About the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

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About the Breed


Toller diseases

The toller, or Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, originates from Nova Scotia, a peninsula on the East-coast of Canada. There are many theories on how the breed developed, but most likely the toller is the result of mixing the now extinct St. Johns Water Dog, Kooikerhondjen, Golden Retriever and Irish Setter. In the fantastic book "The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever" (written by Alison Strang and Gail MacMillan) several theories are described, but none of them points out as more likely than the others.

The owner and founder of Harbourlights Kennel, the late Avery Nickerson, used these words to describe the breed:

"Some novise breeders continue to write
Of a mystery as thick as a fog bank at night
What for? I don't know and I really don't care
But thank heaven I know that we've had our share"

From the 18th century and up to 1940, the small, red dogs (then known as the Little River Duck Dog) were Nova Scotia's best-kept secret. Their strength, the thick, almost waterproof coat, the amazing retrieving skills and their ability to lure ducks were simply extraordinary, and the breed's many fans worried, rightfully, that these features would disappear if the breed was to became popular over the night. Because of that, it wasn't until 1945 that the Canadian Kennel Club approved the breed. In the 80s two tollers became BIS at two Canadian dog shows, and the breed started to gain fans outside the borders of Canada, too. Not long after that the toller became the national dog of Canada.

Nova Scotia has the worlds largest difference between ebb-tide and high tide - 12-17 metres. At ebb-tide the shore turns into an enormous grazing ground for waterfowl, and ducks and geese gather in numerous flocks. Nova Scotia was originally the home of the MicMac Indians, but in the 18th century the first French colonists settled on the peninsula. Both the Indians and the French subsisted on fishing and hunting waterfowl. The toller did not only retrieve the dead birds to the hunter, it also lured the waterfowl within the hunter's shooting range.

The tolling
The tolling is the toller's specialty, and is something so worked into the breed that a toller often will toll naturally. When tolling, the dog runs back and forth along the shore fetching sticks or other objects that the hunter throws from his/ her hiding place (also known as a blind). The ducks see a funny creature that skips, runs and waves it's tail. One minute they can see it, the next moment it's gone. The ducks' curiosity simply forces them to take a closer look, so they swim towards the shore.
Originally there where two main types of tollers: The "coastal toller" and the "inland toller". The inland toller was a smaller and lighter type, while the coastal toller was heavier and had more coat. When the Canadian Kennel Club approved the breed in 1945, it varied enormously in type. And that's something one can still see today - two tollers can be widely different, but at the same time equally typical for the breed. The breed was approved by FCI in 1982.

The Toller in Norway
The first tollers to come to Norway came from Sweden in 1986, and in 1988 the first litter was born in Norway. The breed has grown to be the 4th most numerous retriever in Norway, and it's popularity is increasing. 232 toller puppies were born in 2002, and that's the largest number of tollers registered in Norway.
In Norway we have a few breeders that have bred tollers for many years, and an increasing number of new breeders. To this day, most puppies born in Norway are sold as family pets, but the breed's popularity as a working dog is also increasing. Today you can find tollers that do very well as police dogs, search dogs, rescue dogs, etc. Many tollers are also being used to track larger animals like deer, elk, etc. that are wounded or run-over. But more tollers should be allowed to show their skills and versatility, and that's where the Breed Council and the breeders have an important job to do. If we don't appreciate the toller's versatility and desire to work, we will loose the excellent working abilities so treasured in the breed.

General appearance
The toller is a medium sized, compact, powerful, well-balanced and muscular dog. But "compact" should not be read as "small and heavy" and "powerful" and "muscular" does not mean "the bigger, the better". It shall be strong enough to carry a large bird, but not so heavy that it looses the speed and endurance so typical for the toller. The toller is alert, playful and determined by nature. Most tollers can have a slightly depressed expression until they start working, then they'll immediately switch to intense concentration and eagerness. While working, the toller moves quickly and with great speed, and the heavily feathered tail is constantly moving.

The toller is a highly intelligent dog. It loves to work and has a great endurance. Some tollers can be soft-tempered, and these dogs should not be trained with a "hard hand". Other individuals can be very independent and stubborn. In the right hands, this type of dog can be a dream come true. In the wrong hands, it can take control over an entire family.
Training a toller is easy and rewarding, but at the same time it can be very difficult, especially for inexperienced owners. A toller bores easily, and demands great variation in training. The training must be positive and fun for the dog in order to keep a toller interested. Another thing to remember is the importance of training passivity with the toller. Its desire to work can make it stressed, especially in situations with competiton from other dogs, and a too high stress-level in a dog is unhealthy. Another fact is that a dog that jumps and screams will be useless in most activities.

According to the standard, the ideal height for a toller is 45-48 cm for bitches and 48-51 cm for males. One inch (2,5 cm) over or under ideal height is allowed. The weight shall be in proportion to height and bone, but a guideline is somewhere between 20-23 kg for males, and 17-20 kg for bitches. These measures give room for variation, and some people think that the deviation is too large. Alison Strang's exact measures for height are 49,5 cm for the males and 45 cm for the bitches. The toller is the smallest retriever, and it shall continue to be so, but it shall not be too small to do its job, either.

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. The preferred colour is bright and coppery-red, but can be 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 should be flesh-coloured, blending with coat, or black.

Click here to come to NKK's presentation of the FCI's standard as a pdf-file.
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