Dog Days: Squirrel hunting companions can take many shapes

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

For a dog that is good with kids, loyal to its owners, no menace to the neighbors and perfect for chasing squirrels, one experienced breeder says the American Treeing Feist is the perfect fit.
Good things come in small packages, the old saying goes and, for Randy Pannell of Blue Springs, his family’s bloodline of squirrel dogs bear that out. Maintaining a continuous lineage of American Treeing Feists whose generations reach back to the 1950s, Pannell’s contribution to his family’s work has resulted in 10 National Kennel Club squirrel hunting world championships, some as breeder, some as trainer, some as handler and some as a combination of the three.
lifelong pursuit
“I’m 58 years in training,” Pannell says, pointing to his first-hand experience with his father and grandfather’s work with the dogs, as well as to mentors like Leroy Campbell, a legendary hound trainer who helped form Pannell’s skill and style with dogs and with life.
American Treeing Feists come in a variety of colors but are uniformly small, compactly muscular dogs, generally with amiable dispositions toward everything but game.
“They will bond with a child more quickly than they will an adult,” Pannell said, “and they’re usually only aggressive toward game. About 28 to 30 pounds is as large as they’ll get, but they’ll really get the job done on squirrels in any territory. I’ve hunted them against hounds, curs and every breed known to man in squirrel dog competitions and they’ve always more than held their own.”
like a boss
Pannell says finding the right dog begins with finding the right dog owner.
“To pick out a good squirrel dog, go to a reputable breeder and pick the most aggressive pup in the litter,” he said. “That one’s the boss and always will be. He’s the alpha male or she’s the alpha female. Then start training with somebody who’ll tell the truth about the dog’s potential.”
As far as the training itself goes, Pannell says running new dogs with a dog that’s already trained is a great way to start.
“With the right bloodline, once you’ve gently gotten them used to gunfire, they’ll understand what to do instinctively,” he said. “Feists are obedient and good natured. Take them to the woods and they’ll start chasing.
“Squirrel hunting, especially with a dog, is a great introduction to nature. There’s always something going on when you’re squirrel hunting with a dog, and there’s not too much trouble kids can get into in the national forest.”