Feist Dog – Here’s the History, Temperament and Characteristics of this Mountain Dog Breed

If you’ve been searching for a dog breed that would fit in with your active lifestyle, you may want to consider the Feist. The Feist, despite being one of the oldest dog breeds in America, is lesser known than some of its popular counterparts. These small, scrappy dogs are great for hunting and companionship and if you have the energy to keep up, might be a great breed to consider as a pet.

What is a Feist?

A Feist is a small or medium-sized dog clocking in at 10-18 inches tall and weighing 15-30 pounds. They have short hair, although since they’re bred for hunting rather than appearance, they rarely look the same. For the most part though, these little dogs have long legs, high ears and are especially great at hunting small game.

These hunting dogs work to chase aboveground prey such as squirrels. If you take one out for a walk, you may find them getting excited whenever they see rabbits or other small rodents too. They’re known for giving rodents a tough chase, but they rarely catch squirrels or rabbits and leave the hunting up to their owners.


These little dogs were brought over to the United States by English miners and other immigrants as early as 1770. A number of historic figures took note of them, with George Washington being the first to record them; although a lot less is known about their genetic lineage since there are so many different crossbreeds of Feists today. There are multiple theories on their origins, but everyone can agree that they are of mixed heritage and not necessarily a breed. Some organizations, like the United Kennel Club, recognizes the Feist breed, although the American Kennel Club does not.

Feists originally lived in the southern mountain regions and were first developed in Britain for working purposes. Their appearance as working dogs wasn’t important, so they were bred with other breeds like the Smooth Fox Terrier, Manchester and Jack Russell. When they came to the United States, they were usually working dogs found on farms.

Over time, the Feist has been used in the South for multiple purposes, especially hunting and tracking. The speed of the Feist has even been increased through breeding, making it a great breed even in modern times for hunting small game.


Before you introduce a Feist to your home, know that they’re very curious and have high energy levels. They rely a lot on their eyes, ears and nose and need to go out to play daily so they can exercise and become more comfortable hunting.

They’re known to be alert, since they were made to be hunting dogs and they will love the companionship you offer. Be prepared to give your dog lots of attention and playtime too, so that they’ll stay happy.

In addition, be aware of the fact that Feists are vocal dogs and may not be good in an apartment setting, or where neighbors are very close by. A Feist will growl, bark and bay in a way you’ll usually see in other hunting breeds, but become very quiet when they’ve found a scent.

They also feel more comfortable in a pack setting, which is why they’ll latch onto you very quickly. If you get a Feist as a puppy, they end up becoming very attached to you or your family.

If you have other pets, be careful if those other pets are rodents like hamsters. You must always supervise your Feist around them, or else your Feist might think your small pets are prey. However, they do usually get along with other dogs just fine though and will make friends quickly.

General Appearance

Due to the fact that the Feist is bred to be a hunting dog rather than a show dog, they often come in a variety of colors and types. You may not see many that look exactly the same, but there are general characteristics that remain the same.

Body Type

You will easily recognize a Feist from their general body type. This is because they’re usually sturdy, with a long and broad muzzle. They have small, dark eyes, with ears that are long and erected up and sometimes folded. Their legs are strong, while their tail is medium in length and usually erected upwards.

These dogs are compact and solid, with good substance supporting them. They’re not very refined dogs, but they do usually have a proud stance with a smooth neck and larger head. Their feet are oval or round and compact, to help them run on any terrain.

Feist Coat

A Feist, despite differences in color, will always have a smooth coat of fur that remains short. This makes the Feist great for grooming if you don’t have a lot of time to brush them. You will find that these dogs vary in color too and you will usually see them with coats with colors such as light brown, black, white, red and white, blue and white, or black and tan. No matter what color you find though, the Feist will remain loving and energetic.


When you watch a Feist move, you’ll see them jump around in a tireless, springy manner. This is due to the fact that their strong muscles allow them to use their forelegs to run quickly. They also have a wide reach with their paws too and a large width between the hind feet when they’re extended. This gives them good balance, reach and drive and thus, this is the reason why they’re so great at hunting.


Thanks to having short coats, Feist dogs are not that demanding when it comes to grooming. They don’t shed a lot, so a bit of spontaneous brushing every now and then will suffice to keep them looking well-groomed. However, because Feists enjoy playing in the outdoors, you might need to wash them regularly to keep them clean, especially if they have a light-colored coat.

Like other dogs, your Feist will need to have its teeth brushed, ears wiped and nails cut every now and then as part of a periodic grooming routine. However, the nails may not need to be clipped most of the time, because your dog will most likely wear them down spontaneously while playing. So, the Feist is really quite low maintenance when it comes to grooming.

Ideal Environment

Your Feist will definitely enjoy being outdoors than being cooped up inside the house, so you should take him or her for frequent walks and play games with it in the park, or on your backyard if it is big enough.

The best part about this friendly breed is that you will be able to take them out and about without worrying about them antagonizing or fighting with other dogs. They usually just focus on what they’re doing and are friendly towards everyone, including other pets.

The most important thing is to spend time with your dog every day, so that you are able to form the type of close bond that an affectionate Feist longs for. So, keeping them inside a tiny apartment is definitely not an ideal environment for them, unless you commit to taking them out for walks every day.

Possible Health Problems

Generally speaking, Feists don’t have a lot of health concerns and instead, have the longest life span of any other breed of dog. In fact, they can live for up to 18 years while experiencing only a few health problems. Since the Feist’s lineage can’t be traced to a particular breed, owners have no background knowledge to give them an idea of what to expect health wise. That said, they are susceptible to two of the most common afflictions for dogs and that is hip dysplasia and allergies, but even then, only to a small degree.


Feists are vulnerable to the same food allergies as other dogs and shouldn't be fed things like chocolate, avocado, fish, etc.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a skeletal disease that’s characterized by a loss of function in the hip joints. Although there are cases of late onset, this condition usually starts while the pup is still young. Nevertheless, it is rare for Feists to show clinical signs of the condition and luckily, there is effective treatment available.


As you are aware by now, Feists are always a bundle of energy and they’re always up for a game, or a walk, or a jog around the local park, or even your yard if the space is large enough.

The most important thing is to place them in an environment that is conducive for their high energy temperament and as their owner, you have to commit to spending at least 30 minutes of your time in helping them exercise and this is besides their own natural play. Regardless, there are some considerations that you have make with regards to keeping your dog safe while they play, including:


Feists are well-known for their love of chasing smaller animals like squirrels, dassies and rabbits, so they’ll spend a fair amount of time doing that if your yard allows it. Add to that enough food and water and a safe shelter to return to after the play is over and you’ve given your dog nirvana. Just be sure to inspect your fence periodically for any holes or gaps that might cause harm to your dog and repair them as soon as possible when you find them.

Thanks to its small size, the Feist is one of only a few dog breeds that are able to climb over fences. In fact, your Feist will easily make light work of climbing a chicken wire or hog wire fence, but will often struggle to get back in when they’re done playing outside the yard.


While Feist dogs can do well with leashes, it’s advisable to start them while they’re young. It is nearly impossible to teach an older Feist dog how to be on a leash and this will obviously affect your ability to take them out for walks. So, it is recommended that you start early while it is still a puppy.


Feist dogs enjoy dog parks because they get along fine with other animals and people, so you won’t have to worry about any uncomfortable incidents happening when you take them out. In fact, you are able to make a day of it and bring your dog’s favorite toys while you’re there and really engage with him or her in play, instead of being on your phone all the time.

When you buy your Feist toys, keep in mind that it enjoys hunting and it will enjoy any game that stimulates their hunting instincts. It is especially important to take your dog to spaces like dog parks when you live in an apartment where they don’t usually have lots of space to run around in. Plus, they’ll appreciate the attention and will return the love tenfold.

Is It A Good Family Dog?

Feists are very social animals - they enjoy being around people, especially children and this makes them the perfect family dog. Moreover, they are always in the mood to play, which makes them an absolute hit with kids of all ages.

They can be very flexible, so playing around with children is no problem. They will be gentle and adaptable and they will know when to adjust their energy levels in order to accommodate your kid.


It’s important to train your Feist while it’s still a pup, as waiting until its old might prove ineffective. You see, while Feist dogs have an agreeable temperament and a quick-learning intelligence, they can be very challenging to train if it is left too late. Otherwise, they will easily respond well to your commands when trained well and from an early age. In addition, the best way to bring the best out of them is to make hunting activities an integral part of their training.

feist dog breed overview

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The Feist may not be the most popular or well-known breed out there, but more and more people are considering them for companionship and hunting. These little pups are small in size, yet they have a big bark and are always ready to play around with you or the family. If you’re looking for a family dog or one with high energy, the Feist may be a great option.

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