To begin a discussion of the history of the Toller, one needs to understand something about the geography of Nova Scotia and the people who developed the Toller. The geography of the Little River District of Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia as a whole is very diverse. There are many small lakes and ponds, bordered by small conifers, and some meadows. There is the harsh Atlantic Ocean, and the Bay of Fundy with its incredible tidal surges. There are also tidal marshes. The people that developed the Toller were farmers, fisherman, traders and hunters, not a landed gentry's class, or nobility that developed so many breeds of dogs in the UK. Their diet and income was supplemented by the game their dogs tolled and retrieved. The people that developed the Toller could not afford to keep or feed a specialized dog. The Toller had to be a versatile, and was used for many different hunting situations, and even herding sheep.
Certainly the Tolling of waterfowl is an old English and Scandinavian tradition, and the idea most certainly came with the immigrants that settled in Nova Scotia. Rather than tolling the waterfowl into a net at the end of a channel, the dogs tolled the birds into gun range. I would like to point out that this would mean that numerous ducks were killed at once, partially because often there were several shooters. So the Toller would have to mark some if not all of the birds, and make multiple retrieves. Further one could expect that some of the birds were not killed, and the dog was required to retrieve the crippled ones that may have gotten far away from the actual area. Long marks or blinds might be expected from this style of hunting, though many of the birds would be killed at short range.
Until you get into mid to late 1800's there is almost no written record on the breed. But from what little written record there is it would seem the breed was well established by then. Since there is no verified written record of what breeds were used to develop the Toller it is truly impossible to say with certainty. However, I personally doubt that any purebred dogs were used to develop the Toller. I say this because the cost of importing such a dog would be prohibitively expensive for the class of people that developed the breed. Being fisherman, and also traders it would not be unlikely to surmise that dogs developing at the time along the eastern seaboard from Labrador to the Chesapeake could be included in the development in all three breeds. But I am speaking of the progenitors of the Labrador and Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as these breeds were developing at the same time as the Toller, not actual purebred dogs. There is also reference of Tolling Dogs in the Chesapeake area in that era. Certainly the local Spaniel type dogs were used, as was the Farm Collie. By the time Recognition by the CKC arrived by 1945, there were three distinct "types" of Tollers and viewing the old Toller photos that were recorded at that time one can see this. The three types have been dubbed: Collie, Lab, and Spaniel. I have assembled a collection of the three types. These old black and white photos can be viewed here. It is understandable that a hunter/breeder would breed a type of dog that suited the hunting conditions most frequently encountered. Thus someone who hunted mainly the Atlantic Ocean, or the Bay of Fundy would develop bigger dogs. Smaller dogs could be used on the ponds, lakes, and tidal marshes.
When I first got into the breed, one could still see these types thou not as distinctly as in 1945. The breed has developed to the point now where you simply see a tremendous variation in breed type. You can also see this in the variations in temperament, and how the dogs perform in the field. I feel the currant AKC standard takes into consideration many of these variations, while striving for a breed that is more recognizable as being unique.
An interesting aspect of the development of the breed is that it was felt for a long time that perhaps Golden Retriever blood was introduced just prior to recognition to help stabilize the breed. While there are few physical similarities outside of the coat and hair color, their attributes are not anything that the Toller does not share with many of the other retriever breeds. Certainly the temperament of the Toller is unique. The movement and rear assembly in particular is more similar to a Chesapeake Bay Retriever then a Golden. When the James Baker Institute was doing the genetic studies related to finding the DNA marker for PRA they at first felt that they could just run the Toller tests with the Goldens. They found that the Toller genome was so unique that this was not possible. There were only a handful of Tollers originally registered in 1945, and about the same amount re-registered in the 50's. It is known that all Tollers today descend from them which proves that there is no Golden blood in the Toller. They are truly a unique Canadian Breed, developed in Nova Scotia and no where else.
A Collection of old black and white Toller photos can be viewed here.
Cinnstar Retrievers Laura and Don White Sulphur Springs TX 903.335.3806 info1 at cinnstar dot com
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