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.