When the Maltese is mentioned, there’s probably a certain image that comes to mind; small, white, soft, with flowing hair and a cute little bow. And while this is generally accurate, there is so much more to this little toy breed. The Maltese took up space in Roman myths, poems, and fables, always symbolizing loyalty. The Greeks erected tombs for them, and even in Egypt, models bearing a striking resemblance to the Maltese have been found. Centuries later, Europeans believed the dog could cure illness and suffering, and would put them on the pillow of someone’s sickbed. This is how the breed earned the nickname, “The Comforter”. It seems to have an almost magically calming influence, and its history is long, which makes the Maltese a very special kind of dog.
First off, the Maltese has been around for a while ― for some context to this, we’ll need a short history lesson. The Isle of Malta lies in the middle of the Mediterranean, 60 miles off the coast of Sicily, and has been conquered quite a few times throughout history. Carthaginians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, Normans ― they all called Malta their own, at some point. Most likely, the breed we know as the Maltese was brought to Malta by the Phoenicians, who ruled the Mediterranean before the Greeks. But it’s still up for debate where the breed originated. Some believe the Maltese was developed in Italy, others in the Isle of Malta itself, or even Asia. Regardless, this dog made its mark.
By 400 BC, the Greeks waxed poetic about this dog, fascinated by its geometric beauty. The Maltese was described as “perfectly proportioned” by Aristotle himself. The Romans embraced the Maltese as a status symbol, and no high-class lady was complete without one to match her outfit.
Once Rome fell, it was the Chinese who took in this breed, keeping it from extinction during Europe’s Dark Ages. By the time the Maltese returned to Europe, it had been bred with the Chinese native toy breeds, offering a more refined version of the dog, you could say. It didn’t take long before the Maltese was back to its eye-catching, high-status ways. By the 16th century, the dog was once again found in the arms of royals and aristocrats, from England and Scotland to France. The breed we know today was developed by English breeders, and it has been a fixture at dog shows since dog shows first became a thing. Back in 1877, at New York’s first Westminster Dog Show, the breed was introduced as the Maltese Lion Dog.
Size and appearance of the Maltese
The Maltese is a toy breed, and rarely weighs over 7 pounds. Males are 8-10 inches tall, females only an inch or so smaller. There are breeders who offer a “teacup” version, but beware, because they do more harm than good ― a Maltese weighing below 4 pounds is prone to several health issues. It’s a long-lived breed, otherwise, easily living into their teens.
The most eye-catching thing about the Maltese is probably its coat; long and silky, pure white, perfectly straight and reaching to the ground. They don’t have an undercoat, and don’t shed much, but the upsides of the coat also bring some downsides, since long and pure white easily gets stained and dirty. Make sure to brush and comb the coat daily, to prevent matting, even if your dog has a short cut. A weekly bath is also ideal, since the Maltese has no awareness of its pristine appearance, and enjoys mud as much as the next dog. Their dark eyes and black nose are an interesting contrast to the flowy white, and despite its petite appearance, the Maltese actually has a rather compact build.
Temperament and personality
As with most smaller dog breeds, the Maltese has no idea how small it is. They’re actually quite excellent as watchdogs, but at the same time, their fearlessness makes them open to new friends they meet. They’re not the suspicious type, in other words. Maybe this is why they charm everyone within minutes ― it’s exceedingly hard to resist the lovely, social demeanor of a Maltese. This is a highly adaptable breed, and they take well to training, whether it’s fun tricks or an agility course. They prefer rewards-based training, so keep the yelling and harsh words to a minimum. Much like people knew back in the Middle Ages, this breed has an almost supernatural ability to calm and comfort, and they’re sometimes used as therapy dogs, today. Their influence can soothe most people’s worried minds.
The Maltese is happy and lively, playful and intelligent, and great with kids and other animals. But while this dog isn’t aware of its small size, you need to be. It’s far too easy for a child to accidentally harm a Maltese, and this goes for bigger animals, too. So keep an eye on them in the company of especially children ― no dog should be left alone with kids, regardless.
Things to consider
The Maltese is a joy to be around, to say the least. They know what they want, they’re used to getting it, and you’ll have a hard time resisting that adorable face and feisty personality. But adorabless and size aren’t everything ― you still need to make it clear who’s in charge. The coat is also worth considering, and the time, effort, and money that’ll go into making sure it stays that pure, unmatted, soft white. Cutting the hair short is also an option, offering a different look for this iconic breed. In short, there is a lot going on behind that cute face and beautiful look. But the Maltese makes it feel almost effortless, and if you’re willing to do the work, you’ll have a wonderful, caring, and happy companion for life.