8 must know facts about the feist dog breed

8 Must Know Facts About the Feist Dog Breed

When you adopt a new dog, it is always a good idea to know a bit about its breed before you take the plunge. For some breeds, this is easy, but other breeds, like the Feist Dog, aren’t that well known. Dog personalities vary so much. If you don’t know a little bit about your dog’s breed, you could be getting anything from a protective watchdog who is bad with children, to a happy cuddle muffin who would probably become best friends with your intruders rather than raising the alarm!

Feist Dog Breed

Introducing the Feist Dog

If you are a dog lover, you probably have a pretty good idea about the personality of many dog breeds. Labradors are friendly, German Shepherds are protective, and Border Collies are intelligent, but you may need a little bit of help with the lesser-known breeds, such as the Feist dog.

Read here our guides on Dog Food for Border Collies and Dog Food for German Shepherds.

Feist dogs are an American home-grown mixed breed created by crossing terriers brought over from England with several different breeds. Most commonly, Greyhounds, Beagles, or Whippets. Although not often listed as part of the most popular breeds, they have had some famous advocates, such as President Teddy Roosevelt who had a Feist named Skip, and author William Faulkner who owned several and mentioned them in his work ‘The Sound and the Fury’.

Check out our articles on Dog Food for Greyhounds and Dog Food for Beagles.

Interestingly, most of these advocates use different spellings of the dog’s name, from Fyce, by Faulkner, to Fice, by Abraham Lincoln, and Foist, by George Washington. This just highlights the confusion caused by the breed as their exact origins and understanding are unknown. While we can be fairly confident of their Terrier routes, many other stories are floating around, such as that they are also descended from a short-nosed breed bred by Native Americans.

8 Feist Dog Fun Facts Everyone Should Know

The United Kennel Club only recognizes one type of Feist – the Treeing Feist – as an identifiable breed, but outside of their definitions, the breed can vary quite widely in characteristics. The average Feist, however, is 10-18 inches in size and 15-30 lbs in weight. A dog is more than its physical characteristics, however, so what other Feist fun facts do you need to know? Here are 8 essential facts to get you started.

1. Feist Dogs Are Hunting Dogs

A great way to understand more about a dog is to understand their history and why they were bred. Possibly as early as the 17th century, terriers from Britain were being bred with hunting dogs to create hunting companions here in the United States. Many Feist dogs are still used for hunting today.

The most common type of Feist – the Treeing Feist – gives us a clue as to how these animals were used in hunting. Rather than stalking, attacking, and bringing back the prey themselves, which is known as retrieving, these dogs were trackers. Their small stature made them light and fast, which made them ideal for tracking rodents, such as squirrels. This is where the tree comes in. Feist dogs chase and corner the squirrels in trees so that they remain trapped, giving time for the Feist’s owners to line up their shot.

When you adopt a dog that is bred for hunting, you must be prepared for a certain level of aggression. For many breeds, it can be very easy to train and control this aggression, but you must be prepared to commit to this training. Luckily, Feists are trackers, not retrievers, and this reduces their aggressive tendencies when compared to other hunting dogs. Trackers tend to be more playful and excitable than aggressive as they are not required to attack any animals, just trap them.

You may also like our review of the Best Food for Hunting Dogs.

2. Feist Dogs Are Southern Icons

Teddy Roosevelt and William Faulkner are not the only famous faces that had a love of Feist dogs. Many Southern names showed affection for the dog, such as Presidents George Washington, who was born and died in Virginia, and Abraham Lincoln, a native of Kentucky. In fact, it is quite an interesting cultural phenomenon how knowledge about one little dog can change so much depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you are on.

As these dogs were originally born and bred in the South, it comes to no surprise that they embody the historic culture of toughness and tenacity that has arisen since the days of the frontier. The dogs were raised to survive a difficult and harsh rural life, and so have developed a ferocious personality, despite their small stature. It is very likely their name even derives from the word ‘feisty’.

Their place in Southern culture can be found in some Southern literary works. As we’ve already mentioned, William Faulkner, who was born and died in Mississippi, wrote favorably about them in many works, as did President Lincoln, who wrote a poem featuring the dog’s fierceness that he titled ‘The Bear Hunt’. A Feist named Perk also features in the book ‘The Yearling’ by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and its 1946 film adaptation.

This Southern connection may endear you to this breed if you are, yourself, from a Southern state, but on a more practical note, it is worth highlighting that, as we’ve mentioned, this mixed breed’s accurate origins are a little bit of mystery. If you add in that they are relatively less well known as a breed, it is possible that some vets in northern states will not be as familiar with them as other breeds.

feist dog on coach

3. Feist Dogs Are Not Jack Russell Terriers

How familiar your vet is with your dog breed is not likely to cause much of an issue, but the more familiar a vet is with a particular breed, the better advice they will give you when it comes to preventative health care and lifestyle. Some dogs need more food and exercise than others, for example, or they may be genetically prone to certain health problems, as we will discuss next.

When it comes to Feist dogs, in particular, many people get them confused with the Jack Russell Terrier. This is not as problematic as getting a Bull Dog confused with a Labrador, but they are very different animals. Dog shelters, in particular, commonly mistake the two breeds, so it is worth double-checking when you adopt from a shelter.

Differences that suggest you are looking at a Feist and not a Jack Russell include:

  • A softer, smoother coat
  • Longer legs
  • Shorter tails
  • A calmer, less combative attitude when not hunting

To be fair on those who misidentify the Feist dog, it is a very difficult breed to recognize. Their mixed breed status means they can vary wildly, and there is no consensus about what constitutes the two main types of Feist – the Mountain Feist, or the Treeing Feist. Indeed, many organizations have only recognized one of the two types.

4. Feist Dogs Live Long Lives

The average Feist dog lives around 13 years, but it is worth noting that they have been known to live up to 18 years. This is a serious commitment, and something you must be ready for if you want to adopt one. They are generally very hardy and healthy breeds with strong immune systems, and who rarely fall ill.

Their long lifespans and toughness are probably due to the tough environments that they were bred in, but that does not mean they do not have their weaknesses. All animals and breeds have some genetic weaknesses that may require some preventative health care. Common Feist health problems include:

  • Allergies

Feists can be prone to a variety of allergies, from food allergies to pollen and environmental allergies. You should watch out for allergic reactions and potential symptoms, and note down as much information about what could have caused the reaction before taking them to the vet. Your vet will be able to run some tests to try and find the allergen. Once you know, it is as simple as making sure they avoid the allergy in the future.

  • Hip or Elbow Dysplasia

This is a skeletal disease that can occur in smaller dogs. Essentially, it involves the bones that make up your dog’s joints growing abnormally, causing rubbing and friction in the joint. The joint will then be unstable, and pieces of bone or cartilage may even break off. Over time, your Feist may suffer from pain and arthritis. Early discovery can allow for surgery that may help prevent this. Your vet will be able to tell you if this is necessary.

  • Patellar Luxation

A similar joint issue as dysplasia, patellar luxation occurs when the knee joint is formed abnormally, causing the joint to move out of place. You can go to your vet to ascertain whether your Feist’s knees may need some extra care, but many dogs can still live full lives even with the condition. If your dog is diagnosed with patellar luxation, you must simply keep an eye on their knees, particularly for any pain or lameness. Severe cases can be treated using surgery.

Take a look at our guide on Dog Knee Braces.

5. Feist Dogs Are Fun And Energetic Companions

If you are an active person seeking a companion who can keep up with you, then a Feist is perfect. Their hunting past has ensured they have plenty of energy and loyalty. This can make them fantastic family pets as they are also quite good with kids, partially due to their usage as tracking dogs, rather than as aggressive retrievers. They are also not too high maintenance, due to their good health and relative cleanliness.

They do require training, however, and their excitability will make them a noisy companion. They will also chase any other animals you own, such as a cat. If your children are energetic and other animals do not scare easily, a Feist may be perfect for your family. Be sure to train them, however, to keep them manageable. You don’t want an over-excitable Feist who runs away whenever you take them to the park.

6. Feist Dogs Are Very Intelligent

Luckily, training a Feist dog is not too difficult because they are very intelligent animals. All hunting dogs are intelligent because it is an essential part of tracking down prey. A Feist’s love of humans and its eagerness to impress us will make training relatively easy. Their territorial side will make training very necessary, and you should start early with socialization training.

Some very intelligent dogs can become a handful, but the Feist dog has just enough intelligence to make training easy, while not challenging your authority. This can make them a pretty good pet for first-time dog owners. Just remember to seek plenty of professional advice to make sure you training them using the best methods possible.

7. Feist Dogs Are Great For Pest Control

A Feist’s hunting past is not only great for their intelligence, but it is also very useful for you if you have a bit of a rat or mouse problem. This can come in handy in all homes, including small apartments, but it is most useful if you have plenty of lands to protect. Farm life can have a particularly notable rat and mouse problem. Whether you are farming the land, or are living on converted farmland, a Feist dog is a great dog for keeping unwanted visitors at bay.

Their heightened sight and smell will see rodents you probably wouldn’t even notice, and they will chase them away. They are also less likely to catch and kill these animals and bring them back to you as unwelcome gifts because they are just trackers. If you want to encourage this behavior, don’t forget to train them through rewards.

cute dog with ball

8. Feist Dogs Can Be Expensive

All dogs can rack up quite the cost over their lifetime, and it is worth noting that Feist dogs will be more expensive coming from a breeder than from a rescue shelter. Adopting a rescue can cost around $300 upfront while adopting from a breeder can cost between $400 to $3,000. This is not to say you shouldn’t adopt from a breeder, but do your research and make sure they are reputable and do not support puppy mills.

Their long lifespans will also contribute to quite a high total cost, so make sure you have the funds to support them financially for the rest of their lives. Many life events can affect your income, so look ahead and make sure there is always a plan for your new best friend.


  1. Samantha Drake, 10 Lesser-Known All-American Dog Breeds, PetMD
  1. Jessica Cashatt
    Sep 12, 2022

    I just laid my sweet Rosie to rest in May a week before her 19th birthday. She loved to swim, ride the boat, jet skis even tube with the kids. She was an amazing dog. Fiest/chihuahua mix. Best dog I’ve ever had. I live in NC. If I could ever find another one I would have to have one again.

  2. Ellie Curle
    May 12, 2022

    I got my puppy Harley from a market in Mississippi, they said she was a chihuahua/feist mix but she’s a little too big to a mix. She’s very talkative and very fast, likes to immediately go for squirrels when we take her outside. Another accurate thing is she chases our cats, but one of them likes to play with her- so that’s good! She’s a sweetheart for sure. Just turned a year old!!

  3. carig
    Apr 01, 2022

    I have a feist who is the best dog a guy could ever want. He is so smart and loves to be close to you when resting. He is the fastest dog you can imagine but all business when it comes to small game. He has a very even calm temperament and a noble posture. Not yappy at all unless there is something in the yard or nearby. Then he is laser focused. He will kill a rat but just toys roughly with the squirrels when he catches them. He does get a little nuts when I fish just wants to jump in the water and barks when I am casting. If it has to do with hunting or fishing that dog is all in.

  4. Kirk
    Mar 04, 2022

    My Fiest is maybe still friend. I don’t know if this is what the article was describing but My poor little guy has blown out his knee now for the second time. First time he had surgery to replace the ligaments in his knee. After a very long recovery he did well for about two years and now he blew out the same knee again. Has anyone else had this problem with their Fiest dog?

  5. Darlene Bush Tucker
    Sep 27, 2021

    Our intrepid little Mountain Feist is intelligent, loving, patient, protective, a joy to our hearts and household, precious beyond description. She’d clearly be a great squirrel and rabbit hunter, is plenty interested but we keep her busy on truck rides and to lots of parks where we go on long walks so she can still sight all the usual creatures while also maintaining her pacifist nature, lol. She is just a hair shy of talking, easy to communicate with from day one when we got her from the shelter. She is black, tan, white. Gorgeous little head. Very attuned to nature, especially predators like big owls and wild hogs. Since we never want anything to happen to her we don’t really let her out unless we are super close. She has great hearing/sight/smelling powers. She has two beds, one in our room (she likes hubby more for some reason, maybe just because he’s a guy and she’s a girl? Or cuz he’s taller than me? ), Has one dog bed in tv room and comes and goes as she pleases, has run of the house. Her nicknames are all terms of endearments but also Miss Click Click because even with clipped nails you can still hear her coming down the hall but she can still sneak up on us when she wants. A talented girl! Well-behaved. Worth a fortune to us.

    • Krissy Thompson
      Nov 23, 2021

      I adopted mine as a puppy through a craigslist ad, who told me she was pitbull. When she stopped growing I knew she was a mixed breed as not large enough to be full blooded pit haha. I had never heard of a feist but after asking the breed of a stranger’s dog I came to learn of them. Taileen is an affectionate girl, with a beautiful little face. She absolutely loves to rule our big fenced in backyard, and at times will remain there all day while refusing to come into the house. She loves to chase cats, squirrels, and birds. But she seems to enjoy the chase more than a goal of catching or harming. If she escapes from our house she goes to our neighbors house, who then plays with her and gives her food before returning her to us. But not before she has thoroughly chased all the neighborhood cats into hiding. She is especially willing to perform all kinds of acrobatic tricks and performances for the almighty TREATS until they run out haha. And man can she jump HIGH!!

  6. Pat
    Sep 14, 2021

    Nice article. We had never heard of a feist when we adopted a rescue rat terrier/feist 3 years ago, He’s good company, is very smart and learns quickly. My husband taught him to play frisbee, and it is a joy to watch him gracefully sail thru the air with a frisbee! He’s a handsome dog, too.

  7. lauracooskey
    Sep 06, 2021

    The word “feisty” came from the name for small, independent-minded dogs. It’s a complicated etymology, and one site i just found suggests that farts are mixed up in it all. But in general, “feisty,” as inspired by these bright but stubborn little dogs, came into use in the late 1800s because of feist dogs, not the other way around!

  8. Celina
    Jul 12, 2021

    I just lost my feist she lived for 19 years I can say she was 1 of the best dogs I’ve ever had?. I just decided to get another dog and decided on another feist. They are smart, loyal and protective if necessary.

  9. E Dawson
    Jun 23, 2021

    Do they eat feces?

  10. Charles Laster
    May 28, 2021

    Our house dog is a Pomeranian/Feist mix. She is smart, thinks that not all strangers are marauders, but all marauders are strangers. Hence she barks at the FedEx people like she’d eat them up starting at the ankles. She’s got a, layered coat, and a tail.that curls up. And she loves to take a walk, and LOVES to chase squirrels.

  11. May 22, 2021

    Is it common for a Feist to kill rabbits?

  12. Vickie Hurt
    Mar 24, 2021

    Thanks for the info. I have and adore my Mountain Feist rescued dog, Kippy. Did not know what he was until several older men informed me that I had a “squirrel dog”, a Mountain Feist. Googled for info and sure enough that’s my Kippy. Super smart, loving, loyal. He truly rescues me back every day.

  13. Anita
    Aug 02, 2020

    This has been most helpful. I think I was given a feist instead of what I was told a chihuahua. but I am grateful for the fun and companionship my little girl has given me so far and look forward to the future.

  14. John Evans
    Jul 31, 2020

    Great article. Thanks. Just adopted a first from the shelter. Loving dog and a great friend.

  15. Jul 12, 2020

    I have a fiest/ Australian shepherd/ mini Australian shepherd who is blind and hard of hearing.. I dont know how to train or figure out how big she will be can you help

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