Pied Pipers of the Marsh

Urban legend has it that the fox appears in the genetic ancestry of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a fanciful claim with no genetic basis. That said, those who “bought” into the myth might be forgiven in light of the fact that the fox may have inspired the creation of decoy dogs.

One of only four truly Canadian breeds, the Toller’s behavior mimics a hunting technique used by red foxes which early Acadian settles observed. One of a pair of foxes will hide in a bush while the other one scampers at the water’s edge. Ducks are drawn to the fox’s odd antics and swim ever closer to the fox and the wave of its plumed red tail. Occasionally, the fox will splash in the water or dart away from the shore, only to re-appear and begin all over again. Dinner is served when the fox hiding in the bush pounces on the bird with merciless precision.

Hunters, inspired by the foxes, trained ancestors of the Toller dogs to mimic this behavior, taking advantage of the Toller’s fox-like red coat and plumed tail, and a duck’s “fascination behavior.”  The hunter may toss a ball or stick into the water to encourage playful antics, but when the ducks draw near enough, the dog is called away from the water and into the blind. Once the shot is taken, the Toller becomes retriever, and happily fetches the bird.

It should be said that the Toller isn’t the only breed that exhibits tolling behavior, but it might be the best known breed, in no small measure because baseball legend, Babe Ruth, visited Yarmouth County in the 1930s to hunt and fish, and was shown these dogs in action, Then, in the 1960s, the Toller was featured in the Ripley’s famous “Believe It Or Not” syndicated newspaper column.

We can’t vouch that the behavior of the dogs in the video below is typical tolling behavior, but it’s fun to see so many in one place, and you might even hear a “Toller Scream!”

Image by LA Shepard/thedoglover

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