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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: The Complete Owner’s Guide

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is the smallest of the retriever breeds. Often called “Tollers” to shorten their arduous name, this peppy breed is the official dog of Nova Scotia. Upbeat, adventurous, and overwhelmingly friendly, Tollers are the perfect all-around dog for families and outdoor sportspeople alike.

Whether you’re interested in adopting a Toller or just finding out where their long, strange name came from, read along with us to find out more!

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Characteristics

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred to resemble and act like a fox to toll ducks! 

“Tolling” is from the Middle English word “tollen,” which means “to lure.” Compact and agile, Tollers can slink and hunt like the animals they were modeled after. They even share a crimson coat color with foxes.

Tollers are medium-sized dogs in almost every way. Medium height and weight, medium-length fur, and medium-density bones. 

Their long tails hang shaggy and free until they’re on alert, at which point they hold them high in the air. 

Their normally floppy ears perk up in those instances, as well.

Often described as handsomely sweet, Tollers’ tend to wear a forlorn expression when they aren’t working. Don’t let that fool you, though – these dogs are bundles of energy who are always ready to spring into action. When they are alert, their expressions become delighted and concentrated.



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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers have distinctive webbed feet that make them well-suited for swimming. They typically have green or brown almond-shaped eyes that portray intelligence, curiosity, and alertness. Their nose and lips are typically flesh-colored, but they can be black.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Size

A distinctly medium-sized dog, both male and female Tollers typically weigh between 35 and 50 pounds. Males tend to measure 18 to 21 inches in height at the shoulder. The slightly-smaller females tend to measure 17 to 20 inches in height at the shoulder.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Personality

Often described as having boundless vigor, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a tenacious and determined dog breed. They’re exceedingly upbeat, outgoing, and agreeable – Tollers are eager to please. They often display courage and excitement in everything they do.

Tollers are intelligent creatures. Although they’re obedient and loyal to their owners, they are known to “put one over” on people to gain more treats and praise. Since they were bred to help duck hunters obtain their prey, they’re used to being rewarded for accomplishing tasks.

To be fair, Tollers deserve a reward for their excellent retrieving abilities. Although many are still used as hunting dogs, their cheerful and friendly personalities have made them fantastic family dogs. 

If they aren’t used for hunting, they need plenty of mental and physical challenges to keep them entertained.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers become restless and often destructive in the house without enough activity. As long as they get enough stimulation and interaction each day, they’re happy to lollygag around, taking naps and snuggling up to their owners.

Although Tollers are a gentle-natured breed, they’re also prey-driven and protective. When they spot small animals (especially birds) or strangers near the home, they can emit a high-pitched, yelping bark. While they can adapt well to apartment life, your next-door neighbors may become annoyed with the noise.

Related: How to Stop Dog Barking When Left Alone [CBD Can Help]

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Exercise

Often called energy tornados, Tollers generally need between 30 minutes to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise every day. They fare best with active families who will bring them along on hiking, camping, and swimming expeditions whenever possible. Tollers love exploring more than anything.

When they’re puppies, it’s generally recommended that you limit their exercise to roughly five minutes per each month of their age. So if you have a three-month-old Toller, try to limit their exercise to 15 minutes a day.

Once they’re adults, you can adjust their activity based on their energy level.

canine chasing a red frisbee on the beach

Brisk walks and playing fetch are two of the best ways to keep your Toller physically active and mentally engaged. Retriever is in their name and in their instincts – they love and need to perform retrieving activities. As we mentioned, they like to be rewarded for doing so.

Since Tollers are prey and food-driven hounds, they tend to gain weight easily. Although you may want to reward them with treats just as much as they want to eat them, it’s essential to limit their caloric intake. Physical exercise and proper nutrition are crucial to their overall health.

Related: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day?

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Training

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are a notoriously curious mix of stubborn and agreeable. They’re strong-willed and independent, yet eager to please. Forming a bond of trust and mutual respect is critical for getting these dynamic pups to listen to your commands.

Tollers do extremely well with reward-based training. They want to know what’s in it for them if they perform a task. Rewarding your Toller with treats for following commands is the best way to begin establishing obedience. But remember, they’ll vie for extra food whenever they can.

Since Tollers are extremely intelligent and curious, they benefit most from enticing activities that challenge their minds and bodies. Short, productive training sessions are recommended so they don’t get bored and stop paying attention.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever excels at dog sports. Many owners choose to train their Tollers for agility and tracking competitions to provide structure and stimulating activity. 

Training for and competing in shows together is also a great way for an owner and dog to bond!

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers can be sensitive at times, so it’s essential to be firm but kind throughout the training process. A consistent and benevolent leader will have the most success when training a Toller.

Try not to give in to their perpetually sad expressions. Despite how they may look, they’re not sad – they’re playing you! It’s essential to remain steadfast and give your Toller puppy a decent balance of affection and discipline throughout their training.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever History

When it comes to the Toller’s history, their name pretty much says it all. During the 19th century, Canadian sportsmen noticed how foxes would successfully toll ducks and other prey, which sparked an idea in their minds.

The sportsmen wanted to breed a dog who could hunt and toll the way foxes did but also be a loyal companion. The exact genetics of the Toller we love today are murky, but evidence suggests that the first Tollers were a mix of Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels, and Collies.

Not only were they successful at breeding a dog with fox-like instincts and abilities, but they were also somehow able to imitate the fox’s rich crimson fur. The sportsmen delighted in their creation as they finally had a hunting companion that was instinctual and ruthless at work yet loving and soft at home.

Duck hunters began training these dogs to toll ducks just like foxes with a combination of baiting and hiding. The ducks would foolishly become curious about the slinking animal onshore and swim closer, into shooting range. Once the duck was shot, the Toller would jump into the water to retrieve it.

Related: English Pointer: Guide to the Top Game Hunter [Personality, Care, & More]

Nicknames

Although their current name reflects this task perfectly, they were initially called the “Yarmouth Toller” or the “Little River Duck Dog.” These names reflected their place of inception, the Little River District of Nova Scotia’s Yarmouth County.

Somewhere along the road, their moniker changed to the one we know today, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The Canadian Kennel Club brought recognition to the breed in the 1950s as owners began to enroll their Tollers in agility shows and tracking competitions.

healthy brown and white dog laying down on wooden floor

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers first came to the United States in the 1960s, but not many people took an interest in them at first. That all changed over the next 20 years, though. In 1984, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) was formed, and the breed’s popularity skyrocketed.

It took until 2001 for the American Kennel Club (AKC) to enter the breed into the Miscellaneous Class. 

In 2003, they added the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to the Sporting Group. Today, Tollers excel in competition and make amazingly loving family members.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Health Problems

Tollers are generally healthy dogs, but their pure bloodlines often lead to immune-related diseases. They’re also prone to conditions like hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, and deafness. Despite the health problems that may plague them, Nova Scotia Tollers have a life span of 10 to 14 years.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition in which the femur and hip joint don’t fit together correctly. The malformation causes painful bone-on-bone rubbing that can be debilitating if left untreated. Some show symptoms more than others, but most begin to exhibit signs of pain as it progresses.

Signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Difficulty standing up from laying down
  • Leg lameness
  • Decreased activity
  • Swaying gait
  • Difficulty/reluctance climbing stairs
  • Loss of thigh muscle mass

Responsible breeders will have their Tollers x-ray screened for hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). If a dog has hip dysplasia, they generally aren’t bred in order to prevent the continuation of the condition.

If your dog has hip dysplasia, there are some effective treatments, including:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Joint supplements
  • Weight reduction
  • Exercise restriction
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery (severe cases)

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a degenerative set of eye diseases that affects the photoreceptor cells of the retina. There are two types: early-onset (inherited), which is typically diagnosed around two to three months of age, or late-onset, which is usually detected around three to nine years of age.

Early-onset is commonly referred to as retinal dysplasia, while late-onset is referred to as PRA. Retinal dysplasia causes a puppy’s retinas to develop abnormally, leading to early-onset blindness. With PRA, an adult dog’s once healthy retinas begin to deteriorate, which eventually also leads to blindness.

Retinal dysplasia and PRA are not painful conditions, which is sort of bittersweet for affected dogs. It’s obviously a good thing that they aren’t in pain, but that means dogs don’t exhibit clear signs that they’re losing their sight. Nonetheless, there are a few telltale signals.

One of the first symptoms of retinal dysplasia or PRA is often night blindness. You may notice your dog becoming wary of entering dimly lit or dark rooms and bumping into furniture when they do. Eventually, dogs with either condition go entirely blind. There is no effective treatment.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) recommends an Optigen DNA test for Tollers before being bred, as well as other genetic tests. Responsible breeders will do so and should not breed any dogs with PRA or retinal dysplasia.

Congenital Deafness

Congenital deafness in dogs can be inherited or acquired at birth due to toxic exposure. Experts still have difficulty discerning the exact cause of congenital deafness unless a clear problem presents itself. There is only one accepted method of diagnosis: the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER).

Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for congenital deafness in dogs, which has been known to affect the Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever. Responsible breeders will have their breeding Tollers screened with a BAER test and should not breed with affected dogs.

cute canine hanging out on a couch on its back

How to Care for a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

One of the most important things to consider before adopting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is whether or not you can provide the necessary amount of outdoor activity they need to thrive. Tollers do fine in just about any home, but they need access to a fenced-in outdoor area.

Tollers need stimulating, challenging activities to keep them in good physical and mental health. It’s okay to leave them home during the workday, but they’ll need to be walked before you leave and right when you arrive back home. They become incredibly restless and destructive if not exercised.

Consider your lifestyle. Are you an active person, or would you like to become one? Do you have plenty of time after work and on the weekends? If so, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever could be a good option for you. If you’re inactive or always out of the house, they may not be the right breed for you.

Nutrition and Feeding for a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

All dogs have unique dietary needs and restrictions. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on a personalized diet based on your dog’s needs. 

In general, adult Tollers should eat about two and a half to three cups of high-quality food split into two meals per day. 

The ingredients and quality of dog food can significantly affect your dog’s quality of life. Nutrition plays a large role in a dog’s overall wellness, including coat growth and skin health. If possible, choose a dog food made from natural, organic ingredients with a high, dog-specific nutritional value.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is prone to weight gain. If you don’t have a scale at home, you can check if your Toller is within optimal weight with visual and physical inspections. You should see their waist from above, and you should be able to feel (but not see) their ribs.

Coat Color And Grooming

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s water-repellent double coat ranges in color from golden red to deep copper.

Many Tollers also have white markings along their stomachs and chests. Their medium-length hair is thin and straight; although it tangles easily, it’s relatively easy to brush out. 

Despite Tollers’ abundance of hair, you’re unlikely to find it shed all over your house. Tollers typically shed seasonally in the late spring and fall, during which they typically need daily brushing. Otherwise, brush them one to two times per week.

In general, dogs with medium-length hair should be bathed about once a month. Over-bathing can strip the skin and coat of its natural oils, leading to dry, itchy skin and impaired coat growth. However, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a pension for swimming and rolling the mud.

It’s highly recommended you bathe your Toller whenever they get messy. Leaving dirt and mud on their coats can lead to a build-up of bacteria that can damage their skin and coat. Don’t worry – it’s not as delicate of a balance as it seems. If they’re dirty, wash them. Otherwise, stick to bathing once a month.

Specialized grooming is often required to remove hair around the Toller’s webbed feet. Dense fur on their paws can lead to a loss of traction on indoor and slippery surfaces. 

Additionally, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers’ fast-growing nails should be trimmed weekly.

two lovely dogs hugging in the city

Children And Other Pets

If you’re searching for a kid-friendly dog, look no further than the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. They’re almost always friendly in general, but something about kids makes Trollers even more gentle and affectionate. They have similar energy levels and are often able to tucker each other out.

An adequately socialized dog typically gets along quite well with other dogs, especially other Tollers. Although they can be wary of larger dogs, if you show that you trust them, your Toller will follow suit.

Adopting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever may not be the best option if you already have a cat. Their prey drive can cause them to chase after small animals. Of course, there are exceptions, but it’s hard to know before they interact.

Rescue Groups

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) (NSDTRC) is the official Toller rescue group affiliated with the American Kennel Club (AKC). 

Formed in 1984, they aim to spread awareness about Tollers, promoting responsible Toller breeding, and facilitating Toller adoptions.

The NSDTRC’s rescue program webpage is a photo gallery of successful Troller adoption stories. At the moment, it looks like they don’t have any Tollers in need. However, you can still fill out an application and get notified if any Tollers fall into the NSDTRC’s hands.

Toller Rescue, Inc., a Delaware-based operation, is another incredible rescue group for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. They’re self-proclaimed as “a rescue network of dedicated Toller enthusiasts and volunteers across America” who work tirelessly at getting Tollers adopted into loving homes.

Toller Rescue, Inc. is extremely thorough in its adoption processes. The Tollers that come their way are often neglected and in poor health, and they make it their mission to rehabilitate. Then, they focus on finding an adopter who is willing and able to care for the specific Toller’s needs.

Breed Organizations

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) (NSDTR), founded in 1984, was granted member status at the America Kennel Club in 2005. The NSDTRC’s goal has always been to “further the advancement of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever” through sportsmanship and proper breeding.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada (NSDTRCC) is “a non-profit club and a continually growing resource of all things related to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.” Established in 1974, they have been the official Toller breed club of Canada for 46 years.

More About This Dog Breed

Although they’re one of five distinct Canadian breeds, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is the only one to hold the honor of being a provincial breed. Tollers are a source of pride and joy in Nova Scotia, where they’re widely regarded as wickedly smart, intensely loyal, and earnestly playful.



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