Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever as we know them today were developed in the community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, around the beginning of the 19th century. The breed was originally known as the Little River Duck Dog or the Yarmouth Toller.

The earliest records in Nova Scotia of hunters using dogs for tolling ducks is from the 17th century.

In the wild, a fox will play along the shoreline to lure in waterfowl. The birds become curious as they watch the appearance and disappearance of the fox’s playful actions. The waterfowl are enticed to the shore where they become easy prey for the fox.

Hunters inspired by the success of the foxes, trained their dogs to mimic the action of the foxes by throwing sticks and rocks for the dogs to retrieve.

The exact breeding origins of the Toller are not known. Possibly spaniel and setter-type dogs, retriever-type dogs, and farm collie may have gone into the mix. It is likely that the breed can trace origins to the now extinct St. John’s Water Dog and the Dutch tolling Kooikerhondje.

General Appearance

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller) was developed in the early 19th century to toll, lure, and retrieve waterfowl. The playful action of the Toller retrieving a stick or ball along the shoreline arouses the curiosity of the ducks offshore. They are lured within gunshot range, and the dog is sent out to retrieve the dead or wounded birds.

This medium sized, powerful, compact, balanced dog is the smallest of the retrievers. The Toller’s attitude and bearing suggest strength with a high degree of agility. He is alert, determined, and quick, with a keen desire to work and please.

Many Tollers have a slightly sad or worried expression when they are not working. The moment the slightest indication is given that retrieving is required, they set themselves for springy action with an expression of intense concentration and excitement. The heavily feathered tail is held high in constant motion while working.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) feels strongly that all Tollers should have these innate abilities, and encourages all Tollers to prove them by passing an approved Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) field test.


The Toller is highly intelligent, alert, outgoing, and ready for action, though not to the point of nervousness or hyperactivity. He is affectionate and loving with family members and is good with children, showing patience. Some individuals may display reserved behavior in new situations, but this is not to be confused with shyness. Shyness in adult classes should be penalized. The Toller’s strong retrieving desire coupled with his love of water, endurance and intense birdiness, is essential for his role as a tolling retriever.


Height at the withers – males, 18-21 inches. The ideal is 19 inches. Females, 17-20 inches. The ideal is 18 inches.


Color is any shade of red, ranging from a golden red through dark coppery red, with lighter featherings on the underside of the tail, pantaloons, and body. Even the lighter shades of golden red are deeply pigmented and rich in color. Disqualifications: brown coat, black areas in coat, or buff. Buff is bleached, faded, or silvery. Buff may also appear as faded brown with or without silver tips. Markings: the Toller has usually at least one of the following white markings – tip of tail, feet (not extending above the pasterns) chest and blaze. A dog of otherwise high quality is not to be penalized for lack of white.

Learn more at the Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever Club (USA).