One of the canine members of our family is pure Canuck: A Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
The breed, recognized since 1945, is nicknamed “Tollers.” (Seriously: Try saying “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: three times, quickly.) According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “This retriever is almost unknown in other countries.” They typically are ginger-furred with white patches and typically have a pink nose and green eyes. They were initially bred in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to be, well, retrievers of ducks: they are the smallest breed of retrievers, typically around 40 pounds for females and 45 to 50 pounds for males. Tollers were named the Official Dog of Nova Scotia in 1995.
According to a national survey paid for by the Canadian Animal Health Institute in Guelph, ON – an association of animal medications manufacturers – in 2016, 41 per cent of Canadian households had one dog or more, compared with 37 per cent of households who had one or more cats. (It should be noted the survey found there are actually more cats in Canada than dogs – 8.8 million vs 7.6 million – the result of more cat households having several cats, rather than just one.) The Canadian Kennel Club recognizes a whopping 175 breeds of dogs. Of those, just four – five, if you count one that no longer exists – are considered Canadian breeds.
Also with Eastern Canada roots are the “gentle giant” Newfoundland and large Labrador Retriever, which for 26 years straight has been ranked the most popular dog in the U.S. by the American Kennel Club. Who knew a dog was among our most successful exports?
Sadly, a registered Canadian breed from the west coast, the Tahltan Bear Dog, is extinct. A 1956 article from The Beaver magazine describes a small (under 15 pound), powerful Spitz-like black-and-white dog with a curled-over tail that in the 1930s and 1940s lived with the Tahltan indigenous people in Northern B.C.; the author visited Telegraph Creek B.C. in 1931 and was given one of the dogs, which he kept as a pet. But with the introduction of other dogs into the area, the breed diluted and by the 1960s no longer existed.
The final acknowledged Canadian breed goes by two names: The Canadian Kennel Club calls it the Canadian Eskimo Dog and the goverment of Nunavut, the largest and northernmost territory of Canada, calls it the Canadian Inuit Dog and named this breed the territory’s official dog in 2000.
This Arctic working dog was part of communities of the Thule – ancestors of modern Inuit – possibly as far back as two millennia. In 1920, there were at least 20,000 of these dogs in Canadian northern communities. However, with the introduction of the snowmobile in the 1960s, the dogs were no longer needed to pull sleds for transportation and hunting. By 1970, there were just 200 purebreds registered. A concerted breeding program funded by the kennel club and – I would have loved to been at this grant review meeting – the Canada Council for the Arts saved the Eskimo Dog from extinction. Its Arctic cousin dog, the Siberian Husky, was exported and bred as a pet dog in other countries, and thrives, even though they are outdoor working dogs who suffer in warmer temperatures and require extensive exercise.
My personal taste in dogs runs to the small, fuzzy, and lap-happy, so even in the name of patriotism I’ve never considered the larger breeds of Inuit, Newfoundland, Labrador or even the mid-sized Toller. But if you’re looking to fly the canine Canadian flag, there’s a red-and-white Toller with an adorable pink nose out there, somewhere, in your future.
Main photo: The author with puppy Kennedy, photo by Kyle Nash.
Teahen Tales reader Marty Kohn from Michigan is a folk music aficionado and, in response to this post, shares a YouTube video of the song, “The Maple Leaf Dog.”