The Fatal Attraction

A breed standard not only spells out the ideal type and conformation of a breed, it often includes behavior in line with the breed’s function. One need not look further than the smallest retriever in the AKC,  the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, to see an example.

Hunters long ago noted the success of foxes in attracting waterfowl by cavorting on a shoreline. Fatally attracted to the sight of foxes noodling around on a shoreline, ducks and geese paddled in for a closer look, and while one fox capered about in plain sight, the other one hidden in the bushes pounced on the curious bird and dinner was served.

Sportsmen of Nova Scotia developed a dog tailored specifically for tolling by training them to mimic the fox’s action. Hunters kept their dogs in constant motion by throwing sticks and rocks for the dogs to retrieve, and encouraged their playful friskiness. The dog’s playful actions lured the curious ducks within gunshot range. The dog was then sent to retrieve the downed bird. By the early 1800s, the use of “tolling” dogs had spread, and was fairly common among waterfowlers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The AKC’s breed standard reads, “The heavily feathered tail is held high in constant motion while working.” The breed standard in the UK’s Kennel Club isn’t much different: “A heavily feathered tail, constantly moving.”  The Canadian Kennel Club standard reads “Tollers may be various shades of red or orange with white markings on the chest, feet and the tip of the ever-wagging tail.”

Wagging a tail was an encouraged behavior that became an inherent part of the breed. You can get a sense of it from the video below:

The Toller isn’t the only breed in which the standard calls for the tail to be in constant motion:

From the English Cocker Spaniel’s AKC standard: The head is carried up and the tail “flags” constantly while the dog is in motion.

From the Gordon Setter’s standard: The head is carried up and the tail “flags” constantly while the dog is in motion.

In the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s AKC standard: Tail – Well set on, carried happily but never much above the level of the back, and in constant characteristic motion when the dog is in action.

Reasons for a constantly moving tail in these breeds differ from the Toller’s, and they will be covered in future posts.

Image: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever by Aja, owner of SagittariusGallery, is available for purchase here

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