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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, also known as the American Duck Retriever, the Little River Duck Dog, the Yarmouth Toller or simply the Toller, is a powerful, compact, medium-sized dog that is the smallest of the retriever breeds. The word "toll" is an old term for "entice." The Toller is truly multi-faceted. In addition to its innate bird-hunting skills, it is a loyal watchdog, a competitive show dog and an adoring pet, all rolled into one lively dog with more pure joy for life than almost any other breed. As confirmed in an American Kennel Club publication: "Tollers wholly involve themselves in everything. Whether stealing from the counter, chasing a ball, breaking ice to get a bird, or curling up on the couch, everything is done 100 percent." The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2001, and was fully accepted into the Sporting Group in 2003.
The adult male Toller should stand 18 to 21 inches at the withers, with the ideal being 19 inches. Females should stand 17 to 20 inches, with the ideal being 18 inches. Weight must be proportionate to height. Their medium-length double coat withstands icy water with a soft outer coat and a dense undercoat. Seasonal shedding is normal. Color can be any shade of red or orange, ranging from golden red to dark copper.

History & Health


Not surprisingly, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was developed in Nova Scotia to "toll" – which means to entice or lure – and to retrieve waterfowl. The Toller has been used as a domestic decoy dog since the early 1800s, particularly in the Little River District of Yarmouth County in southwestern Nova Scotia. The Toller's unique hunting style involves scampering, jumping, leaping and twirling along the shoreline with great animation but without barking. Often, he chases and retrieves tolling sticks and balls tossed by his master, returning them to the blind with exaggerated prancing, wiggling and tail-wagging. All of this activity at water's edge arouses the curiosity of ducks and other waterfowl resting offshore, which often begin to hiss and beat the water with their wings. The dog often disappears from sight and then suddenly appears in a different area, further fanning the ducks' interest. The Toller must maintain his enthusiasm, without peering at the fowl as they move closer, for however long it takes to draw them in. His antics eventually lure the birds increasingly closer to land, until they are within gunshot range of the hidden hunter. When the birds are close enough for a good aim, the hunter emerges from concealment and, as the ducks panic into the sky, takes his shot. The Toller is then sent to retrieve the downed birds.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a mixed ancestry. Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, farm Collies and small spitz-like dogs probably were crossed with various retrievers, including the Golden the Chesapeake, the Labrador and the Flat-Coat, to create the Toller. It was not until 1945 that formal breed standards were introduced and the dog gained official recognition by the Canadian Kennel Club. Although a few Tollers trickled in to America during the 1960s, international recognition did not come until the 1980s. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) was formed in 1984, and the breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club's Miscellaneous Class in the middle of 2001. Tollers became eligible to compete in AKC Hunt Tests in 2002, and the American Kennel Club fully accepted Tollers into the Sporting Group in 2003. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club was accepted as an AKC member and parent club in 2005.
Today's Tollers are bright, playful and affectionate companions that retain their strong retrieving instincts. They are competitive in both the show ring and in field trials and are still used for hunting waterfowl.


The average life span of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is 13 to 16 years. Breed health concerns may include Addison's disease (hyperadrenocorticism), autoimmune thyroiditis, cataracts, Collie eye anomaly and progressive retinal atrophy.

Temperament & Personality


The Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever has a most interesting way of luring ducks within a hunter's range. They will frolic along the water's edge, hopping in and out of the water, chasing sticks and balls that the hunters throw from their blinds. Eventually, the water fowl will become curious, and move toward the happy dog, right into the hunter's trap. These retrievers have a never-ending reserve of energy, making them a great companion for hunters and active families. They are easy going, happy dogs who love to play and are excellent around kids.

Activity Requirements

Trollers need a lot of vigorous activity to maintain health and happiness, and the biggest mistake people make with this breed is not exercising them enough. Simple walks around the block are not going to cut it for Trollers. They need time to run several hours a day, as they were bred for endurance. They had to be able to spend long hours working in the field, so their stamina is high. Those with active lifestyles will find their Troller makes an excellent jogging companion, can keep up with bike riders, and will never tire of hiking, especially if there is water nearby.
Fetching is the Troller's favorite activity and they will fetch sticks and balls for as long as you are willing to toss them. They prefer you toss the sticks and balls into a lake or pond, as they are water dogs who love to swim. If you do not properly exercise your Troller, be prepared for destruction. These dogs will chew, chew, and chew some more when they are bored and have pent up energy to burn off, and you aren't likely to approve of the items they decide to chew in your absence.


Trollers are relatively easy to train, but can be a handful for beginners. Firm leadership and patience are required for training sessions, as these rambunctious animals can test the patience of even a saint. They should not be treated with harshness and they don't respond do discipline, but they must know who is in charge, or they will assume the role themselves. Consistency is key – if you give a Troller an inch, he'll take a mile.
Once leadership has been established and basic obedience has been mastered, you can enroll your Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever in agility training. They aren't as reliable on the obstacle course as a Golden Retriever, but Trollers love the activity and the chance to use their brains.

Behavioral Traits

Trollers do not like to be left alone all day, and even if properly exercised, they can develop Separation Anxiety. They are best suited for homes where his people have flexible work schedules, or there is a stay at home parent. Like other retrievers, Trollers experience an extended puppyhood and are rambunctious and rowdy well into their adult years. Teaching your Troller to obey "down" and "stay" commands should be a priority early on, though it may be difficult to stop them from excitedly swinging their long, feathered tails and knocking things over.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller) was developed in the early 19th century to toll, lure, and retrieve waterfowl. The playful action of the Toller retrieving a stick or ball along the shoreline arouses the curiosity of the ducks offshore. They are lured within gunshot range, and the dog is sent out to retrieve the dead or wounded birds.
This medium sized, powerful, compact, balanced dog is the smallest of the retrievers. The Toller's attitude and bearing suggest strength with a high degree of agility. He is alert, determined, and quick, with a keen desire to work and please.
Many Tollers have a slightly sad or worried expression when they are not working. The moment the slightest indication is given that retrieving is required, they set themselves for springy action with an expression of intense concentration and excitement. The heavily feathered tail is held high in constant motion while working.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) feels strongly that all Tollers should have these innate abilities, and encourages all Tollers to prove them by passing an approved Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) field test.

Size, Proportion and Substance
Size: Height at the withers - males, 18-21 inches. The ideal is 19 inches. Females, 17-20 inches. The ideal is 18 inches. Bone: is medium. Weight is in proportion to height and bone of the dog. The dog's length should be slightly longer than height, in a ratio of 10 to 9, but should not give the impression of a long back.

Skull: The head is clean-cut and slightly wedge shaped. The broad skull is only slightly rounded, giving the appearance of being flat when the ears are alert. The occiput is not prominent. The cheeks are flat. The length of the skull from the occiput to the stop is slightly longer than the length of the muzzle from the stop to the tip of the nose. The head must be in proportion to body size. Expression: The expression is alert, friendly, and intelligent. Many Tollers have a slightly sad expression until they go to work, when their aspect changes to intense concentration and desire. Eyes: The eyes are set well apart, slightly oblique and almond in shape. Eye color blends with the coat or is darker. Eye rims must be self-colored or black, matching the nose and lips. Faults: large round eyes. Eye rims and/or eyes not of prescribed color. Ears: The high set ears are triangular in shape with rounded tips, set well back on the skull, framing the face, with the base held slightly erect. Ear length should reach approximately to the inside corners of the eyes. Ears should be carried in a drop fashion. Ears are short-coated, and well feathered only on the back of the fold. Stop: The stop is moderate. Muzzle: The muzzle tapers in a clean line from stop to nose, with the lower jaw not overly prominent. The jaws are strong enough to carry a sizeable bird, and softness in the mouth is essential. The underline of the muzzle is strong and clean. Fault: dish face. Nose: The nose is fairly broad with the nostrils well open, tapering at the tip. The color should blend with that of the coat, or be black. Fault: bright pink nose. Disqualification: butterfly nose. Lips and flews: Lips fit fairly tightly, forming a gentle curve in profile, with no heaviness in the flews. Bite: The correct bite is tight scissors. Full dentition is required. Disqualifications: Undershot bite. Wry mouth. Overshot by more then 1/8 inch.

Neck, Backline, Body
Neck: The neck is strongly muscled and well set on, of medium length, with no indication of throatiness. Backline: Level. Faults: roached or sway back. Body: The body is deep in chest, with good spring of rib, the brisket reaching to the elbow. Ribs are neither barrel shaped nor flat. The back is strong, short and straight. The loins are strong and muscular, with moderate tuck-up. Fault: slack loins. Tail: The tail follows the natural very slight slope of the croup, is broad at the base, and is 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, when it is held high in a curve, though never touching the body. Faults: tail too short, kinked, or curled over touching the back. Tail carried below the level of the back when the dog is gaiting.

The shoulder should be muscular, strong, and well angulated, with the blade roughly equal in length to the upper arm. The elbows should work close to the body, cleanly and evenly. When seen from the front, the foreleg's appearance is that of parallel columns. The pasterns are strong and slightly sloping. Fault: down in the pasterns. Feet: The feet are strongly webbed, slightly oval medium in size, and tight, with well-arched toes and thick pads. Front dewclaws may be removed. Faults: splayed or paper feet.

The hindquarters are muscular, broad, and square in appearance. The croup is very slightly sloped. The rear and front angulation should be in balance. The upper and lower thighs are very muscular and equal in length. The stifles are well bent. The hocks are well let down, turning neither in nor out. Rear Dewclaws must not be present. Disqualification: rear dewclaws.

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. Overcoated specimens are not appropriate for a working dog and should be faulted. While neatening of the feet, ears, and hocks for the show ring is permitted, the Toller should always appear natural, never barbered. Whiskers must be present. Faults: coat longer than medium length. Open coat.

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. Disqualifications: brown coat, black areas in coat, or buff. Buff is bleached, faded, or silvery. Buff may also appear as faded brown with or without silver tips. Markings: the Toller has usually at least one of the following white markings - tip of tail, feet (not extending above the pasterns) chest and blaze. A dog of otherwise high quality is not to be penalized for lack of white. Disqualifications: white on the shoulders, around the ears, back of neck, or across the flanks.

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. In its natural gait at increased speeds, the dog's feet tend to converge towards a center line, with the backline remaining level.

The Toller is highly intelligent, alert, outgoing, and ready for action, though not to the point of nervousness or hyperactivity. He is affectionate and loving with family members and is good with children, showing patience. Some individuals may display reserved behavior in new situations, but this is not to be confused with shyness. Shyness in adult classes should be penalized. The Toller's strong retrieving desire coupled with his love of water, endurance and intense birdiness, is essential for his role as a tolling retriever.

Butterfly nose.
Undershot bite, wry mouth, overshot by more than 1/8 inch.
Rear dewclaws.
Brown coat, black areas in coat, or buff. Buff is bleached, faded or silvery. Buff may also appear as faded brown, with or without silver tips.
White on the shoulders, around the ears, back of the neck, or across the flanks.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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