9 things you should know before getting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Have you ever wanted a Labrador Retriever but smaller and… different? Well, then you might like the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

9 things you should know before getting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Despite its extra-long name, the Toller breed is actually quite small and compact for a retriever. Whether you view that as a pro or a con is up to you but these cute red-haired dogs are unique in quite a few other ways too.

So, what do you need to know before adding a Toller to your family?

What are the key characteristics that make Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers special?

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is the favorite breed of a very particular group of people – those who want a manageable mid-to-small size dog but also want a lively dog that loves to play in the park. This is a somewhat unique combination as most smaller dogs tend to be better for indoors-type people and don’t need much time outdoors.

Not the Toller, however – these small red dynamos love to run and play in the park as much as possible. And as this dog is smaller than most other retriever breeds - up to 20 inches (or ~50 cm) in height and up to 50 pounds (or 23 kg) in weight - it’s also much easier to take care of in an apartment or a smaller home. Now, the Toller isn’t so much a “small” breed but is rather just on the lower end of medium-sized dogs but that’s still much more manageable than a larger and heavier Lab or Golden Retriever.

But to further help you decide whether the Toller is right for you, here are the 9 main pros and cons of this unique breed.

The 9 things you should know before getting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


1. Tollers are highly intelligent and fun to play with.

All dogs are intelligent but some are definitely smarter than others. If you want to be proud of your dog’s smarts, the Toller breed is a very good pick. Like other retriever breeds, these dogs have been bred to be problem solvers and to understand and follow people’s instructions.

2. This breed is goal-oriented and easy to motivate – perfect for people who love to train their dogs and teach them tricks

Many smart breeds can be hard to motivate and train because they are too self-driven and stubborn.

Not the Toller.

These Nova Scotia retrievers love to please their two-legged pack members are can be motivated to do almost anything with little to no insentive. And even when they show a bit of stubbornness, a small treat or the promise of some pets is usually enough to get them up and running.

3. The Toller is a very talkative and communicative breed

Non-dog-owners usually make fun of us for talking with our dogs but everyone who’s ever owned a dog knows that this is a big part of the fun of having a pet. And Tollers are ideal in this regard because they are extremely talkative. This, together with their high intelligence, makes the Nova Scotia Toller a very interactive breed! Whether you live alone and want some company or you want a fun pet to play with your kids, the Toller is a very good choice in that regard.

4. This is a generally healthy breed

Unlike many of the more popular dog breeds who’ve been overbred to the point of developing lots of genetic conditions and predispositions, the Toller retriever is quite a healthy breed. Toller breeders are a relatively small but very responsible community and they’ve been doing lots of great work for keeping this breed as healthy as possible.

Of course, there are some things you should be wary about, no dog is guaranteed to always be healthy. Some of the more common health issues of the Toller breed include:

  • Addison’s disease
  • Autoimmune-related issues
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cardiac issues

Fortunately, most of these things can be caught on time with the proper tests and routine vet check-ups. What’s more, good food and plenty of exercise are also very effective for guaranteeing that your Toller will live up to 14 or even more happy and healthy years.

Do note that you should still make sure to get your Toller pup from a reputable breeder, however. Such a breeder should always be willing to provide you with a health certificate for both the pup and its parents.

And, if you’re adopting your Toller from a rescue or a shelter you should still ask for sufficient testing and health certification. One thing to especially insist on is a Juvenile Addison’s Disease (JADD) DNA test.

5. Tollers are highly energetic and perfect for people who love to spend time outdoors

A very key characteristic that you should always keep in mind is that the Toller breed is highly energetic and needs lots of time outdoors. Leaving such a dog at home all day is a no-go and even if you have a yard that’s still not enough – Toller needs plenty of running and playtime in the park.

As long as you know that’s the case and it suits your lifestyle, the playful Toller breed can be a perfect outdoor companion.


1. Get ready for a mess

Tollers are not exactly “clean” dogs. Their long and flowing red hair looks fantastic when it’s washed and brushed but not so much after a couple of hours in the dog park. The combination of a long and dense double-coat plus a highly energetic and playful personality means that your dog will be bringing piles of dirt in your home after every other trip to the park so get ready for that.

Even when they’re clean, Tollers tend to leave a trail of red hair behind them, especially when they are blowing their coats twice a year.

On the bright side, Tollers love to take baths and to be combed and brushed so, as long as you make that a habit early on in the pup’s life, you should be able to maintain both a clean dog and a clean home with a bit of effort.

2. Tollers have a very strong prey drive which means they’re not great with other pets and need to be well-trained and leashed outside

As a retriever breed, Tollers love to chase things. Anything from the neighbor’s cat to their car will seem like prey to your Toller. This can be fun from a certain point of view but it can also lead to accidents. Especially if you own a cat or another small pet, you’ll need to make a lot of effort to socialize your Toller with them and train him not to chase and harm the other animal.

This can be a problem outside too as you probably don’t want your dog to hurt another animal. Training your Toller not to give in to his prey drive is very important in this regard and it’s also smart to keep your dog leashed around other animals. Also, remember to fence your yard well as you don’t want your dog to jump over the fence and run away chasing someone’s car.

3. This is a high-maintenance breed both in terms of exercise and mental needs

Like all high-energy dogs, the Toller needs lots of playtime. If that’s what you’re looking for in a dog – that’s great. However, if you don’t have that kind of time, the Toller’s energetic nature can be a problem.

Similarly, the fact that Tollers are so intelligent means that they need lots of mental stimulation. These dogs are not just easy to train – they need to be trained, to be taught new tricks, and to be interacted with. And if you’re thinking of leaving such an intelligent dog alone at home for 8-12 hours a day every day with no mental stimulation or a dog sitter, you can end up with a bored, anxious, depressed, disobedient, or even destructive dog.

4. Tollers are not great guard dogs but they are proficient watch dogs. Unfortunately, this also makes them quite noisy

While this isn’t their primary goal, Tollers actually make for quite an effective watch dog breed. If that’s what you’re looking for – great. However, the intrinsic drawback here is that Tollers love to bark and to howl when they spot something “noteworthy.” So, whether you live in an apartment or a house, you should spend some effort training your pup not to bark and everything and everyone.

Who are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers “right” for?

The signature quality of the Toller breed is just how playful and energetic they are. If you are an indoorsy person and you’re looking for a dog you can just chill with all day, the Toller is not for you.

However, if you want a dog you or your kids can play in the park with every day, the Toller is truly perfect in that regard. Smart, energetic, and still small enough for a child to handle, this breed is an ideal outdoors companion.

How to prepare for getting a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever?

Get a vacuum and cleaning supplies.

We’re not joking – the biggest and usually most unexpected drawback of Tollers is just how much dirt they are able to generate. Whether it’s by blowing their coats twice a year or by dragging half the park’s dirt and mud back home with them, Tollers needs lots of bathtime and cleaning after them.

Aside from that, however, they are easy to train, fun to play with, and a relatively healthy breed so they are great for first-time dog owners.

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