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Janis Dibert, of Richmond, Virginia, knew right away that Nathan was the perfect Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever for her. He was a natural Duck Toller at the age of just nine weeks, says Dibert.

From the time he was three weeks old, curled up with his littermates in a Minnesota breeder’s whelping box, Nathan made quite the impression on Janis Dibert, who had recently lost her husband Dennis.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever owner for 17 years, Dibert says, “Usually puppies are matched to you based on the information you supply the breeder. I picked Nathan from pictures his breeder posted on Facebook. The breeder, Cindy Lindemer kept saying we had to wait until he got older to determine if he was a good fit for me.”

About a month later, Lindemer posed the same question to Dibert and she responded, “the black collar boy,” and she agreed. “The following week I drove to Minnesota to pick him up and it’s been a joy ride ever since,” recalls Dibert.

The bond between Dibert and Nathan has only gotten stronger three years later.

But the journey has had its share of surprises and stark contrasts, too.

Nathan rests at the host hotel before the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club National Specialty in Syracuse, New York, last year. “He loves sharing a bed with me – and I love that he does,” says Dibert.

Confidence in Competition

Nathan’s (he was named for Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls”) story is a mix of swagger and verve. And of competitions polar opposite – from statuesque stacking in the Conformation ring to sprinting 25 miles-per-hour-plus en route to becoming the first Toller to achieve a Fast CAT title.

The supercharged pup is all 67-year-old Dibert can handle. “He gets quite excited to see the ‘bunny’ (the plastic bag that is on the lure),” she says. “He will do a little of the infamous Toller scream when awaiting his turn.” But put him in a Conformation show venue and it’s a different story. “He’s all business there,” adds the owner. “He is quiet and walks among his peers with an air of confidence. When he shows, he has that look-at-me attitude. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

The 44-pound Nathan has two handlers: Dibert for performance events and Becky Leuth, of Warrenton, Va., for Conformation. “He loves Becky, and the steak she uses for bait,” laughs Dibert. “She coaxes the best out of him.”

Leuth says, “Nathan is a strong show dog because of all the other events and training. He knows when it is time to work and do the job he is trained to do, and he thoroughly enjoys the ‘work’ because it is fun.

Pushing Forward After Loss

Since her husband Dennis died four years ago, Dibert’s Toller family — Nathan, Wren, Will, and Harper — have been a conduit for establishing new friendships and targeting new competition destinations including Illinois, Ohio, New York, Michigan, and Florida.

“They give me the desire to get the most out of life I can.”

Each day, all four dogs accompany her on a walk to one of several nearby parks, too. “It’s therapeutic physically and psychologically.”

But it’s the emboldened Nathan who has changed Dibert’s life the most. “He seems to like just about anything I throw at him.”

His favorite is Barn Hunt. But they are taking a break because Nathan savors the rat tubes a bit too much, prompting him to become overly excited. He is beginning field work with hopes of becoming a Master Hunter. Because of his propensity to run, Fast CAT ranks as another of his favorite activities along with Dock Diving.

Nathan and Dibert have an umbilical connection of sorts. “I get up every day feeling like I have a mission – to make Nathan happy, along with the three other housemates, of course. Some of the sports in which we’re involved require a lot of strategy. So my mind gets a workout as well as my body.”

Make no mistake about it — the resourceful Nathan is a quick learner. For instance, there were the times when the 10-week-old puppy watched, from his crate in the barn, as Will and Harper engaged in Barn Hunt. Two weeks later, Dibert put him on a course and he found his rats.

Nathan proudly sits behind his winnings the day he became the first Toller to reach Fast CAT status.

Help Around the House

Outside of competition sports, the special bond between owner and dog resonates from morning to night.

“We had a pattern at home where Will brought breakfast doggy dishes to me and Nathan realized Will got a treat. One day I looked and it was Nathan with a bowl in his mouth. It became a competition between the boys as to who would bring the most bowls.

“Right before bedtime, I ask Nathan to go find Wren (who’s 15 and deaf). He locates her, kisses her until she wakes up and herds her to the door to go outside for a final potty break. Will is losing his hearing, too, so he has been added to Nathan’s herding duties.”