The Tolling Dog or Little River Duck Dog

                                         By: H.A.P. Smith

                               Approximately written in the early 1900’s©

                        With Thanks to Mr Ray Stevens who got this article from H.A.P.Smith's son

With nose as true as the Pointer, with sight as keen as the Greyhounds with endurance as great as the Foxhounds, with
courage equaling the Bulldogs, with disposition as playful as the Spaniels, with coat as dense as the Otter, and with love for
his master more fervent than that of any other living thing, and his colour is fox red from the end of his nose to the tip of his
busy bushy tail, save a white dash on his broad chest and in some specimens a white blaze on the face. His weight about fifty
pounds (bitches 40). His height at the shoulders twenty inches, wide sculled with moderately large pendant ears.

The above is a fair description of the Tolling whose equal as a duck dog the writer has yet to meet. He has the traits of his
progenitor the Labrador Retriever, with the added ability to attract or toll his game. The photo of the Labrador Dog in
and Stream of the 26th of April could easily be mistaken for a Tolling Dog, but for his colour. So alike in head are they, that
at first glance I thought Mr. Sherwood had preceeded me in writing of my favourite the "Toller". It no doubt will be news to
many of the readers of
Forest and Stream that the "playing" of the Tolling Dog near the water will attract the wild duck.

In Nova Scotia our best game ducks are the Blue Winged Duck (or Black Duck) and the Blue Bill (or Broad Bill) and both these
birds will toll to the antics of the Tolling Dog. The Butter Ball and Meganser ducks will also toll, but the Whistler will jump
into the air at the sight of him, as if a gun was discharged into their midst. Sea ducks and fish ducks such as Coot etc. seem to
take no notice of the dog, and he has no attraction for them. The idea of this tolling ducks came from the fact that the fox
has been known for many years to posses the power to attract wild fowl by reason of his colour and his movements along the
shore, and many a fat black duck has paid the penalty of his curiosity and furnished a meal for foxy old raynard on the
shores of inland lakes.

It was my privilege and delight to see a fox at work on one occasion. We were moose hunting near the "Boundary Road" in
Nova Scotia and as our canoe turned a bend in the Coufang River I saw directly ahead of us and in plain sight four black
ducks. Wondering why they did not fly at the sight of us I glanced ahead of them, and there on top of a flat rock which
projected into the water, lay a fox with his nose between his paws. Every second or so he would raise his brush and give it a
flip from side to side. The ducks were swimming directly toward him intently watching that white tipped tail and not more
than fifteen yards away from his waiting hungry jaws. Just then my hunting companion coming down from the river in the
canoe behind us and catching sight of the fox shot him. The bullet from his
winchester hit the rocks beneath him and spoiled
what otherwise would have without a doubt ended in the bitter tragedy, and have been a sight which vary few have ever
witnessed. I have always felt perfectly certain that the fox would have carried away with him one of those four birds, a
victim of curiosity. But what a transformation that bullet worked. Into, the air went fox, ducks, and pieces of granite
boulder, and as my hunting companion recounted as he lowered the rifle between his knees, "I guess that rock was red hot,
the way that fox took to the air."

If you are a dog man, the first time you see a Tolling dog, your attention will be at once arrested. Therefore let us suppose
that you meet the writer with a pair of his Tollers at heel, and after looking critically at them, you remark (as hundreds have
done before) what kind of dogs are those?
Chesapeake Bay’s or what? If time is no object, the answer will probably be they
are Tolling dogs, and when the explanation is forth coming, that they are used to toll ducks within range of the gun. Your
questions will come thick and fast, such as, do they go in the water? How far will ducks come to the dogs? Do the dogs know
they attract the birds? Will they retrieve the birds you shoot? And thousand others. But if time is limited you would likely get
the answer, oh they are duck dogs, or just dogs, I guess.

But we will suppose you are a duck shooter, and also skeptical, and come from Missouri and want to be shown, and it is finally
agreed that we repair to where we know Black ducks congregate. It is not yet daylight when we reach our blind on the edge
of the sandy shore of the bay. This blind is one I have tolled many a fine shot from, and is composed ashore in the surf, and a
few old roots of trees, the whole covered with dead sea weed, and just large enough o comfortable as possible, and pulling
our coat collars up, and our wool caps well down, for the month is December, and terrible cold, All the lakes are frozen and
the ducks are now in their winter feeding grounds.

You turn your head and see the yellow flicker of a lamp through the kitchen window in the farmhouse across the warmth from
the big wood stove an hour ago, as our steaming tea, was eaten, and you half wish yourself back there again. It is "Star
Colour" not a breath of air, and very frosty. Our dog is curled up tight, his nose covered by his fox-like tail, and he is the
only one of the three of us comfortably warm. But just listen to those Black ducks as their trembling quacks reaches us from
out they’re in the Bay. Buff hears it too, and quick as lightning his ears prick as he raises his head. If you touch him now you
will feel him trembling but not with cold, only supressed excitement, as now the East begins to pale, and presently objects are
dimly discernable. Those old stake slats out there stuck up through the sand look like a flock of geese, while in the grey light
the bridge spanning the North Cove looms up like a church spire. We hear the swish of wings as ducks fly from the salt creeks
where they have spent the night, and as they join there companions in the Bay in front of us, create quite a commotion among

Presently we see a black line on the glassy surface of the water, which slowly developes into a flock of twenty birds or more.
The tide is almost up to our blind this morning and everything seems to favour us. The ducks are now in the zone of this shore
from years of constant persacution. About two hundred yards away they keep their wings and preen their feathers as the
rising sun begins to warm them, and now I guess I will "show the dog".

Reaching into the hand pocket of my hunting coat I pull out a hard rubber ball. Just look at Buff, he has been watching the
ball, did you ever see such concentration as he watches that sphere of rubber, next to his master, it is the dearest thing to
him on earth. One bounce of it on the kitchen floor will lure him from the finest dish of roast beef scraps and gravy without a
moments hesitation. I can devine your thoughts with out much study now, you are thinking "what a shame to scare those ducks"
and that perhaps they could come on shore later on as the tide begins to fall, and that you can’t keep feeling certain that
every duck will jump as soon as they see the dog.

But wait, you watch the ducks, and what ever you do don’t shoot until I give the word, for it is the sure ruination of a tolling
dog to shoot over him while he is outside the blind. If you do so your dog will soon want the first shot himself, and when the
birds come close in all probability he’ll plunge in after them, without waiting for the gun.

Smooth patches of sand stretch out upon each side of us and afford perfect footing for the dog, and we can play him upon
either side of the blind. I toss the ball and away goes Buff, picking it up he canters back and drops it in my hand, out again
goes ball and dog. I watch you face and it is a study as through the peek holes in the seaweed you anxiously watch the birds,
and this is what you see. With stretched necks and wondering eyes every duck looks intently at the dog, and as the ball falls
in among some dead sea weed causing him to use his nose to find it, his bushy tail works and wiggles above the beach grass
and a dozen birds turn and swim for shore, their necks a second ago stretched so long now disappear as they fold them in and
with soft meaup-aup-meaup they swim rapidly towards us, with just a gentle air of wind aiding them. Buff plays beautifully,
returning with the ball even faster than he scoots after it. How round the birds look with their necks drawn in, giving them a
stupid appearance and the sunlight shimmering from the yellow bills of the drakes. And now as the dog comes towards us
again the hot scent of black ducks strikes his sensitive nostrils, and stopping with up raised paw he looks towards them, but
good old boy, a chirp brings him back to us. Not for words would he refuse to play. See him tremble as we push up the
safeties of our guns, and here are the birds right against us, though not well bunched, being strung out across our front. They
are only thirty – five yards or so away when Buff drops the ball into my open palm for the last time, and I whisper, down.
Now then there are is one of two things to do, we may raise up and shoot, picking out our birds and trying to stop one with
each volley, or remain quiet until the ducks begin to get uneasy and not seeing the dog start to swim away, when they will
invariably bunch. If you can forget the freezing nights and blustery days when you have almost perished waiting for a shot,
or perhaps the long crawls through known birds, then let us each try and make a double, and be satisfied. But if you have only
occasionally had a flock shot, and would like one now, we will hold our fire, and so we dicide to do. See that old chap stretch
his neck and swim up and down looking with the keenest of all eyes for the dog, and now, up go all heads and turning slowly
from us the birds swim together with their heads turned sideways looking over their shoulders at the blind. I nod and two
pairs of twelve Bore barrels loaded with 3-1/2 drams of dead shot smokeless and 1-1/4 oz. No. two poke out above the fringe
of seaweed of the blind. As we raise to shoot Buff peeks over the blind beside me with a whimper and stiffened sinews he
awaits the report. Both shots snap out as one and into the air seven terrified birds spring straight up, three of their number
falling to our second barrels. There are two cripples, one which swims about in little circles, shot through the head in front
of the eyes, another wandering off as fast as his rudders will allow, we each kill our bird. Buff by this time has almost
reached the nearest drifting victim, watch him swim! There is only one breed of dog could catch him now and that the Tolling
dog. No need to tell him to retrieve, dropping the bird on the sand he plunges in again and again, until the eighth and last duck
is safely recovered. Buff takes a roll in the sand and a shake and trotting up to me rubs against my leg, and while he looks up
into my face I stroke his wet hair, wet only on the outside, for no water ever penetrates to the skin through that otter coat,
and if he and I were alone I would take his honest head between my hands and whisper in his ear "good boy" while with a
funny little growl in his throat he would say in his own way "we did the trick." He always looks for this following a successful

As a surf dog the Toller has no equal and will persevere again when dashed ashore by heavy breakers until he at last stems
the undertow. Last winter I feared I had lost Buff upon two occasions. Shooting from this very blind I wing broke a black
duck, and giving chase the dog swam after his bird right out to sea beyond my anxious sight. The tide had turned and I ran
along shore with frantic haste trying to locate a boat, away along past Red Head there, you see two mules below us, until at
last I gave it up and sorrowfully returned to fetch my gun left behind in the blind. My dogs few little imperfections were all
forgotten, and every cross word spoken to him was regretted. But to my utter surprise and joy upon reaching the blind, there
lay the game little dog with the duck beside him. The distance he swam by conservative estimation, through the ice cold water,
must have exceeded three miles, and he seemed none the worst for it.

Upon the other occasion while flight shooting by moonlight up the wide creek you see beyond the bridge there, a winged
tipped duck fell among the floating, grinding ice cakes tide. Away went Buff right into the worst of it and both dog and bird
disappearing beneath that floe. It seemed ages until his head at last appeared in the moon blaze with the bird softly held
between his jaws.

And now let me tell you that ducks will not toll to windward. They will come to the dog across wind, or as you have just seen
from the windward and also when there is no wind. Black ducks toll with their heads drawn down, Bluebills with heads up and
necks struck out. Butterballs on their tails almost, and all the Megansers with heads erect and necks straight up.

Perhaps the Tolling dog is most deadly when shooting ducks before they leave the lakes in the fall, and when the birds are
young. I have seen young Black ducks swim so near the blind that their pads could be distinctly seen beneath the water.

Bluebills are said to be the easiest of all birds to toll, but although I have had many fine shots at them, in this manner my
personal experience teaches me that the black duck tolls the best, and I have seen wary birds in the month of January act
like perfect fools at the sight of a well played dog. They seem to be hypnotised and when once their gaze has become
centered upon the dog they will scarcely notice moving objects.

It is as natural for a Tolling dog to retrieve and play with a stick or other object thrown as it is for a setter to point or a
coach dog to follow a team. Most duck shooters use sticks to toll their dogs with, and some a lot of sticks, but a properly
trained dog needs but one object to work upon. If space permitted I should like to give my method of training these dogs, but
I must forbear.

The history of the Tolling dog from all I can gather is as follows. In the late sixtiesª James Allen of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
received from the captain of a corn laden schooner a female flat coated English Retriever, colour dark red, weight about
forty pounds. Mr. Allen had her bred with a
Labrador dog which was a fine retriever, the first litter of pups made very large
dogs, even larger than their parents, and were splendid duck dogs. Several of these bitches were bred to a brown cocker
spaniel imported into this province from the
U.S.. These dogs were bred throughout Yarmouth County, particularly at Little
River and Comeau’s Hill and a majority of them are a reddish brown colour. Later on a cross of the Irish Setter was
introduced. Occasionally a black pup appears and of course makes just as good a retriever and water dog as his red brothers,
but is not so valuable because he can not be used as a Toller.

Only this year distemper in its most violent type destroyed a number of these dogs, including valuable bitches together with
their young litters. I am fortunate as to own a dog and two bitches and shall try to perpetuate the breed. This grand dog
should be carefully bred and given a class at the dog shows, for he certainly is on account of his tolling ability in a class all
his own.

                                          H.A.P. Smith

© Please note that this is a translation from the author and any spelling or grammatical errors are typed in as he has written.

ª That would be the 1860's.

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