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What is a Feist Dog?

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?)

What is a feist dog

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

Feist dog Wally
Feist mix Wally West on a hike

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
  • 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:

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.

Wally on a walk with his doggie backpack

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.

Wally practicing the “shake” trick

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.

Feist Wally running next to my bike with his doggie backpack

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.

Wally “leaving” his raw dog food

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.

Wally in a down-stay on a walk

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.

My feist dog Wally West
Feist dog Wally wearing a head collar and his doggie backpack

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!

Feist Wally socializing with other dogs

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 Feist

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’ Feist

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 Feist

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 Feist

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.

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Friday 25th of March 2022

I bought a dog at a fleamarket many year age. The man told me he was a bench legged feist he was blue in colorwhite patch on chest Kinda wired hair hated cats and was a squirrel dog. I lost his a few years bk. But he was a very loyal dog his name was PETE first time I had ever heard of a bench legged feist. I would love to show you a picture of him.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 25th of March 2022

You could email it to sounds like a great dog


Monday 14th of February 2022

Your Wally could be my Jolene's brother! We got her from someone who couldn't handle her energy. They had gotten her from a local shelter. The shelter labeled her as "Jack Russel Mix" but my vet immediately said she thinks Jolene is a Feist. Besides, the shelter guessed she'd get up to 15lbs and she's actually 35lbs at 1 year old. So, there's that. I've been around reddit talking about her and I think she could also be a Black Mouthed Cur. Looking up images of both bring photos that look exactly like Jolene.

Either way, she's definitely a hunting dog! She's the ONLY dog I've ever had or known that has actually (accidentally, on my part) caught a squirrel in the yard. She's SO fast. She's also very hyper. She's only a year old, so some of her energy is due to her age, but we also have had her in weekly training classes since we got her in order to give her consistent activity. She's incredibly smart and learns things very quickly although sometimes she's too hyper to pay attention and we need to exercise her first.

I've never had such an energetic dog (Not even our actual Jack Russel Mix, Maggie) but I love her just the same. She keeps me more active than I would be without her :P

Here is a link to a picture of her if you're interested. This was in the back of my car one day after an hour long training class. She's always pretty relaxed after classes and she was calmly watching the people walk in and out of the store.


Saturday 8th of January 2022

This is such a helpful post! I too adopted a dog from a shelter and was not sure what she was. They said Chihuahua and Beagle, but she grew so fast and seems more Beagle Boxer or something. But I just found out about Feist and HOLY COW that's likely her. People think Pippa has some Pitt, but that's likely because of how her ears are. I really want to do a DNA test but haven't done it yet.

She is about 26 pounds now and the vets don't know exactly her age. But she is a sweet girl! Such a cuddle bug, is very gentle with small children and is playful with older children and attacks newcomers with love and cuddles. When playing with other dogs, she is kind of an ankle biter, wants to be the boss, but absolutely loves to play with other dogs.

Thank you for sharing this info!

Kate Kelley

Friday 3rd of September 2021

I adopted a pup 3 months, she is now 5 months old. She is from Mississippi and I believe she is a Feist. She is your dog Wally's twin. Her name is Scarlett. I am so interested in learning about this breed.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 3rd of September 2021

Aww, congrats on your new pup!

Christina Veselak

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Thanks for your article. We found our dog who is now a year old abandoned by the side of the road in the West Virginia Hills when he was like eight weeks old. We assumed he was a jack Russell/Lab mix because He was small, very bouncy and agile but had short reddish blond hair. Then a few days ago somebody told us that they thought he was a Feist, which we had never heard of before. In looking at the pictures we think that’s exactly what he is! He is a little less intense than he was as a young puppy but still runs as fast as I’ve ever seen a dog run and zigzags beautifully. He’s incredibly affectionate and friendly. He really is feisty though!