Bird Dog & Retriever News

August / September 2003 issue Page 12

 The Tolling Process
By: Gail MacMillan


I'll wait here, My husband
Ron turned off the engine
and leaned back in the truck seat. He looked as skeptical as I felt as he glanced out at the flock of black ducks rafting far out on the cove. We were about to try tolling for the first time.
Tolling, in a hunting context, describes the process of luring game (usually waterfowl) with the use of small animals (usually dogs). This definition comes from one meaning of the verb "toll" which is to "attract or entice." For example, tolling church bells draw people to worship.
Chance, our eight-month-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever sat alert and ready on the bench seat between us. Although she'd been retrieving since she was forty-nine days old, we had yet to test her tolling abilities. Today would let us know not only if she was a natural born toller, but, if indeed, the tolling process itself worked.
"Okay, " I agreed and opened the door. "Come on, girl."
In true Toller fashion, she cavorted gaily out of the truck and down the steep bank to the water. There she stopped and whirled back to face me, white-tipped tail flagging, ready to go.
Trying to keep out of sight, I slithered down the wet bank to join her. Her attention never once left me or, rather, the tennis ball in my hand. The birds far out on the water meant nothing to her, a definite sign of a good tolling dog. Ducks were supposed to hold no interest for them until the birds were ready to be retrieved.
Keeping low in the grass, I tossed the ball up along the shoreline. Chance raced after it, a graceful, bounding red streak in the morning sunlight. Within seconds, she was carefully depositing it in my hand and dancing eagerly back, ready to go again.
I glanced at the birds. They were still floating contentedly far out on the calm water. We'd been told by old time tolling people that it could take multiple retrieves before the ducks spotted the dog. I threw again. And again.
Then, suddenly, one duck caught sight of the bouncing amber creature on the shore. Like an iron filing caught in a magnet's field, it swung about and headed directly toward us. That was all it took. Within seconds, the entire flock was coming in, moving so quickly they left wakes behind them.
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was audible. I ordered Chance to sit and stay beside

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