What is a Toller?
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (often abbreviated as a Toller) was developed in Nova Scotia in the early 19th Century as a dual purpose hunting dog - they are used both to toll and retrieve waterfowl. Tolling means "to lure"...when tolling, the dog will run, jump and play along the shoreline, occasionally disappearing from sight and then quickly reappearing, aided by the hunter who will throw small sticks or a ball for the dog to retrieve. These tolling retrieves may be performed dozens or even hundreds of times. Ducks are very curious, and the dog's playful actions will eventually lure the ducks in to gunshot range. The hunter will then be able to shoot, after which the Toller will then be sent out to retrieve the dead or wounded birds.
Tollers are not only good hunting companions, they can also make an excellent family pet, provided they receive sufficient training and exercise! They are in general a very busy, active dog that needs a "job" so to say. Now, that doesn't mean it has to be anything very fancy.....even fetching a tennis ball in the backyard can be the dog's "job", as long as they get a chance to do their daily work and expend some of the energy, they can be a wonderful pet. They are very much like a Border Collie in that respect....not like the much more laid back Golden Retriever that many newcomers to Tollers expect. A fenced yard is highly recommended, as is regular trips to an offleash park or beach for free running, and if possible swimming.
Tollers are extremely intelligent and learn very quickly, but also are easily bored and can often have a bit of a stubborn streak...the secret to success in training a Toller is to find ways that make the Toller think that the whole thing was his idea all along! LOL
Like all dogs with a double coat, Tollers do shed. Not as bad as a German Shepherd or Malamute, but more than a Poodle or Terrier. They shed about the same as a Golden Retriever or Border Collie......low to moderate shedding throughout the year, with a big "coat blow" high shedding period once or twice a year.
Some Tollers can be barkers, they are very alert and make great watch dogs. Tollers not only bark, they also have an array of wines, howls, cries and screams! The "Toller Scream" is one of the identifying features of the breed (although some Tollers never seem to scream), and is usually emitted when the dog is very excited or frustrated. The "Hound from hell" alarm bark is another sound that seems to be unique to Tollers, it is a drawn-out combination of a regular bark and a scream and definitely gets peoples attention! It is best to teach a Toller from an early age just how much noise will be tolerated.
Tollers do best as house dogs, living inside with their family. Some can be quite active inside, others are very laid back indoors...early training has a lot to do with activity levels indoors. Most Tollers house-break fairly easily, especially when crate-trained. Many Tollers can be destructive chewers as puppies, and also tend to be very inquisitive and will get into anything and everything. (I have been know to find a puppy on the refrigerator, kitchen counters, on top of my computer monitor, sleeping in the bath tub, climbing a bookcase!)...again crate-training will help keep a puppy out of trouble when it is unsupervised. Some Tollers are outgoing and friendly with strangers, others are reserved, stand-offish and cautious until they get to know someone. And there are some Tollers that are very shy around strangers and never comfortable around new people. Although the latter should not be considered a correct temperament for the breed, it does exist nonetheless in some dogs.
As for temperatures, cold is not a problem at all.....but heat can be. Or more specifically, too much activity in high heat. Tollers don't know when to quit, and will keep playing and running when it is too hot and they are too tired. A number of Tollers have died from heat exhaustion. If you keep high activity times down to the coolest times of the day, and make sure plenty of shade and cool water is available (small plastic wading pools are popular, especially if you float a block of ice in it!), Tollers can do okay even in the hot summer months.
As you may already know, Tollers are not an easy breed to come by. Realistically, you can often expect to spend months to years waiting for a pup. Many breeders maintain waiting lists, and all good breeders will carefully screen their puppy buyers before even adding them to their waiting lists. Some breeders are like me, and maintain no waiting lists at all, and prefer to only accept applications when we actually know what we have available (in terms on sex, markings, temperament, drive and structure)
I've seen puppy prices in the breed range from $1500-4000, but $2500-3000 is probably average in Western Canada. Prices can vary from litter to litter, depending on the titles and bloodlines of the sire and dam, as well as what is included with the sale of the puppy.
Health-wise, there are a few areas of concern in the breed. I will get into greater details on my Health Clearances page on this site, but here is a bit of an overview.
Auto-immune disorders are more of a problem in Tollers than many breeds. This is partially because of the self-red coloration of the breed, and partially because of the limited breeding pool. Tollers also seem to be more sensitive to vaccinations than the average dog, and are rather prone to reactions. Tollers should receive only minimal vaccines, and no combination virus vaccines, only a single-virus vaccine per shot. Annual boosters are not recommended with this breed, a booster every 3-5 years is almost always more than sufficient, checking titer levels before any vaccinations would be even better.
Thyroid problems are also not uncommon, (probably the most common cause of thyroid issues is immune mediated, but there other forms as well). Epilepsy, Deafness, Chondrodysplasia, Pulmonary Stenosis and Megaesoghagus have been also known to occur and are believed to be hereditary, although we do not yet know the mode of inheritance on any of these conditions.
Hip Dysplasiand Elbow Dysplasia can both happen in Tollers, although not as common of a problem as in some larger breeds. By the Orthopedic Foundation For Animal's statistics, 6.5% of Toller hip x-rays and 2.5% of Toller elbow x-rays submitted to them for evaluation are dysplastic.
We are fortunate in Tollers that we have DNA genetic testing for quite a few diseases that can affect our breed. These tests include PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy - an eye disease), CEA/CH (Collie Eye Anomoly/Choroidal Hypoplasia - an eye disease), JADD (Juvenile Addisons Disease), CP1 (Cleft Palate 1), CLPS (Cleft Lip, Palate and Syndactyly), DM (Degenerative Myelopathy - this is similar to Lou Gehrigs disease in people), and DEN (Degenerative Encephalopathy - a brain disease)
Definitely do not consider buying a puppy unless both parents have been hip x-rayed and certified (by OFA or OVC), eyes certified normal (CAER exam) by an opthamologist, within the last 18 months. Also ask about DNA genetic testing. As long as at least one of the parents is Clear for any of the diseases we have a gene test for, you will not have to worry about your puppy being affected with that disease.
Please ask the breeder for proof that the health clearances have been done - this means they will be able to show you the results on the OFA database, or certificates from VGL or PawPrint etc for DNA testing. A breeder saying "my vet said he is fine" is NOT a health clearance for breeding!
I am seeing many potential buyers just assuming because the parents are CKC or AKC registered, or the breeder is a "famous" kennel, that it means all the dogs have all the needed clearances. This is unfortunately NOT true, there is breeders producing puppies from parents with partial or no health testing completed, and some even choosing to breed dogs anyway after failing a clearance test!
Before committing to buying a puppy from any breeder, ask the breeder about the health problems in their lines. What have they produced in the past, and what is in their dogs backgrounds? All dogs in this breed have health issues behind them, there is no totally "clear" lines, so if a breeder is not able to give you a helpful answer I'd advise you to look elsewhere. If the breeder isn't aware of the health history behind their dogs, they will have a very tough time selecting breeding partners that minimize the risk of hereditary diseases. If at any time you are not comfortable with the answer given by a breeder, go elsewhere!