Once you have completed your breed research and have decided that you are up to the challenge of living with and loving a Toller it is time to choose a breeder. You should begin by contacting at least a few different breeders. Since Tollers are a relatively uncommon breed, you will probably have to go on a waiting list for a puppy. Most responsible breeders will not even breed a litter unless there are already good homes lined up for the puppies.
So how do you choose a breeder? You want someone who is both knowledgeable and conscientious about breeding. A good breeder is familiar with the breed standard (the blueprint for the breed) and can discuss it. They have goals and a breeding plan – they don’t breed just to “see what they get” or only to get puppies to sell. They belong to a breed club to share knowledge and experience about their breed. They will be active in one or more activities with their dogs, including conformation shows, obedience, field work and/or hunting, tracking, agility, flyball, and therapy dog work. While champion titles do not necessarily mean that a dog is a good breeding specimen, breeders who are active in at least one (and preferably more) of these areas show that they are interested in maintaining and improving the Toller’s breed type and conformation, intelligence, working ability, and temperament.
A good breeder cares very much about their dogs and what happens to them. Be prepared to be interviewed – they want to know that you will provide a good home for their puppy and will be suited to the breed. Be wary of the breeder who is only interested in a sale and doesn’t seem very interested in you or why you want a Toller. A good breeder is interested in you and your Toller for the life of the dog. She will want to see your dog as he matures, so he can evaluate the results of his breeding program. She will provide a packet of information with your puppy about caring for him, and will be available to answer questions after the purchase about care, training, grooming, and so on.
Tollers are generally healthy dogs, but all breeds are subject to some genetic diseases. A responsible breeder is familiar with the genetic health issues present in Tollers and can provide proof that breeding stock has been tested as normal for the more common conditions. Reputable breeders will be happy to show you the health clearances they have obtained for their breeding dogs. At a minimum, all breeding stock should have had their hips X-rayed and certified as normal by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), by a Canadian veterinary college such as the Ontario Veterinary Cottage (OVC) or by International Canine Genetics (PennHIP). There are several inherited eye diseases which have been documented in this breed. All breeding stock should also have had their eyes examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist and certified as normal. Eye certificates are only good for a year and must be redone annually, so be certain to check the date on the certificate. Very recently, a blood test has been developed to test for genetic markers associated with the genes responsible for Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in the Toller. PRA is a genetic disease which causes slow degeneration of the retina of the eye and can eventually cause loss of vision. The blood test categorizes dogs as Pattern A (clear of the affected gene), Pattern B (carries the affected gene, but physically normal and not at risk of developing the disease) or Pattern C (affected.) As long as at least one of the parents is a pattern A, none of the offspring will ever develop PRA. Blood tested dogs still need a ophthalmological exam for other eye diseases.
Many breeders also check their dogs for other health problems such as hypothyroidism and adrenal function (Addison’s disease.) Certain heart defects have recently been identified as being a possible problem in this breed, so many responsible breeders have their dogs examined by a veterinary cardiologist. Epilepsy, auto-immune disorders such as lupus, chondrodysplasia, and megaesophagus also affect this breed. Ask about these. No line is totally clear of all genetic disorders, and all Tollers are related, so breeders must be aware of what potential problems may lurk.
Dog breeding is largely unregulated, so be certain the breeder provides a written contract. It should state that you are purchasing a purebred Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever, which will be registered with the Canadian Kennel Club. By federal law, all dogs sold as purebred must be registered and the registration papers be provided at no additional charge. Individual dogs must be uniquely identified, either by tattoo or by microchip, prior to leaving the breeder’s premises. A health guarantee should be provided. The terms of these vary widely, but usually require the puppy to be examined by a veterinarian within 48 to 72 hours against all pre-existing health problems. Additional guarantees may offer compensation in the event that the dog develops an inherited defect rendering the dog unfit for the purpose sold. These usually have a time limit, but should not be less than 24 months of age, since many genetic defects do not show up prior to this. Be sure that the conditions are acceptable to you before you agree to purchase. Some breeders require that the original dog be returned before they will honour their guarantee. Most people cannot give up a beloved pet, so such a guarantee would not be useful to them. A guarantee does not eliminate all chance that a dog will ever develop a problem. It is impossible to predict with absolute certainty that every single pup from every litter will always be perfectly healthy and sound. In spite of careful precautions, bad things can still happen to good breeders and their dogs. A guarantee is your assurance that the breeder is willing to stand behind her dogs and offer you some compensation if your pup develops a specific disorder. Compensation is usually a replacement puppy, or a refund not exceeding the original purchase price. A committed breeder will always take back a dog of their breeding if you are unable to keep it, though a refund is usually not given for an adult dog.
Many reputable breeders will require that the puppy be sold on a non-breeding contract. This is to protect their reputation and their dogs by ensuring that only worthy specimens of the breed with appropriate health clearances are permitted to breed. You should be willing to accept this. Most pups are sold as family companions and for participation in many doggy activities such as field work and obedience. A few special pups show promise for showing and breeding. These pups may be sold with some restrictions, perhaps a co-ownership, particularly if this is your first dog. In return, you should receive lots of extra help from your pup’s breeder with showing, planning breeding, and guidance about raising a litter.
Once you have spoken at length with a breeder and are comfortable with them, make arrangements to visit their kennel. (Be aware that many breeders have a “kennel” in name only. Their Tollers live in their homes as valued family members.) The facility should be clean, and the dogs should appear healthy and well groomed, not dirty or unkempt. Meet all of the dogs, if possible. You should definitely meet the mother of your potential puppy. The father may not live on site, but there should be pictures or a video of him. See if the personalities of the breeder’s dogs are what you like. Different lines do vary in temperament (some of us prefer active, some of us prefer relatively laid back, though all Tollers are pretty energetic.) It is not unusual for Tollers to be reserved with people they have just met, saving their true devotion for their owners. They should still be polite with you however. No Toller should be timid, cringing away, or aggressive. Be particularly cautious if the breeder cannot handle his own dogs easily. While it may be true that “Oh, she just wasn’t socialized properly” it may also be true that she simply has poor temperament. You don’t want to risk that your puppy will inherit that.
Now you know what to look for in a Toller breeder. It may seem like a lot, but Tollers are worth it! Visit as many kennels as you can, spend lots of time talking with the breeders and meeting their dogs. Take your time and make a careful, informed decision. As we said, Tollers are worth it!