A toy breed native to the central Mediterranean, the Maltese is one of the oldest breeds of dogs known from anywhere in the world, but especially Europe. The Maltese is known for its flowing white hair and its gentle and affectionate nature. Although this breed may have once been used primarily as a ratter, for at least the last several centuries the Maltese has primarily been a companion animal. The Maltese is known by many names, including the Canis Melitaeus, the Ancient Dog of Malta, the Roman Ladies’ Dog, and the Bichon.
The Maltese is one of the oldest known dog breeds, and possibly the oldest surviving European breed. The Maltese was not only created long before organized records of dog breeding were kept, but also before the people who created it had even acquired writing. Therefore very little is known for sure about the origins of the Maltese, although there are a number of theories. What is known is that this breed was most likely developed on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, although exactly which one is a matter of debate, and that the breed is thousands of years old.
Canine scholars have traditionally placed the breed in the Bichon family, and indeed the Maltese is sometimes known as the Bichon. The word ‘Bichon’ actually being an archaic French word meaning small, long-haired dog and contrary to its modern usage described a group of breeds native to Europe and European colonies including the Bichon Frise, the Bolognese, the Havanese, the Coton de Tulear, the Bolonka, and possibly the Lowchen and the Maltese. It is generally believed that the Bichon family descended from the now-extinct Bichon Tenerife, a dog native to the Canary Islands. Recent archaeological and historical finds have called into question the placement of the Maltese in this group. If the Maltese is a true Bichon, it is almost certainly the ancestral member of the group as this breed predates all other Bichons by thousands of years.
More recently, scholars have developed three distinct theories as to the origin of the Maltese. As none of the three theories have any substantial evidence to support them, any or none could be true. One theory holds that the Maltese’s ancestors were developed in either China or Tibet, and that this dog is related to the Tibetan Terrier and Pekingese. These dogs then were carried across the Silk Road and Persian Empire to the Mediterranean Coast. This theory is unlikely for several reasons. While the Maltese is superficially similar to some Asian breeds, it does not have the pushed-in or brachycephalic (brachiocephalic) face common to most Oriental Companion dogs. Additionally, the trade routes from Asia were at the time of the Maltese’s creation not yet well-established and it is also unclear if at the time dogs would have been a valuable enough commodity to have been brought along. Continuing this theory, the ancestors of the Maltese then became the property of Phoenician and Greek traders, who would have then brought them to islands in the Central Mediterranean.
Another theory holds that lake dwellers in pre-historic Switzerland possessed a Spitz-type dog which they progressively bred down in size. It is believed that the dog was used primarily as a rat and mouse killer, very important in an age before cats entered Europe. From Switzerland, this small ratting Spitz arrived on what is now the Italian Coast. Greek, Phoenician, or Italic traders then spread the breed to the Mediterranean Isles. This is the most likely theory as the Maltese is probably more similar to the Spitz family than it is to any other ancient canine group. Additionally, it is far more likely that dogs could have traveled to the Mediterranean from Switzerland than China.
The final theory holds that the Maltese is a result of crosses between a Spaniel-type dog and a Poodle/Barbet conducted on the Mediterranean Islands. This theory is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. The Maltese very likely predates both Spaniels and the Poodle or Barbet by many centuries, although admittedly little is known of the origins of either of these two groups. It is far more likely that the Maltese would be the ancestor of the Spaniel, rather than the other way around. One potential origin for the Maltese that has yet to be addressed by scholars is that the breed may be entirely Mediterranean in origin. As it is quite possible that the native Mediterranean peoples on the islands deliberately selected the longest haired dogs from available native breeds such as the Pharaoh Hound and the Cirneco del’Etna and over the course of many generations developed the Maltese.
However the Maltese was first developed; it was certainly refined on the Mediterranean Islands. Different ancient scholars place the ancestral home of the Maltese on different islands, and it is also quite possible that this breed was developed jointly on several. The oldest record of what is believed to be a Maltese comes from approximately 500 B.C.E. A Greek amphora thought to have been made in Athens shows a dog which is remarkably similar to the modern Maltese. This depiction is accompanied by the word Melitaie, presumed to be either the name of the individual dog or its breed. This amphora was recovered in what is now Italy, specifically the Etruscan (an Italian people known for their struggles with the city of Rome and their love of the Greek culture) town of Vulci. This suggests that the Maltese dog was already well-known across the Mediterranean more than 2500 years ago.
Around 370 B.C.E., the famed philosopher Aristotle was the first to mention the breed by its full Greek name, Melitaei Catelli. He would also provide a detailed description of the dog, comparing the breed to a Weasel, or as it was known at the time, a Mustelidae. The name Melitaei Catelli would again be used roughly 20 years later (about 350 B.C.), when Greek writer Callimachus the Elder provided his own description of the breed. Other mentions and depictions of the breed have also been found in Ancient Greek writings and artifacts, suggesting that the Maltese was one of the most favored companion dogs of the Pre-Roman Greeks. It is possible that Greek conquerors and mercenaries brought the Maltese to Egypt, as finds from that country indicate that the Maltese may have been one of the breeds worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians.
Even in ancient time, the origin of the Maltese was disputed. In the 1st Century, the ancient Roman author, Pliny the Elder, one of the most famous naturalists of all time, said that the Canis Melitaeus (as the Maltese was known in Latin) was named for its homeland on the Adriatic island of Meleda. Other writing at around the same time by the Greek Strabo claim that the breed originated on the island of Malta. Thousands of years later, English dog expert and physician to the Queen John Caius would interpret Callimachus’s breed name to mean, “The Dog of Melita.” As Melita is an ancient name for Malta, from this point on the breed would be known in English as the Maltese. In 1570 Caius, would write of the breed:
“There is among us another kind of highbred dog, but outside the common run those which Callimachus called Melitei from the Island of Melita. That kind is very small indeed and chiefly sought after for the pleasure and amusement of women. The smaller the kind, the more pleasing it is; so that they may carry them in their bosoms, in their beds and in their arms while riding in their carriages.”
Although, the true home of the Maltese will probably forever remain a mystery, it is known that the breed was popular the Greeks, and even more so with the Romans. Along with the Italian Greyhound, the Maltese was the most popular companion dog of wealthy women throughout the Roman Empire. This breed was so popular that it earned the name Roman Ladies’ Dog. The writings of Strabo describe how Roman women preferred the Maltese to other breeds. At various points in history, it was customary for Roman women to carry Maltese in the sleeves of their robes and togas, similar to a common practice in China in the 1800’s and a recent trend in the United States. The Maltese was not only owned by Roman women, a number of very influential Roman men also owned Maltese. The Roman poet Martial composed a number of verses about a dog named Issa, owned by his good friend Publius. Issa is generally believed to have been a Maltese, and Publius is generally believed to have been the Roman Governor Publius of Malta, although both beliefs are somewhat disputed. At least one Roman Emperor, Claudius, is thought to have owned a Maltese, and others are believed to have as well. The primary purpose of the Maltese was likely to be a companion, but many believe the Romans also used these dogs to kill rats. It is very likely that the Romans spread the Maltese throughout their Empire, including land that is now France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and that Roman traders may have spread the Maltese even further, possibly to the Canary Islands. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, some of these Maltese may have been further developed into new breeds. It is quite possible that included among these new breeds were the oldest members of the Bichon family; the Bichon Tenerife, Bichon Frise, and the Bolognese.
The Maltese would survive the Dark and Middles Ages, always remaining a treasured companion of the European nobility. Although the Maltese has fallen in and out of favor throughout history, this breed has always maintained a sizable following, primarily in Italy, Spain, and France. During the Age of Exploration, the Maltese accompanied its owners across the world, settling in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The Spanish in particular brought the Maltese with them to a large number of ports. The Maltese is believed to have been used in the development of the Havanese, Coton de Tulear, and other dogs from around the world during this time. This breed has appeared in numerous works of art and literature throughout the centuries, although not to the extent of some similar breeds. Throughout the centuries, breeders focused on a number of breed traits. Appearance was the most important, primarily size and coat. Breeders wanted to create a dog that was as small as possible, and with the most beautiful long flowing coat. Solid white has always been the preferred color of Maltese, although until the 20th Century the breed also appeared in other colors and patterns as well. Breeders also worked on developing dogs with the best temperament, and created a very gentle and dignified dog.
Outside observers have long believed that the Maltese served no other purpose than companionship and amusement. However, this is not the case. In an era before modern pest control methods, people were of the belief that small dogs such as the Maltese could be used to draw fleas away from its owners, reducing the spread of disease. These dogs also probably killed rats in their masters’ palaces, eliminating yet another disease vector and it is well known that the Maltese was used for its body heat to keep royalty warm, very important in an age of drafty manors and castles. Finally, it was believed that these dogs possessed medicinal qualities, and were routinely prescribed by physicians. Although many might think this is pre-modern superstition, it has been repeatedly shown that dog ownership substantially reduces stress and increases life expectancy.
The Maltese likely first arrived in England during the reign of Henry VIII, sometime between the years 1509 to 1547. This breed quickly found favor with the English aristocracy, and was very fashionable during the reign of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s daughter. It was during Elizabeth I’s reign that John Caius both attributed the breed’s origin to Malta and described how wealthy women of the day would carry these small dog’s with them whenever they went. There is a story that holds that the Spanish Armada of 1588 carried a number of Maltese onboard as companions for the crews of the ships. After the Armada’s defeat, a number of vessels shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. A few of the Maltese supposedly made it ashore and became the ancestors of the Skye Terrier. However, this story has recently come to doubt as records of the Skye Terrier predate the Armada by almost a century.
By the start of the 17th Century, the Maltese had become one of the most popular aristocratic pets in England. As was the case in continental Europe, the breed would experience highs and lows in popularity throughout the centuries, but would always maintain a large number of dedicated fanciers. The 1800’s brought with it an increase in popularity for the Maltese; a time marked by the emergence of and rapid rise in popularity of dog shows in England. The British upper classes delighted in exhibiting what they considered to be the best examples of various breeds and one of the most popular breeds at these early shows was the Maltese. This breed was already known for being beautiful and graceful, as well as for breeding very true to type. Dog fanciers would also quickly discover that the Maltese excelled in the show ring, leading to the breed becoming one of the most popular entries.
It is unclear when the first Maltese arrived in America, or from which European or Latin American country they were imported. However, this breed was certainly established in the United States by the 1870’s at the latest, when the Maltese made appearances in the earliest Westminster Kennel Club dog shows. The first Maltese to be shown in America were solid white, although tan, parti-colored, and mottled-colored Maltese were quite popular in the 19th Century. In fact, the first Maltese to be registered in America was white with black ears. It is both widely assumed and most likely that the majority of early American Maltese imports arrived from the United Kingdom. However, a number of recorded imports also came from Italy, France, Germany, and Canada. The Maltese was granted full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC) at the very early date of 1888, and has since always been a regular and successful competitor in AKC sponsored events. This breed has always been a member of the Toy Group. Initially, the Maltese was known as the Maltese Terrier, likely due to its resemblance to the Yorkshire Terrier. By the end of the 19th Century, all colors of Maltese other than solid white began to fall out of favor. By 1913, most kennel clubs disqualified any Maltese which was not solid white from the show ring, although parti-colored dogs were acceptable as late as 1950 in Australia.
Although well-established in the United States by the end of the 19th Century, the Maltese remained relatively rare. In 1906, the Maltese Terrier Club of America was founded, which would later become the National Maltese Club after terrier was dropped from the breed name. This club held its first breed specialty at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1917. Breed numbers increased only slowly until the 1950’s, although the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition in 1948. In the decades following World War II, the Maltese would experience a surge in popularity. By the end of the 1950’s, the National Maltese Club had been renamed the Maltese Dog Club of America and been joined by another major Maltese organization, the Maltese Dog Fanciers of America. In 1961, the two organizations decided to merge, becoming the American Maltese Association (AMA). The AMA’s first officers included President Dr. Vincenzo Calvaresi, Vice Presidents Ms. Helen L. Schiveley and Aennchen Antonelli, and Secretary Treasurer Tony Antonelli. The AMA ratified and submitted a new breed standard to the AKC in 1963, and became the official AKC parent club for the Maltese in 1969. The Maltese steadily and rapidly rose in popularity until the 1990’s. During that decade, the Maltese reached its peak of popularity in the United States. The Maltese regularly ranked among the 15 most popular breeds during the 1990’s, with annual registrations exceeded 12,000 per year.
Unfortunately, the Maltese’s popularity has caused the breed some problems. In that in the eyes of unscrupulous and irresponsible breeders popularity equals profitability ans as one would expect these individuals began to breed Maltese exclusively for profit, with little or no regard for health, temperament, or conformation. Many of these so-called puppy mills keep their dogs in horrific and unsanitary conditions. These breeders created a large number of Maltese with unstable temperaments and poor health. The Maltese is popular among these disreputable breeders not only for its popularity and monetary value, but also because it’s small size and gentle nature make it easily manageable and cheap to care for. It is highly advisable that anyone considering acquiring a Maltese carefully choose a respected breeder or rescue group.
Since the 1990’s, the Maltese has begun to fall out of favor in the United States. There are likely several reasons for this decline. It is possible that poorly bred Maltese began to sully the reputation of the breed as a whole. However, it is most likely that the Maltese is simply a victim of fashion, and is just not as trendy now as it once was. Breeds such as the Havanese and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are now becoming the latest fashion, being acquired by owners who may have selected the Maltese at an earlier time. Although not quite at the top of the AKC rankings, the Maltese remains a very common dog in the United States, and maintains a very large number of followers. It is hoped that responsible breeders can begin to repair some of the damage done to the breed by commercial breeders. It is very likely that the Maltese will one day begin to rise in popularity, as new generations of dog owners discover this beautiful and loving companion. In the meantime, Maltese populations are very secure, and the breed still ranked 22nd out of 167 breeds in 2010, ahead of such well-known breeds as the Pug, Cocker Spaniel, and Bichon Frise.
Throughout the centuries, the Maltese has been used in the development of numerous other breeds. Almost every other toy breed developed in Europe likely has some Maltese ancestry, and many non-European breeds do as well. Among the many breeds thought to have Maltese ancestry include the Havanese, Bichon Frise, Bolognese, Coton de Tulear, the Skye Terrier, the Yorkshire Terrier, the Silky Terrier, the Long-Haired Chihuahua, and the Papillon. The Maltese will very likely be used to develop even more breeds in the future. In recent years, these so-called, “Designer Dogs,” have become incredibly popular in the United States. These dogs are actually nothing more than a cross between two pure bred dogs, and are sometimes inaccurately called Hybrid Dogs. (A dog is only a true hybrid if it crossed with a wolf, coyote, red wolf, jackal, or possibly dingo.) The Maltese is frequently used in the creation of such mixes, although it is not nearly as commonly used as breeds such as the Poodle, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, or Chihuahua. The vast majority of Designer Dogs are one time matings, without any thought to the development of a new breed. However, it is generally believed that at least a few of these dogs will eventually breed true and become unique breeds in their own right. Some of the most popular Maltese mixes include the Malti-Poo (Maltese/Poodle), the Mal-Shi (Maltese/Shih Tzu), and the Yorktese (Maltese/Yorkshire Terrier).
Somewhat surprisingly, in several countries, the Maltese is one of the most likely breeds to end up in animal shelters or abandoned on the streets. Studies conducted by the RSPCA in Australia and the Korean National Veterinary and Quarantine Service found that the Maltese is the breed which is most likely to be abandoned in both continental Australia and the South Korean capital of Seoul. This is in contrast to the United States where breeds such as the pit bull type dogs, Chow Chow mixes, and scenthounds make up the majority of shelter populations. By far the most frequent reasons that owners in both Australia and South Korea give for abandoning their Maltese was excessive barking and aggression issues. This is probably more indicative of rampant poor breeding of Maltese than any inherent flaws with the Maltese breed.
The Maltese has been bred primarily as a companion animal for at least 2500 years, and possibly much longer. This is the task for which this refined breed is best suited, and the vast majority of Maltese both in America and across the world remain primarily companion animals or show dogs, another task at which this breed excels. However, in recent years some breed members have performed very well at agility and obedience competitions, and more Maltese are likely to participate in these events in the future. Additionally, the Maltese is quickly earning a reputation as a therapy dog, as this breed is known for its gentle nature.
When one thinks of the appearance of a Maltese, three features immediately come to mind: small to tiny size, solid white color, and long, flowing hair. As one of the oldest purebred dogs in the world, the Maltese is also one of the most refined and least variable in appearance. As is the case with all toy breeds, the Maltese is very small. AKC standards call for a dog which weighs less than 7 pounds, with the ideal dogs being between 4 and 6 pounds. UKC standards call for a slightly larger animal, which weighs from between 6 and 8 pounds. The ideal UKC Maltese male stands between 8¼ and 10 inches tall at the shoulder, and the ideal UKC Maltese females stands between 7½ and 9 inches tall at the shoulder. The AKC does not give an ideal height for the Maltese, but if it did it would probably be roughly an inch shorter for both males and females. Most of the Maltese’s body is obscured by its long coat. Underneath that coat is a very square and well-proportioned dog. The ideal Maltese is equally as long as it is tall. The Maltese may appear fragile, but this is mostly due to overall size rather than body proportions. The Maltese’s level back ends in a high-set tail. This tail is of medium-length and is curled over the back. The tips of the tails of some Maltese barely touch the back, although most are draped elegantly to one side or the other.
Most people never get to see the face of a Maltese underneath the hair, which can obscure the vision of a Maltese if not trimmed or managed properly. The head of a Maltese is proportional to body size, ending in a muzzle of moderate length. This muzzle is not exceptionally pointy, but it is longer than it is wide and tapers gently towards the end. The Maltese should always have black lips, and a solid black nose. The only other noticeable color on a Maltese should be the eyes, which are dark brown or black. These eyes are round, of medium size, and not set to far apart. The Maltese’s expression is both gentle and dignified. The ears of a Maltese are triangular in shape, and hang very close to the head. Most Maltese’s ears face forward, although some hang down on the sides of the head.
It has been said that the Maltese is mainly hair, and only somewhat jokingly. A Maltese is a single coated breed, and does not have an undercoat. The coat is very soft, silky, and flat. The Maltese has some of the straightest hair to be found in any breed, and there should not be even the slightly hint of curliness or kinkiness. The hair of a Maltese is very long, and when untrimmed extends almost all the way to the ground, although it should not impede movement. The Maltese’s coat is generally uniform in length over its entire body and flows gracefully as the dog moves. A Maltese should not be trimmed if it will be shown, but some of its hair may be placed in rubber bands to keep it out of its eyes. Most owners choose to have their dogs trimmed into a more manageable cut, of which a puppy cut is the most popular. There is only one acceptable coat color for a Maltese, pure solid white. AKC standards allow for a light tan or lemon on the ears, and UKC standards allow for a slight tinge of ivory or orange, but both variations are highly undesirable.
It is difficult to make too many generalizations about the temperament of the Maltese. Commercial breeders who care only about profit and not about creating well-tempered dogs have created Maltese which are quite variable in temperament. Such dogs have very unpredictably temperaments, and many are extremely timid or fearful, and some are outright aggressive. Many of these dogs are excessively vocal. However, Maltese which have been carefully bred by responsible breeders tend to be relatively predictable in terms of temperament.
The Maltese is a companion dog through and through, and has a temperament one would expect of a companion dog. This breed is very affectionate with its owners, often to the point of being fawningly so. Maltese are known to love giving kisses. This breed thrives on attention, and likes nothing more to be right beside its favorite people, and preferably on top of them. This breed is definitely a cuddler and a snuggler. The flip side of this is that Maltese do not like to be left alone, and usually suffer from severe separation anxiety when left alone for long periods. This breed may not be an ideal choice for owners who must leave the dog at home for long hours on a regular basis. The Maltese tends to form an incredibly close bond with its owner, to the point that many Maltese are one person dogs. Most Maltese have a favorite person, and their relationships with others are not quite as strong. However, most Maltese will still form strong attachments with every member of a family who will give them the attention that they crave, although they may not be as strong as the bond formed with, “their person.”
Even well-bred Maltese tend to being quite variable in their relations with strangers. Most well-socialized and well-bred Maltese are polite or friendly with strangers, although they are generally not particularly excited by their presence. Some Maltese, especially those from commercial breeders, are extremely nervous around strangers, or even fearful. Although the Maltese rarely makes an immediate friend, this is a breed that does not take especially long to warm up to a new person, and most quite willingly make friends. Essentially all Maltese will bark repeatedly at the approach of a stranger, or even a person that they know well. This can get out of hand without correction, but makes the breed an excellent watch dog. The Maltese is extremely gentle, and makes an excellent companion for senior citizens.
The Maltese may not be the ideal choice for a family with young children. This breed is quite fragile, and is easily injured by even the best intentioned child. Additionally, the Maltese does not tolerate rough play or hair pulling, and some timid Maltese may be quite frightened of children. That being said, a Maltese is far from the worst member of the toy group when it comes to children, and adapts quite well to a family with slightly older and less rambunctious children. As is the case with any breed, a Maltese will bite or snap if it feels it needs to defend itself, but most well-trained Maltese will attempt to retreat or flee as their first option, only choosing violence as what they perceive as a last resort. In terms of snappiness, the average Maltese is probably considerably less snappy than the average terrier but more snappy than the average Beagle or similar breed.
Maltese tend to get along very well with other pets. This breed generally has few issues with other dogs, and most very much enjoy their company. In particular, comparatively few Maltese suffer from extreme dominance or aggression issues. The biggest issue most Maltese have with other dogs stem from jealousy, as many breed members do not enjoy sharing the attention of their favorite person. Dogs which have not been properly trained may also develop possessiveness issues. Most Maltese love sharing their lives with a canine companion or two who will keep the dog company when its owners are away. However, this is not a breed which enjoys rough play or jockeying for position in a pack. Maltese are probably happiest with one or two other dogs of similar size and energy levels. Additionally, most Maltese probably prefer the company of humans to other canines. Exercise extreme caution when socializing a Maltese with considerably larger dogs, because some may see this tiny breed as either prey to be pursued or a normal dog that can handle rough play. Although it is believed that the Maltese was initially bred as a ratter, this breed retains few hunting instincts. Although a Maltese which has not been socialized will pursue other animals, this breed tends to do very well with non-canine pets, especially cats, when properly trained and will start few problems. Some very small Maltese, especially Maltese puppies or adults under four pounds, are probably at much greater risk from cats than vice versa, and should probably be kept away from most felines to avoid being mistaken for a very slow-moving rat.
Maltese are very trainable dogs. This breed is considered to be one of the most intelligent of all toys, as well as being one of the most responsive. Much to the surprise of those unfamiliar with the Maltese, this breed excels at obedience and agility trials. This breed is famously talented at learning tricks, and is willing to give almost anything a try if there are treats to be had. Although most Maltese are probably not good candidates for seeing-eye dog or sheep herding work, a Maltese is probably capable and willing to learn any task that does not require being either a doggy genius or large, powerful, and tenacious. Maltese tend to take somewhat less time and effort to train than many breeds, but if you are willing to go the extra mile, a Maltese can become fabulously trained and capable of delighting friends and family with what it knows. However, the sensitive Maltese responds very poorly to harsh discipline, and greatly prefers treats and positive reinforcement. One potential downside to the Maltese’s intelligence is that this little breed can get itself into a large amount of trouble. The curiosity of a Maltese will often lead it into a situation that it has trouble getting out of, such as getting stuck in a closed room. This is also a dog which will find any food, left anywhere in a home, even food that its owners had no idea was there.
There are two areas where a Maltese may need additionally training attention. Some Maltese are nervous around strangers and extra effort must be spent socializing them. However, by far the greatest training difficulty most Maltese owners will encounter is housebreaking. The Maltese is notoriously difficult to housebreak, and many trainers claim that it among the 5 or 10 most difficult of all breeds. The reasons for this problem are threefold. Perhaps most importantly, the Maltese has a small bladder which takes extra time to develop. Simply put, a Maltese just can’t hold it as long as a larger breed. Additionally, Maltese are capable of doing their business under a bed, behind a couch, or in some other hidden location, meaning that they are not properly corrected. Finally, most Maltese strongly dislike inclement weather conditions and are unwilling to go outside in the rain or snow. Expect extra months of housebreaking time, as well as frequent accidents when working with a Maltese puppy. Some Maltese owners actually give up and get a litter box for their dogs.
This tiny breed is quite active indoors, and will take care of a substantial amount of its exercise needs on its own. This means that most Maltese will be satisfied with a regular and thorough daily walk. However, this breed absolutely loves to run around freely outside and will exhibit surprising athleticism. Make sure that any enclosure holding a Maltese is absolutely secure however, as this breed is more than intelligent enough to figure out an escape and small enough to get through tiny openings. Although the Maltese has a relatively low exercise requirement, owners absolutely must meet it. The behavioral problems of most Maltese are either caused partially or primarily by lack of exercise, and could be reduced or eliminated with more. Maltese are quite playful and most love games like fetch. This is a breed which definitely prefers having an outlet for its intellect especially if that outlet involves more time with its owners, and absolutely loves obedience and agility competitions. However, most Maltese will be satisfied with less involved activities.
One aspect that all potential Maltese owners must be aware of is the breed’s barking. The Maltese has a well-earned reputation for excessive barking. Even the most well-trained and exercised Maltese bark considerably more than most breeds, and those dogs that are not trained nor exercised often bark almost constantly. The bark of a Maltese can be incredibly high-pitched and shrill, and these dogs usually bark repeatedly in quick succession. The Maltese is definitely a “yappy” breed, although this can be reduced. If you do not like the sound of the Maltese’s bark, you should probably not acquire one, as you will hear it quite frequently. Although otherwise incredibly well-suited for life in an urban environment, a Maltese may result in noise complaints.
The biggest behavioral issue that is experienced by the Maltese is known as Small Dog Syndrome. Small Dog Syndrome is not caused by dogs but their owners. Owners of small breeds such as the Maltese often fail to remember that their pets are still dogs, and treat them in an inappropriate manner. It may seem funny or cute when a Maltese puppy bites or growls, but dangerous and frightening when a Rottweiler puppy does the same thing. However, if uncorrected, the end result is the same, an aggressive, fearful, and dominant dog. Dogs with Small Dog Syndrome do not have proper leadership from their owners, and thus decide to take that role for themselves. Dogs suffering from this condition are generally dominant, aggressive, excessively vocal, and generally out-of-control. If you’ve ever wondered why so many dogs bred exclusively for companionship such as the Maltese bite and growl, Small Dog Syndrome is the reason. Luckily, Small Dog Syndrome is entirely preventable if owners always make sure that they are in charge and that they remember to treat their small dogs in the same way they would a larger dog.
One look at a Maltese should be enough to tell any observer that this breed requires a great deal of hair care. This breed requires a daily brushing, but owners must be careful to avoid hurting this fragile dog. A Maltese must be bathed regularly, and dried thoroughly and carefully to prevent chills. The skin of a Maltese must be carefully checked on a regular basis as this breed’s hair easily obscures injuries, skin irritations, and parasites. In order to keep a Maltese in prime show condition, an owner will need to spend several hours a week. Because of this, most owners of pet Maltese choose to have their dogs professionally trimmed into a shorter and easier maintenance coat. Owners will be rewarded for this coat care with a dog that sheds very little. While all dogs shed at least a very little, the Maltese is one of the best options for allergy sufferers or for those who simply hate cleaning up dog hair.
Maltese very commonly suffer from tear stains. The extent to which a Maltese will develop tear stain depends on that individual dog. Most owners choose to clean these stains on a regular basis, and may choose to follow a number of veterinary guidelines to do so. The ears of a Maltese must be changed on a regular basis. Dirt and grime can easily get caught in the drooping ears of a Maltese, which can lead to irritation and infection.
As is the case with temperament, it is very difficult to make general statements about the health of the Maltese breed. Commercial breeders have bred thousands of Maltese with poor health. These breeders also tend to keep fewer records and are unlikely to respond to health services making it difficult to determine the extent of any health problems within the Maltese breed. However, well-bred Maltese are considered a generally healthy breed, with one of the longest life expectancies of any dog. Maltese which are properly cared for routinely live for as long as 15 years, and it is not unheard of for a breed member to reach 18. This does not mean that the Maltese is immune to genetically inherited health conditions, but it does mean that well-bred Maltese tend to suffer from fewer serious genetically inherited health disorders than many other breeds, and that those conditions that they do suffer from are mostly not-life threatening.
The Maltese has a number of specialized care requirements. Although this breed has long hair, it is not particularly tolerant of the cold. Breed members get the chills quite easily and should probably wear a coat and booties in cold weather. Owners must also be careful to ensure that their dog’s coats do not become damp. This breed should be kept inside during inclement weather and carefully dried off if it accidentally gets caught in the rain.
Among the most common health problems experienced by Maltese dogs are allergies and skin irritations. Many breed members are allergic to fleas, medications, and chemicals. The Maltese is most susceptible to allergies of the skin. Common symptoms of skin allergies include itches, rashes, skin irritations, and hair loss. Most of these allergies are treatable, but frequently require owners to make an extra effort to keep the dog’s home clear of whatever it is allergic to and to pay for expensive medications.
Many Maltese suffer from luxating patellas. This genetically inherited condition results in knee caps which dislocate from their normal position. This can cause pain, discomfort, and movement difficulty. Severe cases may result in lameness. This disease most commonly strikes Maltese from the ages of 4 to 6 months of age. Luxating patellas can be corrected, but this requires costly surgery. Any surgery is especially risky for Maltese, as this breed is known to be sensitive to anesthesia.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A full list of health problems experienced by Maltese would have to include: