Key Traits of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (With Photos)

Updated August 3, 2021
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Dog

Owners of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever affectionately refer to their dogs as "Tollers." They have the distinction of possessing the American Kennel Club's (AKC) longest accepted breed name. The AKC's tiniest retriever, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is intelligent, kind, and has a high drive to please their people. This high-energy breed will happily play with you until you're worn out, but if their activity needs have been met, they'll gladly lie down to cuddle.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Origins

This breed originated in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The "decoy dog" was intended to imitate the appearance and behavior of wild foxes, whose activity is known to attract ducks. When the ducks grow interested in the foxes and come closer to shore, they become easy prey for hunters who are ready to fire. To "toll" -- meaning "to entice game to approach" -- waterfowl, breeders wanted a hunting dog with the reddish color, feathered coat, and approximate size of a fox. Once ducks are down, the retrievers grab the ducks from the water and bring them to their owner.


With a height of 17 to 21 inches at the shoulder and a weight of 35 to 50 pounds, the Toller is the smallest member of the retriever family. The Toller's large cranium, wedge-shaped head, deep chest, and powerful fore and hindquarters give it an athletic yet compact physique. These dogs are built for agility and endurance in the field.


The Toller's striking coat comes in varying colors of red, with white patterns on the paws, chest, face, and tail end. The breed's dense double coat repels water to help them work in very cold, wet conditions. They don't need much grooming, but do require frequent brushing sessions to keep mats out of their top coat and remove excess hair from their undercoat during shedding season. They are a fairly moderate shedding breed, and regular brushing helps keep shedding under control in the spring and fall. It's also crucial to keep their ears clean, as their floppy ears and proclivity for swimming might render their ear canals vulnerable to infection.

Three Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Toller Temperament and Training

The Toller shares a lot of characteristics with other retrievers. They are extremely intelligent, have a strong desire to please, and are very active dogs requiring regular, daily exercise. Some Tollers are hesitant around strangers at first, but warm up quickly. Because of their smaller and more manageable size, they make wonderful family dogs and may be a better fit for younger children than other retrievers. Although they have a strong prey drive and a tendency to chase cats and small animals, they get along well with other dogs and can live with cats, especially if they are raised with them.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever "Scream"

The high-pitched "scream" the breed emits is an unusual characteristic. When they get excited, they produce a barking sound much like an abnormal scream. The sound is endearing among Toller fans, but it is one you should hear before deciding whether or not you want to keep a Toller. The scream can be very loud and shrill. While Tollers are not watch dogs, they will bark to alert you to activities around the home, and the sound of their scream will certainly deter uninvited intruders.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever on sand at beach

Exercise Needs

Tollers aren't for families with sedentary lifestyles. You need to set aside at least an hour each day to provide them with vigorous exercise, such as two 30-minute brisk walks or jogs, or one walk followed by an intense play or training session, at a minimum. Providing them with plenty of mental stimulation will also prevent them from becoming bored and destructive. They love to swim and are ideal dogs to take to neighboring lakes, ponds, or beaches. If you have a pool, they'll gladly take a dive. These dogs were designed to hunt for long periods of time in frigid climates, and struggle without sufficient mental and physical stimulation at home.

Training a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a very clever dog capable of excelling at any activity. They're simple to train and respond well to positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training. Tollers compete in canine agility, scent work, competitive obedience, and a variety of other sports. They're also known to make excellent therapy dog candidates and are used as search-and-rescue dogs.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers Running

Breed Health Concerns

Tollers are sturdy dogs, though they have a few recognized medical issues. The breed's average lifespan is between 12 and 14 years, although certain medical conditions can appear.

  • Cleft palate is a congenital disorder where the palate in a dog's mouth does not fuse correctly, leaving a hole in the palate area.
  • Collie eye anomaly is a condition that is usually found in herding dogs. It is a congenital mutation of the eye that can lead to detachment of the retina.
  • Degenerative myelopathy is a disease of the spinal cord that can make walking difficult and can eventually result in paralysis.
  • Distichiasis is a problem with the growth and direction of a dog's eyelashes that can create mild to severe eye irritation.
  • Hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison's disease, is a chronic condition affecting the adrenal glands.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy is an eye condition that can potentially cause blindness.
The Water Gang

Where Can You Get a Toller?

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club maintains a list of responsible and vetted breeders. You will need to fill out a simple contact form on the club's website to have a list of their breeders sent to you. You can also look for breeders through the AKC Marketplace. The average price for a purebred Toller puppy is around $1,800, though you can spend up to $2,500 or more depending on the puppy's bloodlines.

Rescuing a Toller

If you prefer to find a Toller in rescue, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club has a rescue program with information on dogs needing homes. You can also contact Toller Rescue Inc., which is based in Delaware but runs a national network of volunteers caring for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers available for adoption. You may also find Tollers up for adoption in all-breed rescues and shelters through Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Running

Is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Right for You?

These sociable, eager, and fascinating companions have a lot to offer. They're a lot of fun to train, enjoy working and playing with their families, and can be extremely affectionate. Tollers are an excellent choice for active owners who enjoy being outside and are ready to invest the time necessary to train their dogs and even participate in dog sports and therapy work. Just make sure you're capable of meeting their mental and physical requirements, and that you don't mind a little "Toller Screaming" when your dog gets excited.

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Key Traits of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (With Photos)