Facts you need to know about the Feist dog

Last Updated on April 26, 2023

“Good things come in small packages” – this saying is an excellent way of describing Feist dogs (pronounced as /fahyst/). Known by different names such as Mountain Feist, Treeing Feist, and many more, this breed’s history is like a jumble.

One thing’s for sure, Feist dogs are reliable as an all-around canine buddy.

Read on to learn more about this Feist-y dog. (pun intended)

The interesting origin of Feist dogs

Most breeds are developed to do different types of work, like helping in farms or hunting. The feist breed is well-known for its spot-on ability to hunt or track rodents and even large game.

Feists aren’t only popular in the South for their skills, but they also have a distinguished role in the Southerner’s history and literature.

There are a few literary references and films that include notable figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, where they mentioned or included Feist dogs. Lincoln’s “The Bear Hunt” poem describes a small dog with amazing ferocity during hunts.

Classics such as William Faulkner’s “The Bear” and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “The Yearling” beautifully appreciate how loyal Feists are.

What does the Feist dog’s name mean?

If you search for the meaning of the word “feist,” it is traced back to the word fysting – an obsolete word that means “breaking wind.” It’s also defined as a “small mongrel dog.” Sometimes, the breed’s name is used as another terminology for mutt and cur.

And if you think that this pooch got its name from the words feisty or feistiness, it’s the other way around. These terms are made from this dog’s name.

There are also a lot of variations in spelling “feist.” There’s also fyste, fist, feest, fyce, fice, and faust.

The reason why feist dogs are also called squirrel dogs

Although each canine can hunt their prey in many ways, Feists generally chase their main target above ground.

They’re different from Dachshunds and Terriers that drive out prey by going underground. These earth dogs mostly focus on rodents, badgers, foxes, and European rabbits. Most feist dogs are driven to chase squirrels, rabbits, and all kinds of rodents.

Unlike most hounds, Feists are quiet trackers up until they tree their prey. They use all their senses to trap their game and then relentlessly barking at it and circling the tree, just like how Coonhound trees raccoons.

These squirrel dogs would leap through logs, chase through streams, and even dash across roads just to get to their target and corner them. Also, though they can put up a chase to catch their prey, Feists expect their owners to kill or shoot it.

In this video, a Feist owner gives a rundown of the breed and what they’re like when hunting. Just like when Ellie bounces, which means there’s a squirrel nearby. Watch how natural and amazing she is treeing squirrels:

Mountain Feists vs. Treeing Feists

Do not raise this topic with squirrel dog fans if you don’t want to get in a heated debate. Even if there are no significant differences between the two, you’d always have to base the answer depending on where did the Feist in question originate from.

Since some say they do differ from each other and some say they’re the same, let’s get down to facts based on registries or breed clubs.

The United Canine Association recognized the Feist breed back in 2002. Treeing Feists was known earlier in 1998 by the United Kennel Club, while Mountain Feists was recently recognized in 2015 by UKC, as well.

For the American Kennel Club (AKC), they do not recognize the Feist dog yet.

Mountain Feists are energetic canines that were believed to have been bred early during the 17th century by early pioneers, but this group was first seen in the Ozark Mountains. Pretty much why they got their name.

They’re friendly, sociable, and love to keep busy. They’re also rarely aggressive, which makes them great to have around children.

Treeing Feists are noisier as they trap their target at a tree, staying at the bottom while barking non-stop. These dogs are the opposite of the Mountain Feist as they don’t warm up to strangers, both humans and dogs, quickly.

Similarities and distinction of Feists with other breeds

Ideas and theories vary as to where and how Feists were created. Some say they are descendants of Indian dogs, while others think that farmers and miners developed the breed in Great Britain. Some believe that the Feist is a combination of the two.

Others say that Feists descended from terriers such as the Smooth Fox Terrier, the extinct English White Terrier, and Manchester Terrier. Then they were crossed with other hounds like Beagles and Greyhounds for their hunting ability and speed.

Jack Russell Terrier vs. Feist dogs

A small white and tan smooth coated Jack Russell Terrier dog walking on the grass, looking very happy. It is known for being confident, highly intelligent and faithful, and views life as a great adventure.
Jack Russell Terrier

When people see a feist dog in public, most notably in shelters, they’re often mistaken as Jack Russells (both purebred and mixed) as they have similar physical characteristics. But once you break it down, there’s a distinction that makes them unique.

Feists are smooth-coated dogs with longer legs and shorter tails compared to the Jack Russell breed, which is rough-coated and has longer tails.

Their behavior is quite different, too. Jack Russells are more vocal, combative, and energetic. The Feist dog, although they’re also expressive, tends to be reasonably quiet.

But some Mountain and Treeing Feist bloodlines came from Jack Russells, such as the Treeing Walker Hound.

Rat Terriers vs. Feists

Cute male black tricolor purebred Rat Terrier dog standing in black harness on green grass in a park
American Rat Terrier

Previously known as Fox Terriers, Ratties got their popularity because of Teddy Roosevelt and his massive rat problem in the White House. But did you know that Rat Terriers are considered as Feist dogs?

Today, the American Rat Terrier is a separate breed, but it is believed that they descended from Feists.

What does a Feist dog look like?

A Squirrel dog looking up at a tree

These squirrel dogs are muscular and compact.

They have a slightly round head, a tapered muzzle, a black nose, and ears that are more often erect, but some are button or short hang.

They have long, sturdy legs and a tail that are naturally long, but some have a bobtail or docked.

Unlike most canines, the feists aren’t for show competitions but for hunting.

So, we can expect that this breed’s appearance has little to no-consistency.

They’re the type of dogs that are identified by their size and hunting skills, not by their looks.

A feist dog’s average size

This is a small to medium-sized breed with a height between 10 to 18 inches (25 to 46 cm) and can weigh about 15 to 30 lbs (7 to 14 kg).

With their size, you might think that they’d do well in all types of homes, even apartments. And you’re right! These busy furballs would be happy in any house, as long as you make sure that they get their daily dose of exercise.

The coat and color of feist dogs

Feists have short coats that are smooth and come in a variety of colors. They can have fur that’s color black, red and white, black and tan, blue and white, red brindle, and tricolor (black, tan, and white).

Most owners love Feists that have more white as they’re easier to see and follow during hunts.

And they don’t have hypoallergenic hair, but they’re low-shedders, so the grooming wouldn’t be much of a hassle.

Temperament: How are feist dogs as pets?

With no trouble of incredibly getting along with kids, feist dogs are suitable to be pets for families, older people, and those who spend more time outdoors.

Versatility is one of this breed’s strong traits, which makes them reliable as an indoor companion or as a working dog. Feists are gentle and adaptable. They just know when to adjust the level of their energy.

Feist dogs might get a little territorial due to their Terrier genes, but they’re generally accepting when it comes to strangers. If your pooch starts barking, it may be a warning as this canine has a very dependable nose for sniffing out threats and intruders.

As hunting dogs, it’s not unusual to expect that they’re an energetic breed. After a busy day, your squirrel feist would still love to cuddle with you.

If you have pests or rodents in your home, having a feist of your own would be a great solution to get rid of them. You might even notice the pesky critters gone in less than a week!

You can see in this video how trainable Feists are:

Different types of Feist dogs

There’s quite a wide variety of Feists, and since they’re bred and raised by different breeders, here are some of the kinds of this breed to give you a more specific idea of what they’re like.

Barger Stock Feists

This is a treeing type of Feist that was produced in Harriman, Texas, by Rita and Bill Barger. These small dogs also vary in terms of looks, but they’re versatile and always up for all kinds of work.

Barger Feists are fantastic at being watchdogs, but not as guard dogs because they’re not aggressive enough. They’re also friendly and excellent companions for those who love being active.

Kemmer Feists

Also known as Kemmer Stock Mountain Cur, Kemmer Stock Cur, or Kemmer Stock, this type is believed to be a mix of Feist, Mountain Curs, and Fox Terriers. Although it resembles the Rat Terrier, it’s not one of the ancestors of this particular feist.

This devoted canine can be needy. If left alone for a long time, they’d either chew on something or make a lot of noise.

Kemmer Stocks are created by Robert Kemmer, and it’s recognized by the Dog Registry of America (DRA)

Mullins Feists

Mullins are outdoor lovers that descended from Mountain Feists. In 1970, Jody Mullins started breeding them to remove vermin.

Unlike most Feist dogs, this one always has a yellow coat with white or black accents. And for working purposes, their tails are docked.

Thornburg Feists

Thornburg dogs are the most recommended as a family pet. Even if they’re bred to hunt, you’ll mostly find these four-legged hunters clinging to their humans. And one more thing you’ll love about this particular Feist is that they’re great with younger kids!

If this is your first time owning a dog and you want to start with a working breed, you can get a Thornburg.

Hunters Creek Feists

An all-American Feist dog, Hunters Creeks are bred by Irish and German immigrants are known to be destructive and noisy when bored. With that said, they’re not for novice owners.

They’re highly energetic and need to have a purpose.

Gray’s Mountain Feist

Also known as Gray’s Mountain Squirrel Dogs, this strain of Feist was initially bred in 2005 by Marcus Gray.

Gray Squirrels’ aren’t suited as family pets and would thrive with an active home and an owner who’d take them to hunt.

These hunters really excel in chasing that it even leads to competing professionally.

Denmark Feists

Despite its name, this feist originated in the US in 1971, thanks to the Slade family. They bred this specific type of feist to hunt, not only squirrels but also bobcats and boar.

By 1984, the breed was developed and was introduced as the Denmark Treeing Feist and is accepted by the UKC for only a short period. The decision was revised after a while because Demarks are considered to be too similar to the other Feists.

They may have similarities, but this one is a little stubborn and requires more patience and consistency.

Bench-Legged Feists

Also known as the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier, this feist got its original name due to its low-set, short legs. But that doesn’t compromise their excellence in hunting and a keen sense of smell.

Unlike other members of the feist family, Teddy Roosevelt Terriers are the only type that is recognized by the AKC. They started as a part of the Foundation Stock Service dogs in 2016, and then they got full-recognition in 2016 under the Miscellaneous Group.

A unique trait that’s notable with this feist is its clown-like nature due to their need to please its human.

Pencil-tail Feists

There is little to no information about this elusive feist, but it is thought that they descended from a ratter in Spain. Even so, they have similarities with other feists when it comes to their personality and physical features. They’re also recognized under the Terrier Group by the CKC.

With its name, you might think that they often have long tails, but some of them are born without it.

Buckley Feists

Buckley’s are Mountain Feists that originated in Kentucky, where breeding was done by Jack Buckley. It’s one of those canines that aren’t considered by kennel clubs as they’re a sub-breed of Mountain Feists, but they have a group that’s called Buckley Registry.

That doesn’t mean they’re not great dogs. Buckley’s are recommended to be family pets as they’re excellent with kiddos, and they don’t easily give in to their instinct to run after squirrels and other rodents.

Other than being a gleeful furball, the Buckley Mountain Feist are devoted to their humans.

Charlie Feists

Known as a travel companion since the 1800s, the Charlie feist is a warm fido that is renowned for its loyalty. This friendly little pooch is one of those dogs that believes everyone is a friend.

So, if you’re hoping to get a feist pooch that’s going to be your buddy for quite some time, this feist has a lifespan of 15 years.

You’d love how adaptable your four-legged pal is, that you’d probably decide to have him tag along wherever you go.

Caring for Feists is easy-breezy

It’s relatively simple to take care of a feist dog. The usual baths, feeding, and exercise should be provided, though.

Since there is no need to extensively groom your feisty pooch, you just have to make sure that he gets the mental and physical stimulation he requires.

How often should you groom a feist dog?

The frequency with washing your Feist would depend on each canine.

With this fido’s love for the outdoors, you can expect that your four-legged friend would end up dirty after a run through the woods. That means you only have to give your pet a bath when necessary. It can be more often if your feist dog has a lighter-colored coat.

Reduce the shedding further by brushing your doggo’s fur once a week. This will also help with removing the dirt and debris from his hair.

Don’t forget to do a weekly check and cleaning of your Feist’s ears, teeth, and nails.

A diet for a squirrel dog

With this breed, you can go for any type of dog food – raw, canned, or dry kibbles. What you should be mindful of is that you should feed your feist dog based on his age, size, activity level, and in some cases, health issues.

For the amount, some say that a cup to 1.5 cups of dog food would be enough for a day. But to be more specific, Feists require about 400 calories for daily consumption.

Exercising Feists when they’re not hunting

Feist dogs are bred to chase and hunt, and some even get to climb trees! Take their history into consideration if you have this breed as a pet. Although they’d thrive more when working, as long as you can give them 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, then they’d do fine as a family companion.

Even training your Feist to hunt a squirrel can help with concentrating your dog’s energy to good use:

This is one canine that will enjoy going on a jog or run with you, or even a hike!

If you do decide to take your Feist dog out of the house, be sure to keep him on a leash. This will help control his tendency to chase. It will also be best if you work on his recall, just in case he escapes from your home or the leash.

For mental and physical stimulation, you can have your squirrel dog join canine sports such as flyball and agility. You have to be creative in making this little sprite busy to avoid undesirable behavior.

Health problems a Feist may have

This breed is generally healthy and can live up to 18 years of age, which is a long life expectancy for most canines.

But they may still develop a few ailments. Other than that, Feists aren’t known for having major health concerns.

It may sound surprising as hip dysplasia is more common with large dogs, but squirrel dogs are susceptible to getting it as well. This illness may affect all breeds, but there are fewer small canines that show clinical signs.

Watch out for allergies, too. All dogs can develop an allergic reaction to certain substances that are dangerous for them. It can be triggered by grass, trees, pollen, cleaning and bathing products, and more.

Where to buy your own Feist puppy?

close-up photo of a Feist dog puppy
Source: @katijohodges / IG

You can find a squirrel dog for sale online, but beware of which kennel you’re buying from. As much as possible, we want to avoid purchasing from pet stores and other kennels where they get their pups from puppy mills.

Be sure to ask questions and request to visit the feist parents and the rest of the litter, so that you can see the environment. It will also let you see if the dogs are aggressive or scared, which probably means they’re not stable personality-wise.

If you’re confident that you find a breeder that cares for their dogs and legit, expect the price of a Feist dog to be between $300 to $500.

Feist dog breeders

Start your search with known kennel clubs that recognize this breed to be safe as they have registered breeders.

UKC’s Find a Breeder section gives you an option to select the state and country you’re in and the type of feist to look for.

You can also check out Mountain Feist Squirrel Dog’s Kennel Directory for more breeder options.

While browsing Facebook, we think it’s worth your time to check out Carolina Squirrel Dog Kennels and the Feist Dog Foundation.

Feist dog rescue and adoption

As we mentioned earlier, this breed is often mistaken as Jack Russells, mostly in shelters because they look similar. But there are organizations, such as Feist – Rescue Me, that specifically have Feists who are waiting for their new human and home.

You may visit PetFinder and PuppyFinder for feist dogs and mixes available.

Should you or should you not get a Feist dog?

This is something that you’d often hear when talking about specific breeds, but Feists is one dog that’s recommended for all kinds of owners. Whether you’re a Southerner who wants to honor your background or you just wish to have a devoted companion that’s little in size but fearless, you can have it all in this squirrel dog.

Some may say that they’re not ideal for first-time owners, but Feist dogs are brilliant and adaptable, so they’re easy to train, low maintenance, and are handy with home pests.

If you have a home that has a safely fenced yard where your pooch can run freely, then it’s all settled. Going out and letting your Feist get busy, such as canine sports and the dog park, or maybe take a hike or a jog around the neighborhood, that’ll make you both happy. Just don’t forget the leash and steer him away from squirrels!

For those who are looking for a partner to hunt small and large game, this feisty canine is the right match for you.

What’s your Feist dog like? Have you figured out what type it is? Share it with us by commenting below.


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