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What is "Tolling"?

Tolling is the Middle English work which means "to lure" or "decoy game". Tollers were designed by hunters to draw the water fowl into gun range by using the tolling dog to mimic the behaviour of the red fox. The tollers playful action peaks the curiousity of the game which encourages them to swim in towards the land to more closely observe the dog. Ducks naturally approach from great distances offcome with their head errect, and hissing, as long as the fox is visible. The logical explanation of the attraction of duck to fox (or Tolling dog ) is the fact that the fox is a natural enemy of the duck, because they steal their eggs and kill young ducklings.  The fox seems to be aware of this attraction and uses it to his advantage, as ducks will sometimes come close enough to be caught, providing the fox with a good meal.  Sometimes two foxes will work together, one playing on the shore, the other hiding in the grass.  When the ducks approach, the fox hiding in the grass will leap out and catch one of the ducks and the two foxes will share the meal.  Walt Disney Productions have made a movie about the Red Fox which includes the filming of this phenomenon.


History of the toller

The toller was developed in Yarmouth NS in 1860s by a man named Mr. James Allen. The story is he purchased livered color flat coat retriever female from a european schooner docked at the port in Nova Scotia. The dog that was docked and sold was later bred to a labrador style retriever and then later crossed with what is suspected to be a brown cocker, farm collie, brittany spaniel, and possibly even a golden retriever, chesapeak bay retriever and/or beagle! The idea behind all the mixing of breeds to create the 'Little River Duck Dog' was to produce a small retriever that resembeled a fox in appearance and behaviour. The hunters in yarmouth wanted a intellegent, playful little dog who could retrieve and hunt like the larger retrievers.

In 1945 the bred was recognized by the CKC and a breed standard was written by a kennel in Nova Scotia based on the foundation stock within the kennel. The standard was written to outline the importance of traits within the breed and to try and breed a uniform dual purpose hunting dog (below is the original standard of the toller written in 1945). It wasn't until the 1980's when the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada was formed and breeders and hunters a like united to edit the 1945 standard of the current tolling dog and provide us with the detailed standard similar to the one we have today (the 1980s standard is below). Since the 1980s there has been minor changes to the standard with the current standard being written in 1997.

In 1995, the 50th Anniversary of the recognition of the breed by the Canadian Kennel Club, The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was officially recognized as Nova Scotia’s Provincial dog by the Nova Scotia legislature. In 2005 a National Specialty was held by the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club in Nova Scotia to represent the 50th Anniversary of the provincal dog!


Here is the original Canadian Kennel Club Standard for the Retriever

(Nova Scotia Duck Tolling), as adopted by the CKC in 1945 when the breed was first given CKC recognition.

This Standard was drawn up by one man, Colonel Cyril Colwell of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was most responible for bringing the Toller to CKC recognition. It was supplanted by the present Standard, which came into effect january 1, 1982.

1. APPEARANCE: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever should be very muscular and heavy in bone, the head and neck should be carried slightly above a straight line with the back. When the dog is in action, the tail should be carried curled up over hind quarters. Size is absolutely necessary. There is a half sad expression, until the dog is put to work, when that sad expression springs to inquisitivness and the dog ttrembles with excitement, alertness and determination.

2. CHARACTERISTICS: Docile, non-roamer, exceptionally easy to train, born retriever on land or from water, cleanliness, timid, good guard dog, will fight as last resort, great swimmer, endurance, playful. The moment the slightest indication is given that retrieving is required, he sets himself for springy action.

3. HEIGHT: The minimum height of an adult dog over eighteen months must be 20 ½ ins, that of a bitch 18 ½ ins.

4. WEIGHT: The minimum weight of an adult dog over eighteen months should be 50 lbs., that of a bitch 35 lbs.

5. COLOUR: Red or fawn, slightly lighter than that of an Irish Setter. Belly and underside of tail slightly lighter. No obbjection to white blaze on forehead, chest, toes and tip of tail. Most tollers show white patch on chest and belly, and while this is not entirely objected to, it is more desirable to eliminate all white. White onn shoulders and around ears or across back or flanks not permitted. Colour throughout should be that of a red fox.

6. COAT: The hair is long, sleek and soft or silky, with a still softer undercoat. Coat at throat and ears extremely soft. These dogs retrieve from fresh and salt water during the coldest seasons, and therefore require the undercoat. Hair on face, legs and tips of ears is short. The coat is straight except down centre of back where it is wavy. The coat does not curl. There is, however, a tendency sometimes inn winter coats for the hair at the throut to have a long loose curl. 6. COAT: The hair is long, sleek and soft or silky, with a still softer undercoat. Coat at throat and ears extremely soft. These dogs retrieve from fresh and salt water during the coldest seasons, and therefore require the undercoat. Hair on face, legs and tips of ears is short. The coat is straight except down centre of back where it is wavy. The coat does not curl. There is, however, a tendency sometimes inn winter coats for the hair at the throut to have a long loose curl.

7. HEAD: Generally the head should resemble that of the Golden retriever. The muzzle or foreface more desirable if broad. The size of head varies but not necessarily depending upon size of the dog. For the entire length from the tip of the nose to the back of the occiput, 9 ins. Is a good measurement. The lenght from the end of the nose to the point between the eyes should be about equal or preferably of greater lenght than from this point to the back of the occiput. The occiput peak is not prominent. The stop is concave and gradual.

a.) Lips. The lips should hang rather curved in front. Flesh colour preferable.

b.) Underline. The underline of the head, i.e. profile, should run almost in a straight line from the corner of the lip to the corner of the jawbone. The underline of muzzle from tip of nose to back end of lip is a clean convex curve.

c.) Jaw. Lower jaw thin. Lower side teeth fit inside upper side teeth. Soft in mouth.

d.) Nose and nostrils. The bridge of the nose should be fairly wide, about 1-1 ½ ins., and taper somewhat at tip. Nostrils are well open. Flesh colour preferred, no objections to black.

e.) Ears. The ears are medium size set high and well back on the skull and carried very slightly erect with tips falling forward. They are well feathered at back of the fold. The tips are nicely rounded to conform to round muzzle, the hair at the tips is short.

f.) Eyes. Golden brown to match coat. Flesh around eye flesh colour. Eyes should be set well apart.

8. FORELEGS AND FEET: The forelegs should be perfectly straight, and big in bone. The feet should be well hardened for rough work, toes well arched, strong curved nnails,, and most important, feet to have strong web. Deep chest, belly fairly well drawn up.

9. NECK: The neck should be of medium length, the junction between head and neck is not well defined, owing to long hair on the neck and at throat.

10. SHOULDERS: The shoulders should be muscular and well sloped back, elbows well under the body.

11. BACK AND LOINS: The back and loins should be strong.

12. HINDQUARTERS: The hindquarters should be muscular and good in appearance, square across top. The hock is not set too low turning neither our nor in.

13. TAIL: The tail should be about 12 ½ to 13 ins. Long and well feathered. Normally it is carried below the level of the back until the dog goes into action when it should be arched up above the line of the back but not touching hindquarters.

14. MOVEMENT: Quick speedy action, a headlong rush, regardless of obstacles. The dog is docile, very playful. In action, the head is carried almost straight out on a level with the back, and the tail is always in motion.


Canadian Retriever (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling) Standard, January 1, 1982.



"TOLLING" MEANS "to entice game to approach by arousing their curiosity." To the huntsman waiting in a duck blind, this means to draw the waterfowl within firing range by using the antics of a made-to-order breed of dog--a trick learned quite by accident from the fox. The story goes that early in the 19th century a huntsman in Maryland, waiting patiently for a flock of ducks to come closer, observed the birds suddenly lift their heads and swim towards shore. What attracted them was a fox dashing back and forth among the rocks flashing his bushy tail while a second waited in ambush. In short order some over-curious ducks became breakfast for two foxes. Putting this curiosity of the waterfowl to practical use, early sportsmen invented a dog closely resembling the fox in appearance, active but silent at work with the ability of a water retriever.

Such dogs have been used in Europe and in the east from Chesapeake Bay to the Maritimes since the mid-19th century. But Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, is considered the place of origin of the pure-bred officially recognized by The Canadian Kcnnel Club as the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Stories that the original tollers resulted from a fox/retriever cross have been discredited. More credible is the story that in 1860 a Mr. Allan mated a liver-coloured Flat-Coated Retriever to a Lahrador Retriever-type dog. Females from this breeding then were mated with a brown cocker spaniel. A later cross to the Irish Setter gave the hreed its colour and possibly by a cross to the yellow farm collie, its bushy tail. Other bloods may also have been used, including the Brittany Spaniel and the Golden and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. However it was done, the cross-breedings produced a fox-like dog with the desired working abilities which became known as the Little River Duck Dog after the district of Yarmouth County, the centre of the breed's development.

After generations of pure breeding the toller was granted official breed status by The Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 when a total of fifteen were registered. For a number of years tollers were seldom seen outside the Maritimes, but today there are breeders across Canada. Fanciers believe their breed finally came of age in 1980 when two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers were awarded Best in Show at all-breed championship events.


Official Breed Standard for the Retriever (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling)


Origin and Purpose: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was developed in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century to toll (or lure) and retrieve waterfowl. The tolling dog runs, jumps, and plays along the shoreline in full view of a flock of ducks, occasionally disappearing from sight and then reappearing, aided by the hidden hunter, who throws small sticks or a ball for the dog. The dog's playful actions arouse the curiosity of the ducks swimming offshore and they are lured within gunshot range. The Toller is subsequently sent out to retrieve the dead or wounded birds.

General Appearance: The Toller is a medium-sized, powerful, compact, balanced, well-muscled dog; medium to heavy in bone, with a high degree of agility, alertness, and determination. Many Tollers have a slightly sad expression until they go to work, when their aspect changes to intense concentration and excitement. At work, the dog has a speedy, rushing action, with the head carried out almost level with the back and the heavily feathered tail in constant motion.

Temperament: The Toller is highly intelligent, easy to train, and has great endurance. A strong and able swimmer, he is a natural and tenacious retriever on land and from water, setting himself for springy action the moment the slightest indication is given that retrieving is required. His strong retrieving desire and playfulness are qualities essential to his tolling ability.


Faults: Shyness or aggression.

Size: Ideal height for males over 18 months is 19-20 in. (48-51 cm); females over 18 months 18-19 in. (45-48 cm). One inch (3 cm) over or under ideal height is allowed. Weight should be in proportion to the height and bone of the dog-guidelines: 45-51 Ib. (20-23 kg) for adult males; bitches 37-43 Ib. (17-20 kg).

Faults: Deviations from ideal size should be penalized according to the amount of deviation.

Coat and Colour: The Toller was bred to retrieve from icy waters and must have a water-repellent double coat of medium length and softness with a softer, 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 at the throat, behind the ears and at the back of the thighs, and forelegs are moderately feathered. Colour is various shades of red or orange with lighter featherings and underside of tail, and usually at least one of the following white markings --tip of tail, feet (not extending beyond the pasterns), chest, and blaze. A dog of otherwise high quality is not to be penalized for lack of white. The pigment of the nose, lips, and eye rims to be flesh-coloured, blending with coat, or black.

Head: the head is clean-cut and slightly wedge-shaped. The broad skull is only slightly rounded, the occiput not prominent and the cheeks flat. A good measurement for an average male would be 5112 in. (14 cm) between the ears, tapering to 11/2 in. (3.8 cm) at the bridge of the nose. Length of head is approximately 9 in. (23 cm) from nose to occiput, but the head must be in proportion to body size. The stop is moderate. Muzzle tapers in a clean line from stop to nose, with the lower jaw strong but not prominent. The underline of the muzzle runs almost in a straight line from the corner of the lip to the corner of the jawbone, with depth at the stop being greater than at the nose. Hair on the muzzle is short and fine. Nose tapers from bridge to tip, with nostrils well open. Colour should blend with that of the coat or be black. Mouth: lips fit fairly tightly, forming a gentle curve in profile, with no heaviness in flews. The correct bite is tight scissors, full dentition is required. Jaws are strong enough to carry a sizeable bird, and softness in mouth is essential. Eyes set well apart, almond-shaped, medium-sized. Colour, amber to brown. Expression is friendly, alert, and intelligent. Flesh around the eyes should be the same colour as the lips. Ears triangular, of medium size, set high and well back on the skull, with the base held very slightly erect, well feathered at the back of the fold, hair short at the rounded tips.



Neck: Strongly muscled and well set on, of medium length, with no indication of throatiness.

Forequarters: Shoulders should be muscular, with the blade well laid back and well laid on, giving good withers sloping into the short back. The blade and upper arm are roughly equal in length. Elbows should be close to the body, turning neither in nor out, working cleanly and evenly. The forelegs should appear as parallel columns, straight and strong in bone. The pasterns are strong and slightly sloping. The strongly-webbed feet are of medium size, tight and round, with well-arched toes and thick pads. Dewclaws may be removed.

Body: Deep-chested with good spring of rib, brisket reaching to the elbow. The back is short and straight, the topline level, the loins strong and muscular. The ribs are well sprung, neither barrel-shaped nor flat. Tuck-up is moderate.

Hindquarters: Muscular, broad, and square in appearance. Rear and front angulation should be in balance. Thighs are very muscular, upper and lower sections being approximately equal in length. Stifles are well bent and hocks well let down, turning neither in nor out. Dewclaws must not be present.

Tail: Following the natural very slight slope of the croup, broad at the base, luxuriant and heavily 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 curves high over, though never touching, the body.

Gait: The Toller combines an impression of power with a springy, jaunty gait, showing good reach in front and a strong driving rear. Feet should turn neither in nor out and the legs travel in a straight line. As speed increases, the dog should single-track, with the topline remaining level.

Faults: (To be penalized according to degree)
Dogs more than 1 inch (3 cm) over or under ideal height.
Overshot bite.
Tail too short, kinked or curled over touching the back.
Lack of substance in adult dog.
Dish- or down-faced.
Abrupt stop.
Large, round eyes.
Nose, eye rims, and eyes not of prescribed colour.
Bright pink nose.
Splayed or paper feet, down in pasterns.
Open Coat
Roached, sway back, slack loins
Tail carried below level of back when dog gaiting


Disqualifications: White on shoulders, around ears, on back of neck, across back of flanks.
Silvery coat, grey in coat, black areas in coat.
Lack of webbing in feet.
Undershot bite, wry mouth.
Overshot bite, by more than 1/8".
In adult classes, any shyness.
Butterfly nose.
Any color other than shades of red or orange.