What does “dog tolling” mean?

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Nova Scotia Retriever

“Dog tolling” refers to a dog dancing about in a strange fashion to fascinate ducks, to draw them nearer to allow a human duck-hunter to shoot the animal. The dogs who do this are called “tollers”. This form of canine behaviour is a dog inviting another to play. Sometimes high-spirited dogs indulge in an elaborate display which includes whirling and prancing, running, twisting, jumping, leaping and zigzagging combined with the classic play-bow, all made as a signal that play should begin.

Nova Scotia Retriever

Nova Scotia Retriever. Dog tolling animal for hunters to get nearer ducks to shoot them. Personally this is not my scene. Picture in the public domain.

This sort of behaviour is sometimes used by wild wolves to lure rabbits. Foxes might do it to attract ducks before killing them. This is the origin of dog tolling; a means to lure curious ducks. It indicates how attractive this form of canine behaviour is as it can even attract ducks. For this reason it also referred to as “fascination behavior”.

The Nova Scotia retriever is a dog toller. They resemble foxes. They prance on the shoreline. The human hunter hides in a concealed spot. The hunter shoots the duck and the dog collects it.

Dog play

To return to the play behaviour of dogs for a moment, sometimes young dogs are too frightened to join in play with their elders. The older dog might become frustrated and employ other tactics to get their younger friends to play such as the “reassurance display”. The dominant, older animal may flop on the ground near the more timid younger dog and role on its back into a full passive posture. Play then can begin. Sometimes a very large dog will do this to play with a smaller one. It helps to put the smaller and timid animal at ease to kickstart the play session.

Internet trolling

This is far-fetched but I wonder whether the origin of the word “troll” to mean a person who wants to provoke another on the Internet originates in “tolling”. The latter is a way to provoke another to play whereas the former is a way to provoke another (a human) to respond angrily to an abusive or provocative comment on the Internet. There is a similarity which encourages me to believe that this might be the origin which is unknown although there is a lot of speculation.