Maltese: Everything You Need To Know About This Playful Little Dog

Meet the pooch that Aristotle called a "cloud floating in the sky."

That's right: The Maltese has been around long enough for ancient Greek philosophers to talk about (and coo over) him.

If you're cooing over him too, here's what you need to know about the majestic yet mischievous Maltese.

A Basic Overview of the Maltese

The Maltese belongs to the bichon family, or dogs that are small yet long-haired. At 10 inches tall and 8 pounds, this toy dog can snuggle comfortably in your lap.

Unlike his relatives, the Toy Poodle and Bichon Frisé, the Maltese has a single-layer coat of straight silky hairs, which are long enough to touch the floor. You can also find varieties that have curly hair, though these aren't considered suitable for show.

Because long hair can be impractical to groom, many Maltese owners give their pooches a "puppy cut," which makes them look like messy-haired Bichon Frisés. Fortunately for people with delicate sinuses, Maltese are generally hypoallergenic.

Being an ancient breed, the Maltese has had several nicknames over the years, including "Canis Melitaeus," "Melita," "Maltese Lion Dog," "ancient dog of Malta," "Roman Ladies' Dog," "The Comforter," "The Spaniel Gentle" and "Maltese Terrier," to name a few. As you're about to see, there's a good reason for all these monikers.  

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What is the Personality of the Maltese?

The Maltese has a disposition as bright as his coat.

He thinks of everyone — and we mean everyone — as his friend. Whether it's a guest at your house, or another dog at the park, the Maltese is always ready to be a gracious host towards anyone he meets.

When he's not greeting strangers with a smile, he's coming up with ways to keep his paws occupied. He might be exploring your house, getting used to the new smells that crop up, or trailing after you in a bid to get your attention.

Cuddle the Maltese all you want, but don't ever make the mistake of spoiling him. He can be a stubborn pooch when he puts his mind to it.

Also, as much as he looks like a huggable, squeezable pup, he doesn't take too kindly to getting tugged in every direction like a rag doll. If you're taking a Maltese to a house full of small children, better keep an eye on how the kids treat him.

All in all, if your Maltese has been well-socialized, and is regularly exposed to new sights and sounds within a safe environment, he can be as sweet and fluffy as cotton candy.   

History and Background of the Maltese

True to his name, the Maltese is believed to have had its roots in the island of Malta. We say "believed," because until now, experts can't agree on where the Maltese came from.

What we do know is that the dog appeared regularly in works by ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. We also know that the ancients believed that the Maltese had natural healing powers — and frankly, who can blame them?

Soon, the Maltese caught the attention of European nobles, who flaunted their dogs almost as much as they flaunted their wealth and power. The Maltese lived through the rise and fall of empires, but were almost driven to extinction due to breeders who tried to shrink them to squirrel size.

Luckily, people who knew better revived the breed by crossing miniature spaniels, mixed poodles and East Asian miniature dogs. Soon, the Maltese became the ancestor of other dog breeds like the Bichon Frisé, and lived on to become one of today's cutest pooches.   

Are Maltese Playful and Fun?

If you had a dime for every Maltese that is "playful" and "fun," you'd rival Bill Gates himself.

The Maltese is one of those dogs that can't seem to stay still. He's either doing something, or looking for something to do. If you're not ready to handle such a huge amount of energy from such a small dog, the Maltese may not be for you.

But if you have the gregarious personality to match his, or at least the willingness to humor him whenever he wants to get moving, the Maltese can be the perfect canine companion. Not only can he bring light and sunshine into your life, but he'll also be more than happy to spread the fun around.  

How Much Exercise Does a Maltese Need?

If your Maltese is younger than 9 months old, you need to be careful not to over-exercise him. His bones and muscles are still developing at that age, so anything too strenuous can hurt his growing body.

Even when he's already an adult (or around a year old), a Maltese doesn't have to be exercised as much as larger sporting breeds are. You can take him for a 20- to 30-minute walk twice a day every day, and still meet his exercise requirements.

If possible, stick to a schedule when walking your Maltese. That way, as soon as you take out the leash, your Maltese will know that it's time to get moving. Also, don't forget to let him use the "bathroom" before hitting the road.

In case walks get too boring for him, add games like "Fetch" and "Find It" into his repertoire. If your Maltese is especially outgoing, don't be afraid to let him play with other dogs. As long as you keep a close watch on them, no one is going to get hurt.

What are the Grooming Needs of the Maltese?

When you're as hirsute as a Maltese, an intense grooming regimen is a must.

Whether he has a straight silky coat or a "puppy cut," a Maltese needs to be brushed at least once a day. Daily brushing keeps his coat from matting, and removes any dirt that might've gotten tangled into his hair. Depending on how often he gets dirty, you can bathe your Maltese once a week, or once every three weeks.

Because his face is almost entirely covered with hair, a Maltese is prone to "tear stains," or brownish patches around the eyes. He is also be prone to face stains due to dipping his head into the food bowl, or poking his nose into places where it shouldn't be. If you see any stains on your Maltese's face, gently remove them using a soft cloth dipped in warm water.  

You should also check his ears every now and then for signs of infection, like redness and foul odor. Take a look inside his mouth, and brush his teeth regularly to prevent buildup of tartar and other bacteria. While you're at it, trim his hair and nails whenever they get too long for comfort.

It's better to get him used to grooming at an early age, since he won't be too upset every time you take out a brush. But if he's always squeamish about grooming sessions, you'll want to take him to a professional groomer instead.

Are Maltese Easy to Train?

Chances are, your Maltese is a smart pooch, so teaching him new tricks shouldn't take too long.

Teach him the basics like "doing his business" outside the house, getting used to a leash, and following basic commands like "Sit," "Stay" and "Heel." Be consistent and firm when you're training him (e.g. don't pat him on the head for biting your heel), but try to use positive reinforcement as much as possible. Maltese are sensitive dogs, and won't respond well to being spanked or screamed at.

Some Maltese owners report that their dogs can get too yappy at times. If that's the case with your Maltese, teach him the "Quiet" command using a training clicker. Whenever he stops barking, say "Quiet," click the training clicker and give him a treat afterwards. Do this often enough, and your Maltese will learn that "Quiet" means "stop barking."

Alternatively, you can identify the triggers for his barking and act accordingly. For example, if he barks whenever a certain person is around, put him in a crate before that person comes over, and gently reassure your dog that everything will be all right.    

How Much Does a Maltese Puppy Cost?

Considering his history as an aristocratic dog, it should come as no surprise that the Maltese is one of the priciest pooches around.

In the U.S., you can expect to pay upwards of $2,000 for a Maltese puppy. That's for a show quality dog with papers, a superior pedigree and a clean bill of health. You should also budget roughly the same amount for his yearly upkeep, which includes visits to the vet, supplies, toys, food, grooming and the like.

If you want to save money on a Maltese, try adopting from a shelter. However, keep in mind that dogs from shelters usually have behavioral issues, which can be difficult to deal with unless you're a dog training expert.

Maltese are cute, sweet-tempered dogs, but that doesn't mean you should buy any of them willy-nilly. Just like other dogs, you need to get to know him first, and carefully assess whether he's the right dog for you. As always, let us know in the comments what you think of our Dog of the Day!   

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