The Feist dog, often overlooked in the vast world of canine breeds, holds a unique place in American culture. With its sharp instincts, agile body, and an unparalleled passion for hunting, this breed has carved its niche as one of the premier squirrel hunters. But what makes the Feist dog so special? Why has it been the subject of admiration from notable figures like George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt? In this article, we delve deep into the world of the Feist dog, unraveling its history, characteristics, and the very essence that makes it a beloved choice for many.


At first glance, the Feist dog might seem like any other small to medium-sized dog. However, a closer look reveals a breed that’s been fine-tuned for hunting excellence:

  • Physical Characteristics: Typically standing between 10 to 18 inches tall and weighing between 15 to 30 pounds, the Feist is a compact powerhouse. Its short coat, which can range in colors, is complemented by long legs that give it the speed and agility it’s renowned for. The ears, set high on the head, can be button, erect, or short hang, while the tail can be natural, bobtailed, or even docked.
  • Temperament and Behavior: Unlike many hunting dogs that can be aggressive or overly territorial, Feists are known for their balanced temperament. They’re loyal, intelligent, and while they can be energetic, especially when on the hunt, they’re also known to be affectionate family dogs.
  • Hunting Abilities: The Feist’s claim to fame is its exceptional hunting prowess, especially when it comes to treeing squirrels. Unlike hounds that might chase prey on the ground, Feists use their keen senses to chase and corner squirrels up trees. Their hunting style is more about strategy and patience, often waiting silently for the right moment to strike. And while they’re passionate hunters, they rarely harm their prey, making them perfect companions for those who enjoy the thrill of the chase without the kill.

Origins and History

The Feist dog isn’t a recent discovery. Its roots run deep into the annals of American history, with tales of its hunting prowess echoing through the centuries:

  • Historical Mentions: The Feist’s presence in America can be traced back to the days of the founding fathers. George Washington, in his diary entry from 1770, described a dog as “a small foist-looking yellow cur.” But he wasn’t the only president to acknowledge the breed. Abraham Lincoln, in his poem “The Bear Hunt,” made a mention of the “fice” dog, highlighting its significance even in literary circles.
  • Origins: The Feist’s lineage is a blend of cultures and continents. Some historians believe that the Feist descended from Native American dogs, which were then mixed with small terriers brought over from Britain. This blend of native and foreign breeds gave the Feist its unique hunting abilities and temperament.
  • Popularity Surge: The 20th century saw a resurgence in the Feist’s popularity, thanks in part to President Teddy Roosevelt. An avid hunter, Roosevelt often embarked on hunting expeditions accompanied by his trusty Feist named Skip. This presidential endorsement cemented the Feist’s reputation as a premier hunting dog in America.


The name “Feist” might seem peculiar to some, but its origins offer a fascinating glimpse into the breed’s character and historical perceptions:

  • Origins of the Word: The term “feist” finds its roots in the obsolete word “fysting,” which intriguingly means “breaking wind.” This might seem like an odd connection, but when used in expressions like “fysting dog” or “fysting hound,” it perhaps alluded to the breed’s feisty and spirited nature.
  • Modern Interpretations: Today, the word “feisty” is synonymous with being energetic, especially when referring to something small and lively. This adjective perfectly encapsulates the Feist dog’s energetic demeanor, despite its relatively small stature.
  • From Fysting to Feisty: Over the years, the term evolved, and the Feist dog became emblematic of spirited energy. It’s a testament to the breed’s enduring character that a term once used to describe it has now become a part of everyday language, celebrating spirited and lively behavior.

Comparison with Similar Breeds

While the Feist dog stands out in its own right, it’s often compared to other breeds due to certain similarities. Let’s demystify these comparisons:

  • Feist vs. Jack Russell Terriers: At a glance, Mountain Feists can be mistaken for Jack Russell Terriers, especially in shelters. However, there are distinct differences. The coat of a Feist is generally softer and smoother than that of a rough-coated Jack Russell. Behaviorally, while both are active, Feists tend to be quieter and lack the excessive barking often associated with Jack Russells.
  • Feist vs. Rat Terriers: The lines between Feists and Rat Terriers often blur, primarily because they share a hunting lineage. However, while Rat Terriers are a specific breed within the feist type, Mountain Feist or Treeing Feist dogs are unique breeds in their own right. The crossbreeding between terriers from England and native Feist dogs led to a more uniform appearance, but the core hunting instincts remain distinct.
  • Feist vs. Fox Terriers: Both breeds have a history of hunting, but their primary prey and methods differ. Fox Terriers, for instance, were developed to flush out foxes for hunters in England. Their white coats, similar to Feists, made them easily visible during hunts. However, their hunting techniques and temperaments can vary significantly from the Feist.

In essence, while there are surface similarities between the Feist and other terrier breeds, each has its unique characteristics, history, and hunting style that set them apart.

Varieties of Feist

The Feist dog, while a distinct breed, encompasses various sub-breeds or varieties, each with its own unique characteristics and specialties:

  • Mountain Feists: This variety includes several sub-breeds such as the Baldwin Feist, Buckley Feist, DenMark Feist, and Galla Creek Feist, to name a few. These dogs are particularly known for their agility and adeptness in mountainous terrains, making them excellent treeing dogs.
  • Treeing Feists: As the name suggests, these Feists excel in treeing prey. Some of the notable sub-breeds within this category include the Atomic Feist, Barger Feist, and Boggs Creek Feist. Their keen senses and relentless drive make them exceptional at cornering prey up trees.
  • Other Varieties: There are numerous other Feist types, each bred for specific hunting purposes or regional adaptations. Examples include the Sport-bred Feist, Thornburg Feist, and the Rat Terrier, which, while often considered a separate breed, shares many characteristics with the Feist.

Each variety of Feist, while sharing the core characteristics of the breed, offers unique traits that make them stand out. Whether it’s their hunting style, physical appearance, or temperament, these varieties ensure that there’s a Feist for every hunting enthusiast.

Care and Training

Owning a Feist dog is a rewarding experience, but like all breeds, they come with their own set of needs and preferences. Here’s a guide to ensuring your Feist is happy, healthy, and well-trained:

  • Diet and Nutrition: Feists are active dogs with high energy levels. Ensure they receive a balanced diet rich in protein to support their active lifestyle. Regular vet check-ups will help tailor their diet to their specific needs.
  • Exercise: Given their hunting background, Feists require regular exercise to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. Daily walks, play sessions, and occasional hunting or treeing exercises will keep them content.
  • Training: Start training early, focusing on basic obedience commands. Given their hunting instincts, Feists can sometimes be stubborn, but with consistent training, they can be very obedient. Positive reinforcement techniques work best.
  • Socialization: Expose your Feist to different environments, people, and other animals from a young age. This will ensure they grow up to be well-rounded and sociable dogs.
  • Grooming: Feists have a short coat that’s relatively easy to maintain. Regular brushing will keep their coat looking its best. Don’t forget regular check-ups for their ears, nails, and teeth.
  • Health: Regular vet visits, vaccinations, and preventive treatments for parasites are essential. Feists are generally healthy, but being aware of common breed-specific health issues can be beneficial.
  • Mental Stimulation: Beyond physical exercise, Feists need mental challenges. Puzzle toys, training sessions, and games like hide and seek can keep their minds sharp.

Owning a Feist is a commitment, but with the right care and attention, they can be loyal, loving companions for years to come.


The Feist dog, with its rich history, unparalleled hunting prowess, and spirited temperament, stands as a testament to the diverse tapestry of canine breeds. While it may not have the widespread recognition of some other breeds, its unique qualities make it a treasured companion for those fortunate enough to know it.

From the annals of American history, with mentions by figures like George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, to the backwoods and mountains where it showcases its hunting skills, the Feist has carved a niche for itself. Its varieties, each with its distinct characteristics, further enrich the narrative of this remarkable breed.

For hunting enthusiasts, the Feist’s agility, intelligence, and drive are unmatched. For families, its loyalty, affection, and spirited nature make it a beloved pet. In essence, the Feist dog embodies the spirit of adventure, loyalty, and tenacity.

As we celebrate this incredible breed, we’re reminded of the diverse and rich world of dogs, each breed bringing its own story, legacy, and charm. The Feist dog, America’s squirrel hunter extraordinaire, is undoubtedly a shining star in this canine constellation.


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