What To Know About Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers


In this Article

  • Characteristics of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Caring for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Health Problems to Watch for with Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Special Considerations for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • History of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers — Tollers for short — are the smallest breed of retriever recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). They’re highly active members of the sporting group. 

These dogs can make fantastic family pets. Thanks to their looks — and personality — they can easily be mistaken for small golden retrievers. Just keep in mind, though, that these excitable dogs have a lot of extra energy to burn. You should only adopt one if you have the time and resources to properly care for them.   

Characteristics of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Body size. Although they’re the smallest of the retrievers, these dogs are medium in size. 

The average Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever size is slightly larger for males than for females. Males are typically between 18 and 21 inches high at the shoulder, while females are between 17 and 20 inches. 

Both sexes occupy the same weight range, with a healthy average ranging anywhere from 35 to 50 pounds. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned that your pet is too far under or over this range. 

Their medium size means that these dogs are great for travel. They were bred to enjoy the outdoors and would love nothing more than to hop in a car for a trip to a park or pond. They also need less space inside of the house — as long as you have the room to give them plenty of exercise in the outdoors. 

Body shape. These dogs have deep chests and strong, short backs. 

Typical Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever traits include a broad, slightly-rounded skull with a tapered muzzle. Their jaws are strong enough to easily retrieve and carry game — birds in particular.

Their ears are triangular shapes that are set high on their skulls. They have rounded tips and nicely frame the dogs’ faces. 

Their tails have luxurious, well-feathered coats and are held in a high, bouncing curve when they work. 

Lifespan. The average Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever life expectancy is good for their medium size. These dogs typically live from 12 to 14 years. 

Fur and eyes. Tollers sport three distinct coat colors: 

  • Buff
  • Red
  • Red-gold

They can also have white markings. 

These beautiful coats are doubled — meaning that they have two different types of coats, each with its own properties. The undercoat is soft and dense, and the outer coat is medium in length and mostly straight — though it can have some curl under the chin. Together, these coats make the dog almost entirely water-proof as it dives in and out of ponds to hunt. 

Their eyes are almond-shaped and set far apart. The color should blend with the coat or become slightly darker. 

Personality. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers have delightful personalities. They are loving, highly affectionate, and intelligent animals. 

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever temperament is alert and determined. They shouldn’t exhibit nervous or hyperactive behaviors. 

The AKC rates them a five out of five for their patience and friendliness with children and a four out of five for their interactions with other dogs. They can be slightly wary of strangers and new situations but will warm up quickly as soon as they feel safe. 

Caring for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Grooming. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever has standard grooming needs. Most of the time, you should brush them weekly to keep their coats looking their best. During shedding season, you should brush them daily to keep dead hair off of your furniture. 

You should also trim their nails regularly and brush their teeth daily. 

Feeding. Make sure that fresh water is available for your dog at all times. 

Tollers also need high-quality dog food — so find a nutritious brand that they like or consult your veterinarian about the best ways to make your own dog food. Make sure that you feed them an amount for their age and size. 

Always make sure you know what human foods are safe for dogs to eat before giving your pet any table scraps. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Tollers are incredibly energetic dogs. You need to make sure that you have the time, resources, and energy to commit to this dog before making a toller a part of your family. 

Vigorous daily physical exercise is best, such as a brisk 30-minute walk or an extended game of fetch. However, keep in mind that this breed is happy to keep playing fetch longer than is healthy for them. Stop playing if you notice any signs of distress — even if your dog is eager to keep going. 

They also need a good amount of mental stimulation. Interacting with you in outdoor sports and activities is a great way to meet both their physical and mental needs. Some owners enjoy training their dogs to participate in sports like flyball, agility, and fieldwork. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs, but all dogs should get a core set. These can begin as early as six weeks of age. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog’s weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors. Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. 

It’s also recommended that all dogs get heartworm medication year-round. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinations and other preventative medications throughout your dog’s lifetime to make sure that their treatments are compatible with the latest recommendations. 

Health Problems to Watch for with Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are generally quite healthy dogs, but there are still a number of problems to watch for.

These dogs are more prone to auto-immune issues than other breeds. Some other Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever health issues include: 

  • Hip dysplasia. This is a common issue in some breeds where the hip joint doesn’t fit together properly. Your veterinarian can check your dog’s joints to see how susceptible they are to injury. 
  • Progressive renal atrophy (PRA). Your dog needs regular eye exams to check for this condition. It affects about 7% of the dogs but is latently carried by 40% of the population. Carriers don’t have the condition themselves but can pass it on to their offspring. As the condition progresses, it can lead to complete blindness. 
  • Addison’s disease. This disease is ten times more likely to occur in this breed compared to others. It affects 1% of the breed and is carried by at least 18%. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. 
  • Thyroid problems. The most common thyroid issue for this breed is autoimmune thyroiditis. One in six tollers have this condition. It leads to weight gain and skin/hair problems. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsyFor unknown reasons, some dog breeds — including this one — can have issues with epileptic seizures.
  • Cleft Palate. One version of this birth defect is exclusive to this breed. Around 18% of the population carries this trait in their genes. 
  • Aseptic meningitis. In recent years, this diagnosis has greatly increased in frequency. Around 2.5% of the Toller population is affected. The symptoms include fever, sleepiness, and severe neck pain. 

Special Considerations for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Something to keep in mind with a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is that although they were originally bred to hunt, they now put this energy and ingenuity to work in many different types of jobs. In fact, when they set their minds on something, they can commit all of their focus and energy to the task at hand. 

This applies to fun things — like field trials for dog shows and playing fetch — as well as more annoying activities. For example, your dog will steal food off of the counters with all of the enthusiasm and skill that they bring to these other tasks. You’ll have to stay on your toes and be even more clever than they are to keep your dog from becoming the master of your house. 

Another unique consideration for this breed is that they have lower levels of genetic diversity compared to other breeds. One study found that around 90% of the diversity that’s present in their founding population has been lost through centuries of inbreeding. This could spell trouble for the breed in the long run because a lack of diversity increases health problems and limits your options for breeding selection. 

One fun Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever fact is that they have webbed feet. This helps make them excellent swimmers. 

Other special considerations for this breed include the fact that they rarely drool and typically will only bark when they have a very good reason. Few people would refer to these dogs as a “yappy” breed.  

History of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers have been around for around 200 years. They were bred in the early 19th century in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. They have many nicknames — and some former breed names — including:

  • Yarmouth Tollers — for the county in Nova Scotia where they come from
  • Little River Duck Dogs — for the region within the Yarmouth county where they were bred
  • Decoy dogs — because of their ability to mimic foxes

These dogs were bred for a very particular — and rare — ability. The word tollen means “to lure” in Middle English, and that’s exactly what these dogs are bred to do. 

Their behavior alongside the water is very similar to a trick that foxes evolved to use with waterfowl. Both foxes and Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers use flashy and seductive antics to lure waterfowl in toward the edges of ponds and other waterways so they’re close enough to be killed. 

The ducks are specifically lured by the color, quick movements and fluffy, bobbing tails of this breed. Sportsmen can play with their dogs by the water, and ducks will be just as mesmerized as they would be if a fox was around. Then — once the hunter has made a kill — the dogs can swim out, retrieve the body, and bring it back to their owner’s hand. To them, it’s like playing fetch in the water. 

Only one other dog breed is able to perform this somewhat bizarre duck-hunting technique. This other dog is called the Dutch Decoy Spaniel — or Kooikerhondje. 

No one is exactly sure about which other breeds were used to create the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, but experts think that it’s likely that their gene pool contains traces of: 

  • Spaniels
  • Setter-type dogs
  • Retriever-type dogs
  • Farm collies

Tollers became members of the Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 and were made the official provincial dog of Nova Scotia in 1955. 

The AKC didn’t acknowledge these dogs until 2001, but they became an official breed in the sporting group in 2003.  

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images


The American Animal Hospital Association: “2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines.”

American Heartworm Society: “Heartworm Medicine For Dogs.”

American Kennel Club: “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever,” “Official Standard for the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.”  

Europetnet: “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.” 

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: “Fleas.

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