Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.
Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as intelligent, playful, and sweet-natured. One of these dogs is the Maltese. Originally bred for the purpose of companionship during ancient times, this breed continues to maintain this role in the modern era and is highly-favored by the elderly and family-based households with children. This work examines the Maltese and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and traits. This includes a general discussion of the Maltese’s health concerns, grooming and training requirements, as well as nutritional needs. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole."
— Roger Caras
- Common Name: Maltese
- Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Canidae
- Genus: Canis
- Species: Canis Lupus
- Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Other Name(s): Bichon Maltiase; Maltese Terrier
History of the Maltese
- Life Span: 12 to 15 years
- Group: Toy
- Area of Origin: Malta
- Date of Origin: Ancient period
- Original Function: Companionship
- Family: Barbichon
The Maltese is considered one of the most ancient dog breeds in the world. Believed to have originated on the island of Malta during ancient times (hence its name), historical writings from as early as 300 B.C. have been discovered by modern-day archeologists that detail the dog’s early existence. Little is known about the Maltese’s original purpose. However, scholars have theorized that the dog may have served both a companionship and religious role within Malta’s culture in ancient times. Scholars base this assumption on the fact that several tombs appear to have been constructed on the island in honor of the Maltese.
Due to Malta’s central location and importance as a trading hub for sea-based goods, many Maltese dogs are believed to have been exported to both the European mainland and Eastern Asia over a period of several hundred years. It wasn’t until the 1300s, however, that the first Maltese was officially brought to England where they became a favorite of “upper-class ladies” and aristocrats in the centuries that followed (Coile, 232).
Oddly enough, the Maltese was nearly destroyed in the centuries that followed its arrival in Europe, as a number of ill-fated attempts were made by breeders to reduce their size to that of a squirrel. When these experiments utterly failed (and the Maltese faced imminent extinction), breeders quickly tried to save the dog by mixing them with poodles, miniature dogs from East Asia, as well as miniature spaniels. The efforts were successful; however, the original “pureness” of the Maltese was lost to history in the process.
As one can imagine, almost all of the current Maltese seen today can trace their origins to English breeders in the 1800s who imported hundreds of dogs to the United States. This, in turn, prompted the American Kennel Club (AKC) to officially extend recognition to the breed in 1888 as its popularity began to grow. Nevertheless, registrations with the AKC grew exceptionally slow until the 1950s, when the Maltese’s popularity suddenly spiked across the United States (as families started to learn of the dog’s remarkable companionship qualities). Today the Maltese’s popularity continues to hold steady, as the dog is a favorite of families and the elderly.
In regard to the Maltese’s function and purpose, this particular breed was originally developed for the purpose of companionship during ancient times (and may have even served a religious function as well). In the modern era, little has changed in its overall purpose, as the Maltese continues to fulfill its role as a companion for elderly individuals and family-based environments.
Appearance and Characteristics
- Weight: 4 to 7 pounds (male and female)
- Height: 9 to 10 inches (male and female)
The Maltese is an extremely small breed known for their compact appearance. In regard to their overall size, few dogs within this breed exceed 7 pounds, or 10 inches in total height. Bodies should also be extremely proportionate in appearance, with the height from the withers to the ground being equal to the length from the Maltese’s withers to the tail. Deviations from these rules are considered major faults that should be evaluated by a qualified veterinarian, as they could result in health complications if left unchecked.
Heads on the Maltese are considered medium in their overall length, and are generally proportionate to the dog’s overall body. Likewise, skulls should be slightly rounded, with muzzles following a relatively long, fine, and tapered appearance. Noses are dark black, with eyes that are dark, well-rounded, and surrounded by black rims. Completing the head is a pair of droopy ears which are set low and sit close to the head.
Forequarters on the Maltese follow an athletic-like appearance. Front legs should be well-boned and straight (when viewed from the front), with the pastern joints well-knit and “devoid of appreciable bend” (akc.org). Completing the front legs is a pair of small, rounded feet that are well-padded for protection against the elements. Scraggly hairs are common on the Maltese’s feet, with black being the predominant coloration for the padding.
Hindquarters on the Maltese follow many of the same characteristics as the forequarters. Hind legs should be both strong and well-boned in their appearance, with a moderate angulation present in the stifles and hocks (akc.org). They should also be relatively straight when viewed from behind. Likewise, feet are the same as the front, following a small and rounded appearance that is accentuated by thick padding.
In regard to the Maltese’s tail region, the dog is renowned in the canine realm for their naturally long tails. They should be carried over the back with a graceful curvature, lying to the side of the rear quarter. Unlike other breeds, tails should never be docked on the Maltese. Extreme curvature is also problematic, and should be promptly evaluated by a qualified veterinarian to determine the cause.
Coat and Coloration
Coats on the Maltese are typically long, flat, and silky in their overall texture and appearance. Coats are also singular on this particular breed, meaning that no undercoat is present. For most Maltese dogs, hair often grows quickly, reaching the ground if not properly groomed. Likewise, hair on the head is known to grow exceptionally long as well, and should be tied up in a topknot to keep the hair free from your pet’s eyes. Finally, curls and woolly textures are uncommon, with a silk-like feel being the primary characteristic of the Maltese’s fur.
In regard to coloration, the Maltese should take on a pure white appearance. Light tan and yellow are sometimes seen on the ears (and are permissible by the AKC), but are considered undesirable traits by seasoned breeders.
Is the Maltese Right for Your Home?
- Energy Level: 4/5
- Exercise Needs: 1/5
- Playfulness: 4/5
- Affection Towards Owners: 3/5
- Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 3/5
- Training Difficulty: 2/5
- Grooming Level: 3/5
Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)
The Maltese is an extremely affectionate, gentle, and trusting breed that makes for an excellent family dog. Although this breed can occasionally be snappy towards strangers, they are generally quite playful and love making new friends when the occasion arises. And despite their small size and demeanor, the Maltese is known for their feisty and bold attitude (a trait that can sometimes be problematic with other dogs in the household). Prospective owners can also expect their new Maltese family member to be quite fearless, as well as responsive in regard to affection. Due to their feisty attitudes, it is generally recommended that owners exercise extreme caution when introducing strangers to the Maltese (including both humans and adults), as growling and “nipping” at hands and feet have been observed with this breed which can result in problems. In spite of this, early socialization and obedience training has proven to be highly-successful with the Maltese and will go a long way in ensuring that your pet is well-suited for new encounters.
Is the Maltese Good With Children?
Yes and no. Although the Maltese is renowned for their gentle and affectionate demeanor towards family members, they are not usually recommended for homes with smaller children (toddler age) due to their small size and fragile bodies. For this reason, many Maltese breeders will often refuse to sell their puppies to families with small kids as it is extremely easy for a toddler to injure or harm this particular breed (via dropping, holding too tightly, or squeezing them too hard). In spite of this, the Maltese still makes for an excellent family dog, and will make a great addition to homes with older (and more mature) kids.
As with all dogs, it is vital that owners instruct children (from an early age) on the proper way to handle and approach their Maltese companion. This includes prohibiting your kids from pulling a dog’s ears or tail, as well as approaching a dog that is either sleeping or eating. Avoidance of these behaviors (or actions) is crucial, as they can provoke aggressive behaviors from your Maltese, leading to unpleasant encounters, or possible bites.
How Smart and Intelligent is the Maltese?
The Maltese is a moderately intelligent breed within the canine world. As of 2022, this breed is ranked #59 amongst the world’s smartest dogs. This places the Maltese side by side with the Brussels Griffon, French Bulldog, and Italian Greyhound in regard to its overall intelligence level (Coren, 182). In regard to specifics, it is estimated that the Maltese requires approximately 40 to 80 repetitions of an action in order to learn a new command. Likewise, it is currently estimated that the Maltese is only capable of learning a new trick (on the first try) with a 30-percent success rate. This doesn’t mean that the Maltese is dumb (by any means), and should never be interpreted as such. Rather, the implications of this research indicate that the Maltese simply requires a different approach to training than other breeds, with a greater focus on repetition and rewards-based incentives (as the Maltese loves snacks). Nevertheless, for individuals seeking an easy-to-train breed with a capacity for learning new tricks and commands (with ease), they will be better-served by a more intelligent breed, such as the Border Collie or German Shepherd (PetHelpful.com).
As one can imagine, the Maltese requires substantial grooming on a daily basis due to its long and luxurious coat. Owners should brush their Maltese regularly with a bristle-based brush to prevent matting and excessive tangling from occurring. Since facial hair tends to fall within the dog’s eyesight, upper strands of hair should also be kept relatively short (or tied back). This can be performed at home with scissors, or by a professional groomer for individuals that are uncomfortable with this process. For those choosing the latter option, however, it should be noted that professional groomers can be quite costly (depending on what services you choose for your dog). If money isn’t a problem though, the investment is well-worth the cost and will go a long way towards ensuring that your Maltese’s appearance is top notch.
In addition to regular brushings and trimmings, owners should also pay particular attention to their Maltese’s ears. Ears should be checked daily for excessive dirt and debris (such as the accumulation of earwax or hair that results from periodic shedding over time). Prompt removal of these foreign substances will go a long way in preventing the onset of sores and painful infections within your Maltese’s ear canals. This is a major issue for the Maltese, as this breed possesses a “droopy” set of ears. Dogs with this ear type are more likely to develop infections as the ear tends to trap heat and moisture within the canal, resulting in a perfect growing environment for harmful bacteria. As such, owners should plan to inspect their Maltese’s ears on a daily basis to avoid these problematic issues.
Your Maltese’s nails should also be evaluated regularly to prevent potential issues from occurring. Nails should be trimmed on a weekly basis to prevent painful injuries to your dog’s paws, as longer nails tend to become snagged on various objects (or rough terrain), resulting in painful tears that can lead to infection or problematic bleeding. In situations involving prolonged nail growth, longer nails may even start to curl inward, growing into your Maltese’s paws over time. To avoid this painful health issue, owners must take the time to adequately inspect their dog’s paws weekly. For individuals that are uncomfortable with performing a trimming procedure, a professional groomer or your dog’s veterinarian can perform this procedure for you within minutes. Be forewarned, however, that professional groomers can often be expensive when compared to some of the other options that are available.
Finally, and crucially, owners should also brush their Maltese’s teeth on a regular basis. Despite being one of the most important areas of your dog’s health, dental care is often one of the most neglected aspects of grooming by owners. To maintain proper oral hygiene for your pet, teeth should be brushed once a day (ideally) to remove food-based substances from the teeth and gums. Prompt removal of these particles is crucial for eliminating bad breath and tooth decay. It can also aid significantly with the prevention of gingivitis and gum disease. Each of these health issues can result in extremely painful and debilitating issues for your Maltese. Nevertheless, with the right care and supervision, they can be easily prevented from occurring.
Exercise and Training Needs
How Much Exercise Does a Maltese Require Each Day?
As an extremely small breed of dog, the Maltese requires significantly less exercise than some of the larger breeds (such as Border Collies and German Shepherds). Nevertheless, owners should plan to devote approximately 30 minutes each day towards physical exercise. This should include a significant amount of time towards playtime, as they are incapable of running or walking extreme distances due to their short legs. This can include games of fetch or simple new tricks and commands. Owners will also be happy to learn that exercise can be performed outside or indoors due to the Maltese’s small stature.
It is vital to note that any exercise program should be developed in unison with your Maltese’s veterinarian. Likewise, most dog experts agree that individuals should wait until their pet is at least 8 months old before attempting to walk with their Maltese, as their bones are still developing at this stage and can be easily damaged by over-exertion. As such, be sure to visit your local veterinarian for a quick checkup before starting an exercise program. Moreover, owners should also note that the Maltese is incredibly intolerant to extreme heat and cold (as they are a housedog through and through). For this reason, be sure to properly evaluate weather conditions before taking them outside.
Is the Maltese Easy to Train?
Yes! In fact, the Maltese is regularly considered by experts to be one of the easiest toy breeds to train due to their natural intelligence and desire to please their owners. It is important to note, however, that the Maltese requires a great deal of repetition for training regimens to be successful. As discussed earlier, the breed requires approximately 40 to 80 repetitions of an action before they fully understand what you desire them to do. Likewise, there is only a 30-percent chance of your Maltese learning a trick on the first try. For these reasons, it is imperative that you (as the owner) exercise extreme patience with your pet as they are learning new skills. As a sensitive breed, the Maltese can easily pick up on their owner’s frustration, leading to negative outcomes.
For greater success, it is recommended that owners utilize an incentive program in their training (such as a treat/snack). Doing so will help keep training sessions fun, and will go a long way toward garnering positive outcomes.
How Difficult is the Maltese to Housetrain?
Generally speaking, the Maltese is a relatively easy dog breed to housetrain due to their natural intelligence and willingness to obey owners. For best results though, it is imperative that owners begin training as soon as possible (during your Maltese’s puppy stage of development). This helps to ensure that good habits are established as early as possible (as bad habits are extremely difficult to break in the latter stages of your dog’s life). As with many toy breeds, repetition is the primary key for success in housebreaking your Maltese. Owners should plan to devote approximately 4 to 16 weeks for this particular breed, utilizing positive reinforcement (as discussed in the training section above) for maximum results. Taking your pet outside every two hours for a “potty break” will also help your Maltese establish a regular routine; thus, preventing potential accidents inside the home from occurring.
As with most breeds, a high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. While it is tempting to provide your Maltese with table-scraps after meals (to save both time and money), owners should never give their dog human-based foods. The reason for this lies with the fact that many human foods contain highly-toxic ingredients and substances (such as bones) that are detrimental to your dog’s health. Consumption of these products can lead to detrimental health conditions (including death) if allowed by owners. The following list details 10 foods that owners should avoid giving their Maltese at all costs:
How Much Food Should a Maltese Eat Per Day?
As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. Generally speaking, however, the Maltese requires approximately 0.25 to 0.50 cups of dry dog food on a daily basis. This should, in turn, be divided into two separate meals throughout the day of 0.12 to 0.25 cups, respectively. More active dogs will require slightly more food each day, whereas less-active animals will require only the minimum standards mentioned above.
Although it is tempting to leave food out all day for your Maltese, experts warn that this type of feeding can be extremely detrimental to the health and well-being of your pet, as this particular breed has an insatiable appetite. As such, it is vital for prospective owners to accurately measure and divide your Maltese’s food on a daily basis to prevent obesity and excessive weight gain from occurring. Again, your dog’s veterinarian can help you to make appropriate decisions in regard to your Maltese’s food requirements.
Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Maltese. Nearly 70-percent of your dog’s body is comprised of water. Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their Maltese’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and their daily activity levels. As with most breeds, standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s weight. For every seven pounds of weight, a Maltese should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day. For example, a 7-pound dog would require 6 ounces of water in a day’s time. For more active dogs, the minimum requirement goes up substantially (in the vicinity of 11.9 ounces), whereas less-active pets will require the basic recommendation stated above. When in doubt about these basic requirements, always consult with a qualified veterinarian to ensure you are providing your Maltese with adequate water throughout the day.
What Type of Home is Good for the Maltese?
The decision to adopt a Maltese is a major life-decision that should never be taken lightly. In fact, “spur-of-the-moment” decisions to adopt are one of the number-one causes of pet abandonment around the world, as owners find themselves ill-equipped (and not prepared) for the rigors of dog ownership. Listed below is a brief overview of the basic needs (and requirements) to ensure your home is a good fit for the Maltese.
Due to their smaller size (in the vicinity of 4 to 7 pounds), prospective owners should note that the Maltese is an indoor breed that should never be left alone outdoors. As such, they are incredibly well-suited for more urban-based environments, such as townhomes, apartments, and condos as they tend to thrive in smaller dwellings. And while it is true that the Maltese can certainly prosper in the countryside as well, great care must be taken to ensure that your pet is in a well-fenced space free of potential predators (such as large birds and other dogs) when you are outside. Failure to heed this warning could result in serious injury to your dog (including death).
As a final word of advice for individuals interested in adopting a Maltese as a pet, it should be noted that this particular breed requires a great deal of social interaction and playtime to truly thrive and be happy. As such, they are not recommended for owners with extremely busy schedules, or for owners incapable of spending quality (one-on-one) time with their pet.
Is the Maltese Good With Other Pets?
Yes and no. In general, the Maltese tends to get along well with other pets in the home (including cats), as they are an even-tempered breed that are usually quite peaceful and loving. Nevertheless, it is important to note that owners should take great care when introducing their Maltese to other animals in the home (especially larger dogs), as their small size makes them a prime target for more aggressive animals. Early socialization with other pets is also a crucial for positive relationships, and should be undertaken (ideally) during your Maltese’s puppy stages of development.
Is the Maltese a Good Guard Dog?
No. Despite their courage and fearless personalities, the Maltese is not suited for guard dog roles in the home due to their incredibly small size and stature. However, they are remarkably protective of their owners, and often make wonderful “watch dogs” due to their attentiveness and propensity to bark when strange occurrences (and sounds) take place. For owners seeking a dog for protection though, they will likely be better-served by a larger and more-aggressive breed (such as the Rottweiler, Pitbull, or German Shepherd).
Selecting a Maltese Puppy
As mentioned above, deciding to adopt a Maltese is a major life-decision that should never be taken lightly. This also applies to the selection of puppies, as great care should be taken when adopting a new dog from a breeder. When examining litters, potential owners should evaluate Maltese puppies with a number of things in mind. How social and interactive is the puppy you are interested in adopting? Do they play well with others (such as their brothers and sister)? Do they try to sniff your hand when you reach out, or do they tend to cower when approached? Moreover, is the puppy overly-aggressive and prone to roughhousing? Do they growl or show aggression when you are near, or attempt to shower you with affection (via kisses)? These are just some of the basic questions that should be considered when considering a new Maltese puppy for your home. There is no right or wrong answer to any of the questions listed; rather, they are intended to help you select a puppy that mimics your own personality and desires (ensuring that your new Maltese puppy is a proper fit for your home).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always ask breeders for health clearances which help to prove that each puppy has been cleared for various health conditions. For the Maltese, you should request health clearances for both of your puppy’s parents to ensure that no specific issues exist that could be passed down to your new pet. Likewise, you should also request certificates from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), as well as the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) for additional insight into the health and well-being of your pet. Not only does this ensure that you are getting a healthy Maltese puppy, but it also helps prove that the seller is a responsible breeder who cares for the health and safety of their animals.
How Much Does a Maltese Cost?
Overall costs for a Maltese vary significantly and depend heavily on the dog’s age, location, and availability (i.e. public demand at the time of purchase). In addition, the source of the dog is also critical for price determination, as private individuals, sellers, and breeders will charge additional money, whereas adoption sites will charge significantly less (if anything at all). As of March 2022, an individual can expect to pay approximately $600 to $2,000 for a Maltese puppy. Higher-end breeders are significantly more expensive, with some puppies going for $3,000 to $4,000. For first year expenses, owners should also plan to spend approximately $2,980 for supplies, grooming tools, and food. Afterwards, the average cost (per year) for owning a Maltese is around $1,230 when you include food, veterinary visits, as well as supplies.
For those interested in older dogs, expect to pay slightly less with the average Maltese going for approximately $400 to $1,000 depending on their age.
Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Maltese:
- Hip and Elbow Evaluation
- Knee Evaluation
- Thyroid Function Test
- Eye Exam
Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their Maltese. Generally speaking, the Maltese is a relatively healthy breed with only a few major health concerns. These include hypothyroidism, shaker syndrome, hearing loss, and hypoglycemia. Potential owners should also note that this breed is prone to a variety of dental issues, as well as patellar luxation, hydrocephalus, portosystemic liver shunt, entropion, reverse sneezing, and distichiasis. Thus, regular visits (and checkups) should be scheduled with a qualified veterinarian on a regular basis to evaluate your dog’s overall health.
Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life. With proper care, owners can expect their Maltese to live between 12 to 15 years, although it is common for this breed to live several years beyond this.
Pros and Cons of the Maltese
- Very sweet-tempered and affectionate breed.
- Highly intelligent and easy to train.
- Playful and great with children.
- Non-allergenic coat that is great for individuals who suffer from allergies.
- Requires a great deal of grooming on a regular basis.
- Requires a lot of attention, and is prone to separation anxiety when they are alone for too long.
- Difficult to housebreak.
- Prone to excessive barking.
In closing, the Maltese is an excellent breed of dog renowned for their intelligence, playfulness, and sweet nature. Although they are prone to excessive barking, are incredibly difficult to housebreak, and require a great deal of attention (on a daily basis), owners will be hard-pressed to find another breed that is as sweet-natured and affectionate as the Maltese. For these reasons, they will likely remain a favorite of dog lovers and breeders alike for the foreseeable future.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Larry Slawson