Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Written by: Jamie
Updated: November 25, 2020

The Duck Tolling Retriever is a “one of a kind” with its unusual hunting techniques. Learn all about this amazing breed in the guide below.

Nova scotia duck tolling retriever. Dog playing on snow.

Height: Male 18-21 inches, female 17-20 inches
Weight: Male 20-23 kilos, female 17-20 kilos
Lifespan: 12-14 years
Pedigree? (registered with the KC?): Yes, this breed is registered with the Kennel Club.

Positives and Negatives

Here are the pros and cons of the Novia Scotia Retriever:


  • Low grooming maintenance
  • Ideal family pets
  • Good choice for first-time owners
  • Adaptable to a variety of living environments, including boats


  • Sheds fur heavily
  • High energy levels, needs lots of exercise
  • Excitable and nippy as a puppy
  • Doesn’t like being left alone


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a gundog used for hunting. These canines love swimming and have developed a water-repellent coat to protect them from the cold Canadian weather. The Toller is the smallest of the retrievers and was officially recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945.

This breeds size attracted many. They are small and agile whilst able to adaptable to an apartment lifestyle. Yet it that doesn’t mean the breed is lower maintenance. The Nova Scotia Retriever requires lots of exercise, mental stimulation and training to turn them into the obedient, hard-working pooch we admire.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever walking

Unlike other breeds, the Toller entices it’s prey by playing along the shore lines. It’s an unusual technique used by foxes and admired by hunters for years. The desire to produce a hunting companion that could perform like the fox, led to the development of the Nova Scotia Retriever. This breed really is a one of a kind!

Tollers are fairly recent to Britain and only appeared in 1988. Whilst the breed isn’t popular for hunting in the UK, families have started showing interest. Due to their mental stimulation needs, these canines make excellent candidates for dog sports and agility.


The Duck Tolling Retriever originated in Canada during the early 19th century. Developed in the Little River Harbour of Yarmouth County, this dog was once known as the Little River Duck Dog. They were bred to aide hunters and were ideal for retrieving game in cold temperatures due to their thick, water-repellent coat.

Tollers resemble foxes and their white markings intrigue their prey. Whilst the hunters lay hidden in wait, the Toller would play by the water. This would draw the attention of game such as waterfowl. Once they come to investigate, the hunters would call back their dogs making the birds take to the skies. This allows the hunter a clear shot.

This technique is called Tolling. In the Nova Scotia area, tolling was first recorded in the 17th century. This method was learnt from the foxes who would attract waterfowl to the shore by playing. Here, they would become easy prey.

Whilst the origins of the Duck Toller Retriever isn’t officially known, it is thought they’re origins trace to the extinct St Johns Water Dog and Kooikerhondje. Collies, Spaniel types, Setters and Retriever breeds are also believed to have been involved in their creation.

Recommended: Learn about the pros and cons of owning a Neopolitan Mastiff in this guide.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Temperament:

Tollers are intelligent, affectionate, inquisitive, energetic and friendly. They make fantastic gundogs and can quickly adapt into a family environment. Provided their exercise needs are met, these pooches can also live in apartments. These dogs are outgoing and naturally independent. Always keep them on leads unless in an enclosed space.

Puppies are very high in energy, nippy and mouthy. Adult dogs can feel overwhelmed by their jumpy and playful attitude. Intense training will be needed to balance out their behavior. Barking could also become excessive if this isn’t controlled.

Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers Good With Strangers?

Tollers are neutral with strangers. They won’t be overly friendly, but they won’t show aggression or opposition either. If the breed hasn’t been socialized correctly they could become shy and suspicious around those they don’t know.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever walking

Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers Good With Children?

Yes, this breed makes an excellent playmate and companion for children. Interactive games such as fetch and frisbee are all ways kids can bond with this dog. Parents should be mindful of toddlers around this breed. Their boisterous nature could cause accidents amongst smaller children.

Growing up, the Nova Scotia Duck Retriever can be mouthy and nippy. Supervision and training will be needed to curb this. 

Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers Ok With Other Dogs?

Yes, this breed does get along with other dogs and can also live them. They do have a high prey drive and may chase smaller animals and canines so do be aware of this. Cats may also live with this breed.


The Canadian Duck Tolling Retriever will need an hours worth of exercise each day. Yet sometimes they could do with a little longer. They adore swimming so make sure this is occasionally factored into their activities.

As Retrievers they enjoy interactive games such as fetch and frisbee. The breed excels in competitions such as flyball and agility. It’s a great way to keep them mentally stimulated too! These types of strenuous exercise will be needed to ensure the Toller’s activity requirements are met.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever at a Dog Agility Trial

High in energy, this breed can easily keep up as a hiking or jogging partner. If the Duck Toller Retriever doesn’t receive the exercise they need, destructive habits will follow. These dogs are known to be mouthy and boisterous when young. This could spiral out of control in adulthood if exercise and training isn’t kept up with.

Recommended: Everything you need to know about the Flat-Coated Retriever is here in this guide.


Check out the breed related health issues of the Duck Toller Retriever below:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy- A degenerative disease affecting the photoreceptor cells in the eye. Eventually, as the cells deteriorate, blindness occurs.
  • Collie Eye Anomaly This eye disease affects the retina, sclera and choroid. The inherited condition causes the eye to develop abnormally. Depending on the seriousness, some dogs could become blind.
  • Hip Dysplasia- Abnormal development of the hip joint will cause pain, lameness, inflammation and swelling in the affected area. Arthritis will soon follow.
  • Addison’s Disease- A lack of adrenocortical hormones causes issues of gastroenteritis, loss of body condition and the inability to appropriately respond to stress.
  • Hypothyroidism- An underactive thyroid will cause a dog to shed more fur, gain weight, develop a dull coat and a lack of tolerance to cold weather.

Intelligence & Training

The Nova Scotia Duck Toller is fairly intelligent. Training can be somewhat easy as the Toller dog is eager to learn, especially when rewards are involved! Positive reinforcement is the only way forward. Yet their lack of intelligence can hold back their level of understanding.

Gundogs can benefit from professional trainers experienced in this field. They have specific training needs that regular dog enthusiasts may struggle to provide. Puppy dog classes or one to one professional training would be ideal if you lack experience with gundogs.

Nova Scotia Retrievers will lose interest quickly if training goes on for too long. They also like to know what’s in it for them and are very reward focused. Keep sessions short and make sure you don’t overfeed your pooch when handing out food treats. The breed is prone to weight gain which could lead to obesity and further health issues.

A Duck Tolling Retriever puppy is known to be boisterous, mouthy and over excitable. Many recommend crate training for the Toller to prevent destructive behavior from becoming the norm. Training and exercise go hand in hand. If their exercise needs aren’t being met, good behavior will fly out the window!

Recommended: Check out our comprehensive guide on the Saluki breed next.


The Nova Scotia Duck Retriever isn’t ideal for allergy suffers due to their high level of shedding. Weekly brushing will be needed, especially during the shedding seasons. The Toller dog should be kept as natural as possible so trimming their fur won’t be needed. Generally the Toller’s coat colors consist of red or orange with white patches.

Dog breed Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever close-up

Pin brushes and slicker brushes would be the best tools to use. Brushing is mostly needed to keep their coat in order. Aim for a bath every 3 months. If they get dirty this can be done sooner. Don’t wash them multiple times a month as this could damage their skin. Tollers should be towel dried as their coat removes water fairly quickly. 

The throat, ears and thighs tend to get knotty so keep an eye on these areas. Pin brushes are ideal for grooming these sections. A dogs ears will need to be checked weekly for debris. Give them a clean and pluck any excess fur blocking the airflow to the canal. Aim to file their nails every 3-4 weeks.

A Duck Toller puppy should be introduced to grooming as early as possible. They need to get used to the techniques so make it as relaxing as possible. Give them a massage to keep them calm and get them used to having their paws handled.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jamie! I've always been around dogs and now writing about them is an absolute joy.
Read more about my story here.
Reach me at or connect with me on LinkedIn below.

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