Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

AKC Sporting Group


Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, once called the Little River Dog, was developed in the early nineteenth century in the Little River district of Nova Scotia, Canada. The breed is named for its method of luring ducks to the hunter. When a dog is “tolling,” he runs and jumps playfully along the shore in full view of a flock of ducks, disappears from sight, and then reappears as he fetches sticks or balls for the hunter (who hides in a nearby blind), all the while waving his feathered tail. This activity lures the curious ducks within gunshot range of the hunter. The dog then retrieves the downed birds for his master.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was first recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945, but the breed remained relatively obscure until 1980 when Tollers won Best in Show at two Canadian dog shows. This sparked interest in the breed, and its popularity began to grow. In 1988, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was one of four Canadian breeds that were each honored with a postage stamp carrying their portrait. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of recognition by the Canadian Kennel Club, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever became the official dog of Nova Scotia. The breed is also popular in Sweden, and is gaining popularity in the United States. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was admitted to the AKC Sporting Group in 2003.


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, the smallest retriever, is a high-energy, medium-sized, powerful red dog with lighter-colored feathering underneath the body and tail. (The lighter parts of the coat are still richly colored.) Most Tollers have at least one of the following white markings: tip of the tail, feet (with no white above the pasterns), chest, or blaze on the forehead, though it is not a disqualification for a dog to be entirely lacking white. The Toller’s body is slightly longer than tall, in a ratio of 10 to 9. The head is somewhat wedge-shaped. The triangular drop ears have rounded tips, and are set high and well back on the head. The base of the ears is held somewhat erect. Ear length should reach approximately the inner corner of the eye. Eye color should be the same as the coat color or darker, with eye rims either the same color as the coat or black. The color of the eye rims, lips, and nose should match. The mouth must be soft, but the jaws should be strong enough to carry a reasonably sized bird. The teeth should meet in a scissors bite. The oval feet are webbed for swimming and the legs from the front should look like parallel columns, though from the side, the pasterns on the forelegs slope slightly. The tail is luxuriously feathered, and is carried below the topline unless the dog is alert, when it may be held high and curved. The Toller generally has a slightly sad expression until he is asked to work, at which time he appears to be intensely concentrating and excited.

Key Facts

  • Height:  18 to 21 in. (male); 17 to 20 in. (female)
  • Size:  Medium
  • Weight:  Approx. 45 to 51 lbs. (male); 37 to 43 lbs. (female)
  • Availability:  Difficult to find
  • Talents:  Watchdog, hunting, retrieving, tracking, agility, search and rescue, obedience, agility, tricks, and therapy dog


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever needs a job to do and lots of exercise (at least an hour of exercise a day is recommended), or he may find pesky ways to amuse himself. If you can’t commit to keeping this dog both physically and mentally busy every day, don’t get a Toller. Tollers are highly intelligent, and can excel at formal sports, such as obedience, but like many other retrievers, Tollers mature late, and dogs younger than 2 can be easily distracted in the ring. The Toller should be trained with firmness, but without harshness. Keep training sessions short, fun, and challenging, and the Toller will learn quickly and not get bored with the process. Though adult dogs are fairly inactive indoors, puppies are very active. 
Tollers blow their coats seasonally and love to swim and play in mud and muck, so it is difficult to keep the house fastidious with this dog as a member of the family. The coat needs to be brushed out once a week to prevent matting and to remove any loose undercoat. Tollers don’t develop a wet dog odor unless they are kept closely kenneled. The ears and feet may need some extra grooming and trimming, but no special expertise is needed to do a good job. A lot of Tollers give out a penetrating scream when excited. Do not get a Toller if you need a really quiet dog. Many Tollers live happily with other animals, including cats, but they do have a strong prey drive and it is likely their play will include chasing the cats. 
Though the Toller is generally healthy, be sure both parents have official eye and hip clearances before breeding to help guard against hip dysplasia and eye problems. A DNA test is now available to see if Tollers carry the gene for cleft palate, which some puppies are born with. By testing prospective parents, breeders can assure they are not breeding two carriers together. Some late-onset deafness (at about 7 to 8 years) is surfacing in a few lines. Ask the breeder about deafness in his or her line.


Highly intelligent, alert, and determined. Agile, quick, and ready for action, with a strong desire to work. This breed is a superior swimmer, loves the water, and has a natural passion for hunting. He launches into springy action at the slightest possibility of retrieving. Gentle and affectionate with his family, and patient with children, Tollers tend to be more reserved with strangers than many other kinds of retriever. Tollers will take over if given the opportunity; household rules must be consistently enforced.


  • Children:  Good with children
  • Friendliness:  Reserved with strangers
  • Trainability:  Easy to train
  • Independence:  Moderately dependent on people
  • Dominance:  Moderate
  • Other Pets:  Generally good with other dogs in household; do not trust with non-canine pets
  • Combativeness:  Not generally dog-aggressive
  • Noise:  Likes to bark
  • Indoors:  Fairly inactive indoors
  • Owner:  Not recommended for novice owners


  • Grooming:  Regular grooming needed
  • Trimming and Stripping:  Some trimming and/or stripping of the coat needed (little skill required)
  • Coat:  Feathered coat
  • Shedding:  Seasonally heavy shedder
  • Exercise:  Vigorous daily exercise needed
  • Jogging:  An excellent jogging companion
  • Apartments:  Will be OK in an apartment if sufficiently exercised
  • Outdoor Space:  Needs an average-sized yard
  • Climate:  Does well in most climates
  • Longevity:  Fairly long life span (12 to 14 years)

Useful Links

AKC® Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Breed Standard

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Breed Club

Search for a Breeder

Rescue Organizations

Books about the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Gifts