My aunt has a mixed breed - rat terrier/feist. I had not heard of feists until maybe a year ago or two. They are a beautiful hunting breed and have wonderful personalities. Here is a pic of my aunts mixed breed - Chauncy - and my Delilah.
Anyone have any info on the breed - or own one. I looked it up on the net but couldn't really find much. From what I can tell it is a squirrel dog and popular in the south, but I couldn't find much on their origins/history.
One group of dogs that is poorly understood, even by hunters, is feists. David Osborn is the author of Squirrel Dog Basics, a book that provides an overview of squirrel hunting and the feists that are used to hunt the critters.
According to Osborn, the feist is recognized as a breed by all the multi-breed registries, including the Canadian Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. However, the name is also used generically to describe dogs for their specific squirrel hunting behavior.
"A feist can be a very pedigreed family of dogs that's been bred to tree squirrels for generations," Osborn says. "It also can be a full-blooded rat terrier, as long as it meets the size and coat characteristics for a treeing feist."
Breeds such as rat terriers and smooth-haired fox terriers can be cross-registered as feists, and some crosses between recognized full-breed dogs can be registered as feists also.
"There's a lot of controversy about all this," Osborn continues. "Some people believe that these dogs come from the old-time feists that the Native Americans had. Other people say European terriers were the primary influence in their ancestry. In my opinion, they're dogs that were carried down through the generations because of their function and utility, and they very likely have many different breeds in their ancestry."
Although today's feists are primarily used for hunting squirrels, they can be very versatile dogs.
"Until the 1950s or so, most rural homes had these small multi-purpose dogs," Osborn says. "They might have been used to keep predators from killing the yard chickens, or to protect the home from intruders. Also, their owners might take them out and tree squirrels, possums and even raccoons. Today, many family lines of feists have been specifically bred to be squirrel dogs."
The common thread, however, is that feists are very small dogs.
"Dogs of either sex can't weigh more than 30 pounds," Osborn points out. "Males can't be more than 18 inches, and females can't be more than 17 inches. But some of the registries vary a bit from that."
Most registries include some measure of function as well. For instance, an official of the registry must have actually seen the feist treeing a squirrel or raccoon. That part of the breed standard makes the feist unique among hunting dogs.
A feist's suitability as a house dog and pet varies tremendously depending on which family line the dog comes from.
"They're happiest when they're family members," Osborn says. "But some family lines make better pets than others, just because some family lines are so excitable that they try your patience a bit as a pet. Other family lines are very content lying on the couch with you."
The ideal feist, Osborn contends, stays with its hunter on the way into the woods.
"I have my dog on a leash," Osborn says. "Then I release my dog, and he runs out and searches for a squirrel. How far he goes to look for a squirrel differs. Some handlers don't like their dogs to get out of sight. Other handlers want their dogs to go wherever they need to go to find a squirrel. If they can't find a squirrel where they went, they check back to see what the handler wants them to do. There's a tremendous amount of variation in terms of hunting behaviors and hunting styles."
Once a dog locates a squirrel scent trail on the ground, Osborn continues, it follows that scent to a tree and uses its eyes and ears to try to locate the animal.
"Once they locate a squirrel, then it's their job to stay at that tree and bark until the handler gets there," Osborn concludes.