The Maltese Claims a Noble Spot in History

Maltese dogs with ribbons in their hair.
Maltese dogs with ribbons in their hair. Photography ©Cynoclub | Thinkstock.

Ye Ancient Dogg of Malta is one of the oldest companion dog breeds. Early Maltese catnapped with royalty, strolled on splendid palace grounds and snuggled with lovely ladies. Nowadays, whether he lives in a mansion or humble abode, the Maltese showers his family with affection and expects a good dose in return. He’s charming, cheerful and effortlessly portable: an easy companion with the perfect dash of vivacity.

Made in Malta

A happy Maltese running.
This breed is mannered yet animated. Photography ©DavidClarine | Thinkstock.

A breed with centuries of history, the Maltese was well-regarded as an exotic trading item. Considered the jewels of women, the little lapdogs were treasured by European royalty. Wealthy ladies carried them in their dresses, sleeves or baskets. Over time, this breed has been called the Canis Melitaeus, the Roman Ladies’ Dog, the Maltese Lion Dog and Melita (Malta’s former name).

Today the mannered yet animated breed is satisfied with frolics and daily walks, making him well-suited to apartment living. Adaptable, bright and eager, the Maltese’s desire to please facilitates training. He can excel in competitive obedience, rally and agility as well as softer activities such as therapy visits. And rumors aside, Maltese aren’t inherently reluctant about housetraining. Because small and large dogs operate physiologically alike, there’s no physical reason for Maltese to don the housetraining dunce cap. The breed’s petite size, however, may impede his family’s observation of pre-elimination behaviors. Not to mention his tiny accidents are difficult to detect!

Mighty spirit, minute form

Weighing a mere 6 pounds or so, this breed is obviously no guard dog. But don’t tell him that! He considers himself a respectable watchdog. Bottom line: He’ll at least notify his family of new circumstances or perhaps a passing squirrel.

Most socialized Maltese are friendly with other dogs and animals. Caution is sensible, however, for big dog friends may accidentally hurt the tiny Maltese. Similarly, although the Maltese is typically friendly around children, he can be injured by rough play or accidental drops, so supervision is warranted.


All Maltese are much loved by their family, but one eccentric owner carried her adoration to the extreme. Also known as the Queen of Mean, the wealthy Leona Helmsley apparently loved her Maltese above all else. Helmsley left her Maltese named Trouble an exorbitant inheritance for his ongoing luxurious care after her death. Much legal trouble ensued, and courts subsequently reduced the inheritance. It should be noted that, unlike Helmsley, Trouble himself (true to the Maltese temperament!) wasn’t much trouble to maintain!

Fast facts about this breed:

A Maltese in a bow tie.
This breed’s coat needs frequent brushing. Photography ©pitmitchel | Thinkstock.
  • Life span: 11 to 13 years
  • Weight: Under 7 pounds
  • Eyes: Dark and round, expressive, alert and gentle
  • Coat: The single coat hangs long, flat and silky, almost to the ground.
  • Top-knots: A ponytail up around his face lets the Maltese keep his eyes on family.
  • Color: Pure white
  • Shedding: Low shedding
  • Grooming: This breed’s coat needs frequent, if not daily, brushing.
  • Trims: Some owners frequently trim the Maltese to minimize brushing time.
  • Stains: Some Maltese may develop tear stains (discoloration) under their eyes. Veterinarians will help examine underlying causes and make suggestions for treatment.
  • Teeth: Many small dog breeds, including this breed, may be predisposed to periodontal disease. The Maltese benefits from daily teeth  brushing and regular professional cleaning.
  • Breed saying: “Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!” — Albert Einstein

Thumbnail: Photography ©Cynoclub | Thinkstock. 

Why read breed profiles?

Dog breed profiles help everyone, whether you have a mixed breed or purebred dog, to better understand and improve the quality of your dog’s life. If you have a mixed breed dog, read up on all of the breed profiles that make up your dog. Not sure what breed your dog is? There are a number of easy DNA tests out there to help your find out.

Tell us: Do you have a Maltese or a Maltese mix? What do you love about this dog breed?

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you

Originally an attorney, Lynn Hayner has been writing for companion animal publications for more than 15 years. She researches breed profiles, dabbles in animal law issues and collects stories about dogs and their families in her travels. A lifelong dog aficionado, Lynn is shadowed by her “Who the heck needs a leash, I’ll follow mama anywhere,” German Shepherd Dog, Zoey. Follow Lynn on Twitter at @lynnhayner.

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