About The Toller


Brain Games For Puppies, with Thea and Troy
About Ambertollers
About The Toller
About The Cocker
Our Tollers
Our Cockers
Photo Gallery
Rainbow Bridge
Contact Us


The earliest recorded references to the use of small red dogs to attract game is in the writings of Nicholas Denys, a 17th century colonizer of both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Denys does not state where the dogs came from (speculation is Belgium, where they were used to lure waterfowl into nets) but does comment on their retrieving ability which was not present in Europe's dogs. Whether these dogs are the early Toller ancestors, no one knows.
The traditional version of their origin is that a James Allen (or Allan) obtained a liver-colored flat coated retriever in 1860. This dog was crossed with a short coated retriever similar to a Labrador, probably a Lesser St. John's Water Dog (now extinct, but in the backgrounds of Labradors, Chesapeakes, and Newfoundlands). Puppies from this cross were then bred with brown cocker spaniels and finally Irish Setters for the red color. It is also speculated that farm collies, Golden Retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers may have played a part.
In their book, Strang and MacMillan outline a persuasive case for the Tollers being descended at least in part from the Dutch "cage dogs" called Kooikerhondje. These dogs are strongly similar to Tollers in physical appearance. In addition, these dogs were used to entrap water fowl as follows: A large pond with radiating arms away from the pond (so that one arm could always be chosen according to wind conditions to keep the birds from scenting the human or dog). The Cage Dogs ran between alternating screens so that the ducks caught glimpses of the dog (very much like modern day tolling) and thus drew the ducks away from the central pond and into one of the arms, or channels. The channels were constructed to narrow and entrap the ducks at the end with nets. In this way, large numbers of fowl could be captured quickly without the need for guns or other expensive equipment. The authors speculate that the practice emigrated from the Netherlands to England and thence to the Yarmouth district, potentially many decades before their traditional beginnings.
Through the efforts of Cyril Colwell, the breed was recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 and at that point christened the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. However, the breed threatened to lapse into obscurity again; the breed had to be re-registered in the late 1950's. In the 1960's, Eldon Pace and Avery Nickerson carried on the torch for the Toller and dedicated themselves to producing the finest hunting dogs possible.

The Toller Today

In 1980, two Tollers won Best In Show at separate shows, piquing the interest of serious fanciers and breeders. Tollers have made steady gains since then, going on to participate in other current-day activities such as obedience and flyball with gusto and racking up further gains in the breed ring. In 1988, the Canadian Kennel Club's centenary was marked by the issue of stamps bearing the likeness of quintessential Canadian breeds. These were the Tahltan Bear Dog, the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Newfoundland, and, of course, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. In 1995, Nova Scotia picked the Toller as its official dog, thus marking 50 years of recognition by the CKC.
The little river dogs are quite popular in Sweden, where there are an estimated 2,000 Tollers. The first dogs were imported in the mid 80's and in 1995 there were some 250 new puppies, with more dogs imported from both Canada and Denmark.


Denise Sandow notes: "My expatriate Canadian associate Marilyn Kellie (Kelmark Kennels) first imported Tollers to Australia in 1991 with the assistance of myself and my husband Peter Sandow (Ximinez Kennels),  from Duncan and Arlene MacDonald (Ardunacres Kennels). The breed was officially recognised by the Australian National Kennel Council prior to our first dog (now Aust Ch Missionviews Shilo of Kelmark Imp Can) actually arriving in quarantine in Sydney. "Shilo" was followed one month later by "Bride" (Aust Ch Ardunacres Jetlag to Kelmark Imp Can) now deceased. These two are the first Tollers recorded as entering Australia: there has been a report in "Toller Talk" of a previous import, but this cannot be validated by Australian Quarantine Service records. Shilo was first exhibited at 13 months in August 1991 and is now enjoying semi retirement as a work/show/stud Toller."

Characteristics and Temperament

Affectionately known as the "Toller," this breed was once called the Little River Duck Dog since it was developed in the Little River district of Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. This engaging dog is a  specialist with waterfowl. Tolling, or luring, is the practice of tricking ducks within gunshot range. Hunters had long observed this behavior in foxes and deliberately bred a small fox-like dog to make
use of tolling in their own hunting.
Tollers are powerful, medium-sized sporting dogs, intelligent and keen workers. Males measure 19 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh from 45 to 51 pounds; females average one inch less and weigh from 37 to 43 pounds. The coat is medium long with a dense undercoat in red or orange. It may be marked with white on the tip of tail, chest, feet and forehead. The tail is long and heavily coated, and full of action when the dog is tolling. The coat is a true retriever double coat; the harsh outer coat waterproofs while the under coat insulates.
The dogs are described as excellent hunters -- some giving their owners a look of disgust if the shot is missed -- willing to work in cold and wet conditions. While the breed was developed for waterfowl, many are used in the upland. They are equally comfortable whether the scent is on the ground or in the air. Well trained dogs hunt close and don't roam, but enthusiasm can easily run away with good field manners! They take well to obedience and some have been used successfully as therapy dogs.
If hunting ability is of concern, remember to look for responsible breeders who either hunt over their own dogs or have sold pups into hunting homes. Working level tests may indicate hunting potential but unless you know the breeder is producing or using hunting dogs, the tests may not tell you the full story behind the dogs' ability. (For example, did the dog breeze through the tests, or did it take many retries before it finally passed?) However, this is not to say that a show-oriented breeder is incapable of producing good dogs, or that a hunter always will. A good breeder will care about both aspects, conformation and hunting ability, of their dogs and be able to refer you to pups that they have bred that are doing well in either -- or both -- venues. The more research you do and the more questions you ask, the more likely you will find the puppy that fits your needs and criteria.

Frequently Asked Questions

   Do Tollers really have fox in their ancestry?
     No. This is genetically impossible. They were simply bred to resemble foxes.
   Are they easy to train?
     Young Tollers are rather distractible, as is generally true with retrievers. At about two years of age they reach a level of mental maturity that makes the training process easier. This is not to say that Tollers can't be trained until this maturity arrives, but that while they learn quickly, they also bore quickly. Training sessions should be short and light, fun and challenging. It may be difficult to train them to do things that they were not bred for, as this is a dog with highly developed hunting instincts.
   What is "tolling"? Do they really dance around on the shore?
     Tolling means "luring" or "enticing." The dogs do not really dance at the shore. The hunter sets up several blinds along the lakeshore or even along the river. When the weather is good, a suitable blind is selected, and the dog is sent out to retrieve sticks and other material the hunter throws toward the shore. The Toller goes directly out and fetches the stick like any good retriever. However, since Tollers are a jaunty and animated breed, it is thought that the flash and bounce of their white points attracts the ducks. After a number of retrieves the ducks are within gunshot range and the Toller is subsequently sent out to retrieve killed and wounded ducks.
   Is tolling widely practiced?
     In Canada, the practice has declined slowly for a number of years but has recently made a resurgence as interest in the Tollers has also increased. Tollers are not the only breed that can "toll" -- others have reported tolling with the Curly Coated Retriever, for example. However, the Toller is the undisputed king of tolling. Tolling has never caught on widely in the US, but increased interest in the Toller may change that. Also, with hunters learning that tolling can help bring the birds in even when there is no apparent game to be had, more people are looking into it.
   Tolling isn't all they do, is it?
     Of course not. They are perfectly capable hunting retrievers in the traditional sense along with the other retriever breeds. In fact, their tolling should be considered an additional rather than sole ability, unique as it may be.
   Would they make good watch dogs? Guard dogs?
     They make very good watch dogs due to their inherent suspicion of strangers. But they do not make good guard dogs and should not used as such.
   Do they make good pets?
     Like all retrievers, they make excellent pets, being devoted to family and children and readily trainable. They do require an active family that can ensure the Toller gets the activity as well as the attention it deserves. They are bright and will get into mischief if they are bored.
   Are Tollers a rare breed?
     Yes. There are about 400 Tollers registered with the US club, and about 3,000 registered world wide as of early 1993. The breed nearly died out in the two decades after it was recognized by the CKC, but has made steady, although slow, gains since then. In 2006 there were 173 puppies registered with the UK Kennel Club.
   Does this mean I'll have a hard time finding a puppy?
     Probably. You may have to wait some time for a litter, and you will likely have to travel across the country for it. Litters are few and demand for the puppies high. On the other hand, it's possible to get the luck of a draw and have a puppy a few months after your phone call. Be prepared for the grilling you're likely to get from the breeders (including us!).


Home | Brain Games For Puppies, with Thea and Troy | About Ambertollers | About The Toller | About The Cocker | Our Tollers | Our Cockers | Puppies | Photo Gallery | Rescue/Foster | Rainbow Bridge | Contact Us | Feedback

All images and content are Ambertollers 2011 and may not be reproduced elsewhere without prior written permission.

This site was last updated 19/05/2013