What Do You Know About Tollers?

December 16, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

Another nice-looking Toller (source: completedogsguide.com).

I (Jay) had never seen nor head of a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever until the 2011 Pheasant Fest last winter. In fact, when the guy I was talking to about the dog told me, I thought he was yanking my chain.

Who in their right mind would give anything that long a name? And WTH was duck “tolling” anyhow?

Come to find out he wasn’t lying, and that duck tolling is this interesting/crazy thing these dogs do. Apparently movements of some kind that attract ducks to shore, so hunters of yore could bag them easier (more on that below).

This all came back to me when, in my current dog-buying mood, I learned from the good folks at Pheasants Forever that Lakota Retrievers would be at Pheasant Fest again this year. And since I’ve vowed never to miss another one of what is the most Serious upland show in the world, my thoughts drifted in this direction:

Hmmm. My son wants a Golden, but it’s too big for our house, especially with a Lab incoming. Tollers, as they’re called, look like small Goldens. Maybe…?

So I hit the Lakota site, and near the top of the puppies page I see a link to “Top 10 Reasons NOT to Get a Toller.” Huh? You can click the link to read the 10 reasons, but these two stood out for me:

7. The scream – Many Tollers have a penetrating scream which they produce to indicate excitement and eagerness. To the uninitiated, this can sound like the dog is being fed into a wood chipper; it’s high pitched, frantic and loud….

2. Smart, smart, smart – It cannot be stressed enough that this is a dog with brains to spare. Keeping all that intelligence focused and busy is a big challenge. These dogs MUST be given at least basic obedience training, and many toller owners are active in several dog activities (hunting, agility, flyball, tracking, competitive obedience) just to keep their Tollers occupied….

Not looking like a slam dunk for my household. But it did make me want to hit YouTube to hear the scream and see if there was any video of this duck-tolling thing. Here’s what I found.

This doesn’t sound woodchipper-like….

Can’t tell if this is tolling, the ducks think the dog is sexy or the ducks just expect to swim over and get fed….

Of course, 99% of the YouTube vids are puppies and pets. So over to Google and from there I find the following:

What is Duck Tolling?

The most important and unique feature of the Toller is that it tolls ducks. (The word “tolling” means “to draw or entice,” from the Middle English word, “tollen.”) The idea of using a dog to toll, decoy or attract ducks, comes from the relationship between ducks and the red fox which the Toller was bred to resemble.

The idea was not new, as tolling dogs of no particular breed were used in Europe, possibly as far back as 1625, to lure waterfowl in to large nets. Interest in the idea of a Tolling dog in Nova Scotia probably came from the Acadians or the Mic-Mac Indians of the area who are believed to have had a fox-like dog which they used to catch or net ducks.

When ducks see a fox playing on the shore of a lake or other body of water, they will approach him much like a swallow approaches a crow, or a crow approaches an owl. Whether they do this to tease or drive off, is not known, but they will sometimes approach from great distances…as long as the fox is visible. They will come with their heads erect or stretched, hissing like an old gander around the farmyard.

The logical explanation of the attraction of duck to fox (or tolling dog) is the fact that the fox is a natural enemy of the duck…. The fox seems to be aware of this attraction and uses it to its advantage, as ducks will sometimes come close enough to be caught, providing the fox with a good meal.

Sometimes two foxes will work together, one playing on the shore, the other hiding in the grass. When the ducks approach, the fox hiding in the grass will leap out and catch one of the ducks and the two foxes will share the meal.

When in action, the Tolling dog makes no sound, and unlike the fox, does not try to catch the ducks, or does not go into the water. It is simply his presence and playful movements that attract the ducks.

The hunter will set up in a blind, or hide in the grass on the shore of a lake, river, or tidal marsh. If there are ducks far out in the water, out of shotgun range, the hunter will allow his Toller, which is at all times under his control, to play along the edge and by doing so, the ducks will be attracted within shooting range.

When they are in range, he will stand or somehow cause the ducks to fly, thus making them more vulnerable targets and lessening the chances of losing wounded or crippled ducks. When the shooting is over, the Toller then acts in its second capacity, as a retriever….

Is that fascinating or what? It would seem from reading that that the most important trait of a Toller to attract ducks is color.

How did breeders produce this dog? Well, according to the same website:

…a female, liver-colored, English Flat-Coated retriever [mated with] a short-coated Labrador-like retriever. Bitches from the resulting litter were bred to a brown Cocker Spaniel.

Very shortly afterward, a crossing with an Irish Setter introduced the fox red color…. It is also possible that breedings with the Collie or Shetland sheepdog were introduced to produce the heavily feathered tail and the herding instincts which the Toller now possesses.

The possibility of breeding with the Brittany Spaniel and the Golden Retriever at some time cannot be ruled out. The idea was to develop a dog that resembled the red fox….

Sounds like a lot of work to kill some ducks, but a fascinating breed and one that apparently does well as a flusher of upland birds. Anyone who has one or who’s seen one, let us know what you know!


> Seriously do not miss Pheasant Fest if you can make it this February. If you’re in any way Serious, you’ll have a great time, as will your family, and probably learn a thing or two.


Category: Dogs in general, Lakota Retrievers, Pheasant Fest, Tollers

Comments (4)

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  1. Hi Jay,

    Why are you getting a lab? You should have gotten a Brittany if you were looking for an inexpensive versatile hunting dog. We’ll talk griffons at Pheasant Fest, then maybe when you’re ready for the luxury SUV of hunting dogs, you’ll be in the know:)

    Looking forward to meeting you at PF, will you have a booth or just be roaming?

    Bluestem Kennels
    and Versatile Hunter

    • admin says:

      Is there an inexpensive dog?! Seriously though, I’m getting a Lab because it’s the path of least resistance right now. See you at PFest, will just be roaming….

  2. Darcy says:

    Hi Jay… thanks for sharing your new found knowledge of the Toller here. I have been owned by two tollers for about 7 years, shown in conformation and hunted every season. They are, in my opinion, one of the most versatile breeds out there. They are wonderful family pets, tireless bird dogs and just a lot of fun to have around. I highly recommened them for people who want a companion dog that hunts.

  3. will says:

    well, i just got back from grouse huinting with my little river (toller) and she found me 6 in 2 hours. Im from nova scotia and have always had a little river since i was a kid.

    You may have noticed i was saying little river instead of nova scotia duck tolling retreiver. ONe hell of a name isnt it! this breed was actually started by bird hunters in little river, nova scotia, just outside of tusket nova scotia. Everyone (those who are’nt yuppie dog lovers from the city) call it a little river. Short and sweet.

    Im in a perfect spot for bird hunting, as theres a salt marsh on one side of my house and a 200 acre piece of land i own filled with thickets, popples and lots of spruce and ferns on the other. Many days i go partidge hunting in the morning and duck or goose in the evening.

    These dogs are naturals at just about everything. I use her in febuary to find sheddings from deer and for phesant and partridge hunting. From what i hear the prices everywhere except for nova scotia are ridicoulus. 1300 bucks for a dog! i dont think so buddy. I payed 300 for her, pure bred and a good hunter.

    I really would recommend this breed for anyone who wants a good hunting companion, or just a good house pet. None i have hunted with (ive owned about 9) have been gun shy from the get go. They are very freindly and good with kids. If you have the option, id say you should get this dog. Its worth the money (for whatever your paying) and as for the whole top 10 reasons not to get one, thats a load of bull shit.

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