Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever – Energetic, Playful, Athletic

This dog is the smallest of the Retrievers officially recognized by the AKC. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, often shortened to the much briefer “Toller,” has also been called “the Yarmouth Toller,” “the Little River Duck Dog” and the “Decoy Dog.”

Their name comes from their ability to lure ducks into hunters’ shooting range, as well as to retrieve the waterfowl once they were downed. As implied by their name, these dogs originated in Nova Scotia, more specifically Yarmouth.

The Nova Scotia Duck Toller is an excellent swimmer. This was important as once the hunters shot the ducks, the dogs would have to swim in the water to retrieve them.

If you’re looking for a spunky, active dog, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is for you!


  • Bred to lure waterfowl into shooting range by causing disturbances by the shore
  • Great swimmers
  • Often mistaken for small Golden Retrievers
  • Very active and intelligent dogs


These dogs come from the early 19th century, bred originally in the Yarmouth area of Nova Scotia, Canada. Bred specifically to imitate the coloring and feathered tails of foxes, Tollers were used to trick unsuspecting ducks and other waterfowl into entering a hunter’s shooting range.

Hunters required a dog that would be able to “toll,” which comes from a Middle English word meaning “to lure.” These dogs would splash around the shores while hunters hid nearby. The disturbance these dogs would cause would lure the waterfowl into shooting range, allowing the hunters to bring them down more effectively.

Tollers were first recognized by the AKC as an official breed in 2003. When the AKC approved this breed, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever became the AKC Stud Book’s breed with the longest name.

Appearance and Vital Stats

General Appearance

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever General Appearance

These are medium sized athletic dogs. Although when resting these dogs might appear sad or concerned, as soon as these dogs leap into action you’ll find their expressions changing to ones of vigor and alertness.

Dog Breed Group

Like other Retrievers, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is part of the Sporting Group. These are dogs that are smart and active, with the ability to work closely with humans. You’ll find these dogs enjoying any activity that has to do with being outdoors, and the Toller especially tends to thrive in the water.


As medium sized dogs, male Tollers will stand at about 18 to 21 inches, with females measuring between 17 to 20 inches. A healthy Toller will weigh in somewhere between 35 to 50 pounds.

Life Span

You can expect your healthy Toller to live somewhere around 12 to 14 years.

Coat and Colors

Because Tollers were bred specifically for working in the water, they were bred to have water resistant coats to protect them from the cold Nova Scotia waters. These dogs have a double coat, with the top coat being medium-length. Their undercoat is dense and soft. You might find your Toller with a slight wave in the fur on his back, but otherwise the rest of his coat will be straight. You’ll find feathering on the tail, feet, ears, and hocks.

The Toller was bred to replicate the coloring of foxes. For this reason, you’ll find Tollers in varying shades of red, including copper and golden red. He’ll also have white markings, usually around the feet, the tip of his tail, his chest, and down the center of his face in what’s called a “blaze.”

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Coat and Colors

Tollers shed regularly, but a weekly vacuuming or sweeping should be all you need to keep your floors from getting too covered in fur. During shedding season, however, you might find yourself needing to sweep every other day or so.


Tollers have long tails that will reach the dog’s hock when relaxed and held down. When the Toller is alert and excited, it will hold the tail upright in a high curve without touching the dog’s back.


A Toller’s ears will be set high on his head, flopping over onto the sides of his head in a V-shape. The base of the ear is very slightly erect, and there might be some amount of feathering of the fur on the back of the ear’s fold.


Although the expressions these dogs have when relaxed might make them appear concerned or feeling blue, these dogs are anything but. Tollers are bright, affectionate dogs that are known for being outgoing. Many of them also seem to have a sense of humor, so prepare to laugh a lot if you’re thinking of bringing a Toller into your home.

Their high levels of intelligence make these dogs very trainable. Being highly trainable was necessary when they were being used primarily as hunting dogs, since obeying their master’s orders was the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful hunting venture. Today, being so trainable makes them fun, engaging family dogs.

These dogs do tend to bark, and will be sure to alert you to any strangers approaching your home.

But don’t worry, it’s not all work and no play with this breed. You’ll find that Tollers are very playful—and you will have to play to burn off some of your Toller’s excess energy!

Apartment Living

One of the greatest things about this breed is how highly adaptable they are. They’ll do just as well in the city as they will on a farm, and many of them are able to live happily and comfortably with their owners in apartment buildings.

Because they are so high energy, however, you will have to make sure that they are able to get enough exercise if you’re planning on bringing one into your apartment. Another thing to consider: since these dogs do tend to bark, they may not be best for an apartment. Their barks are quite high-pitched and loud, which your neighbors might not appreciate.

Children & Other Pets

As friendly, outgoing dogs, Tollers do great with kids and other dogs. Their high energy and playful personalities will make them a delight when they’re playing with your kids. Just remember to never leave your children and pets together unsupervised, and teach your kids how to properly approach a dog.

Tollers will be friendly and welcoming with other dogs. They’ll also do well with cats.



When it comes to feeding your Toller, make sure to choose a high-quality dog food. You should feed your Toller 2 ½ to 3 cups of dog food a day. To keep him feeling full and prevent him from overeating, it’s best to split this up into 2 separate meals.

Tollers don’t have a tendency to become obese, but it’s still important to make sure he isn’t overeating, and that he’s getting enough exercise throughout the day to keep him at a healthy weight. To check that he’s not over or under weight, put your hand on your dog’s back with your fingers pointed down. You should be able to feel his ribs without pressing down, and they shouldn’t be visible.


You shouldn’t need more than a weekly brushing to help maintain the health of your dog’s coat. During your Toller’s shedding season, however, you’ll probably need to brush your dog daily.

Because Tollers might have some feathering around his legs, tail, and ears, some owners choose to trim the fur in those areas to help keep them clean and tidy. Make sure trim your Toller’s nails weekly.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Exercise

Tollers are very active dogs, and will need a lot of exercise to keep them from channeling their energy into anything destructive. A couple of 30 minute walks or jogs a day plus some playtime inside or in the yard will be the minimum of his exercise requirements. It might be a good idea to consider signing him up for dog sports like disc or flyball, which are great ways for dogs and owners to bond while at the same time getting rid of a dog’s excess energy.

If you have a pool or live near the beach, your Toller will be one happy camper—these dogs love to swim!

With such high energy levels, Tollers will definitely keep you busy. But if you love being active, a Toller will certainly help keep you motivated to exercise!


If you decide to get a Toller, you’ll be getting a pretty hardy and generally healthy breed. Like all breeds, however, Tollers can be more prone to some health problems than others.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a hereditary condition that occurs when the ball and joint of the dog’s hip don’t fit together properly. The bones in a healthy hip joint should glide together. But with hip dysplasia, the bones instead will grind together, which over time will cause degeneration of the joint. This will lead to arthritis and, potentially, lameness.

Although hip dysplasia tends to mostly affect large and giant breeds, it is a common medical problem among Tollers.

The most common sign of hip dysplasia is limping and favoring the leg. If you notice your dog limping, schedule an appointment with your vet.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This is a condition of the eye caused by the loss of cells in the retina of the dog’s eye. Tollers are affected by a particular type of progressive retinal atrophy called “progressive rod-cone degeneration.”

Over time, this will lead to blindness. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for PRA. Many dogs who do go blind, however, are able to use their other senses to continue living happy and fulfilling lives.

Collie Eye Anomaly

This is an eye condition most commonly seen in Collies. It can, however, also affect the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. This condition affects the dog’s retina, sclera, and choroid. It is a hereditary condition caused by a recessive gene defect that in some cases will eventually lead to blindness.

Like PRA, CEA is not a curable condition. Dogs that eventually go blind, however, will still be able to use their other senses to get around.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

The thyroid is a gland in the neck that is in charge of the hormones that help regulate the metabolism. Autoimmune thyroiditis is a common disease in Tollers, in which the body’s immune system incorrectly sees the thyroid and the hormones it produces as threats to the body. Signs include weight gain, loss of hair, and sensitivity to the cold.

Similar Breeds

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Originating in the Netherlands, the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje was first bred as a duck hunter. They are recognizable for their long, silky looking coats, and their white and brown fur with black on the ears.

Also part of the Sporting Group, these dogs stand shorter than the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Males measure about 15 to 17 inches tall, and females 14 to 16 inches. They weigh less than the Toller too, with healthy dogs weighing somewhere between 20 to 30 pounds.

They shed about the same amount as the Toller. But when it comes to exercise, you’ll find the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje needs less than the Toller to keep from being destructive.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever

Ranked by the AKC as the number 1 most popular breed, Labrador Retrievers are friendly, energetic family dogs. Their fur can range in color from brown to black to yellow.

These are large dogs, and range from 22.5 to 24.5 inches tall for male dogs, and 12.5 to 23.5 inches for females. A male lab might weight somewhere between 65 to 80 pounds, and a female around 55 to 70.

Like Tollers, Labs are super playful dogs that love to please their owners. Labs are also incredibly active and energetic dogs who will require a lot of exercise.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever

Another fellow Retriever, the Golden Retriever is one of the most well-known and beloved dog breeds. You’ll recognize these dogs for their fur ranging from a light gold to a deeper red. In fact, many Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are thought to be just small Golden Retrievers by those who don’t know any better.

Golden Retrievers are large dogs, standing at 23 to 24 inches tall for males, and 21.5 to 22.5 inches tall for females. Healthy male Golden Retrievers will weigh in around 65 to 75 pounds, and females 55 to 65 pounds.

Golden Retrievers are very smart dogs, and easy to train. Like the Toller, they also have high activity levels, and will need lots of mental and physical stimulation throughout the day.