Maltese Dog Breed

Size: about 9" tall (shoulder)
Weight: usually 4-7 pounds
Color: white, sometimes with lemon or tan.
Origin: debatable. See below
Modern Purpose: companion
Historical Purpose: mouser

The Maltese is a breed whose origins are shrouded in antiquity. There are several different versions of their history. One thing is for sure, they have been popular for millennia! Art objects dating back as far as 10,000 years show similar dogs. They may have originated in Asia, or perhaps the ancient Egyptians bred the ancestors of the Maltese. It is believed that the Phoenicians introduced the breed to the island of Malta around 500 B.C. and the breed derives its name from this island. Malta provided an environment relatively free of outside influences, allowing the Maltese to retain their unique characteristics. The Maltese were favourites of the Greeks and Romans and were carried everywhere their human companions went (little has changed since!) Renaissance paintings show that the Maltese were popular in Italy. They were known in Britain in the 16th century and may have been brought there by invading Romans or returning Crusaders. Maltese are possibly the oldest of Europe's toy breeds and are widespread throughout the continent (It is no wonder that the breed travelled so far and wide, as ours can't walk around the block without drawing admirers!). Maltese have always been lap dogs, favoured by the nobility across time and cultures, but some historians say that Maltese were also once renowned for their rat-catching abilities!

There is some debate whether they are of terrier, bichon, or spaniel stock, but the Maltese have also been known as the Maltese Terrier and the Bichon Maltaise. The American Kennel Club began registering Maltese in 1888 and by 1994 the American Maltese Association, the parent club for the breed in the U.S., had over 500 members. Maltese also remain popular in Europe, as well as in Canada and Japan.

Maltese are small dogs, usually 25 cm (10 in) tall and weighing 1.8 - 2.7 kg (4 - 6 lb). They have a long, straight, silky white coat which can reach all the way to the ground. Small areas of lemon coloured or light tan markings are also common, especially on the head. Their hair is parted down the centre from their nose to their tail. The tail is a long-haired plume carried gracefully over the back. When they wag their tails, Maltese look like they are waving a fan! Their eyes are dark brown, and they have a black nose, black eye rims, and black lips. These dark features contrast with their white fur to give Maltese the appearance of stuffed animals! Their toe pads are also black.

There is a slight difference between American and English Maltese. American Maltese tend to be smaller and finer boned, with shorter muzzles and a different coat texture.

Maltese are among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs. They are affectionate and form very strong bonds with their owners. CoCo came to kiss me goodnight every night before he went to sleep! Maltese are also intelligent and alert. CoCo used growls, snorts, yips, and barks to get my attention and communicate with me. He could be very stubborn and insisted on getting his way! Maltese are very clean animals and are easily trained. CoCo wiped his face after every meal (on the furniture if I fail to provide him with a tissue!) and cleaned his paws like a cat every day.

Like all toy dogs, Maltese are lively and playful. They are sturdy, strong little dogs and can be very brave (for example, on the 2008 TV show Greatest American Dog, Andrew sat and did not move as an elephant charged toward him!), but children need to take care not to injure them. Maltese can display fear aggression toward larger dogs and may get themselves (and you) into trouble! CoCo's favourite games were hide-and-seek and tug-o'war. He also very much enjoyed tearing up and chewing paper. He enjoyed a wide variety of chew-toys, including rawhide, beef chews, pig ears, and the occasional item of clothing (usually just to get attention!).

Maltese are a fine pet for those with limited accommodations because their exercise needs are minimal. Our dogs spend almost all their time indoors, but love to go out to play.

Maltese can also be quite choosy about their food and may prefer their owner's food to their own. CoCo would only eat one brand of wet food and two kinds of dry food, although he would eat just about anything that I do! He of course ate chicken and meat, but he was also very fond of fruit and vegetables. His favourite treat was gruyere cheese! He only ate dry food just before he went to bed, and always carried it around the house to eat it in front of me! CoCo had a preference for cold, fresh water. When a Maltese drinks, a great deal of water ends up in his or her beard, and this can be quite a shock when they come to kiss you right after drinking!

Maltese require frequent grooming, but usually become accustomed to it as puppies and learn to enjoy it because of their desire for companionship. They need to be combed at least once a day. Their long hair can get tangled into very tenacious mats, especially if they have been playing. These require patience to untangle with fingers, comb, and scissors. Their head hair can be tied in single or double topknots, but it is best if this is done right from puppyhood or they may find the bows annoying.

Show dogs have long hair reaching right down to the ground, but this can be too much work for most owners. Maltese often have short or semi-short ("puppy cut") hair to make grooming easier. The hair on the bottom of their paws must be trimmed or else they will slip on it (and it can also get very dirty). The long hair inside their ears must be pulled out regularly or the ears will become dirty and infected. They should also have their teeth brushed regularly with dog toothpaste. CoCo quite enjoyed the taste of the toothpaste, if not the brushing itself!

Maltese require bathing every two to four weeks to keep their coats bright. Their long hair must be dried thoroughly afterwards or they could get quite ill. Maltese are subject to "eyestains" due to their white fur. Tearing caused by dust and pollen stains the fur around their eyes. Females sometimes stain more when in season. This is not a health problem, but it can look messy. Commercial preparations such as Diamond Eye can be used to clean the fur. Alternatively, the eyes can be washed with a commercial preparation or warm water to soothe them (although perhaps not the dog!).

All in all, the Maltese makes a lively and personable companion that's always fun to be around.

Note: the above article was originally submitted to NetPets for their breed info library in 1996 by Jessica Lee.