Mountain Feist

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Mountain Feist
Mgray84 /

The Mountain Feist is one of those slightly confusing breeds that is a ‘type’ of dog rather than a specific dog breed…only to complicate matters further this ‘type’ has received official recognition making it into a breed. Go figure!

So, what type of dog is the feist? He’s a small, active, working dog that shares much in common with the groups of terriers to which he owes his heritage. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for mistaking him for a Rat Terrier or Jack Russell Terrier, as he has much in common with these dogs.

He’s a dog with a strong prey drive and a need to be very active. A roughy-toughy low maintenance dog, he was once a common sight amongst small holders in early settlers in the US. Now a rarer sight, you’re more likely to come across his close relatives – Jack Russell Terriers or Manchester Terriers than the Mountain Feist. However, having achieved a recognised breed status in 2015, they now have a degree of protection to maintain their status and appearance.

About & History

The Mountain Feist could be considered a ‘vintage dog’. Go back half a century and he was all the rage. In Southern America in particular, especially the Ozark Mountains and Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Mountain Feist was to be found by the heel of most people that were scratching a living from the land.

These small dogs were tough characters that thrived on the outdoor lifestyle. With a strong instinct to hunt and track they excelled at keeping down vermin, such as rats and mice, but also rabbits, raccoons, and opossums. The Mountain Feist was also partial to chasing squirrels, hence their reputation for climbing trees and their other name of the Treeing Feist.

Such was the Mountain Feists influence that they accompanied the first settlers as both companions and hunters. Indeed, they are mentioned in the diary of George Washington, whilst Abraham Lincoln included them in a poem.

What are the origins of this breed? Their bloodlines are descended from the many types of terriers that accompanied early migrants from England. The latter already had flourishing lines of highly effective small hunting dogs, such as the Jack Russell Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, Manchester Terrier, and the now extinct White English Terrier.

In addition, the mish-mash that is the feist, was mixed with bloodlines, such as the Greyhound, for extra speed, along with native breeds, such as the Rat Terrier for added toughness. As time passed, the appearance of the Mountain Feist stabilised. But in the last half of the century they have fallen out of favour – not through any fault of the dogs but because of people’s changing lifestyles. As recently as February 2015 the Mountain Feist had a breed standard drawn up by the United Kennel Club, which should help ensure the survival of this unique character moving forward into the 21st century.


The Mountain Feist isn’t difficult to recognise as he looks a lot like a Jack Russell or Rat Terrier. If you think the dog might be a Jack Russell but doesn’t look “quite right”, then he may well be a Mountain Feist.

These are a small, compact terrier-type dogs, which are longer than they are tall. They have powerful hindquarters (think of climbing trees!) and overall are very muscular. As suited to an active working dog, they have a muzzle of good proportions for breathing. Their coat is short and smooth, but can come in any number of a combination of colours, including white, light brown, and black.

Character & Temperament

Are you wondering if a Mountain Feist is the dog for you? It may help you decision making to understand where the word “feist” derives from. Feist is an old word meaning a small noisy dog. It’s of a similar vintage to the word “cur” meaning a crossbred dog that’s a jack-of-all-trades. So, if a noisy dog would sit badly with the neighbours, then perhaps a Mountain Feist isn’t for you!

Again, when considering taking on a Mountain Feist, it’s helpful to consider what this dog was bred for. He’s a working dog, which makes him energetic, free-thinking, and strong-willed… oh, and did we mention he has a strong prey drive?

This translates into a dog that can run all day without getting tired. He’s also intelligent and likes to make his own decisions, which can make him stubborn and difficult to train. Remember, this isn’t a breed that lives to please his owners because the world is a big enough and exciting place already for him to search out his own rewards.

A list of the Mountain Feist’s attributes include being Olympic gold medal grade chewers, diggers extraordinaire, vocal barkers, and possessed of a strong urge to chase. Although not a vindictive dog, this strong prey drive means he’s not suited to life with other pets, especially cats, rabbits, or small furries.


Working dogs, especially those that hunt rather than herd, as used to living by their own wits. A dog that waits for instruction before finishing the kill on an angry squirrel is a dog that’s going to get injured. Therefore, the Mountain Feist is used to thinking for himself and making independent decisions.

Whilst free-thinking is great in a hunting scenario, it’s not so good in the dog park when you need to call the dog back. Therefore, the Mountain Feist is not a dog for inexperienced owners and will benefit from someone used to reward-based training methods.


The Mountain Feist can best be described in one word – robust. His earlier lifestyle meant that only the healthiest specimens survived and went on to breed, which made for a strong bloodline. However, being an active outdoor dog carries its own health risks, which may include:

Tick Borne Diseases

Certain infectious diseases require an intermediary or ‘vector’ to spread from host to host. Typical of these are tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrilichia.

Some of these diseases are specific to certain geographical areas, so whilst Lyme disease does occur in the UK, Ehrilichia does not. However, in the US many of these infections are common, especially in the mountainous regions for which the Mountain Feist is named.

The symptoms of these diseases vary but often include fever, stiffness and lack of energy. For a dog leading the active outdoor lifestyle of a true Mountain Feist, then regular applications of an acaracide and daily tick checks are essential for continued good health.

Parasitic Disease

Again, outdoor dogs are at greater risk of picking up serious parasitic diseases, such as lungworm or heartworm. These parasites can be acquired through contact with larvae in faeces (lungworm) or through biting mosquitoes (heartworm).

Prevention is better than cure since infection can be life-threatening. Happily, there are a wide variety of highly effective antiparasitic products that can protect a pet and keep them healthy.


Leptospirosis is a complex infectious condition, most often acquired through contact with infected standing water. Thus, a dog that drinks from puddles, bird paths, or stagnant water is at greatest risk.

At the lower end of the spectrum the dog may have intermittent diarrhoea and lethargy, but the severest forms can cause acute liver and kidney failure. Therefore, vaccination is mandatory in areas where Leptospirosis is common.

Exercise and Activity Levels

As a dog with a working heritage, the Mountain Feist is the opposite of a couch potato. He’s the sort of dog that would rather chase squirrels all day, preferably climbing a tree in the process, than lounge around on the sofa.

Indeed, these dogs are physical athletes who are gifts at running, hunting, climbing, digging and jumping. If there’s a fence between the dog and where he wants to be, then he’ll jump, climb, or dig under that fence… so, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The way round this is to meet this outgoing dog’s needs for activity. They make ideal dogs for farmers or small holders, where the dog can accompany them as they go around their land. Alternatively, be prepared to be active – very active – with this little dog. He is going to need a minimum of a couple of hour’s vigorous exercise a day. Activities that suit him include a master that’s training for a marathon or Canicross.

Conversely, if you don’t meet the dog’s needs be prepared for bad behaviour. The latter includes chewing, destructiveness, digging, and barking.


As you would expect from an active working breed, these little four-leggers require little by way of grooming, and certainly won’t need pampering at the grooming parlour.

A quick slick over with a grooming mitt every few days helps to spread the natural oils that condition the dog’s coat. These oils play an important role in waterproofing the fur and protecting the dog against the elements. Therefore, avoid over bathing the dog, as this strips away nature’s hair conditioner and could lead to his skin drying out.

Famous Mountain Feists

For oh-so-gorgeous Mountain Feist puppies and more, check out this Pinterest board.


The Mountain Feist is basically a crossbreed of old heritage, which has now stabilised and has a recognisable look. A once common breed but now considered unusual, breeding efforts are targeted at preserving breed numbers rather than outcrossing to produce new looks or hybrids.

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