Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Table of Contents

nova scotia duck tolling retriever feature image
Introducing the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, fiery red-coated dynamos that will captivate you with their endless zest for life. Affectionately known as "Tollers," they boast a unique hunting style, irresistible playfulness, and remarkable intelligence.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is an ideal match for active individuals and families seeking a versatile and devoted companion. Tollers thrive in environments where they can engage in physical exercise, mental stimulation, and playtime with their humans.


OFFICIAL NAMENova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
OTHER NAMESToller, Duck Toller, Yarmouth Toller, Little River Duck Dog
BREED GROUPSporting Group
HEIGHT17-21 inches
WEIGHT30-50 lbs
LIFESPAN12-14 years
nova scotia duck tolling retriever walking in a forest
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium-sized dog breed that boasts a unique and eye-catching appearance.

One of their most striking features is their beautiful coat, which comes in various shades of red and orange, often accompanied by white markings on the chest, face, feet, and tip of the tail. This double coat is dense and water-repellent, featuring a soft undercoat for insulation and a straight, slightly wavy outer coat for protection against harsh weather conditions.

In terms of height and weight, male Tollers typically stand between 18 and 21 inches at the shoulder, while females range from 17 to 20 inches. Males usually weigh between 35 and 50 pounds, whereas females tend to be lighter, weighing between 30 and 45 pounds. These agile dogs possess well-balanced proportions, with a strong, muscular body built for endurance and agility.

The Toller’s head is clean-cut and slightly wedge-shaped, with a skull that is broad and slightly rounded. The breed has a well-defined stop and a straight, strong muzzle. Their medium-sized ears are triangular, set high on the head, and well back from the eyes.

These expressive ears are typically carried erect when the dog is alert, but can fold to the side when at rest. The Toller’s almond-shaped eyes come in shades of amber to dark brown, giving them a friendly and intelligent expression.

Their strong, well-muscled neck flows smoothly into sloping shoulders, leading to a level topline and a deep, moderately wide chest. The Toller’s powerful legs allow for agile movement, while their compact, well-arched feet provide excellent traction on various terrains.

The breed’s tail is another distinctive feature; it’s broad at the base, tapering towards the tip, and carried in a gentle curve when the dog is relaxed. When the Toller is excited or working, the tail is carried high with a lively, circular motion.

Overall, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s appearance reflects its purpose as an active and versatile sporting dog. The combination of their athletic build, striking coat, and expressive features make them a truly remarkable breed that stands out in any crowd.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever shaking off water
Photo: SherryL18/Getty Images


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a breed with a delightful and engaging temperament. These dogs are renowned for their friendly, intelligent, and adaptable personalities, making them excellent companions for those who appreciate an active and spirited canine partner.

Tollers are highly sociable animals that form strong bonds with their human families. They are known to be affectionate and gentle, especially with children, often displaying a nurturing and protective instinct towards them.

While they can be somewhat reserved with strangers initially, they typically warm up quickly once they have assessed the situation and deemed it safe. This discerning nature makes them reliable watchdogs, as they are more likely to alert their owners to unusual or potentially threatening situations without becoming overly aggressive.

One of the most endearing traits of the Toller is their playful, energetic demeanor. They are often described as having a “joie de vivre” or zest for life, which can be contagious to those around them.

Their lively spirit makes them a joy to be around, as they are always eager to participate in family activities and adventures. This enthusiasm extends to their interactions with other animals, as well; Tollers generally get along well with other dogs and can even coexist peacefully with cats if properly socialized from a young age.

The Toller’s intelligence is another noteworthy aspect of their personality. They are quick learners, able to grasp new concepts and commands with ease. This mental acuity, combined with their innate desire to please, makes them highly trainable and responsive to their owner’s guidance.

However, their cleverness can sometimes manifest as stubbornness or wiliness, so consistent and positive reinforcement-based training methods are essential to keep them engaged and motivated.

While the Toller’s high energy levels and exuberance are part of their charm, they also possess a more sensitive side. They tend to form deep emotional connections with their owners and can be affected by their handler’s mood or stress levels.

As such, they respond best to calm, confident leadership that provides them with clear expectations and boundaries. This sensitivity also means that Tollers are not well-suited to environments with frequent tension or conflict, as it can cause them distress and anxiety.

Another aspect of the Toller’s temperament is their strong work ethic and drive. Bred for retrieving waterfowl, they possess an inherent determination and focus that is evident in their approach to tasks and activities. This tenacity makes them well-suited for various dog sports, such as agility, obedience, and flyball, where their competitive spirit and natural athleticism can shine.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever's face close up
Photo: chris-mueller/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever thrives in an environment that caters to their physical, mental, and emotional needs. As an active and intelligent breed, they are best suited for pet parents who enjoy spending quality time with their canine companions, engaging them in various activities and adventures.

Physical Environment

An ideal home for a Toller would provide ample space for them to run, play, and explore, such as a securely fenced yard or access to nearby parks and trails.

While they can adapt to apartment living, it is essential that they receive sufficient daily exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and restlessness. Being a part of an active family that enjoys outdoor pursuits like hiking, swimming, or jogging would be a perfect fit for this energetic breed.

Climate Adaptability

In terms of climate adaptability, the Toller’s double coat provides protection against both cold and hot weather conditions.

Their dense undercoat offers insulation in colder temperatures, while their outer coat helps to shield them from the sun’s rays and heat. However, it is crucial to monitor your Toller during extreme weather conditions and take necessary precautions, such as providing shade, fresh water, and limiting exercise during the hottest parts of the day.

Ideal Owner

The ideal Toller owner is someone who is patient, consistent, and willing to invest time and effort into training and socialization.

This breed responds best to positive reinforcement methods and requires a calm, confident leader who can provide clear boundaries and expectations. Early socialization is key to ensuring a well-rounded and adaptable Toller, exposing them to various people, animals, and environments from a young age.

Other Pets

Tollers generally get along well with other pets, including dogs and cats, if properly socialized from a young age.

Their friendly and playful nature makes them excellent companions for other animals, as long as they are introduced gradually and with supervision. It’s important to remember that Tollers have a natural prey drive, so care should be taken when introducing them to smaller pets such as birds or rodents.

two nova scotia duck tolling retrievers playing in the nature
Photo: chris-mueller/Getty Images


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has moderate grooming requirements to maintain their beautiful coat and overall health. Regular grooming not only keeps your Toller looking their best but also provides an opportunity to bond with your dog and check for any potential health issues.

The Toller’s double coat consists of a dense, soft undercoat and a straight, water-repellent outer coat. This coat requires regular brushing to remove loose hair, prevent matting, and distribute natural oils throughout the fur.

It is advisable to brush your Toller at least once or twice a week using a slicker brush or a pin brush. During shedding seasons (typically spring and fall), you may need to increase the brushing frequency to daily sessions to manage the increased hair loss.

In addition to brushing, the Toller’s coat may require occasional trimming, particularly around the ears, tail, and feet, to maintain a neat appearance. A pair of grooming scissors or thinning shears can be used for this purpose.

However, it is essential to note that the Toller’s coat should not be shaved or clipped too short, as it provides protection against harsh weather conditions and helps regulate their body temperature.

Bathing your Toller every 6-8 weeks or as needed (such as after a muddy adventure) is sufficient to keep them clean and odor-free. Be sure to use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo that won’t strip the natural oils from their coat. After bathing, always ensure that your Toller is thoroughly dried, paying particular attention to the ears, as moisture trapped in the ear canal can lead to infections.

Dental Care

Dental care is another crucial aspect of your Toller’s grooming routine. Regular teeth brushing (ideally daily, but at least two to three times a week) with a dog-specific toothpaste and toothbrush can help prevent tartar buildup, gum disease, and bad breath. Providing dental chews and toys can also contribute to maintaining your Toller’s oral hygiene.

Nail Trimming

Nail care is essential for the Toller, as long nails can cause discomfort or lead to injuries. It is recommended to trim your dog’s nails every 3-4 weeks using a pair of dog nail clippers or a grinder. If you are unsure about trimming your Toller’s nails yourself, seek guidance from a professional groomer or veterinarian.

Ear Care

Their ears should be checked weekly for any signs of redness, inflammation, or unusual odor, which could indicate an infection. Gently clean your dog’s ears with a soft cloth or cotton ball dampened with a canine ear-cleaning solution, being careful not to insert anything deep into the ear canal.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever running among tall grass
Photo: chris-mueller/Getty Images


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is an energetic and athletic breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. As a sporting dog originally bred for retrieving waterfowl, they possess a natural drive and stamina that need to be channeled through various forms of physical activity.

Exercise Amount & Types

A Toller’s exercise routine should ideally include at least one to two hours of daily activity, broken up into multiple sessions. This can consist of brisk walks, jogging, hiking, or playtime in a securely fenced yard or open area. Incorporating off-leash activities, such as fetch or frisbee, can help satisfy their retrieving instincts while providing a fun and engaging workout for both you and your dog.

Swimming is another excellent form of exercise for Tollers, as they are strong and agile swimmers with a natural affinity for water. Access to a safe body of water, like a lake or a pool, can provide a low-impact workout that helps build muscle strength and endurance without putting undue stress on their joints.

Dog Sports

In addition to physical exercise, the Toller’s intelligent and eager-to-please nature makes them highly suited for various dog sports and competitions.

Activities such as agility, obedience, rally, flyball, and dock diving not only provide a challenging workout but also help strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Participating in these sports can offer an opportunity for your Toller to showcase their natural abilities while keeping them mentally stimulated and socially engaged.

Exercise Precautions

When planning your Toller’s exercise routine, it is essential to consider factors like age, overall health, and individual energy levels.

Young puppies and senior dogs may have different exercise requirements than adult dogs, so it’s crucial to tailor activities to their specific needs. Always consult with your veterinarian before starting a new exercise program or if you have concerns about your Toller’s fitness level.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever sitting in winter outdoors
Photo: Anna-av/Getty Images


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is an intelligent and eager-to-please breed that typically excels in training. Their natural desire to work in partnership with their human handler, combined with their quick learning ability, makes them highly trainable and responsive to various training methods.

Tollers respond best to positive reinforcement techniques, such as reward-based training, where desired behaviors are reinforced with treats, praise, or playtime. This approach helps build a strong bond between you and your dog while keeping them motivated and engaged in the learning process.

It is essential to be patient, consistent, and clear with your expectations when training your Toller, as they thrive on structure and guidance.

Early socialization and obedience training should be a priority for Toller puppies, exposing them to various people, animals, and environments from a young age. This early exposure helps develop a well-rounded, confident, and adaptable adult dog.

Puppy training classes can provide a structured environment for learning basic commands and manners while offering valuable opportunities for socialization.

As a breed with a strong work ethic and inherent drive, Tollers often excel in advanced training and dog sports. Activities such as agility, obedience, rally, and scent work not only provide mental stimulation but also help channel their energy and natural instincts in a constructive manner.

Tollers can also be trained for various forms of canine-assisted activities, such as therapy work or search and rescue, where their intelligence and adaptability are put to good use.

It’s worth noting that Tollers can sometimes exhibit a stubborn or independent streak, which may require some persistence and creativity in training. Keeping sessions short, fun, and varied can help maintain their interest and prevent boredom. If you encounter challenges during training, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can offer tailored advice and support.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever sitting in the woods
Photo: Anna-av/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

The diet and nutrition of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or Toller, play a crucial role in maintaining their overall health, energy levels, and longevity. Providing your Toller with a well-balanced and appropriate diet is essential for supporting their active lifestyle and unique needs.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting a suitable food for your Toller, look for high-quality dry, wet, or raw food options that meet the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These guidelines ensure that the food contains all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals required for your dog’s optimal health.

It is essential to choose a formula that corresponds to your Toller’s life stage (puppy, adult, or senior) and is tailored to their specific activity level and nutritional requirements.

The amount and frequency of feeding depend on your Toller’s age, size, and activity level. Puppies typically require more frequent feedings (3-4 times a day) as they grow and develop, while adult dogs can be fed twice daily.

As a general guideline, you can refer to the feeding recommendations provided by the pet food manufacturer, adjusting as needed based on your dog’s individual needs and your veterinarian’s advice.

Active Tollers may require additional calories to support their energy expenditure, but it’s crucial to monitor their weight and body condition to prevent overfeeding and obesity. If you’re unsure about the appropriate portion sizes or calorie intake for your dog, consult with your veterinarian for guidance.


Treats can be a useful tool for training and reinforcing positive behaviors, but they should be given in moderation, as excessive treats can lead to weight gain and imbalances in nutrition. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats, and remember to account for them in your Toller’s overall daily caloric intake.


Fresh water should always be readily available for your Toller, ensuring they stay properly hydrated throughout the day. This is particularly important during hot weather or after exercise when there is an increased risk of dehydration.

toller standing on a beach
Photo: karsten_madsen/Pixabay


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is generally a healthy and robust breed with a life expectancy of around 12-14 years. However, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues. Being aware of these potential concerns and taking preventive measures can help ensure your Toller stays healthy throughout their life.

Some common health issues associated with the Toller breed include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and mobility issues. Regular screening and responsible breeding practices can help reduce the occurrence of this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye disorder that causes gradual vision loss, eventually leading to blindness. Reputable breeders should screen for this condition, and affected dogs should not be bred.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): This is another inherited eye disorder that can lead to vision impairment or blindness. It is essential to work with a reputable breeder who tests their breeding dogs for this condition.

Addison’s Disease: This is a hormonal disorder where the adrenal glands don’t produce sufficient hormones, leading to various symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, and weight loss. Regular veterinary check-ups can help diagnose and manage this condition early on.

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA): This is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks and destroys red blood cells, leading to anemia and related symptoms. Early detection and treatment are crucial for managing this condition.

To maintain your Toller’s overall health, a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs is essential. Choose high-quality food options that follow AAFCO guidelines and consult with your veterinarian for personalized recommendations based on your dog’s age, activity level, and specific requirements.

Regular veterinary check-ups, at least once a year for adult dogs and more frequently for puppies and seniors, can help identify potential health issues early on and ensure your Toller stays up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite prevention.

By taking a proactive approach to your Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s health, including regular veterinary care, a healthy diet, and responsible breeding practices, you can help your Toller enjoy a long, happy, and active life.

toller with a stick in its mouth
Photo: Birdienne/Pixabay


The history of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever can be traced back to the early 19th century in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. This unique breed was developed to serve a specific purpose: to lure and retrieve waterfowl for hunters. The Toller’s playful and energetic nature, combined with their striking red coat, made them particularly adept at “tolling” or luring curious ducks within shooting range.

The origins of the Toller breed are not entirely clear, but it is believed that the breed was developed through selective breeding of various retrievers, spaniels, and possibly farm collies.

The exact combination of breeds that contributed to the Toller’s development remains a subject of debate among experts. However, some likely contributors include the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Irish Setter, and English Springer Spaniel, among others.

The Toller’s unique method of tolling involves performing playful antics near the water’s edge, piquing the curiosity of ducks and enticing them to swim closer. Once the ducks are within range, the hunter can take their shot, and the Toller is then sent to retrieve the downed birds.

Their dense, water-repellent double coat and webbed feet make them well-suited for swimming in cold water, highlighting their adaptability as a working breed.

The breed remained relatively unknown outside of Canada until the latter half of the 20th century. In 1945, the Canadian Kennel Club officially recognized the breed under the name “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever,” making it the smallest of the recognized retriever breeds. The Toller’s popularity began to grow as more people discovered their versatility, intelligence, and affectionate nature.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) first registered the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in 2001, and the breed has since gained recognition as an exceptional sporting and companion dog. Today, the Toller can be found participating in various dog sports, such as agility, obedience, rally, and dock diving, showcasing their athleticism and eagerness to please.

In popular culture, the Toller has made a few appearances but remains less well-known than some other retriever breeds. The breed has been featured in television shows, such as “Dogs 101” on Animal Planet, which highlights different dog breeds and their characteristics.

Additionally, Tollers have been cast in movies like “The Breed” (2001) and “A Dog’s Purpose” (2017), showcasing their striking appearance and engaging personality.

Despite their increasing popularity, the Toller remains a relatively rare breed compared to other retrievers, such as the Labrador or Golden Retriever. This rarity can be attributed to their specialized origins and the fact that they were developed in a relatively isolated region of Canada.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in the United States is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA), or NSDTRC (USA). Founded in 1984, the club is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the Toller breed.

They provide valuable resources, education, and support for Toller owners, breeders, and enthusiasts. The club’s webpage can be accessed here webpage here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

toller puppy walking on grass
Photo: Dez_mez/Pixabay


When considering acquiring a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, it’s essential to prepare for the responsibility and commitment involved in owning this active and intelligent breed. Before bringing a Toller into your home, ensure you can provide ample exercise, mental stimulation, and proper training to meet their needs.

Rescuing a Toller rather than purchasing one from a breeder is a commendable option, as it provides a loving home to a dog in need. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) can help connect you with rescue organizations and available Tollers in need of adoption.

If you choose to buy a Toller, work with a reputable breeder who follows ethical breeding practices and prioritizes the health and temperament of their dogs. Always research and ask questions to ensure you’re making an informed decision when acquiring a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.


Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers good family dogs?

Yes, Tollers are generally excellent family dogs. They are known for their affectionate and gentle nature, forming strong bonds with their family members. They also tend to get along well with children, although supervision is recommended during playtime to ensure interactions are safe and respectful.

How much do Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers cost?

The cost of a Toller puppy from a reputable breeder can range from $1,500 to $2,500 or more, depending on factors such as pedigree, location, and availability. Keep in mind that additional expenses, such as vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and routine veterinary care, should also be considered.

Can Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers be left alone?

While Tollers can tolerate being left alone for short periods, they thrive on companionship and social interaction. Long periods of isolation may lead to boredom, anxiety, or destructive behaviors. It’s essential to provide mental stimulation, such as toys or puzzle feeders, and ensure your Toller receives adequate exercise and attention when you’re home together.

Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers friendly?

Tollers are generally friendly and outgoing dogs, enjoying the company of both humans and other animals. Early socialization is crucial to help them develop into well-adjusted, confident adults. However, some Tollers may exhibit reserved or cautious behavior around strangers, making proper introductions and positive experiences essential.

How much exercise do Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers need?

As an active and energetic breed, Tollers require regular exercise to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. Aim for at least an hour of daily activity, which can include walks, runs, swimming, or dog sports. Providing ample opportunities for play and exploration will help maintain their overall health and happiness.

Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers easy to train?

Tollers are intelligent and eager to please, making them highly trainable dogs. They respond best to positive reinforcement techniques, such as reward-based training. Early socialization and obedience training are essential, and their natural drive and work ethic make them excel in advanced training and dog sports.

Do Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers shed?

Yes, Tollers have a double coat that sheds throughout the year, with heavier shedding occurring during seasonal coat changes. Regular brushing, at least once a week, can help reduce shedding and keep their coat healthy. More frequent grooming may be needed during peak shedding periods to manage loose hair.

Fun Facts

  • Tollers are excellent swimmers and possess a water-repellent double coat, allowing them to stay comfortable and buoyant in the water. They’re not only adept at retrieving from land but also thrive in aquatic activities such as dock diving, water trials, and even surfing. Their natural affinity for water makes them a perfect companion for outdoor adventures near lakes, rivers, or the beach.
  • Did you know that Tollers have a unique feature called the “Toller scream”? When excited or wanting to communicate something, Tollers emit a distinctive vocalization that sounds like a mix between a howl and a high-pitched scream. It’s an amusing and endearing characteristic that sets them apart from other breeds. Be prepared for this quirky vocal expression that can both surprise and entertain.

Table of Contents