Dog days at the sport shows: Toiling with a ‘toller’

I always enjoy working the New York Outdoor News booth at the winter sport shows. It’s a great time to connect with readers, hear what they like or don’t like about the paper, and trade hunting and fishing stories with folks whose interests are pretty much identical to mine.

If I’m tag-teaming the show booth with either Paula or our ad-selling machine, Craig Turner, I also get some time to become a show attendee and visit the other booths, meeting old friends and maybe even planning a trip of our own.

Invariably, it seems I always find a dog or two as well. It’s often a Labrador retriever, which is perhaps no surprise; Paula and I have always had at least two and sometimes three Labs in our house. A couple minutes of interacting with a friendly Lab sort of eases the pain of being away from our own dogs, I guess.

But at the recent Western New York Sport and Travel Expo at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg, it was another breed of dog that caught my attention, even to the point of thinking I could hang out with these dogs on a regular basis.

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is a breed I’m familiar with and one with which I have a growing fascination. Not to the point where I’m ready to add one to our household, but it’s becoming pretty obvious I’d have no problem with a “toller.”

I did just that at the Hamburg show – a fishing outfitter from northern Ontario had a pair of adult tollers in his booth, and down the line at the Safari Club International booth, there was a beautiful toller pup that grabbed everybody’s attention.

Most showgoers weren’t even aware of the breed, but Paula and I have done plenty of traveling in Canada, including the spectacular province of Nova Scotia, and know a bit about the breed with the lengthy name.

They’re described as intelligent (sometimes a bit too intelligent), easy to please, alert and high-energy dogs, which is pretty much everything we look for in a dog. While Labs are perennially named the most popular of all dog breeds, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is a distant 87th, a product of a lack of awareness more than an indictment of the dog itself.

They get their name from their unique ability to lure waterfowl within gun range by “tolling” – the hunter remains hidden in a blind and tosses a ball or stick into the water for the dog to retrieve. Incredibly (though I’ve never seen it work myself), the activity piques the curiosity of the waterfowl and they drift into shooting range. From there, the dog springs into action and retrieves any downed birds.

They can also be used for upland hunting, which is where Paula and I would work a toller should we ever decide to go that route.

I’m not sure that will ever happen; we’ve been Lab people all our lives and don’t really see any need to change. But there’s no doubt the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is a special dog. And while we may not ever see one in our home, it’s always nice to encounter this special breed.

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