Maltese - Breed Introduction
Maltese are toy dogs, most easily recognized by their long, silky white coats that hang all the way to the floor. There are two sides to this breed. On the one hand, the Maltese’s angelic appearance is in keeping with their gentler side, which enables them to charm their owners into spoiling and pampering them.
On the other hand, Maltese can also be quite impish and fearless little characters. Although their ancestry spans back to ancient times, the Maltese’s sole purpose has been to serve as a companion dog.
The Maltese stands 5 to 8 inches ( 13 to 20 centimeters) tall, and weighs 4 to 7 pounds (2 to 3 kilograms).
History of Breed
The Maltese is the oldest of the toy breeds and its ancestry dates all the way back to around 1500 BC, when the breed’s development began in Malta, an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. Beloved from the start, the Maltese were so adored by the Greeks that the Greeks erected tombs for them. In the 1300s, Crusaders are said to have brought the breed to England on a return trip from the Mediterranean.
They were called Maltese terriers at the time, and quickly became coveted by upper-class women of that era, who were known to carry the little dogs in the sleeves of their dresses by day and take them to bed at night. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the Maltese was introduced in America, and in 1888 it was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Color and Coat
The Maltese is characterized by a long, silky coat of straight hair that brushes the ground. (Maltese do not have undercoats.) The hair on the head is often styled in a topknot. A few Maltese may have curly or wooly hair. The coloring is usually pure white, though some dogs of this breed may have light ivory or lemon-colored markings on the ears.
Personality and Temperament
The perfect lap dogs, Maltese are gentle, trusting, and well-mannered, yet contrary to what their innocent appearance may suggest, they have a bold, feisty, and fearless side as well. Maltese are playful and energetic.
Some dogs of this breed may be prone to anxiety. Maltese are wary of strangers, and will bark if they perceive something to be out of place. They also have a tendency to bark when excited for any reason, and as a result, some people may consider their barking to be excessive.
Maltese generally learn quickly and are relatively easy to train in most respects; however, they may be difficult to housebreak. They can be trained to perform tricks, but the cantankerous side of their nature disinclines them to work for nothing, so keeping a good supply of rewards on hand is definitely advantageous to their trainers.
Maltese love going for outdoor walks, but care must be taken to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun as this breed has a tendency to burn. Fortunately, the majority of the Maltese’s exercise needs can be met through indoor play. Fetch is one of their favorite games, and they are accomplished jumpers.
Maltese prefer to be the center of their owners’ attention, and they may be jealous of visitors. They have an aversion to engaging in any sort of roughhousing, and may bite if they feel threatened. For these reasons, they are not a good match for families with small children. A more mature Maltese may be suitable for older children, as long as the dog is treated with gentleness and respect.
Similarly, Maltese are not likely to adjust well to having other pets in the household. Seemingly oblivious to their small size, Maltese are likely to challenge dogs who are much larger than themselves.
Maltese are an ideal choice for apartment dwellers, as they require little in the way of space. Another noteworthy plus is that these dogs are known to shed very little, if at all, which is a quality that may be particularly appealing to people with allergies to pet dander. Their maintenance requirements are high, however, so anyone considering this breed should be willing to devote a significant amount of time to grooming.
The Maltese sports a square, compact build. The length of the dog’s body should be equal to its height. The skull is slightly rounded. The nose is typically black, but may fade to pink or light brown during the winter months. It often returns to black again with increased exposure to the sun.
The eyes are very dark, and are surrounded by darker skin pigmentation that is referred to as a halo. The eyes have a gentle, intelligent expression. The drop, pendant ears are covered in long hair.
The Maltese’s silky white hair is its most outstanding feature. Owners of show dogs often wrap the dogs’ long hair to protect it as much as possible. Curly and wooly hair types are outside the breed standard, and ivory and yellow coloring on the ears is permissible, but not desirable.
Typical Health Concerns
There are few major medical concerns with the Maltese. They are prone to digestive problems, and occasionally, they may suffer from deafness and white shaker-dog syndrome.
This little dog loves to romp and splash in puddles, seemingly unaware of the effects such rambunctious activities have on its long, white coat. The coat mats easily, especially when its wet. Thus he’s likely to need frequent baths, which should always be followed by a thorough drying to prevent him from getting cold.
Extra care should be taken to clean the fur around the eyes and beard to prevent staining. Tear stains can be removed by drawing a fine-toothed metal comb moistened with lukewarm water through the hair just below the eyes every two to three days. Avoiding foods treated with food coloring and providing distilled drinking water can be beneficial in reducing staining.
The Maltese’s coat should be brushed daily, and gentleness is a necessity to avoid breakage of the coat’s fine hair. The eyes and ears should be cleaned regularly. Because a lot of teeth are packed into the Maltese’s tiny mouth, tooth-brushing at home and professional cleanings at the veterinarian’s office are advisable.
Some owners prefer trimming the coat to a length of 1- to 2-inches, referred to as a “puppy cut,” to meeting the dogs’ extensive grooming needs. One notable plus of Maltese ownership is that the breed doesn’t shed.
Country of Origin
The Maltese originated on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta.
Average Life Span
The average life expectancy of the Maltese is 12 to 15 years, though it’s possible for the breed to live up to 20 years.