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The Maltese, at one time known as "Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta," the Maltese Terrier, the Maltese Spaniel, the Maltese Dog, the Maltese Lion Dog, the Ancient Dogge of Malta, the Melita Dog (taken from the Greek word meli, meaning honey), the Melitaie Dog, the Melitae Dog, the Roman Ladies' Dog, the Shock Dog and the Bichon Maltaise, has been an aristocrat of the canine world for more than twenty centuries. The breed is famous for its long, cascading snowy white coat, its dark oval eyes with jet-black rims and its gentle yet spirited disposition. The Maltese has been cherished as a companion throughout the ages; the Greeks even built tombs in honor of their beloved Maltese upon their death. The Maltese was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888 and is a member of the Toy Group.

History & Health


The tiny Maltese is one of the earliest lapdogs, traceable to the island of Malta off the southern coast of Italy as far back as 3500 B.C., if not earlier. It is thought to be the most ancient of all European toy breeds. Publius, the Roman governor of Malta in the first century A.D., had a beloved Maltese named Issa, who was made famous by the poet Martial:

"Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla's sparrow. Issa is purer than a dove's kiss. Issa is gentler than a maiden. Issa is more precious than Indian gems... Lest the last days that she sees light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has had her picture painted."
Many other celebrated authors have reflected on the intelligence and beauty of the Maltese. From at least the time of the ancient Greeks, aristocratic ladies favored tiny pet dogs, which they groomed, fed on delicacies and allowed to sleep on their beds and other furniture. So valuable were these dogs that international trade in them existed even before the time of Christ. The Greeks erected tombs for their Maltese and honored them in art from the 5th century on. Statues of Maltese were found in Egyptian ruins. A faithful friend of the wealthy during the Greek and Roman Empires, the Maltese also became a lapdog of the rich and famous during the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots both owned the diminutive breed, which in 1607 was described as being "not bigger than common ferrets." In 1792, Maltese were referred to as "about the size of squirrels," carried by ladies in their bosoms and sleeves. They have been described as "the jewels of women."
By the middle of the 17th century, the island of Malta was populated primarily by poor shepherds, and the dainty dogs of its past became rare. In 1805, a Knight of Malta purportedly remarked: "There was formerly a breed of dogs in Malta with long silky hair, which were in great demand at the times of the Romans, but have for some years past greatly dwindled, and indeed are become almost extinct." The breed did not die out entirely. An accurate portrait of a Maltese from 1833 appears in paintings housed in the Royal Library of Malta. While many artifacts and some old writings depict dogs resembling the modern Maltese, many also resemble the Pomeranian and other toy breeds. It seems that meticulous breeding and recordkeeping establishing a pure Maltese breed did not begin until the mid-1800s.
The Maltese steadily rose in popularity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, gaining a wide following with commoners as companions and show contenders. By the middle of the 19th century, the Maltese was well-established as a popular pet in Britain, and it appeared in the English show ring in 1859. The first Maltese exhibited in America was a white "Maltese Lion Dog" entered at the original Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1877. At the 1879 Westminster show, a colored Maltese was exhibited as a "Maltese Skye Terrier." The American Kennel Club accepted its first Maltese for registration in 1888. The Maltese Terrier Club of America was founded in 1906; it later changed its name to the National Maltese Club and held its first specialty in New York in 1917. By the 1950s, there were two American breed clubs: the Maltese Club of America (formerly the National Maltese Club) and a newer club, the Maltese Dog Fanciers of America. In 1961, representatives of both clubs met at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City to discuss the future of their beloved breed. The result was a single combined club, the American Maltese Association, which remains the breed parent club to this day. The first annual national meeting was held in conjunction with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1963. The club drafted and adopted a revised Maltese breed standard in 1963, which was approved by the AKC that same year. The American Maltese Association officially became a member club of the AKC in 1969.

While beloved as a glamorous companion dog, the little Maltese is tough, feisty and intelligent enough to have earned its reputation as a renowned rat-catcher.

Health Characteristics

The Maltese dog breed is exceptionally long-lived, with an average life span of 15 years or more. This is higher compared to the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and also higher than most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Maltese are as follows:

Entropion: The inversion, or the turning inward, of all or part of the edge of an eyelid
Glaucoma: Serious disorder characterized by fluid build-up inside of the eye
Retinal Detachment: Separation of the inner layers of the retina from its underlying pigmented layers.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes

Temperament & Personality


According to the AKC standard, "for all his diminutive size, the Maltese seems to be without fear. His trust and affectionate responsiveness are very appealing. He is among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs, yet he is lively and playful as well as vigorous." The Maltese has been around since Medieval Times, and has been a companion dog from the very beginning. Whereas other small breeds are often the result of breeding larger dogs down to size, the Maltese started off as small as they are today. They are sturdy little dogs, however, who love to play hard and can keep up with dogs twice their size.
It is the Maltese nature to be sweet, playful and easygoing, but their individual temperaments can be altered by how they are raised. While you may be inclined to treat a Maltese as if he were a helpless baby, it is important to let these dogs have some independence. Sheltering them, spoiling them or not training them to be well mannered can lead to bratty behavior. Treating your Maltese like an independent being and setting proper boundaries can help ensure that he's as "gentle mannered" and "playful" as the AKC suggests.

Activity Requirements

Maltese don't need a lot of vigorous exercise in order be happy and healthy, but daily walks are a must. These little guys love to run, so allowing them time to zip around the yard or park can help them expend extra energy. Their size makes them ideal apartment dogs, but a commitment should be made to walking your Maltese daily as it keeps them in shape and helps prevent separation anxiety.


Give these little guys some praise and treats and they are capable of anything. Maltese are highly trainable and unlike other toy breeds, possess a desire to please. Some can have an independent streak, but that can generally be overcome by keeping training interesting and mixing up the routine a bit. Once your Maltese realizes there are treats in the deal, he'll perk up and catch on quickly.
Toy breeds should never be treated harshly or given physical corrections. Small dogs feel their only method of protecting themselves is through their bark and bite, and they don't hesitate to use either. Harsh treatment or physical discipline can cause your Maltese to be mistrustful of people in general. Rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad is the best method to train a Maltese.

Housetraining a Maltese can be a long, drawn out process. Finding where these tiny dogs have gone on your carpet can be a challenge, especially because they are so small and can hide quite easily. Crating your Maltese may be necessary for six to eight months. Some owners request the breeder housetrain their dog before bringing him home.

Behavioral Traits

Separation Anxiety is quite common in Maltese. They adore people and hate to be left alone for long periods of time. Most Maltese don't get enough exercise, as owners of toy breeds think they don't need to walk their dogs. Exercise definitely helps, but Maltese are best suited for homes where there is a stay at home parent, or in the home of retirees.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Maltese is a toy dog covered from head to foot with a mantle of long, silky, white hair. He is gentle-mannered and affectionate, eager and sprightly in action, and, despite his size, possessed of the vigor needed for the satisfactory companion.

Of medium length and in proportion to the size of the dog. The skull is slightly rounded on top, the stop moderate. The drop ears are rather low set and heavily feathered with long hair that hangs close to the head. Eyes are set not too far apart; they are very dark and round, their black rims enhancing the gentle yet alert expression. The muzzle is of medium length, fine and tapered but not snipy.The nose is black. The teeth meet in an even, edge-to-edge bite, or in a scissors bite.

Sufficient length of neck is desirable as promoting a high carriage of the head.

Compact, the height from the withers to the ground equaling the length from the withers to the root of the tail. Shoulder blades are sloping, the elbows well knit and held close to the body. The back is level in topline, the ribs well sprung. The chest is fairly deep, the loins taut, strong, and just slightly tucked up underneath.

A long-haired plume carried gracefully over the back, its tip lying to the side over the quarter.

Legs and Feet
Legs are fine-boned and nicely feathered. Forelegs are straight, their pastern joints well knit and devoid of appreciable bend. Hind legs are strong and moderately angulated at stifles and hocks. The feet are small and round, with toe pads black. Scraggly hairs on the feet may be trimmed to give a neater appearance.

Coat and Color
The coat is single, that is, without undercoat. It hangs long, flat, and silky over the sides of the body almost, if not quite, to the ground. The long head-hair may be tied up in a topknot or it may be left hanging. Any suggestion of kinkiness, curliness, or woolly texture is objectionable. Color, pure white. Light tan or lemon on the ears is permissible, but not desirable.

Weight under 7 pounds, with from 4 to 6 pounds preferred. Overall quality is to be favored over size.

The Maltese moves with a jaunty, smooth, flowing gait. Viewed from the side, he gives an impression of rapid movement, size considered. In the stride, the forelegs reach straight and free from the shoulders, with elbows close. Hind legs to move in a straight line. Cowhocks or any suggestion of hind leg toeing in or out are faults.

For all his diminutive size, the Maltese seems to be without fear. His trust and affectionate responsiveness are very appealing. He is among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs, yet he is lively and playful as well as vigorous.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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