Bird Dog & Retriever News

August / September 2003 issue Page 40

 The Tolling Process
continued from page 14

Eddie Kenney who owned, bred, and hunted with Tolling dogs for over sixty years in Yarmouth County, the dogs' ancestral home, went a step further. He believed training beyond retrieving should begin at two months of age. He believed an eight-week-old Toller pup is perfectly capable of handling the basic commands of sit, stay, and come in light, playful, one-to-two minute training sessions.
"He never let us play with the puppies after they were two months old," Eddie's granddaughter Audrey Goudy recalls. "Their training was starting at that time."
Training a tolling dog utilizing their unique abilities is an ancient art. Small, red dogs were used as lures in ancient Japan in conjunction with falconry. Later, but before the innovation of firearms, similar canines were employed along the canals of Holland and England to draw ducks up these waterways into waiting nets. The Tolling Retriever, however, was a unique development of early North American settlers.
These people first realized the advantages of tolling for waterfowl when they witnessed its implementation by that wiliest of all marshland predators, the red fox. The fox would cavort about on the shore, its white-tipped tail flagging, in clear sight of ducks rafting far out on the water. The ducks, drawn by this display, would swim closer and closer until, snap! The fox's mate would leap from its hiding place in the tall weeds and grass and seize their dinner.
At other times, a fox hunting alone would prance and jump about on the beach well within view of the ducks until the birds began to move toward the shore. Then he would stretch out on his belly, hidden the marsh grass, and wait.
If the ducks hesitated, the fox would raise his white-tipped tail and flick it to and fro a few times to start them moving again. Soon they were within range and shortly it was evident that even a bachelor fox could manage his own version of Peking duck.
To emulate the fox's success, people developed dogs that not only resembled reynard in appearance, but also in action. Like a pied piper, a tolling dog could lure unsuspecting ducks and geese into his master's clutches, and thus render itself indispensable when it came to putting dinner on the table.
"When the (red) foxes see the game approaching, they run and jump; then they stop suddenly in one jump, and lie down upon their backs," Nicolas Denys, colonizer of the Atlantic Provinces during the mid-1600's once wrote in explaining how the tolling process came to be. "The wild goose or the duck keeps constantly approaching. When these are near, the foxes do not move anything but the tail. Those birds are so silly that they come even wishing to peck at the foxes. The rogues take their time, and do not fail to catch one, which pays for the trouble.
"We train our dogs to do the same (attract ducks as settlers had observed red foxes doing), and they also make the game come up," Denys continued. "One places himself in ambush at some spot where the game cannot see him; when it is within good shot, it is fired upon, and four, five, and six of them, and sometimes more are killed. At the same time, the dog leaps to the water and is always sent farther and farther out; it brings them back, and then is sent to fetch them all one after another."
Tolling dogs actually remained little known outside the Maritimes of Eastern Canada until the early 1980's when two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrieves took Best in Show at a pair of dog shows in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Although Ron and I live in the province adjacent to their ancestral home, we only became acquainted with them in 1986. We're extremely glad we did.
It's been fifteen years now since Ron and I first watched Chance draw in those ducks and we're still fascinated by the process each time one of our dogs lure a flock to shore. To watch a prancing, little white-toed dog dancing up and down a driftwood strewn beach, a large flock of Black Ducks swimming vigorously toward her is to view one of nature's truly amazing mysteries.

Gail MacMillan hails from Bathurst, NB, Canada

I want to die peacefully, in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming, terrified, like his passengers.

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