I’ve never met a puppy I didn’t love and these little guys are no exception. I have a soft spot for working dogs and have raised two litters on our farm. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Mountain Feist as much as I have. Thanks to Marc for sharing his information and obvious love for these dogs with us. He made this incredibly easy for me. ~Robin
Now that you have an idea of how you want a dog to hunt with you, you can really start your homework! I researched lines of Mountain Feist for a year before I went to look at a litter of pups. You would not believe how a litter of pups will result in an impulse buy! I encourage potential pup buyers to check out other lines or otherwise give them incentives to shop around. Be sure of what you want and don’t compromise. All too often someone will settle for the dog down the road because of convenience only to have an incompatible hunting style or physical faults down the road. Hunt with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles – any relatives you can of a particular line or litter of pups you are interested in. Reputable breeders will show you parents (if convenient – don’t ask to see a female while in heat or nursing) of a pup hunting in the timber.
Many people are interested in buying a started or slightly older dog that has begun training. Be wary of this as someone might be trying to sell you their problem! I do understand that time constraints are common these days and a good started dog can give you the ability to harvest squirrels sooner rather than later. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction training pups and starting dogs for people. Do your research and you will come home with a new hunting partner that you will get many years of enjoyment.
Everyone has criteria for picking any particular pup: color, temperament, conformation, color of the mouth – you name it. A well-bred, healthy pup should be your goal. If you cover the hunting ability basics in the background of the pup you can be choosy in terms of physical traits like ears, tail, colors, size and more.
From the time you bring your pup home, begin socializing it. Introduce it to children, other pets, livestock (early for things like chickens, a little later for large animals) and strangers. Take your pup with you everywhere you go. The more situations your feist is introduced to, the better adjusted it will be as an adult. Take the pup for short walks in the timber and rides in a vehicle to get accustomed to the sights and sounds associated with the timber and truck. Teach basic obedience like “come”, “sit”, “stay”, “load up” and any other that suits your fancy. Mountain Feist pups are intelligent and learn best from positive reinforcement. I know everyone says that about all dogs but Mountain Feist are very sensitive to correction. There is a fine line between the dog walking all over you and being too harsh. You will ruin a good squirrel dog faster than anything by hitting it. The amount of physical correction you might give a stubborn breed will literally ruin a feist. All that is needed is a stern voice or rolling a pup over on its back and asserting dominance.
Try teasing a young pup with a squirrel tail attached to the line of a fishing pole. Snatching the squirrel tail away just as the pup is about to catch it as it “scurries” across the ground will get a pup fired up! Remember to let them win every once in a while to keep their interest up. Keep training sessions short (15 – 30 minutes) but do several sessions a day. As the pup progresses (if it’s legal in your area) you can catch a squirrel in a live trap and show it to the pup. Trap a squirrel let your pup cage bark or fight the cage (avoid injury to teeth). Pull the cage up in a tree fairly high in a tree with a rope to discourage jumping at the tree. Walk off. When he barks go back and praise the pup. Make it exciting for the pup. This is how you let your pup know it is doing what you want it to do and it has the correct game. Then walk off again. When it barks repeat your actions. The idea is to send the pup the message that when it barks you will come to him. Warning: Do not do this very many times at once you will burn him out. You run the risk of a pup barking at the cage and not the squirrel. The important thing to remember is to be consistent with your praise. It only takes a couple sessions for the pup to figure all this out generally. If you ever have problems with a young dog not barking up in the future it might be worth revisiting this technique.
This is a critical time for reducing future issues with gun shyness. If you keep your pup in the house (Mountain Feist are very people oriented – some individuals prefer “their own people”) make noise while preparing meals and clank pots and pans while the pup is eating. Be mindful not to visibly scare the pup. This is not license to make it jump or run away squealing with its ears back! Over stimulation will likely have an opposite effect. Just casually drop something in the sink occasionally. Cap guns are good but start out at a good distance away from the pup. After that, you can graduate to a .22 but I always save a shotgun for later. The boom can overwhelm a pup accustomed to the crisp pop of a .22 rifle.
In the timber, especially for the first few months the pup will be just that – a pup. At first, it will hardly be able to keep up. Quarry will consist of butterflies and non-nutritive items like blowing leaves. All of the playing and wrestling and shadowboxing are ways you can tell if a pup has a good prey drive. So, try to keep your cool and smile when your pup roles in a dead possum toward 4 months in age.
Visit the Locust Creek Mountain Feist website for videos of the dogs in action.
Marc Gray has been hunting squirrels basically his whole life (over 20 years) with his dad and other members of the Gray family. He grew up in Central Virginia and has family in North Central Missouri, where he also hunts regularly. His nationally-known line of squirrel dog, Gray’s Mountain Feist is in its 6th generation and has hunters in more than 15 states enjoying the strain. Gray is a 2006 graduate of Unity College in Maine with a Bachelor’s in Wildlife Conservation. In 2009, he completed his Master’s in Wildlife Science at South Dakota State University. Currently, Marc is back in Maine and working to recruit tomorrow’s natural resource managers at Unity College.