Published on June 18, 2011
With shoe-button eyes framed by a glistening coat of silky white, the Maltese has earned enduring popularity by combining cute with a lively, bright, and bold personality. Weighing less than seven pounds, these charmers are popular with the purse-dog set.The small, spunky Maltese is known for retaining his puppy-like attitude throughout his life. The Maltese is one of a handful of similar breeds whose job has always been that of “companion.” They are specifically designed to love and be loved.
If you want a smart little dog to run you and your home, then this is your breed. Maltese pack a lot of love into their tiny bodies, and are never happier than when cuddling in their owners’ laps. That doesn’t mean these dogs don’t need exercise and training. Resist the impulse to simply carry them everywhere and pluck them out of trouble, and let your dog be a dog. In particular, the Maltese excels at learning tricks and loves to show off.
While the Maltese’s happy, courageous natures make him a wonderful pet for many, this may not be the right dog for families with young children. Maltese are tiny and can easily be injured if play is too rough, or they may snap at a child in self-defense if frightened or hurt.
This is also the wrong breed for someone who wants the look of a show dog with little effort. Those gorgeous creatures floating around the show ring with their gleaming white coats and perfect topknots are the product of endless hours of washing and combing, followed by keeping the coat in wraps for protection. Most pet Maltese are kept clipped short, which means frequent professional grooming. Neglected coats become tangled and matted, which is painful and can lead to serious skin infections.
Those shoe-button eyes may look adorable against the white coat, but that look requires a lot of time spent cleaning away tear stains, which cause a rust discoloration that most people find unsightly even though it’s harmless.
Allergies aren’t harmless, but those who sneeze and wheeze may find this breed more tolerable than others, although Maltese are fully capable of causing an allergic reaction in the most sensitive of sufferers. The size of a Maltese helps limit the amount of dog hair – and dander — to trigger allergies, and a coat kept clean and clipped short will help further. But don’t believe the hype: there’s no such thing as a dog that doesn’t cause allergies at all.
The Maltese was developed exclusively as a companion dog, so he needs to live in the house and never outdoors.
Other Quick Facts
• The Maltese originated in Malta some 2,000 years ago and has always been a companion dog.
The History of Malteses
Known as the Melitaie to the Greeks and Romans, these little white dogs were popular as trade goods in ancient times. Who wouldn’t want to swap a nice roll of fabric or some jars of fine olive oil or wine for one of these winsome creatures? From his homeland of Malta, the Maltese went everywhere, spreading his charm and beauty. He adorned the laps of Roman ladies and figured in art and poetry. A pair of Maltese were presented to the emperor of China by the Holy Roman Emperor. Eventually the Maltese was known throughout Europe. He had a reputation as a “comforter dog,” able to heal the sick. Even better, he gathered fleas and kept them off the wealthy ladies in whose households he lived.
Surprisingly, the Maltese was not known in the United States until the 1870s. The American Kennel Club registered its first Maltese in 1888. Since then, the breed’s popularity has risen substantially. The Maltese currently ranks 22nd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Maltese Temperament and Personality
Despite his tiny size, the Maltese is a lively and vigorous dog. He loves nothing more than to spend the day with his family.
Because Maltese are so focused on their people, they take well to training. Attention and the ability to please are all it takes to get a Maltese to learn. He’s a ham who will show off tricks at home and excel in dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally and, believe it or not, tracking. A Maltese can also be a super therapy dog.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Maltese doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Maltese, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
What You Need to Know About Maltese Health
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Maltese can develop certain health problems. Here’s a brief rundown on a few of the conditions you should know about.
Most small dogs have health problems related to their size, some genetic, some acquired. Tiny puppies are fragile, and have problems keeping their blood sugar levels up. As adults, the tracheal cartilage of some tiny dogs can weaken, causing narrowing of the main airway. This can cause difficulty breathing and makes it difficult for the dog to wear any kind of collar. Their small, crowded mouths are prone to periodntal disease, and their kneecaps tend to pop easily out of place, a condition known as “luxating patellas.”
Potential eye problems include glaucoma and progressive retinal atrophy.
Maltese are prone to a congenital liver defect, known as a “portosystemic shunt,” according to a 2003 report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs that have this defect may require expensive surgery to survive.
Maltese can suffer from “shaker dog syndrome”. Maltese with this condition will start trembling uncontrollably, especially when they try to move or get up. Some become unable to walk at all. Some dogs with shaker dog syndrome respond to short-term treatment, whereas others may need medication for the rest of their lives to control the problem. There’s no screening test for the condition.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding.
Expect your puppy’s breeder to show you proof that both the parents have had patella (knee) evaluations by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and annual certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Before being placed in homes, puppies should be examined for a congenital heart disease called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).
If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been “vet checked,” then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Maltese at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Basics of Maltese Grooming
The glamorous Maltese is a high-maintenance dog. The Maltese has a silky single white coat that should be groomed daily with a pin brush or a stainless steel comb to prevent or remove any mats and tangles. Maltese who are allowed to become matted will probably need to be trimmed short because it will be too painful to comb or brush out the mats.
As you comb or brush your Maltese, spray the coat with a mixture of coat conditioner diluted with water. This will help protect the hair from breakage and prevent the buildup of static. When your Maltese is dry and beautiful, pull up the hair around his face into a cute topknot or trim it so it doesn’t fall into his eyes.
Bathe your Maltese whenever his coat starts to look dingy. With the gentle pet shampoos available, you can bathe him weekly if you want without harming his coat.
Before bathing, comb the coat out thoroughly to remove all tangles. Use a whitening shampoo, followed by a conditioner for dogs with long hair. Rinse thoroughly, and then rinse again to make sure you’ve removed all the shampoo and conditioner. Use a towel to soak up as much moisture as possible, then blow dry the coat until it is completely dry. Never let your Maltese air-dry, or his coat won’t look pretty at all.
If all of this sounds like too much work, take your Maltese to a professional groomer who can give the coat the care it needs or trim it into an easy-care puppy clip that you can manage at home.
Of course, a Maltese also needs the same basic care as other dogs. Trim his nails every week or two, short enough that they don’t click on the floor, and brush his teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Finding a Maltese
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Choosing a Maltese Breeder
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the American Maltese Association (AMA), and who has agreed to abide by the AMA’s code of ethics, which specifically prohibits selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Please note that the term “teacup” Maltese is a marketing ploy designed to fool you into thinking you’re getting something special or rare when all you’re getting is a dog who is quite a bit under the usual size of the breed. Extremely tiny dogs in particular are often plagued with severe health problems and rarely live a normal lifespan.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Maltese puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life. Be aware that the AMA code of ethics requires breeders to keep puppies until they are 12 weeks old to ensure that they are mature enough to go to their new homes.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Maltese might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Maltese may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
Adopting a Dog from a Maltese Rescue or Shelter
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Maltese in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Malteses available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Maltese. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Malteses love all Malteses. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Maltese Association’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Maltese rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Maltese home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Maltese, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Maltese to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.