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Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever standing in a field

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Sporting group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height — 17-21 inches
  • Weight — 35-50 pounds
  • Coat length & texture — Medium length, double coat
  • Coat color — A stunning crimson or red gold, though some may have a golden red or dark coppery color coat, with white markings
  • Exercise needs — High
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Lifespan — 12-14 years
  • Temperament — Playful, energetic, adaptable, friendly
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever fun facts 

👉 Coming up with a pet name can be fun but tricky. Search no further! According to PetScreening’s 2024 database, the majority of our users name their male Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers Cooper; Bear is the 2nd most popular male name. Meanwhile, most of our users with female Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers love Penny and Lola equally.

  • The “toller” name comes from their breeding background. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers were initially bred to “toll,” or entice, waterfowl out of their hiding places so hunters could get to them.
  • Some people call them the little red duck dog. Bred as a hunting dog, the tolling retriever was originally called the “little red duck dog” because it tended to hunt waterfowl.
  • Their web feet and double coat mean they were practically made for the water. This might explain why Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are so effective at hunting ducks, geese, and other waterfowl.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever on the beach

Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever temperament and characteristics

Playful and energetic, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, also known as the little red duck dog or the Yarmouth toller, makes a wonderful companion for active adults or families with kids looking for an excuse to get outside. Like most retrievers, tollers are eager to please, which means they can be easy to train, so long as they don’t get frustrated. What’s more, because of their intelligence, they need mental stimulation like training sessions or even obstacle courses to keep them entertained.

Like with any breed, there are a few downsides to this loveable little red dog. The biggest issue? Their need for constant stimulation. Tollers need plenty of attention to keep them from becoming disruptive. Bored or anxious duck tollers tend to bark a lot, and they may bite, chew, or dig to let off excess energy. They are also prone to separation anxiety, so if your job demands long hours, you might want to look into a more independent breed.

Common Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever health problems 

For the most part, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are healthy dogs. However, there are a few health issues all dogs face, and some conditions tend to show up more often in this breed. Some of these issues include:

  • Hip dysplasia. This condition is relatively common in most medium or large breeds. It occurs when the hip joint doesn’t fit together properly.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy. This condition occurs when the rods and cones in a dog’s retinas begin to deteriorate (or atrophy), eventually leading to blindness.
  • Addison’s disease. This disease involves low hormone output by the adrenal glands and is 10 times more likely in this breed than in others. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis. More common in retrievers, autoimmune thyroiditis occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy. The main cause of recurrent seizures in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5, idiopathic epilepsy , or spontaneous epilepsy, is likely caused by a pre-existing or hereditary chemical or functional defect in the brain.
  • Cleft palate. A particular type of cleft palate , the CP1 variant, is exclusive to tollers.
  • Aseptic meningitis. It’s estimated that 2.5% of the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever population has been affected by this disease, marked by symptoms such as fever, sleepiness, and severe neck pain.

Cost of caring for Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

Adopting or buying any dog can be pricey, but there are several things to keep in mind with this particular breed. If you suspect your dog has Addison’s disease, for example, the diagnosis process alone could range from $500 to $1,500, depending on their symptoms. Once your dog is diagnosed with Addison’s, medications could cost between $50 and $200 a month, based on the type of medical regimen your veterinarian prescribes.

It’s a good idea to invest in pet health insurance to help reduce out-of-pocket expenses not only in the case of emergencies but for routine check-ups as well. Purchasing a policy when you first adopt your new pup will save you more money in the long run. IF you elect not to go with pet insurance, you might consider creating a pet savings account specifically for veterinarian visits, grooming appointments, supplies, and more.

Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever puppy running through grass

History of the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

The early history of the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is quite mysterious, though the practice of tolling or luring waterfowl with dogs is documented as far back as the 17th century. No one has been able to track down the true origins of the dog, except that the breed was likely created by fishermen and farmers who knew how the fox’s color and movements fascinated ducks and other waterfowl and sought to mimic it in a hunting dog that could draw them out. They likely combined a retriever with either a setter, a collie, or perhaps a spaniel, producing the distinctive white marks.

U.S. introduction

Throughout the 20th century, the toller was particularly popular in the United States and Canada but nearly went extinct in the 1970s, as farmers worked  the dogs but neglected to breed them. The breed made a comeback when a dedicated group of toller lovers formed Tradewind tollers in 1984, responsible for breeding more Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers in the United States. Eventually, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2003.

The toller is the smallest of the retriever family but exhibits the same energy and friendly disposition as its taller retriever friends. Here’s how it compares to more well-known retrievers in the U.S.:

Labrador retrievers

Taller and extremely versatile, the Labrador retriever actually originates from Newfoundland, 280 nautical miles from Nova Scotia. Like the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Labrador retrievers love the water. For 30 years, they’ve remained the most popular dog breed in America.

Golden retrievers

Also excellent swimmers, golden retrievers hail from Scotland. They have a long coat more reminiscent of the toller than the Labrador retriever. Easy to train and with a loving disposition, golden retrievers often serve as emotional support dogs or service dogs.

Chesapeake Bay retrievers

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are American retrievers, the official state dog of Maryland since 1964. They are also exceptional waterfowl hunters, like the toller, and require the same level of mental stimulation to keep them from becoming destructive or anxious.

Caring for your Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

Caring for any dog can be overwhelming, and a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is no different. You will need to make your first trip to the vet, and you’ll also need to schedule your dog’s vaccinations.

You will also want to puppy-proof your home and prepare for teething. As you adjust to life with your new puppy, you probably won’t want to think about the worst-case scenario. FidoAlert provides a free Fido ID and tag so you’re prepared just in case. Here are some other basics specific to the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.


As a hunting dog and a retriever, the toller has plenty of energy — and they absolutely need an outlet for it so they don’t get destructive. Most experts recommend an hour of exercise a day. You could also take your duck tolling retriever for a 30-minute walk and then play 30 minutes of fetch to make sure they get enough exercise.

Bred for the water, Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers love to swim, so if you live close to a lake or a pond, you can definitely take them out to the water — just make sure it’s safe. Tollers also make great hiking buddies, so if you’re planning a trip to the mountains, don’t be afraid to bring them along. While they were bred for cold-weather hunting — they were quite popular in Canada, after all — they do well in the heat, too. Just be sure not to shave the double coat, as it provides natural air conditioning, and shaving the coat may make them less comfortable in hotter temperatures.

Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever in a forest


The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever has a double coat, which requires weekly brushing to keep it looking its best. Expect to make that a daily routine during shedding season to keep your house from becoming a hair-littered nightmare. You will want to pay special attention to the area around and under the ears to keep them from knotting, and you should keep an eye on their toes. Because of the webbing, the toller can lose traction if excess hair grows too long around the toes.

You will also want to trim their nails weekly to keep them from breaking. If you take them swimming often, clean their ears to prevent ear infections. Regular teeth brushing is encouraged to ensure proper dental health.

Diet and nutrition

A veterinarian is going to be the go-to expert when it comes to the right diet for your Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Their age, weight, health, and activity level, along with your budget, will all play a role in the type of food you select. Dry food is typically the most affordable option and keeps pretty easily. Some dogs may enjoy canned food, and dogs that struggle with sensitive stomachs may need prescribed diets to help keep them comfortable.

Most veterinarians recommend feeding adult dogs twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, to keep them full and happy. Make sure you are serving your toller premium dog food made predominantly with meat to help fuel their high energy levels.

Training your Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is an intelligent, adaptable breed eager to please its two-legged friends. However, they can be as stubborn as they are sweet, so be sure to keep sessions short. Punishing incorrect behavior is not encouraged, as it can terrify the dog and either make them afraid of you or aggressive.

However, if they engage in undesirable behavior, like biting or unnecessary aggression, you should give them consequences like crating them or giving them a loud “no.” Usually, positive reinforcement with treats and praise work well. Tollers are playful and enjoy fun, engaging exercises, so try to keep training sessions short, fun, and productive.

Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever carrying a stick outside

Breeds similar to the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

Not quite sure that a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Fox red Labrador retriever. With a beautiful red coat, the fox red Labrador retriever boasts a similarly colored coat as the toller but with the appearance of the popular and beloved lab.
  • Irish setter. With its gorgeous auburn coat and energetic disposition, the Irish setter is taller than the little red duck dog and may be less prone to separation anxiety, since they are exceptionally independent.
  • Brittany spaniel. Around the same size as the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, the Brittany spaniel is a social sporting dog that is primarily white with orange and reddish-brown markings.

Frequently asked questions

Is a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever a good family dog?

Because of their energy and adaptability, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is an excellent choice for active families with children. They are agile and love to run, so if you’re looking for a dog to take on walks or a pet to help increase your physical activity, the toller might be a great fit.

Do Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers bark a lot?

Tollers are good-natured and loyal dogs, but they need mental stimulation lest they become destructive. They’re not constant barkers, but they bark or whine when excited.

How do Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers do alone?

Tollers get bored easily, and when this happens, separation anxiety may occur. Give your dog plenty of attention and keep them mentally stimulated with toys and treats so they don’t get destructive.

How big is the duck toller?

Female Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are between 17 and 20 inches tall, while male duck tollers are between 18 and 21 inches tall. They are the smallest of the American Kennel Club retrievers.

Are duck tollers aggressive?

If they are not socialized properly, then Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers can become aggressive. Be sure to start training them early, and make sure you don’t leave them alone for too long. They may dig, chew, or bark without proper interaction.