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