Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium sized breed of dog belonging to the gundog group. It should be compact and has a distinctive red coat that gives it a fox-like appearance. It was developed in Canada as a gundog used to work in water and arrived in the UK relatively recently. The breed has a bouncy, kind temperament and makes a good family dog, getting along well with children.

The Toller is an energetic breed that needs an active lifestyle and plenty of mental stimulation to keep it engaged. This means that it excels when it has a job or purpose in life. The breed’s coat is thick and can shed heavily, but does not need expert grooming. Despite being a functional dog, the breed can unfortunately be prone to a number of different health problems, so it is important to read up about these and choose a responsible breeder if you are thinking of getting a puppy.

About & History

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a medium sized gundog that originates from Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, Canada. It arrived in the UK in the 1980s and is affectionately known amongst fans of the breed as the Toller. Other more formal names for the breed include the Yarmouth Toller and the Tolling Retriever. It is thought to have been developed through crossing several different breeds that include: the Brittany Spaniel, Irish Setter, Golden Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever and possibly even with the introduction of some Collie blood towards the end of the 1800’s, although it was not until the mid 1900s that the breed was recognised officially.

The Toller has a strong working instinct and was bred to act as a decoy, romping near the edge of water to lure curious ducks and geese out of the cover of reeds and other vegetation on the shore to investigate the commotion, allowing the hidden hunter a clear shot. This is known as ‘tolling’ hence the breed’s name. It would then retrieve the game. It has a love of water and an exceptional ability to swim, with specially adapted webbed feet that aid it.


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Large Photo

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a fox like appearance and comes in different varieties of red, with or without white markings:

  • Buff
  • Buff & White
  • Red
  • Red & White

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is compact and should stand between 45 and 51 cm high at the withers and weigh from 17 to 23 kg with a powerful appearance. The breed has a strong, medium length neck and shoulders and holds its elbows close to its chest that should be deep. It has a fairly short back and a strong, level topline, which leads to straight, muscular hind legs. The Toller has distinctive webbed feet that aids it when swimming. The tail should be wide at the base and narrow further down, with plenty of feathered hair. It should be carried high, curving over when alert.

The breed has a wide, wedge shaped skull, with flat cheeks and a tapering muzzle. Jaws should be healthy and strong and the mouth should contain a full set of strong teeth – although the breed should be capable of being very soft with its mouth. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has wide set, almond-shaped eyes that should be a similar colour to the coat. The ears should be high set and drop over giving them a triangular appearance.

The Toller should look springy and bouncy while moving, with some sense of power. The breed should cover plenty of ground with each pace and the back end should drive the movement forward.

Character & Temperament

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a kind, bouncy breed that is confident and friendly and has an underlying intelligence to its character. It is a breed that is driven by work and will endlessly fetch and retrieve. The Toller is excellent with children and its playful temperament means it makes a great playmate.

Depending on individual character, the breed can sometimes be a little more reserved around strangers than with its own family but it is not a guard dog by nature. This said, it can be quite vocal at times, either due to excitement or to warn of any danger it perceives on their home turf.


Photo of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is exceptionally willing and eager to please that means that training is generally fairly easy and rewarding. The breed is quick to pick up on commands and mostly obedient and focused on its owner, meaning that it is fast to understand the concept of recall training. It does, however, have a strong gundog instinct and can be prone to chasing cats and other small animals, so it is therefore important that the breed is well socialised from the start of life with other pets if expected to share a home.

Equally, house training does not usually present an issue and the Toller quickly learns to keep its home clean. The Toller will also require plenty of mental stimulation and really enjoys having a purpose in life, which means kind consistent training. Well-established rules from the start are a must to stop it becoming too big for its boots or developing unwanted or destructive behaviours.


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever usually lives for around 10 years. The breed is unfortunately affected by quite a number of health problems, probably due to the low numbers of breeding dogs and the reduced gene pool that this creates. Testing for some of these conditions is obligatory for registered breeders and the rate of occurrence of certain conditions varies between countries:

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

PRA is a disease that causes atrophy of the retina in the area of the eye where images are formed. The condition usually presents itself as a loss of night sight and then gradually worsens. There are different types of retinal atrophy and the speed at which they develop varies. Breeders must use the DNA test for the condition.

Choroidal Hypoplasia

Choroidal hypoplasia is sometimes known as Collie Eye Anomaly and, in severe casas, causes blindness, but the degree of severity can vary greatly. It is a genetic disease caused by abnormal development in various parts of the eye. Puppies should have their eyes tested at a young age to check for the condition and there is a mandatory DNA test for Kennel Club Assured Breeders.

Degenerative Encephalopathy

This condition affects the nervous system and causes the area of the brain responsible for movement to function abnormally. Signs include a lack of coordination and behavioural changes. Over time, clinical signs worsen and in most cases euthanasia is necessary as the effects on the dogs quality of life are very severe. There is an obligatory DNA test for the condition.

Hip Dysplasia

Dysplasia refers to abnormal development. These changes in the hips usually present as a problem when the dog is older, causing arthritis and pain. Dogs must be a year old before having their hips evaluated and a ‘score’ is assigned to each dog depending on the changes visible in radiographs. The lower this score is, the fewer abnormalities present. Testing is mandatory for breeding dogs.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a condition causing the nervous tissue in the spinal cord to degenerate. It usually occurs when dogs are older and the first signs are a lack of coordination in the back legs. As the disease progresses it affects other areas of the body and eventually results in paralysis. There is no cure for the disease, but it can be tested for using a DNA test.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is also called hypoadrenocorticism. The adrenal glands do not secrete hormones as they would in a healthy dog and this causes many knock on effects, which present as tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of interest in food, amongst other signs. The disease can be treated using medication but this requires consistency and dedication and is life-long.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia, similarly to hip dysplasia refers to an abnormal development in the elbow joint, which eventually causes joint problems. There is a large genetic component to the condition and ideally only dogs with no signs of the disease should be used for breeding.

Chondrodystrophy and Intervertebral Disc Disease

Chondrodystrophy is a genetic trait causing bones to become shorter than they should be – often seen in breeds with shorter legs, such as the Toller. As well as affecting the legs, this can affect the intervertebral discs in the spine.

If discs degenerate they are more likely to herniate and cause compression of the spinal cord. This causes inflammation, severe pain and can result in permanent paralysis. Surgery is often necessary, but is not always successful in addition to being expensive.

Immune Mediated Problems

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a breed that seems to have a predisposition to immune mediated problems. These include:

Steroid Responsive Meningitis

The cause of this disease is unknown and it occurs more frequently in certain breeds. It is thought to have an autoimmune component and this causes inflammation that results in neck and back pain. It usually occurs in young dogs and can be treated using steroids, but treatment is often prolonged and needs to be carefully monitored.

Immune Mediated Polyarthritis

This condition occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, causing a type of arthritis. This results in pain and inflammation in the joints that is extremely uncomfortable. Treatment revolves around using immunosuppressive medications.

Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis

There are three types of GME and it affects the central nervous system and symptoms vary depending on where the disease occurs, but they are all neurological. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs can achieve remission but this is not necessarily permanent.

Kennel Club Recommendation for Breeders

The Kennel Club states various recommendations for breeders to try and improve the health of the breed, which include:

  • Female dogs younger than two should not be bred
  • Female dogs should not have more than one litter of puppies in any twelve-month timeframe
  • Male dogs under two should not be used for breeding
  • Participation in the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Eye Scheme

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is an active dog with stamina that comes from working roots. It is therefore most satisfied with an active lifestyle, needing approximately an hour to an hour and a half of outdoor exercise a day –ideally spent off the lead.

The breed thrives on plenty of mental stimulation, flourishing on having a job to do and this means it makes an excellent choice for those wishing to get involved in modern dog activities, such as agility, flyball, tracking and obedience trials or for those who are looking for an excellent working retriever.


The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has a dense water-repellant, insulating coat that is low maintenance, only requiring intermittent brushing at home but the Toller can shed heavily, especially during seasonal coat changes.

This means that at these times brushing at least once a week is necessary to prevent excessive amounts of hair being left around the house, on people’s clothes and in the car. The breed’s love of water can mean that they need to thoroughly dried after any walk where they have the opportunity to swim.

Famous Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is infamous as a gundog breed, however, it is not a common breed in popular culture and to date none have become famous outside their working field.

There are plenty of pseudo-famous Tollers within the Instagram world though if you just search #novascotiaducktollingretriever.


There are not any well-known Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever cross-breeds – most likely due to its relatively small population and the fact it is not a common breed.

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