Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever (or toller) is one of five dog breeds recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club as uniquely Canadian (see also Dogs in Canada). Originally bred for tolling and retrieving waterfowl, the toller is a highly intelligent dog. It loves the outdoors and is easy to train. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is the provincial dog of Nova Scotia — one of two Canadian dogs declared a provincial or territorial symbol (the other, the Canadian Inuit dog, is Nunavut’s official animal).

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is a medium-sized dog, well muscled and powerful. Females’ average height is 45 to 48 cm and males’ is 48 to 51 cm. Females weigh between 17 and 20 kg and males between 20 and 23 kg. At this size, the toller is the smallest of the retriever breeds.

The toller’s coat is various shades of red or orange, from golden red to crimson to dark copper. They have white markings down the centre of their nose, on their chest, feet and the tip of their tail, which is heavily feathered.

Tollers have a water-repellent, medium-length double coat. The undercoat is softer and dense, protecting them in icy waters. Their feet are webbed, helping them to swim.

When they are relaxing or are not engaged in an activity, tollers may have a sad or worried facial expression. However, as soon as they are working or playing, this look becomes focused and lively.

Did you know?

Of the five Canadian dog breeds, one is extinct: the Tahltan bear dog. The remaining four breeds are the Canadian Inuit dog, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, the Newfoundland dog and the Labrador retriever. Another domestic dog, the Salish woolly dog, went extinct around 1900. It had significantly declined before the Canadian Kennel Club could afford it recognition as an official breed.

History and Origins of the Breed

Several centuries ago, people living in what is now Nova Scotia took inspiration from foxes’ behaviour to develop the toller. Foxes “toll” ducks; that is, they attract or lure them, by running and playing along the shoreline. People developed a dog that could act the same way. Nicholas Denys, a French colonist, first documented the tolling behaviour of dogs in the Nova Scotia region in the 17th century.

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever as it is known today was developed in the early 19th century in the community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. People initially called the breed the Little River duck dog or Yarmouth toller.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Breed

The toller’s breeding origins are not known, but it is believed that it is a mixture of retriever, setter, spaniel and possibly farm collie. The Canadian Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1945. The same year got its new name, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.

For many years, the toller had the reputation of being one of Canada’s best kept secrets due to the fact that it was largely unknown outside the Maritimes until 1980. That year, two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers made history by being awarded Best in Show at two different all-breed competitions, which sparked a wider interest in the breed.

In 1988, for its 100th anniversary, Canada Post issued a stamp featuring the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. In 1997, the Royal Canadian Mint released a sterling silver 50-cent coin featuring the toller.

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever was declared the provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1995.

Did you know?

Although tollers tend to be a quiet breed, they express their excitement or frustration by emitting a loud, high-pitched sound, often known as “singing” or the “toller scream.” The sight of squirrels or birds can elicit their high-pitched scream, but they can be trained to be quiet when hunting or doing field work.


Breeders developed the toller specifically for luring and retrieving waterfowl, mainly ducks and geese. Besides their hunting abilities, tollers have many other qualities, such as a happy disposition and devotion to their owners, making them great companions to humans. They also excel in sporting events involving agility and obedience. Their sharp sense of smell, intelligence and desire to work mean they are well-suited as search and rescue and disaster dogs.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Temperaments and Traits

Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are highly intelligent and easy to train. They are alert and observant. Tollers need outlets for their energy and drive, such as hunting, hiking, swimming or playing fetch. With an enthusiastic disposition, tollers are easy to engage and love working with people. Hard working and known for their endurance, tollers love to retrieve on both land and water. Tollers are affectionate and loving toward their families, but tend to be rather reserved around strangers. They are good and patient with children.

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