All about duck-tolling retrievers

Our chat with Nova Scotian trainer, Andy Wallace, on tollers

By Gail MacMillanGail MacMillan

166Page1_GailMacMillan_Wallace

Photo by Gail MacMillan

Wallace with his dogs

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On the toller’s role

“Tolling” means to lure game, and that’s exactly what a good tolling dog will do with ducks. It works like this. A hunter hides with his dog in a blind. When a flock of ducks lands far out on the water, he throws a stick or some other type of fetch for the dog to retrieve. Usually after a few throws, the ducks will notice the dog prancing along the shore and begin to swim toward him. It can, however, take many retrieves to get their attention, and that’s where the personality of a good tolling dog comes in. Eager to please his master, he’ll go as many times as it takes to catch the birds’ attention.

On training tollers

They’re smart and sensitive. You train them with tone of voice, praise and respect. A heavy hand just doesn’t cut it with these dogs. They’re born retrievers. Most will retrieve as soon as they can walk. And they’ll do anything they can to please a person who praises them. That’s why they’ll make as many retrieves as are necessary to bring in a flock. They’re clever dogs that are easily trained.

On the act of tolling

Three times in my years of hunting, I’ve seen red foxes catch ducks just by prancing around on the shore until the birds came so close the fox could jump up and seize them. Tolling dogs were developed to imitate this behaviour—with the exception that they don’t try to grab the birds.

On loyalty to his dogs

One day, one of my dogs, Blu, and I were duck hunting and Blu fell through the ice when she went to fetch a duck. I couldn’t let her drown. She was crying like a baby. I crawled out on my belly over the ice toward her with a tree branch in my hand and finally managed to break enough of the ice so that she could swim to me. I grabbed her and threw her-still with that blasted duck in her mouth-up onto the ice. Then I went through. I was sure relieved to discover I was only up to my armpits. The three-mile walk home nearly froze us, but we made it, Blu and me.

On the future of the toller

There are still some people in Yarmouth County breeding the dogs as Little Rivers. My daughter, Lisa, and her husband are continuing to breed the same strain of dog that I have always bred. My son, Mart, a vet in South Carolina, is also carrying on the Wallace-family tradition. Hopefully, dedicated hunters will keep the breed true to its original purpose.

Want to learn more about tollers? Visit the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada.

This article was originally published on September 1, 2006


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