Have you ever heard of the Feist dog breed? I hadn’t, at least not until early 2019 when I adopted my Feist mix Wally West from a rescue organization here in North Carolina!
I’m Barbara and I write regularly for That Mutt. I’m also a blogger over at K9s Over Coffee.
What is a Feist dog?
One of the very first questions I had for the rescue group lady I was in contact with was exactly that … um, what the heck is a Feist?! Haha!
I had never heard of the breed, let alone worked with one, and I’ve worked with 200+ dogs in my capacity as a professional dog walker and pet sitter.
Feist dogs are American Squirrel Hunting Dogs
The woman at the rescue group said that Feists are American hunting dogs who were bred in the Southern United States. When I did a little more research on my own, here’s what I found out:
Feists likely descended from English Terriers and Native Indian American dogs and excel in small prey hunting, especially squirrels, but also raccoons, bobcats, opossums, and sometimes rabbits. (We’ll add cats to that list too, right Wally?)
Feists track their prey using their eyes, nose and ears. They are mostly silent while trailing their prey until they trap them on a tree and then alert their human by barking.
I laughed when I heard that since squirrel hunting had also been my previous dog Missy’s specialty, and she was nowhere close to a Feist as far as I know. Missy is my late Boxer mix whom I lost to cancer in late April 2018.
And sure enough, whenever Wally is in a yard with lots of trees or in the woods, he gets super excited when he spots “his” squirrels, alerts me to their presence, and goes into hunting mode. One year and 3 months later, he has yet to catch one. But who knows, his perseverance might just pay off one day!
So yes, Wally can certainly be persistent, but his overall demeanor is friendly and he’s also gentle with kids.
Size and colors of the Feist dog breed
Wally is a medium sized Feist. He has short hair and weighs 38 lbs. He is red & white. His body is mostly red, but he has white markings on his chest and neck, all four paws, and on his tail end.
In general, Feists are small to medium size dogs who weigh somewhere between 10-35 lb and come in 6 different color variations:
- Red & white
- Red brindle
- Black & tan
- Blue & white
- Black, tan & white
As I found out, the size, coat as well as head shape depend on the respective Feist variety. More on that in the section later, “Are there different kinds of Feists?”
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Why I adopted my Feist dog Wally
When I adopted Wally in early 2019, he was about one year old. My original plan was to foster him for the rescue group I mentioned before until they found a new home for him. However, since he had already been to several homes in his short life, I didn’t feel that it was fair to uproot him yet another time and decided to adopt him myself.
That’s although I didn’t feel 100% ready for a new dog in my life quite yet. Missy left a huge hole in my life, and for some reason I assumed I’d be adopting another Boxer (mix), and not a breed I hadn’t even heard of!
However, I knew that I’d eventually want to bring home another somewhat active dog who could come along on daily walks, occasional hikes and road trips. Wally certainly checked those boxes off!
Although I felt I wasn’t completely ready for a new dog yet, I’m glad I went ahead and stepped outside of my comfort zone when I adopted Wally regardless of that feeling.
He’s been a fun addition to my life and keeps me on my toes, but he’s also a great cuddle buddy, awesome co-pilot whenever we’re in the car, and he’s always up for a new adventure!
Do people guess that he’s some other breed when they see him?
Whenever I’m out and about with Wally and someone talks to us, they inevitably ask what breed he is. Except for one person, no one’s ever heard of the Feist dog breed and interestingly enough, no one ever has any suggestions as to what he might be!
When I took Wally to get a bath and a nail trim at a local pet retail store, the lady who checked us in asked what breed he was.
She needed that information for her pricing software which would determine the price of his grooming session.
Feist wasn’t a breed option within that software, and she had the hardest time finding a category for him. She ended up categorizing him as a boxer because his size and coat length is similar to that breed.
I suggested getting in touch with the software maker to add the Feist dog breed, and she said she would!
Funny enough, the only one who’s ever taken a stab at guessing what else he might be is our vet. She said he might have some Shiba Inu doggie genes besides the Feist ones. I suppose that could be the case!
However, I have yet to order one of those doggie DNA tests, and I’m not sure that I will. For the moment, I’m perfectly content knowing that Wally is a Feist mix. Maybe he’s even a full-fledged DenMark Feist – more on that later!
Do Feist dogs make good pets?
Feist dogs make great pets as long as their physical and mental exercise needs are met. After all, they’re a working dog breed.
That means they need a job in order to be fulfilled and not display problem behaviors.
Of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be squirrel hunting or any hunting at all for that matter. It just needs to be an activity that engages them on different levels and that drains them of their energy, again both physical AND mental energy.
Jobs for a Feist dog
There are a bunch of different jobs that Feist dogs can perform, such as:
- Backpack walks and hikes
- Bike rides
- Nose work
You can find more job ideas for your active pup in the article I co-wrote with Lindsay from That Mutt – 20 Jobs for My Dog.
Wally’s jobs consist of daily backpack walks and several weekly bike rides. The backpack makes him focus on the weight he’s carrying on his back, and the bike rides next to me require him to pay attention to the bike and myself.
Besides that, both obviously also exercise him physically.
We also practice tricks and play games together like “find me” where I’ll put him in a “sit”- or a “down-stay” while I hide somewhere at my place. Then I’ll call him and he has to find me.
When he does, I reward him with verbal praise and a tasty, high-value treat like air-dried or dehydrated green tripe.
Both activities are highly mentally stimulating and will tire him out after we’ve had a few sessions of each. He’ll usually curl up for a nap right after, which goes to show that a tired Feist is a good Feist!
By the way, remember when I mentioned that Wally had been to several homes within his first 12 months?
Well, I have the feeling that whoever adopted him was overwhelmed with his working breed genes.
If they only stuck him into a yard, never took him for structured walks and didn’t mentally challenge him with food puzzles or games, I can imagine that he must have been very annoying!
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How much exercise does a Feist dog need?
That being said, the individual exercise requirements will depend from one Feist dog to the other, also depending on their age and body condition.
It’s safe to say that they need at least one hour of physical exercise per day, but two are better.
Like most dogs, Wally is most active in the mornings which is when we’ll go for our backpack walk. He’s active again in the late afternoon which is when we’ll go for another walk or a bike ride.
In both scenarios, he’s had plenty of sleep at night and naps throughout the day to make him feel active and full of energy again.
Are Feist dogs easy to train?
Feists are smart dogs and fairly easy to train. They do best with short training sessions that end on a positive note, but honestly most dogs do!
Wally proved that when he learned his new name in no time (I changed his name from Pablo to Wally) and also when he learned how to run next to my bike in no time.
See That Mutt’s article 10 Tips for Biking With Your Dog for more information on this topic.
He knows the basic obedience commands such as:
He also learned tricks such as:
One of the first commands I taught him was the “leave it” and the “sit-stay” combination at mealtime. It’s super important to me that my dogs behave nicely and respectfully around their food, and I’m happy to report that Wally embraced both quickly.
I always put him into a “sit-stay” while I prepare his raw meal and then ask him to “leave it” once I put his bowl next to him on the floor before he’s allowed to eat.
I incorporate the “sit” and the “down” command when we’re out walking. It adds a certain level of difficulty as opposed to practicing in our living room.
That’s because there are a lot more distractions outside – other people, running kids, bikes, dogs, cats, you get the idea.
Wally and I also enjoy practicing his basic obedience commands when we’re out shopping together in pet retail stores and other dog-friendly places like Tractor Supply or Lowe’s.
We’ll walk down the different aisles and do a “sit” in one aisle, and then a “down” in another aisle.
Do Feist dogs get along with other animals?
Since Feist dogs are small prey hunting dogs, they generally don’t get along very well with smaller pets such as cats and guinea pigs. That’s unless they were raised with them from puppyhood.
I strongly recommend supervising any interaction your Feist dog has with a smaller pet he’s not used to being around.
As far as other dogs are concerned, Feists typically get along with them.
Wally generally gets along with other dogs regardless of size if he’s had a proper introduction on neutral territory, like on a structured walk.
By structured I mean a walk where no pulling or lunging is allowed. I like to walk him on a head collar for that reason.
Wally’s met a good amount of other dogs so far, ranging in size from my roommate’s small Pekingese mix Lila to a friend’s large Goldendoodle, Lulu!
However, Wally does not get along with cats AT ALL!
I’ve made some progress with managing his reaction to cats he sees on walks, but if he could he’d chase them down! Maybe they remind him of squirrels, who knows 😉
So far, Wally hasn’t met any other animals besides dogs, cats, and the squirrels and birds he sees in yards or on walks.
We live in the countryside, so he’s smelled cows, horses, and donkeys on car rides when the windows were rolled down. He didn’t seem to care too much though!
Now, Wally has seen some of the smaller pets that PetCo sells when we’ve walked past their cages. However, he hasn’t shown any interest in them either. Those were fish, guinea pigs and a few reptiles.
I’m assuming that was the case because they didn’t really move around very much. My guess is that Wally would probably have zoomed in on the guineas if they’d been “racing” across their cages.
Do Feist dogs shed a lot?
Feists are average shedders. They have a wash-n-go coat that’s short and smooth, and they do well with a few brushings per week. Wally loves getting brushed!
In comparison with my roommate’s Pekingese mix Lila or my friend’s Golden Retriever Lucy, Wally sheds a lot less. But if you compare him with my friend’s Goldendoodle Lulu, he clearly sheds more than her.
I shake out his doggie blankets once or twice a week, and vacuum 2-3 times per week. That takes care of cleaning up after his shedding!
What are some similar breeds?
When I researched the Feist breed, I found that Mountain Curs are just as crazy for squirrels as Feists, but unlike Feists they track their prey by scent only.
Mountain Curs are larger and weigh somewhere between 30-70 lb. There are 9 varieties within the Cur breed and each have their own published breed standards.
A similar breed to both is the medium-sized Cajun Squirrel Dog. It’s a mix of Feists and Mountain Curs with a natural treeing ability. Cajun squirrel dogs weigh between 20-35 lb and have a short coat that’s either red, yellow, white and red or brindle.
Are there different kinds of Feist dogs?
While doing more research on the different types of Feist dogs, I came across the Feist Mix Dog Fans Facebook group and joined it. There’s many pictures of Feist mixes that look a lot like Wally! Super interesting.
I also went ahead and purchased the book Squirrel Dog Basics: A Guide to Hunting Squirrels With Dogs by David A. Osborn.
According to this book there are 4 varieties of Feist dogs:
DenMark Feists weigh 25-35 lb and feature a broad muzzle along with longer legs than other Feist varieties. Their coats are short and either red, yellow, or red and white spotted.
Denmark Feists hunt to catch and kill, not just to tree. […] They are silent or semi-silent while following a scent trail. […] At home, they protect their human families from unwelcome strangers. They fear nothing and, when necessary, will battle farm predators to the death. Above all, they are “people dogs”.Osborn, David A. 1999. Squirrel Dog Basics: A Guide to Hunting Squirrels with Dogs. Page 53. Treetop Publications, Athens, Georgia.
Mullins’ Feists weigh 16-40 lb and never feature erect ears. Their coats are either yellow, yellow with white trim, and black, but never brindle.
A Mullins’ Stock Feist is crossbred, but must be at least one-quarter Mullins’ Feist with the other parts either feist or cur. […] make excellent pets, companions, and home protectors. […] They are silent while trailing and bark well at the tree. […] They are “gritty” on all types of game, very intelligent, and require little training.Osborn, David A. 1999. Squirrel Dog Basics: A Guide to Hunting Squirrels with Dogs. Page 54. Treetop Publications, Athens, Georgia.
Thornburg Feists weigh 12-25 lb and feature a more “blockily structured head” than other Feists, mostly erect ears, and long legs. Their short and smooth coats are either red and white, black and white, tricolored, red, blue-ticked, or black and tan.
Thornburg Feists are silent while working a scent trail, but bark well while treeing. […] They increasingly use their noses to hunt as they mature. […] They are persistent while treeing, sometimes staying treed for hours on raccoon-sized game. Farrell Thornburg describes them as smart, easily trained, and mild mannered. They are aggressive towards small game but not so towards other dogs, livestock, and people.Osborn, David A. 1999. Squirrel Dog Basics: A Guide to Hunting Squirrels with Dogs. Page 58. Treetop Publications, Athens, Georgia.
Treeing Feists weigh 10-35 lb and feature short ears, “long and keen muzzles,” along with strong legs. Their short coats can be any solid color or mixed colors of any pattern.
Treeing Feist is a catchall name that includes various types of small dogs that haven proven treeing ability. […] In fact, a Treeing Feist is a small form of American cur. […] Some Treeing Feists are good combination dogs, hunting both squirrels and raccoons. […] Treeing Feists are known for their intelligence and loving personalities. However, some may become overly nervous when introduced to unfamiliar people, dogs, or surroundings.Osborn, David A. 1999. Squirrel Dog Basics: A Guide to Hunting Squirrels with Dogs. Page 60. Treetop Publications, Athens, Georgia.
I found a YouTube video of a Mountain Cur/Feist/JRT mix who looks similar to Wally!
This YouTube video I found features a Cur/Feist/JRT mix who looks like he could be Wally’s brother! The pup is busy chasing after a (dead) squirrel that’s being used for training purposes.
Does the Feist dog have specific health risks?
Overall the Feist dog is a relatively healthy dog. They do, however, have the potential of developing hip and elbow dysplasia and can also be prone to allergies.
My Feist Wally is raw-fed in an attempt to boost his immune system and keep him as healthy as possible. Part of his raw diet are certain cuts of meat and foods that are naturally rich in glucosamine and chondroitin.
For example duck feet and bone broth. Both are excellent joint lubricators and can help prevent joint pain and arthritis.
I also had a food and environmental sensitivity test done on Wally as he did seem to be itchy when he ate certain types of food.
I’ve been able to eliminate his itchiness ever since eliminating those foods from his raw diet. For example, he doesn’t do well on chicken, quail or salmon, but does great on turkey, beef and mackerel.
See my article Dog Allergy Testing with the Glacier Peak Wellness Allergy Scan for more information on this topic.
Does the Fesit dog bark a lot?
Overall, Wally is a fairly quiet dog. He does, however, bark when he knows someone’s about to walk up to the house, regardless of whether it’s the mailman or a friend.
He also starts howling when he hears a firetruck or police siren! It’s hilarious and was completely unexpected the very first time I heard him do that.
Now we’d like to hear from you!
Do you have a Feist dog or know someone who does?
If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!
Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt. She is certified in raw dog food nutrition from Dogs Naturally Magazine and the author of three ebooks about balanced raw dog food. She is a blogger at K9s Over Coffee.
Friday 24th of February 2023
I recently adopted a Feist. I too had never heard of the breed but was looking for a sporty dog to accompany me on daily trail walks. Ellie is an awesome dog, super smart and athletic and also a dog that snuggles up in bed at night and is really sweet. She's a great fit for our family with teen kids.
Monday 30th of January 2023
Feists are not American, they originate in Northwest England, especially Lancashire. I've owned several and they are very common to this day in my area. The red-ginger colour with white socks and a white tip to the tail is the most common to see, Wally is exactly like those. I expect the feist came to America along with English migrants in the 19th century.
What is the background to the Feist? They are a cross of a sight hound such as a Whippett or small greyhound to a terrier, usually a Jack Russell type, which tends to produce supremely athletic little dogs than can run fast all day but are also extremely good at catching rats and other small animals - that was what they were bred for, ratcatching in the Victorian slums of NW England. There are a few similar breeds such as the Toy Manchester Terrier and many Jack Russells can be rather similar to a feist, but lack the large back legs and arching back the feist inherits from the whippett.
Monday 9th of January 2023
I have a Fiest (DenMark) mix. Her name is Maisie. Her mom is a DM Fiest and her dad is a JRT. I was on the hunt for a working dog for my farm. I have a Great Pyr who lives with the livestock and a couple of barn cats. The GP takes care of the big threats (coyotes, foxes, raccoons). The cats take care of the snakes and mice but I would notice an occasional rat. The Pyr leaves the mice alone but he has caught a few rats. I had been looking into getting a JRT but as I was reading and searching I decided on a Fiest. I work at a retail farm store and that very week an older man came in and mentioned he had a litter of pups that needed homes. When he told me what they were I asked to see them. And brought home my best girl, Maisie. She does not tree squirrels often because I taught her to focus on rats and mice. The GP, the barn cats, and Maisie are the best team! She is 18 months old now. She loves our two house dogs (an 18 lb chiweenie thing and a Bichon). It hurts her feelings when the 15 year old cat ignores her instead of plays with her but the younger cat will play and they do well together. The hardest part of our days is when I leave for work. My work keys jingle sounds different than my house keys. She knows this. When I pick them up she runs to the front door to wait for me. She knows she can not go with me when I go to work. As I step out the door she grabs my pant leg and tries to pull me back in. She is not a car chaser but she will chase my car as I leave so we have trained her not to go out the door without permission. But the way she begs me not to leave breaks my heart; it does make for a great homecoming though. I put my bag and keys down to be greeted with so much excitement and love then the dogs and I go for a patrol around the farm.
Saturday 30th of July 2022
We rescued purebred basenjis for 20 years, and then suddenly in 2013 this pup popped up in West Virginia on a basenji-mix rescue site I had never seen before. I fell in love with her, and we flew her across the country in June 2013 and named her Tallulah. She was a doll — and an inveterate squirrel hunter in our wooded back yard. I knew she was not basenji at all — she barked like crazy at squirrels and passing “intruders,” but it wasn’t until after she died suddenly on Dec. 28, 2021, of nemangiosarcoma that I figured out what she was. At that point, I looked up the shelter website in Beckley, West Virginia, to see if they might have other similar dogs, and their site had a picture of a dog that I could not have told apart from Tallulah. The people at the shelter said that dog was a feist, of which I had never heard. Research indicated their history, the fact that George Washington always had a pack, Abraham Lincoln mentioned them in a speech, and William Faulkner wrote about them in “The Sound and the Fury.” So I started scouring the country for feists in need of homes. Most were on the East Coast, and these days it’s hard to get groups to ship dogs, but I found a dog that I am convinced is feist and who had been part of a transport from the east to Oregon, where we live, and we took her in on Jan. 31, 2022, and named her Fiona. She is wonderful (although incredibly reactive toward bikes, cars, people with dogs, and at first just people on their own), but we have been working diligently to overcome those issues, and she has made great progress in her first five months (tomorrow!) with us. While she is totally feist in size, looks, and behavior, I have done DNA testing that pegs her as “cattle dog,” to which she bears absolutely no resemblance in appearance or behavior. What is a “cattle dog” anyway? We experienced the same thing initially with Tallulah, whose initial breeds showed white Swiss shepherd, French basset, visla, and one other that I have forgotten, oh yes, Samoyed three generations ago which explained her incredibly thick shiny coat and perpetual smile. Years later, I suddenly got an update (after ner death) from Wisdom Panel saying that lo and behold, further refinements in research suddenly now showed beagle, jack russell, American foxhound, and tree walking coonhound. Suddenly it all made sense — she was a feist. Now I am left with the same conundrum with Fiona. I am positive she also is feist, but the limitations on DNA analysis are so vague and incomplete that it could take another decade to establish her true nature. She looks and acts like a feist and has absolutely no characteristics whatsoever to link her to this vague “cattle dog” appellation (except that she is wicked smart). What experience do you have in this area. Thanks, Randi Bjornstad, [email protected]
Thursday 16th of June 2022
My husband and I have a feist 6years old had her since 8wks old.she is about to give birth she breed with our One Year old bull massive/pit.what breed Will they be and do you think they will be be to large for her to birth .
Sunday 19th of June 2022
I'm guessing and hoping she will be ok delivering her puppies, but I don't know.