Mountain Feist Breed: Pictures, Characteristics and Facts

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Are you looking for a lively and energetic dog with a lot of character? The Mountain Feist is all that and more. You’d be forgiven for thinking they are very similar to the Jack Russell (one of the fastest dog breeds), only with longer legs, and they certainly share many characteristics and a lot of heritage.

Read on to find out more about this fast and enthusiastic breed. We’ll be looking at appearance and personality, exercise and training as well as health and feeding. 

Now, let’s meet the Mountain Feist…

Mountain Feist Breed – Overview

The Mountain Feist is a small to medium-sized working dog. There are a few different varieties of Feist, and they all have their own alias, so it’s a good idea to define what we mean.

A relatively rare dog, the Feist used to be considered a “type” rather than a breed, but with numbers dropping, a campaign to recognize and preserve the breed led to the Treeing Feist being recognized as a breed by the United Kennel Club in 1998, and then the Mountain Feist as a separate breed in 2015. It is sometimes also called the American Feist or the Mountain Terrier.

The Mountain Feist has a background in hunting small animals so is an active, rough and tough dog who loves to be outside and very busy. This breed needs a calm, confident and consistent pack leader to bring out their best qualities.

Mountain Feist Breed – Vital Stats

mountain feist appearance

Height: 10” – 22” tall

Weight: 10 lbs – 30 lbs

Lifespan: 10 – 18 years 

Origin: USA

Alternative Name: American Feist and Mountain Terrier

Mountain Feist Breed – History

It is believed that the Feist is descended from the many terrier type dogs that accompanied early migrants from Britain. These probably included the White English Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier and Manchester Terrier. 

These would have accompanied settlers and would have been widely used to guard smallholdings, help the owners with hunting small game, and keep the vermin population down around the farm. It’s likely that somewhere along the line other dogs were added into the mix, for example scent hounds, native Rat Terriers and Greyhounds to add speed.

Because many of these early settlers were largely illiterate, there are few written records pertaining to these dogs, but we know they were around because George Washington mentions them in his diary, and Abraham Lincoln, before the Civil War, wrote a poem that mentions “fice” dogs.

The origin of the name “Feist” is difficult to pinpoint. Some say it comes from being feisty – noisy, determined, active and forceful. However, it’s more likely that the word feisty came about as a comparison to the dog. In fact, it seems that the word Feist comes from an old English word for breaking wind!

Regardless of the name, it’s certain that these dogs have spent hundreds of years following along behind small farmers scratching a living from mountainous countryside such as the Ozark or Southern Appalachian Mountains. There they were well-loved as low-maintenance dogs able to hunt, rat and tree.

As lifestyles have changed, however, and the need for a perky little dog to accompany you on squirrel hunts has diminished, these dogs have fallen out of favor – a real shame as they have a lot of spirit and make a delightful companion dog too.

Mountain Feist Breed – Appearance and Size

mountain feist dog

The Mountain Feist is quite similar in appearance to the Jack Russell or to the Rat Terrier, but there are some significant differences. Here are the key characteristics.

They are a small to medium-sized dog, measuring between 10″ and 22″ in height and weighing 10 lb to 30lb. They are longer than they are tall, with a deep chest and a strong neck and back and powerful hind-quarters. Their tail is high and erect.

Their wedge-shaped ears can be erect or semi-erect and are set well back on the side of their head. The skull is slightly rounded and the medium-length muzzle tapers to a point. Eyes are small and dark and always alert to everything going on around them.

Their short and smooth coat comes in a wide variety of colors, including tricolor with spots, black and tan, blue and white, red brindle, white, red or red and white.

Overall, the Mountain Feist has a compact and wiry appearance, especially in movement, which is quick, flowing and agile.

Mountain Feist Breed – Personality

mountain feist

Now to the personality. The Mountain Feist is best described as being high spirited but lovable.

Being bred to keep pests on a small-holding down, they are used to having a bit of independence and making their own decisions and they absolutely love to hunt, climb and chase. This means that they can be somewhat strong-willed and that they have a strong prey drive.

They love to be outdoors and require a lot of exercise. We’ll talk more about this later, but ideally you’ll either take this dog hunting regularly or will commit to around two hours of exercise every day to burn off some of that energy – or you could find yourself with a destructive escape artist on your hands, he has no problem with digging, chewing, climbing or jumping! 

On the other hand, although the Mountain Feist doesn’t necessarily sit pining for you and will make his own fun, they do develop a strong bond with their family. They have a great temperament and get on well with children and other dogs. They love to play and if they are bored or want attention, will attempt to initiate a game.

With enough exercise, they will be settled and calm at home, though they are curious and will always be alert to what’s going on. Aside from when they are hunting, they can be quite vocal – using growls, barks and howls to communicate, and can be protective of you and their territory. This can mean they can be quite noisy which isn’t so good for the neighbors.

Generally though, this is a lively dog with a playful personality. A free-thinking, intelligent pet, you will need to be consistent with training to ensure that your Feist knows you are in charge. However, with an experienced owner, it will be highly adaptable to different situations and will soon learn when to run and chase and hunt, and when to be calm and quiet.

It is worth noting that one of the things that sometimes distinguishes Mountain Feists from Treeing Feists is that Mountain Feists are friendly, sociable and slightly quieter, whereas Treeing Feists are noisier and less likely to get on well with children and other animals.

Mountain Feist Breed – Grooming

You’ll be pleased to hear that grooming your Mountain Feist is very straightforward. They were bred to be low maintenance on the small-holding. An occasional comb or brush to remove dead hair, or a wipe over with a grooming mitt every few days to help spread the natural oils is usually all that is needed.

They should not need bathing often, and this should be avoided as it can strip away the waterproofing oils in the coat. 

They are not hypoallergenic, but do not shed often, so this is not a great problem for most people even with a mild allergy to dander. 

You’ll also need to regularly check teeth, ears and claws.

Mountain Feist Breed – Feeding

Your Mountain Feist is not a demanding eater. This breed will be happy with pretty much any type of dog food, whether dry biscuits or wet canned food. Approximately 400 calories per day split between two meals is ideal but you should check with your vet to ensure that you meet their nutritional needs at different stages of their life.

Mountain Feist Breed – Exercise and Training

As a hunting dog, the Mountain Feist will be happiest if able to go hunting with you. They are adept at hunting squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, all kinds of rodents and some birds. It will use sight, sound and smell to silently track and stalk and will then tree their prey, barking at you to come and finish the job. They are also adept tree climbers.

As you can imagine, if you’re not able to go out hunting, then the Mountain Feist will need to get active in other ways. They will be delighted to join you in long runs, so if you’re training for a marathon, they are the buddy for you! Other activities to consider include agility, flyball and weight pulling. Throwing a ball to fetch is also a good way to use up their energy.

This is not a dog that is happy to snooze on the sofa all day. They want to be active, and if they are confined without enough activity, they will become bored, frustrated and destructive, as well as climbing, digging or jumping to get out to have some fun elsewhere.

Because of the high prey drive and strong-will of the Feist, although they will be happiest running free in an open space, they should only be allowed off the leash in a contained area unless you are very confident in their recall training. They would spot a squirrel or cat and dart off across a busy road in pursuit without thinking twice.

When on the leash, it’s important that they walk behind you or to heel. In fact, this goes for all aspects of life with your Feist – they can be quite stubborn, and every opportunity should be taken to demonstrate that you are the leader of the pack.

Having said that, they are intelligent dogs and are excellent at picking up commands and get on well with an experienced owner and rewards based training. As long as they know who is boss, they can develop an excellent training relationship and can learn a wide variety of tasks.

Mountain Feist Breed – Health

The Mountain Feist is a healthy, robust breed with few expected health problems and a long-expected life span. However, there are a few health issues which stem from their outdoor lifestyle.

Watch out for:

  • Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Ehrlichia – regular flea and tick deterrent applications should minimize this but check for ticks regularly and be on the watch for symptoms of these diseases.
  • Parasitic diseases such as lungworm or heartworm are contracted through contact with larvae in feces or biting mosquitoes.
  • Leptospirosis, an infectious condition acquired through drinking infected standing water such as puddles.
  • If they have floppy ears, they may be more prone to catching and tearing on brambles or getting infections.

In general, just keep an eye out for any unusual behavior or signs of illness and maintain your regular checkups and vaccinations with the veterinarian and your Mountain Feist should have a long and healthy life.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Mountain Feist Breed

Will a Mountain Feist be happy in an apartment?

As a smaller dog, the Mountain Feist is quite suited to apartment or small home living, as long as they get plenty of opportunities to get outside for games and exercise. However, they can be quite vocal, so this may not please your neighbors and if they are cooped up for too long, you will notice some problem behaviors emerging.

What’s the difference between a Mountain Feist and a Treeing Feist?

This is actually quite a controversial question and can spark heated debate among experts. For most of their history the names were pretty interchangeable, and it depended on where you were from. The United Kennel Club recognized the Treeing Feist breed in 1998 and it wasn’t until 2015 that they recognized the Mountain Feist as a separate breed.

Largely, you need to look at the parentage and breeding background.

Some breeders would suggest that if the ears are pricked upright then it’s a Mountain Feist and if the ears flop it’s a Treeing Feist, or that Mountain Feists are more sociable and friendly and less vocal, but these differences are all quite arguable.

Are they good with children or with other pets?

Mountain Feists are great with children, enjoying their company and always ready for a game. With their independent, strong will though, be prepared for some frustration as both dog and child have different ideas about the game! 

It is not recommended to keep a Mountain Feist with smaller pets and particularly rodents. They have been bred to hunt and have a very strong predatory instinct. They do generally get on well with other dogs.

How do I find a Mountain Feist puppy?

Feist dogs are largely found in the southern United States. The best place to start is probably by reaching out the Continental Kennel Club to find a breeder in your area. 

The breeder should be willing to answer any questions you may have, and you should be able to see both parent dogs, and the situation where the puppy has been raised.

Can I work full time and still own a happy Mountain Feist?

Mountain Feists love to spend time with the family and will definitely be happiest with good long spells of exercise, games and training with a family member. However, provided they are getting enough interaction the rest of the time, they don’t mind being left home alone for a few hours.

Final Thoughts: Is a Mountain Feist Breed the Right Fit For Your Family?

Now that you’ve heard all about the Mountain Feist, you’ll have a good idea of whether this breed of dog will suit your family situation.

As with all dog breeds, it comes down to getting to know the breed you are interested in and asking some honest questions about whether you have the lifestyle to meet their needs.

The Mountain Feist is a wonderful, adaptable, spirited, tough but friendly little dog – a real all-rounder. This breed is happiest with a lot of outside activity, especially if it involves the opportunity to run, chase and climb, and their bright eyes will fill with joy if they can spend time doing these activities with you. They are the opposite of couch-potato dogs.

If you have the time and patience for consistent and calm parenting and training, and the inclination and lifestyle to offer the kind of outdoor activity that this breed craves, then a Mountain Feist may certainly be a good breed for you to consider.

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