We all know someone who is feisty, and probably a dog, as well. The word, feisty, however, didn’t always mean what it does today, and we doubt anyone would appreciate being called “feisty” if it did.
Feisty comes to us from the 15th century, a descendant of the English word, fist. Back in the day, fist, could mean one of two things: Either it referred to “a breaking of wind, a foul smell,” and “to break wind,” or it was the word for a clenched hand.
The meanings of fist and fisting as a way to describe the foul emission of air from one’s backside fell out of use, but it gave rise to a related word, feist, which in some contexts had the same or similar meaning as fist. Feist and fist were also used to identify dogs, as in “fisting or foisting hounds.” Like the word, “cur,” feist came to be used as an insult in the 16th and 17th centuries, and by the 1800s, it was used to describe small hunting dogs, particularly in the American South. After a while, the word was used to describe an excitable, spirited dog, and ” feisty” came to be used for people with similar temperaments.
The word “feist” as it pertains to a type of dog, however, never vanished. Today, most feists are bred solely for their hunting ability by individuals with zero interest in a show ring. Consequently, some people are of the belief that there is little to no consistency among these dogs.
This isn’t entirely true. Neither is it true that feists haven’t made it to the show ring. A couple of AKC and UKC breeds are considered feists, and the names of some breeds once included the word “feist.” One still does.
The “Teddy Roosevelt Terrier,” for example, was once called the Bench-Legged Feist, and to our knowledge, it’s the only breed to be recognized by the AKC that had “feist” in its name once upon a time. The Rat Terrier, too, is considered by some to be a feist, and in fact, some believe it to be the progenitor of, and a specific breed within, the feist type.
Only the Treeing Feist has been recognized as an identifiable breed with “feist” in its name by the United Kennel Club, this happening in 1998. The breed is also known as the American Feist.
Beyond that, there are a whole lot of feists out there (and we haven’t included canines known as “squirrel dogs,” but regarded as feists):
- American Treeing Feist
- Barger Stock Feist
- Bench-legged Feist
- Hunter’s Creek Feist
- Buckley Mountain Feist
- Charlie Feist
- Decker Hunting Terrie
- Gray’s Mountain Feist
- Denmark Feist
- Kemmer Feist
- Mountain Feist
- Mullins Feist
- Pencil-tail Feist
- Thornburg Feist
Whatever their name, feists have in common some terrier in their ancestry, a strong prey drive, a diminutive size with tremendous agility, and a ton of personality.
Image: Treeing Feist photo found on Pinterest unattributed, but happily credited upon receipt of information