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Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Information: Breed Facts, Traits & More


Last Updated: May 14, 2024 | 12 min read | Leave a Comment

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Are you interested in welcoming a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever into your life? Or, perhaps you are not 100% sure how they’ll fit in with you and your lifestyle. If so, this breed guide is a must-read. Let’s review everything you need to know about this extraordinary dog and what kind of home and family they need.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, more affectionately called Tollers by their fans, are intelligent, outgoing, and affectionate dogs. They might be rare pups, but they are uniquely skilled in assisting their masters with duck hunting. They also make fantastic family pets and get along with everyone, including children and other doggos.

These fox-like dogs have higher than average exercise needs, so those looking for an activity buddy are in for a treat. But if you’re seeking a couch potato or lap dog, you should walk away now.

Now, let’s retrieve all the details you need to help you determine whether this is the best canine for you.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
    • weight iconWeight35-50 pounds
    • height iconHeight17-21 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan12-14 years
    • color iconColorsRed & Red Gold
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Ease of Training
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever sitting in field
This breed has an exciting history.

Humans bred them to mimic the hunting style of foxes in the 19th century. Micmac Indians from Canada observed how the foxes frolicked by the water’s edge to entice the ducks to watch them. Once they were fully invested in their performance, other pack members would snatch them for dinner. They mixed their dogs with several retriever breeds and created the Toller that we know and love today.

Once they created a successful mix, they taught their dogs to dance by the water’s edge while their masters hid. Once ready, their master will call their dogs back and shoot the birds. And like all good retrievers, the Toller would head over to collect their master’s quarry and return it without crushing the delicate bird.

Only one other dog breed uses this hunting style, the similar-looking Dutch Kooikerhondje. “Toller” comes from the old English word “Tollen,” which means lure or entice. Their full name earns them the longest name in the American Kennel Club (AKC) studbook. They also hold another title, which is the AKC’s smallest retriever dog.

From the Little River District of Nova Scotia’s Yarmouth Country, they sometimes go by “Little River Duck Dog” and the “Yarmouth Toller.” These pups are a common sight in this area, but outside, they are pretty rare. The AKC often ranks them between the 80th and 90th most popular dog breed in America out of 200 dog breeds.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever playing in the grass
This pup provides lots of doggy fun for the whole family.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a very active dog who needs an equally busy family. They enjoy being the center of attention. If you’re seeking a dog who chases balls at any time, the Toller’s got your back.

They are also surprisingly affectionate for such a hardworking dog. Once you’ve met their exercise needs, they’ll settle for cuddles on the sofa without much persuasion. It’s not an uncommon sight to see the Toller belly up, tongue out, waiting for their much-deserved belly rubs. You need to be equally affectionate if you want to get along with this guy.

Tollers are initially wary of people they have never met. But they take direction from their masters. So if you greet them, they’ll also greet them because they are friendly pups who are always looking for new play buddies. They have outgoing personalities, bringing joy to the family on the worst of days.

They are intense dog breeds, not suitable for those looking for a laidback canine. They give 100% in everything that they do – even taking the trash cans out. The AKC states that if your right arm fell off while throwing the ball, a tireless Toller would expect you to continue playing with your left arm. Despite this, they aren’t overly rambunctious in the home, making them ideal as family pets.

They have a shrill bark, if you can call it a bark, much like how a fox laughs. They make this noise when they are excited. They don’t use this alarm with incoming visitors, though, unless it’s someone they’re super happy to see. This makes them a poor watchdog and sometimes an annoying neighbor. If you live in a noise-controlled environment, you might want to skip the Toller.

Size and Appearance

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers sitting and smiling
Many mistake them for small Golden Retrievers, but they are distinctly different.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium-sized dog breed. They usually weigh between 35 and 50 pounds. And they measure between 17 and 21 inches tall, from paw to the withers. Under their lustrous coat, they have a powerful and compact frame.

When not retrieving or in action, they have a sad or worried expression. But this quickly disappears when they hear the word “walk.” They have drop-down triangle-shaped ears and small almond-shaped eyes. Their tail is long and well feathered. If you want to show your Toller in the show ring, there are certain appearance expectations that your pup needs to meet. You can find them in the Toller breed standard.

Coat and Colors

Wet dog in water
These pups are known for their beautiful coats.

It has a double-layered coat to keep it protected from the harsh Canadian elements and cold water. It is medium in length and soft to the touch. Some Tollers have a slight wave along their top line, but across the main body, the hair is straight. Their winter coat brings slightly more feathering around the chest.

The Toller coat color is always a deep, pigmented red, ranging from golden to dark coppery red. The feathering fur is usually a lighter shade than the rest of the body. Most Tollers have a white mark, either on the feet, tail tip, chest, or blaze (center of muzzle up to the forehead). There are specific coat and color rules if you want to succeed in the show ring. Again, these are listed in the breed standard.


Dog with leash in mouth on sidewalk
Come rain or shine, this doggo cannot go a day without exercise.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a very active gun dog who needs to be exercised for at least one hour every day. Even more, if you can manage it. Many doggy sporting events and trials are held throughout the country, so why not try your Tollers paw at them?

A stroll around the block won’t cut it with this pup. Tollers need intense exercise, either in the form of hunting or constant playing and running around. Try to mix up the places you visit to satisfy their noses and stimulate their brain with a change of scenery. Doggy play areas or fetching in the park are great ways for them to burn energy if you aren’t a hunter yourself.

As the Toller has a high prey drive, especially for ducks and other flying creatures, you need to keep a close eye on them in the park. Some owners choose not to let them off-leash in uncontained areas, especially where there is water around. The Toller loves the water, so be sure to invest in a long training lead so that they can enjoy playing in the pond while still allowing you some control.

If you can’t offer your Toller his exercise requirements, you’ll find a very unhappy retriever on your hands. A bored Toller is a destructive and naughty one. Invest in toys that they can play with throughout the day too. Balls to chase and high-quality squeaky toys shaped like ducks keep them occupied and satisfy their hunting instinct.

Living Requirements

Dog sleeping in bed sheets
Other than their high exercise requirements, they’re relatively low-maintenance dogs.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever doesn’t have many living specifications as long as they are well exercised. Their small size lends them to apartment living, which is not appropriate for most other retrievers. If you don’t have access to a yard, you need to offer them several daily walks to prevent boredom and cabin fever. Their yard needs to be secured so that they cannot wander off in the search for birds.

Despite their playful nature, they are not overly boisterous, making them ideal canine siblings for kiddos of all ages. They are remarkably gentle with children, which is one of many traits that Toller fans adore. They also get along well with other dogs, especially other Tollers. There aren’t many who can resist chasing smaller animals, so they don’t make ideal companions for animals other than dogs.

Like most dogs who have worked closely with humans for centuries, they don’t like to be left alone for too long. Although they aren’t as sensitive to being left compared to other dogs, equally, they prefer human companionship for most of the day. Those families who work long hours away from home might want to rethink their canine choice.


Dog sitting shaking person's hand
On the whole, first-time dog owners shouldn’t have too much trouble with training.

They enjoy pleasing their master, meaning they like to do as they are told. However, they aren’t as easy to train as other Retrievers, like their Golden Retriever or Labrador cousin. They do have a slight stubborn streak, so they might have an “off-day,” – but who doesn’t?

Tollers respond best to positive reinforcement training rather than being shouted at. They are generally motivated by everything, including praise, tasty treats, and toys.

Socializing your dog is something to take seriously if you want your Toller to become a polite adult. The critical window for socialization is 3 to 12 weeks, meaning your breeder begins the training, and it’ll be your job to continue it. Mix them with other humans, dogs, loud noises, and new experiences as much as you can.

With Toller’s excitable squeal in mind, it’s a great idea to teach them the “quiet command” from the moment you bring them home. This stops nuisance noise and prevents potential quarrels with your noise-sensitive neighbors. With a bit of research and plenty of practice, your intelligent Toller should understand your command in no time.


Dog in wheelchair
You will find a few more health concerns in their bloodline versus the average dog.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a relatively healthy dog breed. They enjoy a lifespan of 12 to 14 years on average. When working with a breeder, always discuss these health problems with them and ask them for a medical certificate if relevant.

Cardiac Concerns

The Toller breed is at risk of several heart concerns. Still, a condition called pulmonic stenosis is the most common. Pulmonic stenosis occurs when the blood flow between the heart and the lungs is restricted. It causes the heart to work harder than it should, leading to heart failure. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, limited growth, and fainting.

Eye Conditions

The two most common eye concerns in the Toller bloodline are progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Collie eye anomaly. PRA is a degenerative disease of the retina, which eventually leads to complete vision loss. Collie eye anomaly is a genetic mutation of the gene that determines the development of the eye, which results in many defects of the eye. It can be mild, or it can be severe, which, again, can lead to total vision loss.

Hip Dysplasia

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a breed at risk of developing hip dysplasia. It can be caused by poor hip inheritance from their parents, rapid and uneven skeletal growth as a pup, among other factors. Symptoms include abnormal movement, stiffness, and general pain. Surgery is often required to improve life quality.

Juvenile Addison’s Disease

This disease is when the adrenal glands do not produce a sufficient amount of hormones used to control levels in the blood. The average diagnosis of this disease is five months old, but it can be diagnosed from as little as eight weeks. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, diarrhea, and vomiting.


The Toller has a higher rate of deafness in their population compared to other dog breeds. Deafness can be unilateral or bilateral deafness (one or both ears). Owning a deaf dog can be challenging and requires extra training to ensure a happy and harmonious life. Responsible breeders test their dogs for deafness using a BAER test, so please ask for these certificates when buying a pup.


Dog eating jerkey
There isn’t much chance of your Toller leaving food behind.

Tollers usually eat around two cups of healthy dog food a day. This amount varies between dogs, depending on their age, size, metabolism, and energy levels. Be sure to follow the package guidelines and adapt them to your own dog’s needs. If they leave food in their bowl, you know you’re feeding them too much.

This breed has a healthy appetite and loves to eat, a lot like their Lab cousin. If you notice that your pup is putting on too much weight, switch them to a weight management diet and reduce their treat intake. Excess weight leads to further health problems, so it’s essential to keep your best friend trim and healthy.

The Toller has a deep chest for a small dog, making them susceptible to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). GDV is a life-threatening condition that is commonly known as bloat. It is unknown what causes it, but not exercising them immediately before or after exercise reduces the chances. As does feeding them smaller meals. It’s vital to familiarize yourself with the symptoms and seek immediate vet treatment should you recognize them.


Dog with towel on head and brush in mouth
Their thick coats require lots of brushing.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a medium-length soft coat that sheds seasonally. They might not be the hairiest of dogs, but you need to expect plenty of dog hair in your home. Working dogs from cold climates tend to blow their coats when going from warm to cold seasons. So, if you aren’t a fan of doggy hair, you need to find yourself another canine contender.

To manage their shedding as best as possible, you need to brush them at least twice a week throughout the year. You’ll need to increase the number of days during the shedding seasons. Pay extra attention to areas with feathering fur, such as the ears, neck, and under the arms and belly. These areas are where most tangling occurs. A doggy detangling spray can assist with this.

Bathe your Toller as and when they need it, but never more than once every four weeks. Use a doggy-specific shampoo product rather than a human shampoo that can sometimes irritate doggy skin. Suppose you want to show your Toller in the show ring. In that case, they should be presented as natural as possible rather than being overly trimmed.

Breeders and Puppy Costs

Litter of cute ruby puppies
Due to its origin, the top breeders for this breed tend to be based in Canada.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a rare dog breed in America. You should expect to be put on a waiting list to purchase a pup. But there are a few reputable breeders based in America. The AKC’s Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever breeders page is a great place to start your breeder research.

The average starting price for a well-bred Toller pup typically starts at $1,500. The puppy price depends on many factors, including the breeder’s location, breeder experience and reputation, and the pups’ pedigree. If you seek a puppy from an award-winning hunting lineage, you can expect to pay much more than this price, often above $3,000.

It’s essential to work with a responsible breeder who screens their dogs for the most common health concerns. Plus, they’ll raise their pups with all the love and care they need and deserve. Irresponsible breeders and puppy mills are more concerned with profit over the health of their puppies, so please avoid them at all costs by doing your research.

You also need to include the additional costs of buying a puppy into your budget. Puppies need all the new gear, such as beds, crates, toys, and fences to secure their yard. You then need to feed them, purchase health insurance, and much more. The Toller is not the most expensive dog breed around. Still, over their lifetime, dogs can cost tens of thousands. So, this is something you need to be mindful of.

Rescues and Shelters

Sad dog under blanket
Tollers will be a rare but super special find in a local rescue, but you may need to seek a breeder.

If you would prefer to adopt a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever instead of buying a puppy, you also have the option of rescuing one. More often than not, the cost of adopting an older dog rather than shopping for a young pup is cheaper.

One option is to head out to your local rescue shelter. If you cannot see a Toller there, be sure to speak to the staff who might know of a Toller in the local vicinity. Alternatively, you can get in contact with the American Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club who runs a rescue program for Tollers in need of their forever home.

As Family Pets

In general, this breed is:

  • A medium-sized dog who is adaptable to most family homes.
  • Active with lots of energy to burn, so they need to be homed with an active family who can guarantee them at least one hour of intense exercise every day.
  • Plenty of fun and always ready to play with their humans.
  • Relatively calm dogs in the home, making them well-balanced family pets.
  • Known for a high prey drive for birds and cannot resist chasing small animals.
  • A water-lover and appreciates trips to the local lake and their own pool to dip their paws in.
  • Loving and affectionate with their favorite humans. They are very gentle with and tolerant of children of all ages.
  • Socialized well love the company of other dogs, especially fellow Tollers.
  • Easy to train thanks to their loyalty and eagerness to please.
  • Prone to a high-pitched squeaky bark when they cannot contain their excitement, so the “quiet command” comes in handy.

Final Thoughts

Tollers give everything that they do 100% effort, they like the company of other dogs, and they are patient and gentle with children. There’s not a lot you can dislike about this friendly Fido.

But, there are a few things about this pup that might not suit you and your lifestyle. Such as their intense energy needs and high-pitched excitable squeals. If you can look past their quirks, you are sure to find a best friend in the Toller. And like they do with the ducks, they’ll lure you in for life with their sweet and playful antics.

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