki, K. (2010). "Population structure and genetic diversity of worldwide Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and Lancashire Heeler dog populations". Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics 127 (4): 318–326. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0388.2010.00851.x. PMID 20646119.  edit
  19. ^ Wilbe, M.; Jokinen, P. I.; Hermanrud, C.; Kennedy, L. J.; Strandberg, E.; Hansson-Hamlin, H.; Lohi, H.; Andersson, G. R. (2009). "MHC class II polymorphism is associated with a canine SLE-related disease complex". Immunogenetics 61 (8): 557–564. doi:10.1007/s00251-009-0387-6. PMID 19636550.  edit
  20. ^ "prcd-PRA Test For: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers". OptiGen. Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  21. ^ "The OptiGen prcd-PRA Test". OptiGen. Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Questions and Answers about Collie Eye Anomaly in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever". Club Logo Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA). Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  23. ^ Folkman, Jane. "Thyroid/Addison's Study In Tollers – Michigan State University". Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA). Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Update – UC Davis Addison's Study In Tollers". Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA). Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  25. ^ "A retrospective epidemiological study of clinical signs and familial predisposition associated with aseptic meningitis in the Norwegian population of Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers born 1994–2003". Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 72 (4): 350–5. July 2008. PMC 2442678. PMID 18783024. 
  26. ^ "Explanation of JADD Testing Results". Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Cleft Palate (CP1) in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (NSDTR)". Orthopedic Foundation for Animal. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  28. ^ "2002 Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Health Survey". Toller Health Coalition/NSDTR Club of Canada. Retrieved June 28, 2012. [unreliable source?]