Doing It The Right Way From The Outset
By M.J. Nelson
While life in general and dog activities in particular have a nasty way of forcing painful lessons, now and then, during the course of events, there is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. Such a break has fallen to the Fanciers of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a small red dog that resembles a red fox developed by the water fowl hunters of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
While the Toller has been recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club for more than fifty years, it is one of the more recent admissions to the American Kennel Club. "Our registry was turned over to AKC on May 1, 2000," said Sue Van Sloun, Westport Point, Massachusetts, immediate past president of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA). "As of March 1, 2001, the breed will be eligible to compete in AKC obedience, agility and tracking events. By August 1, 2000, Tollers will be able to compete in AKC licensed shows and acquire points toward a Foundation Stock Merit Award. In June 2002, they will be able to compete in AKC hunting tests. The breed has been active in the United Kennel Club's Hunting Retriever Club and in North American Hunting Retriever Association tests for several years as well as hunting tests and field However, long before the club turned its registry over to AKC, it had implemented a rule that required dogs to have passed a retrieving test before any conformation championships could be displayed. "We had seen what had happened to otherhunting breeds including some of the retrievers. We did not want to see the split in our breed between show dogs and field dogs such as you see with Labradors or Goldens where field dogs bear so little resemblance to show dogs that they look like two different breeds," Van Sloun said. "So, those of us who started the club decided that we wanted to make sure that breeders 'down the road' did not forget what these dogs were meant to do. We wanted to make certain that the purpose for which these dogs were bred was maintained and that we were not just producing 'pretty dogs.' As a result, in order to be a show champion, a Toller must also pass a retriever test that includes retrieving two singlemarks on land and two from the water as well as a tolling test. The dog must demonstrate it has the basic skills you would expect of a retriever in the field before its conformation championship can be used." Her sentiments are echoed by Sue Dorscheid, Rosendale, Wisconsin, the incoming president of the NSDTRC (USA). She said, "Having a dual titled dog is important to me because I strongly feel that breeding stock for any working breed (not just Tollers) should not only possess correct conformation, but should also retain the abilities for which it was originally developed. This is why I have strongly supported the club's insistence that a Toller club championship only be awarded to those dogs who have demonstrated they have not lost these abilities. In other words, to me a Toller isn't a Toller unless it loves to retrieve birds, no matter how gorgeous it might be."
Actually developed in the Little River District of Yarmouth County, NS, the early Toller
was known as the Little River Duck Dog. It was developed by the waterfowl hunters in this
county to be a waterfowl hunting specialist. What made it different from other retrievers
was that its job including "tolling" or deliberately luring ducks to within shot-gun range.
While they have often been referred to as "dancing dogs," a Toller does not really dance. Instead, the hunter throws an object (a retrieving dummy, a stick, a ball) down the shore and like any good retriever, the Toller runs out and fetches the object the hunter has thrown. But, since the breed is very animated and bouncy by nature, running, jumping and playing along the shore, the flash and movement of the white hair on their paws, chest, the blaze down their faces and the tip of their fox-like tails, is generally accepted as the "lure" that attracts the ducks' attention and causes them to become so curious they swim close to the shore. After a number of these retrieves the ducks, if they are working to the Toller, will swim within gun range. Once the ducks are in range, the Toller reverts to the traditional job of a retriever-it goes out and fetches dead or crippled ducks. Jamie Como, Virginia, Minnesota, who with his wife Kathy, owns and regularly hunts with [UCd Can/US Ch Cobscook's Vermilion Wager CCD USCDX CWC USWCX], said that this is a breed with highly developed hunting instincts.
"We both hunt waterfowl and upland game with Wager. He doesn't seem to care
whether it's ducks or ruffed grouse as along as he is hunting something. Like
Chessies, they have a true double coat with the inner coat being the insulation
and the harsher outer coat providing the waterproofing which makes them the fine
waterfowl dogs they are.
The breed generally hunts pretty close on land but on a hot track, like any good
hunting dog, they can get out of range quickly so it is important to have them under
control. Fortunately, they are fairly small dogs so they don't get away quite as
quickly as a Lab or a Chessie but they are plenty fast. In training, they learn quickly
but they also get bored just as fast. As a result, you have to train them in short
sessions and you have to be creative to keep those sessions challenging and fun. A
Toller can't abide lengthy and repetitious training and it is difficult, if not impossible,
to get them to go against their instincts.
There are fewer than 5,000 in the entire world and that includes Tollers in Canada
although the popularity of the breed has shown a slow, steady increase since it
nearly vanished in the 20 year period after it was first recognized by the CKC. While
such small numbers create all the problems associated with tiny gene pools, there
are some advantages, according to Kathy Como. "With so few Tollers in the world
and particularly in the U.S., it is much easier for the parent club to exert influence
over the breeders to maintain both the performance and conformation standards
for the breed. When breeds get popular, something we fervently hope never happens
to the Toller, the first thing that is sacrificed is either one standard or the other, with the
performance standard usually the first to be neglected. Cynical as this sounds, there
is always a market for puppies that look like Tollers because they are really cute and
if the puppy buyer is not a hunter or interested in running their dog in hunting tests,
they may never know that the dog cannot do what it is supposed to do in the field. In
the end, if both standards do not receive equal emphasis from breeders, the big
loser is the breed itself