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Is the Maltese right for you?

Species group:

The basics:
Among the oldest of all dog breeds, the adorable Maltese supposedly had actual tombs erected in its honor by the ancient Greeks. Probably originally from the Mediterranean island of Malta, this silky toy looks like it was born to be a pampered pet. They do have some health challenges, but don't expect this dog to be happy sitting alone on a cushion. They want to participate in family life. Like other toy breeds, the Maltese is bold all out of proportion to its size, and it won't hesitate to speak up if it sees a potential threat. You need to provide proper training so that these little cuties don't become problem barkers.

The original Maltese was probably a Spitz-like dog. Italian breeders introduced some Poodles and Miniature Spaniels into the mix, creating the modern Maltese. With that blend in its DNA, you can expect an intelligent, alert pet that responds well to training. Their charming character makes them easy to spoil, so be careful you're the one training the dog-- instead of the dog training you.

Appearance / health:
The Maltese is a small but sturdy fine-bonded dog. Their height from the ground to their withers should equal their length from their withers to their tail. The head is of medium length, skull slightly rounded and proportionate to the rest of the body; ears are feathered heavily, long (pendant), and set low on the head; eyes are dark and round with an alert expression and have black; muzzle should be one-third (1/3) the length of the head, tapered, and have a moderate stop; the nose should be black; the teeth should meet in scissors (or even) bite. The tail is long-haired and feathered and is carried high and draped over the back. The coat is single, about 8 ½” long, and hangs straight to the ground on each side of a center part down the spine; there is no undercoat and the coat should be of sufficient quantity and length to give the Maltese a look of “floating” on a sea of which hair.

The Maltese is virtually a non-shedder; that is not to say that they keep every hair they were born with – all haired creatures shed – but the Maltese is an extremely minimal shedder because the dead hair must be plucked or brushed out. Failure to daily remove the dead hair will result in significant mats and tangles.

The Maltese has high and rigorous grooming needs. It must be bathed frequently and combed and brushed daily, without fail, to keep the coat clean and free of tangles. Ideally, the hair should part down the center of the back and fall down each side of the part. The long hair on the head is often gathered into a topknot and tied with a ribbon or small clip made especially for small, long-haired dogs. The hair between the toes should be trimmed no less than twice monthly to prevent painful matting.

It is common for the Maltese to have tear staining because of their excessively watering eyes. This watering turns the hair around the eyes and down the nose a dark brownish-black color.

The exercise requirements of the Maltese are minimal. Because of their diminutive size, they can easily get all the exercise they need by running around in the house or apartment, but this does not replace a dog’s inborn need to walk. Accordingly, they do enjoy a short daily walk and this (along with a proper diet) is sufficient to prevent obesity. Do not begin any long-distance walking with them until they are at least eight or nine months old.

The Maltese is, overall, a healthy breed that does not typically suffer from any major health issues. Some are prone to respiratory issues (brought on by exposure to dampness), skin problems, and eye problems. Including dry dog food and appropriately sized canine teething biscuits, as a part of their regular diet, will help avoid issues with their teeth. However, because of their size and hair, there are a few issues to watch out for, including: luxating patella, slipped stifle, hypoglycemia, sunburn along the part in their hair on the back, chemical sensitivity to shampoos/conditioners, chills, and discomfort in hot weather or dampness (paper or litter box training is beneficial so that they do not have to go outdoors in inclement weather).

It is not uncommon for a Maltese, like most very small dogs, to have an open fontanel which will sometimes be accompanied by hydrocephalus. Additionally, there is a marginally uncommon disorder that can affect the Maltese, known as “White Shaker-Dog Syndrome.” This condition is most commonly seen in small white dogs and it causes and all-over trembling which may create difficulty in walking; this disorder develops during adolescence or adulthood and is very treatable with medication.

Lastly, there is no such thing as a “teacup” Maltese. The Maltese that are advertised as “teacup” are simply the very tiny runt of the litters that unscrupulous puppy mills and backyard breeders tout as being something extra-special. Do not be taken in by the extraordinarily tiny size of these runts as they are often a dog that will suffer health issues all of their lives and ultimately cost you a lot of veterinary expense and, potentially, heartbreak.

Behavior / temperament:
One of the kindest mannered of all the toy breeds, the Maltese is a cheerful, playful loving and affectionate little companion that remains playful well into advanced age. Don’t make the mistake of overprotecting or over-pampering the Maltese as this tends to make many Maltese neurotic as they were never bred to be pampered or protected. Maltese are an energetic and enthusiastic dog that is known for sudden bursts of playfulness, running at break-neck speed all throughout the house or yard. They are faithful, adoring companions who are devoted to their masters, often to the point of frantic barking at, and even nipping of, anyone they take to be a threat to their person.

In many ways, the Maltese is a great big dog trapped in a delicate little body. Maltese require more than the usual amount of time with their owners and can become destructive if ignored or left alone for long periods of time, thus not making them the best choice of breed for busy, on-the-go households.

The Maltese is rated high in learning rate, obedience and problem solving. Other than housetraining, which occasionally seems to be an issue of obstinacy in the breed, the Maltese is a very intelligent dog and easy to train due to their enjoyment of learning whatever their owners wish to teach them. Any training issues that arise in a Maltese can generally be tracked back to being spoiled by their owner.

Proper crate training is very beneficial for the Maltese. Since the Maltese is haughty by nature, it is vitally important to provide a lot of exposure to other people and socialization during their puppyhood, rewarding them with treats for a nice reaction to strangers. Failure to properly socialize and expose them can turn their natural curiosity into shyness and fear aggression. Because they are a vocal breed, early training in when it is and is not appropriate to bark is also a necessity. If sufficiently rewarded, the Maltese is quite good at learning tricks.

Maltese are a bold little dog and, due to their protective nature to protect their owner, they can be quite vocal to the point of becoming nuisance barkers.


adorable lap dog, great family pet, Total love bug, beautiful silky coat, social, affectionate pet


housebroken, Cushings disease, eye stain, potty train, barking, patella luxation


good grooming session, floor length hair

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