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Ron Willbie, Animal Photography
Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography
The Toller, as he’s called for short, fits the bill as a companion for anyone who can match his boundless energy. Tollers are smart and easy to train, but they are independent and like to do things their own way. They have an attractive red coat that’s easy to care for and are excellent watchdogs.
The Toller’s red or orange coat gives him a foxlike appearance and has even given rise to the idea that he’s the result of a fox-Retriever cross, but that’s a genetic impossibility.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a small, enticing redhead with boundless energy. Right off the bat, he sounds appealing, but what’s with that name? The Toller, as he’s nicknamed, was developed in Nova Scotia’s Little River district by hunters who wanted a dog who would attract birds as well as retrieve them. That’s where the “tolling” comes in. The word refers to the dogs’ habit of “dancing” on the shoreline, enticing curious ducks to come in for a closer look. Yes, it really works! The Toller sounds like a fun and interesting dog, no doubt about it, but he has a complex personality and energy to spare.
The Toller has a lot going for him: personality, size, versatility, and an easy-care coat. But like most breeds, he’s not for everyone. Tollers are smart, independent, and active. Their alert nature makes them excellent watchdogs. They love their own people but are reserved around strangers. Their size suits them to condo or apartment living, but only if you are equally smart and active and able to meet their needs for exercise, entertainment, and consistent, patient training. The Toller is almost as intense as a Border Collie. Another drawback to having a Toller in an apartment is that he can be a screamer. When the Toller screams in excitement when he sees a bird out the window, your neighbors might not understand.
Channel his energy into dog sports such as agility, flyball, and flying disc games. Tollers take well to training, like most Sporting breeds, but they are thinkers and they want to do things their own way. With this breed, it’s important to establish rules, be consistent, and, above all, prevent the dog from getting bored. Use positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise, and food rewards. When the motivation is there, the Toller learns quickly and easily.
Like most dogs, Tollers become bored when left to their own devices. They can easily become noisy or destructive if they don’t have other dogs to keep them company and don’t receive much attention from their people. But when the Toller lives with a family who is willing to spend plenty of time training and exercising him, he thrives.
The Toller is a wash-and-go dog. His medium-length, water-repellent double coat requires only weekly brushing to keep mats and tangles at bay. During spring and fall shedding seasons, daily brushing will help keep excess hair under control. In addition, trim the nails as needed, clean the foot pads, and keep the ears clean and dry.
A people-loving dog like the Toller needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Toller who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever’s odd name comes from his ability to lure ducks within shooting range by “dancing” on the shore, a technique called tolling. Canada’s Micmac Indians admired the ability of foxes to entice ducks in this way, and they taught their dogs the behavior.
That was good, but wouldn’t it be better to have a dog that could also retrieve the ducks? That was the thought of hunters in Yarmouth County in Southwest Nova Scotia’s Little River district. Starting with the Micmac Indian dogs, they skillfully blended Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay and Flat-Coated Retrievers, a little Cocker Spaniel, a little Irish Setter, and a touch of farm Collie. When they were done, they had created a small, enticing redhaired dog with boundless energy. They called him the Little River Duck Dog.
For more than a century, the Little River Duck Dog was a secret known only to the hunters of Yarmouth County. But in 1945, the Canadian Kennel Club recognized the breed and gave it a new name: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2003. It currently ranks 107th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The Toller personality has been described as somewhere between a Golden Retriever and a Terrier. Individual dogs often have a sense of humor, and most Tollers have an outgoing, upbeat attitude. When they’re not playing or hunting, they’re content to lie down and be quiet. Tollers are adaptable, capable of easily going from one environment to another and tolerant of crate training and travel.
Like any dog, Tollers are not for everyone. They are smart, independent, and active. Their size makes them suitable for life in an apartment or condo, but only if they live with a smart, active owner who can meet their needs for exercise, entertainment, and consistent, patient training — not to mention keep them from screaming whenever they see a bird out the window.
As adults, Tollers have moderate exercise needs. City and suburban Tollers thrive on twice-daily walks and play groups in the park. Puppies are another story. Sometimes it seems as if they are born yipping and running around. During their first year, they are highly active and can even get on the nerves of adult dogs, let alone those of the people in the home. This high activity level tapers off as the pup matures, but that doesn’t mean the Toller can’t still be a challenge to live with.
A Toller has a mind of his own. He takes well to training, but his complex temperament drives him to understand the “why” of what he’s learning. Like an actor learning a role, the Toller wants to know “What’s my motivation?” Often, he thinks his way is better than your way, and it can be difficult to change his mind. Set firm rules, be consistent, and whatever you do, don’t let him get bored. If something is fun, the Toller will be happy to do it for a long time. If not, he’ll seek his own entertainment.
When training a Toller, positive reinforcement is the key. This is a sensitive dog who doesn’t work well under pressure and needs praise or other rewards when he is successful. Never be harsh, and don’t get into a contest of wills. The Toller will win. But when he’s motivated and having fun, the Toller learns quickly and easily.
Tollers are alert and observant. They learn a lot simply by watching, rather than being taught and take their cues from their owners. If you act negatively toward someone, your Toller will be suspicious as well. If you are open and friendly, a Toller will follow your lead. On his own, the Toller is typically reserved toward strangers. These qualities make him an excellent watchdog.
The Toller likes action, but he’s not the same kind of hard-driving, all-season hunter as a Labrador Retriever or Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He’s almost as intense as a Border Collie, but not quite as wired. This dog is best suited to life with a weekend hunter or an active family who will train him for such dog sports as agility and flyball.
Tollers can have negative traits. The dogs can be aggressive if they aren’t socialized early and often. A Toller left on his own all day is likely to bark, dig, and chew.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 7 or 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. A young Toller will test you to see what he can get away with. If possible, get him into a puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, so you can start building a strong working relationship, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Toller, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Conditions seen in the breed include hip dysplasia; patellar luxation (a condition in which the knee caps pop out of place); eye diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy; Addison’s disease; and hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disorder in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for genetic defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Toller to achieve CHIC certification, he must have hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an eye clearance from from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), and a DNA test for progressive retinal atrophy. University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP) certification of hips is also accepted.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. Having dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Toller at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Toller is a wash-and-go dog. His medium-length water-repellent double coat requires only weekly brushing to remove loose hair and prevent mats or tangles. Brush him daily during spring and fall, when he sheds heavily. As with most dogs, there is a certain amount of shedding year-round. Bathe him only as needed, which shouldn’t be more than a few times a year unless he rolls in something stinky.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails regularly, usually every week or two. Keep the ears clean and dry, and brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. And remember that breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Toller and start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club. Choose a breeder who obtains recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Toller puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Toller might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dogs of your dreams. An adult Toller may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Toller in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Tollers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Toller. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Tollers love all Tollers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Toller rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Toller home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Toller, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with puppy lemon laws, be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Toller to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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