Breed Group: Toy

Temperament and Behavior

Gentle, enthusiastic, and very active inside, a Maltese is a bright, curious, and playful dog who enjoys clever games that allows him to exercise his intelligence. Bred as a companion animal, he is gentle, devoted to their master, needs time with family, and does best when paired with someone who loves to spend time with their dog. If he is to live in a family with children, he is best with older, well behaved, children who are both careful and gentle. If subjected to inconsiderate children, he may be snappish with them.

He usually does well with other well-behaved animals and, although he may not believe so, he must be protected from larger dogs who might consider him a delicacy or harm him unintentionally. With some lines more outgoing than others, most are cautiously respectful of strangers and, although generally quiet, they make exceptional watchdogs. But with their diminutive size, they should not be expected nor allowed to offer protective services.

Less active outside than in, their exercise needs are minimal. A romp in the yard, a trip back and forth to the mailbox, and a couple of play sessions are all that is needed. But he doesn’t like to be left alone for extended periods or on a regular basis. If fenced, inspect the fence on a regular basis to make sure there is nowhere for him to wriggle through. One of the smallest of the toy breeds, he is fragile, a jump from your arms can result in a broken leg.

Physical Characteristics

The Maltese is easily recognized by its long, flat, silky, dazzling white coat hanging to the ground from a part that runs down the center of his back. He is a tiny dog, weighing on the average 4-7 pounds and a compact body with a length and height of 7-8 inches. Over-sized individuals are sturdier and their consideration as a pet should not be dismissed.

Their coat should be pure white although some tend toward light ivory. His tail drapes over his back and his long, luxurious, flowing coat sheds minimally. On the move at a trot, a Maltese appears to float over the ground. But that gorgeous show coat does not come without daily effort. Most pet owners decide to clip them to reduce the grooming effort. They do fairly well in cool temperatures but are increasingly uncomfortable as the temperature rises.

Trainer's Notes

Maltese pups are naturally cautious. To prevent excessive shyness from developing, provide them with early and extensive exposure to new people, sounds, things, and situations.

The Maltese is a breed that reflects their treatment. Treat him as helpless and he will become insecure, overly dependent, bratty and yappy. Treat him as the intelligent, capable little dog he is and he will strut self-confidently through life as if he owns the world. Although as a breed they are not yappy, some individuals must learn to control their barking.

Easy to train, many Maltese excel in competitive obedience and agility. They are attentive and happily respond to positive, gentle training techniques. But they are notoriously difficult to housetrain. Consistent crate training, dog doors, and indoor potty pads are helpful, although for some the task is never fully completed successfully.

Photo © by sannse available under the GNUFDL



Maltese are generally quite healthy and live to between 15 and 18 years old. The most frequent health issues include Patellar Luxation, Distichiasis, Entropion, Cryptorchidism, Hypoglycemia, usually in puppies, Open Fontanel, Hydrocephalus, and deafness.

It is not unusual their small mouth has a challenge accommodating all of their teeth. Routine dental care is strongly recommended. Adults dogs smaller than 4 pounds are at increased risk for health problems, with some having severe health problems. Buyers are discouraged from purchasing a puppy weighing less than 2 pounds at 10-12 weeks old.


The Maltese is one of the most popular toy dogs in America. Ranked 18th in AKC’s breed popularity list, there are over 13,000 Maltese registered annually.

Breed History

Originating on the island of Malta in the central Mediterranean, Maltese are mentioned as early as 300 B.C. in writings and a similar dog is depicted in Greek art as early as the 5th century. Clearly, it is one of the most ancient of all European toy breeds.

Although they were exported throughout Europe and Asia, the original dogs on Malta remained isolated for centuries resulting in a dog that bred true for hundreds of years. Some believe the Crusaders first brought them to England when returning home from the Mediterranean. These tiny dogs were very popular lap dogs and were often carried by ladies in their sleeves by day and slept with them at night. Although they lack both a terrier ancestry and temperament, at one time they were called Maltese Terriers.

Around 1877 the first Maltese was shown in America as “Maltese lion dogs” probably due to the popularity of grooming them to look like miniature lions. The AKC recognized the Maltese breed in 1888.

Additional Information

The National (US) Breed Club is the American Maltese Association. Another resource for information is the Maltese Only Online Community.

Is A Maltese THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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