The Maltese may look like an untouchable little glamour dog, but under that stunning white coat is a lively little canine that is full of character and ready for anything! These little dogs have tons of character, and their noble disposition is balanced against their hardy, adaptable nature. Maltese aren't just couch potatoes, either, and many members of the breed have excelled in canine sports and competitions.
Origin and History
The Maltese is a popular toy dog, prized for their long white coat. The breed was originally developed on the Island of Malta, just off the coast of Italy, and it is believed the first specimens were brought back to Europe with the return of the Crusaders.
These dapper little dogs became the darlings of the wealthy, where women actually tucked them into their sleeves and took them everywhere with them. Today, these dogs serve virtually the same purpose they have for hundreds of years: to amuse, adore, and infatuate their human companions.
Not only is this breed a loving companion, but is also an energetic dog who enjoys sports including agility, rally, and tracking.
This is a very small breed, with males standing a maximum of 10 inches at the shoulder. Females are slightly smaller, and weights range from 6 to 9 pounds for both sexes.
The coat of this breed is far and away their most spectacular feature. The color of most specimens is snow white, but shades of ivory are also acceptable.
The coat is long and flowing if grown to its full length. The hair on the head is usually banded in twin top-knots, often accessorized with tiny bows. For practicality, many pet owners choose to keep their dogs in a shorter "puppy clip" that is easier to manage. However, enough hair is left on the head to create the signature top-knots.
The Maltese is nothing if not lively. What they lack in size, they make up for in energy. They love to play with their toys and with each other, but mostly they love to spend time with you. These dogs can become extremely devoted to their favorite human companions, so it's important to make sure they are well socialized with all members of the household. This will help prevent them from becoming overly possessive of their favorite person and snappish toward other family members.
As with all dogs, temperament is affected by numerous factors, including genetics, and most importantly, socialization. Socialization involves exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences when they're still in the puppy stage. Socialization helps ensure that your Maltese puppy grows up to be a well-rounded adult dog. If you adopt an adult Maltese, keep in mind that there is still plenty of opportunity for socialization, though it may take longer for an adult dog to acclimate.
The Maltese is eager-to-please and is extremely loving of all people. Due to these characteristics, they are known to be easy-to-train with positive reinforcement. Utilize treats, praise, and play to reinforce desired behavioral responses. Keep the number of treats you provide in mind to prevent them from going over 10 percent of their daily caloric intake.
Although obedience training Maltese is often simple, house training can be a real challenge. These dogs go frequently and in small amounts, especially when they are puppies, so you really need to be diligent during the training period and provide them with ample opportunity to exercise.
Some owners find that using puppy training pads provides a good, permanent solution for household accidents. This also eliminates the need for more frequent trips outside where your pet will find many ways to soil that gorgeous white coat.
Although Maltese are known to be playful and energetic, they don't require a significant amount of exercise. They do enjoy brief walks and playing outdoors. About 30 minutes each day is all the exercise they really need, although you can spend more time if desired, or if you notice your dog getting antsy.
Due to their young, developing bones, you should wait until your puppy is at least 8 months old to take them on long-distance walks. You can allow them to play prior to 8 months, but remain observant and bring your pup back in when they look like they're getting tired.
Keep in mind, this isn't a breed that tolerates extreme temperatures well. If it's too hot or cold outside, limit their time outdoors and try to play inside when able.
Maltese are a bit delicate when it comes to their health, so you'll need to pay special attention to the following areas of care.
- Tooth brushing is essential in this breed. They are prone to dental disease and tooth loss, as are many toy breeds. It may also help to feed dry kibble on a daily basis and avoid offering too many table scraps.
- Drafts can lead to respiratory problems, so take care to limit your pet's exposure to cold and damp conditions.
- Slipping knee caps -- known as luxating patella -- are common in this breed, so be very cautious about letting your dog jump down from furniture.
- Eye ulcerations are also somewhat common for this breed. The head fall tends to come loose and winds up rubbing against the corneas, irritating the tissues until scarring begins to form. If treated quickly with eye drops, most ulcerations will clear up, but it's very important to keep hair away from your pet's eyes.
Maltese have a normal life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, with the average age of a Maltese being 13 years old. Some members of the breed may live to be older than 15, however.
This is a breed that requires a good deal of grooming, even when not kept in full coat. The hair should be brushed daily with a pin brush to remove tangles before they become full blown mats.
You will also need to bathe your pet on a weekly basis to keep the coat white. Otherwise, the rear legs and feet will become stained with urine, and the face will develop a reddish stain from eye tearing and food.
This kind of regular grooming may be a bit much for those who have a busy schedule, but if you have the time to devote to it, grooming sessions with your pet can be extremely relaxing for both of you. Just be sure to start early in your dog's life, so they have the chance to become acclimated to the routine.
Famous Members of the Breed
Although the Maltese has been around for centuries, there are some fun facts that most people aren't aware of:
- Aristotle described the Maltese as "perfectly proportioned."
- Maltese are among the easiest dog breeds to train.
- This breed was once so prized, one was sold for the equivalent of $2,000 in the 1500s.
- They are considered to be hypoallergenic.
- They're well-known to be excellent therapy dogs.
Purchasing or Adopting a Maltese
If you're looking for a Maltese puppy, a good place to start is the American Maltese Association. They have a breeder directory available outlining registered breeders, as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $600 to $2,000 dependent on breeder, location, and gender.
If you would prefer a rescued dog, you can contact these breed-specific Maltese rescue organizations:
- American Maltese Association Rescue: A non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing Maltese dogs of all ages.
- Metropolitan Maltese Rescue: A non-profit rescue with both Maltese and Maltese mixes in the New York City area.
- Southern Comfort Maltese Rescue: Maltese dog rescue in the Southern United States dedicated to rescuing and caring for Maltese and other toy breeds. Located in Hixon, Tennessee.
- Maltese Rescue California: Rescues unwanted or homeless Maltese dogs of all ages; located in California.
Is this the Breed for You?
To look at a Maltese is to fall in love with one, but you need to consider whether you can offer the kind of care and attention they need to thrive. These merry little dogs need plenty of companionship, but that attention is better coming from adults than children who may not completely understand just how delicate these dogs really are. The Maltese is not meant for the kind of rough-and-tumble play that a Cocker Spaniel can endure. If you understand the care needs of a Maltese and you're willing to put in the effort, you'll not find a more loving canine companion to share your life with.