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Tolling: Offensive Tactics & Self-Protection Advisory by Mark Hatmaker

Let’s talk forgotten dog breeds, American Indian hunting tactics, pick-pocket strategy, the Ali Shuffle and then tie it up with a big pretty bow declaring these are all one of a kind.

First, Dogs.

You’ve herd of retrievers, setters, scent-hounds, herding dogs et cetera.

Now, unless you are a major dog enthusiast, you may have not heard of a toller.

About the only tolling dog officially recognized by organizations that love to recognize such things is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. They look like small Golden Labs. Gorgeous dogs.

But just as with the words retriever or herder or setter, the word toller originally referred not to a specific breed but to a specific behavior. Then man, being man, bred for sought after behaviors to create stronger and stronger manifestations of the desired behavior in each generation that followed.

We all know what retrievers do, they retrieve, herders herd, but what about tollers? Are they bred for patiently residing in tiny huts monitoring small change revenue?


Tolling is a term in animal ethology that refers to a bit of behavior exhibited by social animals that hunt as a pack [in our case, wolves and their genetic offspring dogs.]

Tolling is essentially the opposite of camouflage or mimicry. Where some animals use stealth or precise movement to disguise their presence, tolling as a tactic calls conspicuous attention to the self.

Those of us with high energy dogs, will at times see your dog run circles, leap and cavort, make mock bows and then get right back on the cavorting stick. This is called tolling. And…this high-energy behavior is related to hunting.

Some animals that can’t be approached directly are lulled into a state of curiosity by open displays of unusual behavior. For example, ducks [and bison] have been known to become wary by direct approach but curious about open ground cavorting. Wolves have been observed splitting off one or two tollers to begin the captivating cavorting while the remainder of the pack positions for stealth and cutting off avenues of escape.

Some Indigenous Hunters spotted this tendency and it is the basis of some “dances” that were performed on site of the hunting grounds.

The “civilized” observers [not being as observant as the indigenous hunters] assumed this “needless” expenditure of energy was ceremonial and chalked it up to backward ways or a privileged witnessing of “primitive magic.”

This “magic” was indeed practical and wise and a pragmatic hunting tactic—the “dancers” lull the quarry while others use still-hunting to ambush the curious prey as it approaches to investigate or remains static with attention on the “dance.”

Now, on to pick-pockets.

A good pick-pocket needs stealth, nimble fingers and…careless attention. Pick-pockets like wolves, and dogs in packs, or hunters with their dogs often work as teams.

The pick-pocket is our still-hunter, he is the bit of humanity we are not meant to notice. Rather than hiding inside trash cans and reaching out for pockets, the pick-pocket team will use decoys, mock performances [i.e., “tolling” behavior] to render our pick-pocket “hidden.”

Impromptu street performances, the Three-Card Monte Scam, the sudden outburst of juggling or fire-eating at unscheduled times or in areas not known for performance are often a bit of entertaining larcenous ambuscade.

This does not mean that all street-performers are part of a felonious pack, not at all. Some are, some may simply be performing and the pick-pocket is using the benefit of the performance as a useful tolling incident to take advantage of.

The key lesson here is to raise your awareness when things get unexpectedly interesting.

[I wager in our current zombie world of eyes down entranced by phones we have self-tolled ourselves as easy marks for all manner of dumbness: accidental or larcenous.]

On to combat.

The Ali Shuffle.

Was that a useful bit of pragmatic footwork?

Did it help set a more powerful punch or glide to an easy defensive slide?

Nope. often tolled like a charm.

The same can be said of Sugar Ray Leonard’s wind-milling lead or rear hand that led to a smack with the other.

These two legendary boxers were tolling with unusual behavior.

Tolling is distinct from feinting which is disguising an attack by providing something that looks like an attack to a different line and following it up with an alternate real attack.

The toll, as we now know, looks nothing like combat. Looks nothing like hunting.

In fact, it looks like a performance, it looks like a street-show, it looks like a playful dog.

For our own use, being aware of tolling allows us to enjoy the street show with a mindful hand on our wallets.


If we are thoughtful and creative perhaps, we can manufacture a few of our own canine-playful ceremonial dances that disguise our intentions and then wallop with maximum aplomb.


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