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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium to large purebred created to act as both a lure and to retrieve waterfowl. It does well in events such as agility and obedience, it makes a great search and rescue dog and it is a great companion for people who are active and experienced dog owners. Tolling describes how the retriever lures the waterfowl. A hunter will hide in a blind near water and the dog will play at the edge of the water. Ducks and waterfowl will be attracted to the activity and come over to see what it is doing. The hunter will then shoot down what they can, and the dog helps to retrieve them. As its name indicates it is from Nova Scotia, Canada. Because its name is so long they are often called Tollers.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever at A Glance
Name Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Other names Little River Duck Dog, Little Red Duck Dog, Yarmouth Toller, Tolling Retriever
Nicknames Toller, Scotty, Novie
Origin Canada
Average size Medium to large
Average weight 35 to 52 pounds
Average height 17 to 21 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Water repellent, dense, medium
Hypoallergenic No
Color Red, orange, white markings
Popularity Not very popular – ranked 99th by the AKC
Intelligence Very good – a smart dog
Tolerance to heat Very good – can handle even hot climates just not extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – able to live in climates with cold weather just not extreme
Shedding Average – does shed more during seasonal shedding times
Drooling Low – not a breed prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Quite high – can gain weight if allowed to overeat or if not well exercised
Grooming/brushing Moderate care needed – brush at least a couple of times a week
Barking Occasional – some barking but not constant but does have a high pitched scream
Exercise needs Very active – needs lots of daily exercise
Trainability Moderately hard – best with experienced owners
Friendliness Excellent with socialization
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good but needs socialization as it has a high prey drive
Good with strangers Very good with socialization, approachable
Good apartment dog Good but best suited to homes with a yard
Handles alone time well Moderate – not a dog to be left alone for long periods daily
Health issues Generally very good health but there are some issues such as hip dysplasia, eye problems and deafness
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health care and health insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $215 a year for basic training, license, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $820 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,500
Rescue organizations Several including the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada
Biting Statistics None reported “

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s Beginnings

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever learned their skills originally from foxes. The Micmac Indians in the Little River district of Novia Scotia, Canada watched as foxes would play at the water’s edge which then lured ducks to come close enough so the fox could then snatch some. The Micmacs taught their own dogs to copy this behavior.

In the 1800s hunters from Canada and England began to develop breeds who would go into water and bring back birds they had shot down. Called Retrievers they also tend to have a name that shows where they were developed, for example Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. In Little River though breeders took the Tolling skill as well as the retrieving skill and combined it into one dog and at the time named it the Little River Duck Dog or the Yarmouth Toller. They did this by mixing the Micmac dogs with various other breeds such as the Irish Setter, Cocker Spaniel, retriever types and possibly even farm collies.

New Lease on Life

For a long time the Little River Duck Dog was just a dog known in the area it was developed. However in 1945 it was recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club and re-named the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. In the 1960s the breed came to the US but it was not that popular for a long time. By 1984 though there were enough people interested in the breed there to form the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club. In 1995 it was named the provincial dog of Nova Scotia. It was recognized by the AKC in 2003. Today it still remains to be a rare dog in the US and is ranked 99th most popular registered breed by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The Toller is a medium to large breed weighing 35 to 52 pounds and standing 17 to 21 inches tall. It has a double, medium-length, water-repellent coat that is any shade of red or orange in color giving it its fox like look and then has white markings on its chest, tail, face or feet. The under coat is soft and dense and the top coat is straight but sometimes has a wave on its back. It has a compact but powerful build and its tail is bushy and full. The chest is deep, the feet are webbed and it has sturdy legs. There is some feathering on the tail, legs and body. It is sometimes mistaken for a small Golden Retriever. Its head is wedge shaped and the ears are set high and back, and are triangular shaped. The nose, eye rims and lips are either flesh colored or black. The hair on its muzzle is fine and short.

The Inner Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is okay for new owners but really best with ones with experience. It should alert you to intruders but is not a super protective breed. It is affectionate, gentle, lively and playful. It is also intelligent and courageous. It does bark occasionally not constantly but its high pitched scream is something to consider if you have close neighbors.

It is a somewhat sensitive dog and it can be strong willed, it is certainly not as eager to please as other retrievers like the Golden or the Labrador. If not treated with a firm hand it will over take the household and things will get difficult. This dog needs to be in a home with people who are happy to have an energetic, active and hard working breed. It has a mischievous sense of humor sometimes, can be inquisitive and are very happy. But as active as this dog it does enjoy its time inside taking a nap too.

This breed is adaptable, travels well and is very friendly. If you are wary around someone so will it be, if you are friendly so will it be. It is devoted to its family. It likes to chew so make sure it has plenty of toys to rotate through or it will chew on furniture, shoes or whatever it feels like. If it does not get the exercise it needs it can become destructive.

Living with a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

What will training look like?

Tollers are moderately hard to train as despite their intelligence, they are independent, strong willed and do not have that same drive to please as some other retrievers. Being patient, consistent and firm is important when you approach the training and experience really helps. They respond better to positive methods rather than harsh ones but they are likely to get creative on ways to get out of what you want them to do, they get distracted easily too. Rather than engaging in a battle of wills, set the rules and be clear about them. Use a light hand but make it clear you are the boss.

House training should not be too difficult though, just set a schedule and stick with it making sure there are fewer chances at accidents in doors. Early socialization is also important, start it as soon as you have it home. Expose it to different places, people, sights and sounds so that it learns to know how to deal with them. Socialization is important for any dog but some Tollers can be more reserved than others, and socialization shows them not to turn that into defensive snapping.

How active is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever?

Tollers are very active dogs so it is really important that you are active too, more than a couple of 15 minute walks active too. It will need at least 45 minutes a day on brisk walking along with other opportunities like going to a dog park, running of leash and playing fetch and frisbee with you (these dogs love to retrieve!) It will also be good to join you when you go on hikes, jogs, swimming and even when trained, cycling. Indoors it is less active and happy to nap but it really does need a yard so while it could adapt to an apartment with enough activity still, it does best in something larger.

In comparison to a Lab it is less active or driven but it still has its needs. That energy level is especially high when they are puppies and then smooths out a little. Without enough stimulation and activity it will be destructive and can get out of control. Remember that means not just plenty of physical activity but also plenty of daily mental exercise too.

Caring for the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Grooming needs

The Toller does not have very high grooming needs but it does shed an average amount so at least a brush or two a week will be needed to keep on top of loose hair, as well as to remove debris and tangles. During the autumn and spring season shedding times that amount goes up and that is when daily brushing will be needed as well as lots of vacuuming. It is however a dog overly curious and prone to getting itself into some smelly and dirty situations. Bathe it when it needs one, but avoid bathing on a too frequent schedule so as to protect its skin from drying out. Some trimming around the feet and plucking of the ears may also be needed, things you can do yourself or have someone do it for you.

Its nails need to be clipped when they get too long and with proper dog nail clippers this is something owners can do themselves but some homework is needed. Dog nails unlike people’s have live blood vessels and nerves, if you hit those you will cause bleeding and hurt the dog. If you are not experienced it is a good idea to get a guide, have a vet or have a groomer show you how. Its ears should be checked for infection signs once a week and then wiped clean using a dog ear cleaner. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week.

Feeding Time

How much exactly Tollers need to eat each day can vary depending on some difference like size and build, health, age, level of activity and its metabolism. In general though when eating a good quality dry dog food that amount ranges between 1 1/2 to 3 cups a day but that should be split into at least two meals.

How is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever with children and other animals?

When with children a Toller is happy, playful, energetic and affectionate. It is excellent with them when socialized and loves to join them for some physical play, sports or other play time opportunities. Having children around them is a great way to get both of them engaged and active too! Smaller children though like toddlers should be supervised just because the boisterousness of the Toller when it is playful can mean the child gets accidentally knocked over. Make sure children are taught how to play and touch them in a kind and safe manner.

Around other dogs it is usually very good too, they enjoy being with other dogs, especially other dogs like them! However with other animals like cats there can be issues so socialization is important here too. They have a high prey drive so smaller animals are likely to trigger its instinct to chase them, though in most cases with your family pets it will not hurt them, it might be more aggressive with small animals not belonging to the family.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers have a life span of between 10 to 14 years. It is quite a healthy dog in general but a few things it can be prone to include hip dysplasia, autoimmune thyroiditis, Addison’s disease, cancer, steroid responsive meningitis, eye problems and deafness. One of those eye issues includes Collie Eye Anomaly which as its name indicates is usually seen in Collies, but has recently been seem in more Tollers and it can lead to blindness.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks against people over 34 years in Canada and the US there are no direct mentions of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever being involved. There are some breeds that are more aggressive or more prone to overreacting in certain situations, but in fact all breeds can have a bad day. While there are some breeds, like this one, that are less likely to attack people, if it had been mistreated, teased, was malnourished, not trained or socialized and not cared for properly, it too could become aggressive for a moment. Make sure you are one of the responsible pet owners and that you really can give it what it needs.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

Tollers of pet quality from a good breeder are likely to cost around $1500. The price is on the high side for this breed because it is more rare. A show dog from a top breeder is going to be even more. From a rescue or shelter there is going to be medical needs that are already dealt with and the cost is lower at around $50 to $400 but most dogs needing a new home are adolescents or adults, not puppies. People tend to hold on to them while they are small and cute. Places to avoid when looking are local or online ads on dog websites, puppy mill sourced pet stores and back yard breeders.

When you have a puppy you will need to take it to a vet as soon as possible to take care of some things. It needs to be dewormed, neutered or spayed, micro chipped, physically examined, vaccinated and have blood tests done. These initial medical costs will be around $270. For the home you will need things like a collar and leash, bowls, bedding, crate and carrier. These will cost around $200.

Annual costs will include things like license, training, food, basic medical care and the like. A good quality dry dog food and dog treats will cost an annual amount of $145 or so. Basic medical care like tick and flea prevention, check ups and shots along with pet insurance comes to about $460 a year. Other costs like license, training, toys and miscellaneous items will come to about $215 a year. This gives a starting figure cost each year of about $820.


Looking for a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The Toller is an athletic and active breed and needs a home that is the same. It is very high spirited, happy and sometimes quite willful so do not expect a small Golden Retriever, this dog is very different in temperament. It is still very good natured, friendly and loyal though but needs experienced and firm owners prepared to do proper training and socialization. It can get quite rowdy when it is young and it is destructive if not given enough attention, left alone too much or under exercised. It does also have a high pitched whine or scream when it is excited that not everyone can live with.

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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