A Maltese is a small breed of white dog that does not shed.
The Maltese is a dog belonging to the toy group that is covered from head to foot with a mantle of long, silky, white hair. Adult Maltese range from roughly 3 to 10 lb (1.4 to 4.5 kg), though breed standards, as a whole, call for weights between 4 and 8 lb (1.8 to 3.7 kg). There are variations depending on which standard is being used; many, like the American Kennel Club, call for a weight that is ideally between 4 and 6 lb (1.8 to 2.7 kg), and no more than 7 lb (3.2 kg). The coat is long and silky and lacks an undercoat. The color is pure white and although cream or light lemon ears are permissible, they are not desirable. Some individuals may have curly or woolly hair, but this is outside the standard. Characteristics include slightly rounded skulls, with a one (1) finger width dome and a black nose that is two (2) finger widths long. The drop ears with long hair and very dark eyes, surrounded by darker skin pigmentation that is called a "halo", gives Maltese their expressive look. The body is compact with the length equaling the height. Their noses can fade and become pink or light brown in color. This is often referred to as a "winter nose" and many times will become black again with increased exposure to the sun.
Maltese can be very energetic, despite this they still do well for apartment dwellers. They are relatively easy to train and enjoy a playful game of fetch. These intelligent dogs learn quickly, and pick up new tricks and behaviors easily.
The breed has a reputation for being good-natured, but may be intolerant of small children or other dogs. They can be protective of their owner and will bark or may bite if animals or people infringe on their territory or are perceived as a threat.
For all their diminutive size, Maltese seem to be without fear. In fact, many Maltese seem relatively indifferent to creatures/objects larger than themselves (unless of course it is the owner). They are among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs, yet they are lively and playful as well as vigorous. Because of their size, a Maltese puppy would not a good choice for families with small children because they can be easily injured. Maltese dog are very jumpy and have very strong hind legs. Once the dog is a bit older and more mature it is fine around small children.
Maltese have no undercoat, and have little to no shedding if cared for properly. Like their relatives Poodles and Bichon Fris?©, they are considered to be largely hypoallergenic and many people who are allergic to dogs may not be allergic to the Maltese (See list of Hypoallergenic dog breeds). Regular grooming is required to prevent their coats from matting. Many owners will keep their Maltese clipped in a "puppy cut," a 1 - 2" all over trim that makes the dog resemble a puppy. Some owners, especially those who show Maltese in the sport of conformation, prefer to wrap the long hair to keep it from matting and breaking off. Dark staining in the hair around the eyes ("tear staining") can be a problem in this breed, and is mostly a function of how much the individual dog's eyes water and the size of the tear ducts. If the face is kept dry and cleaned daily, the staining can be minimized. Many veterinarians recommend avoiding foods treated with food coloring and serving distilled water to reduce tear staining.
The Maltese is generally a healthy breed with few inherent problems. Some problems seen are luxating patella, portosystemic liver shunt, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). The average life span is 12-15 years.
As an aristocrat of the canine world, this ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the Melitaie Dog, he has also been known as "Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta", the Roman Ladies' Dog, the Comforter Dog, the Spaniel Gentle, the Bichon, the Shock Dog, the Maltese Lion Dog and the Maltese Terrier. Sometime within the past century, he has come to simply be known as the Maltese. The breed's history can be traced back many centuries. Some have placed its origin at two or three thousand years ago and Darwin himself placed the origin of the breed at 6000 BC.1
The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz type dog found among the Swiss Lake dwellers and bred down to obtain its small size. Although there is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier, the exact origin is unknown 2. Maltese are generally associated with the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. Some writers believe these proto-Maltese were used for rodent control     before the cuteness factor was locked in. The Isle of Malta (or Melitae as it was then known) was a geographic center of early trade, and explorers undoubtedly found ancestors of the tiny, white dogs left there as barter for necessities and supplies. The dogs were favored by the wealthy and royalty alike and were bred over time to specifically be a companion animal. Some royals that purportedly owned Maltese were Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Josephine Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette. At the time of the Apostle Paul, Publius, the Roman governor of Malta, had a Maltese named Issa of which he was very fond. In this connection the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial), born in A.D. 38 at Bilbilis in Spain, made this attachment famous in one of his celebrated epigrams:
- "Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla's sparrow.
- Issa is purer than a dove's kiss.
- Issa is gentler than a maiden.
- Issa is more precious than Indian gems...
- Lest the last days that she sees light
- should snatch her from him forever,
- Publius has had her picture painted."
It is said that the painting of the dog was so life-like that one could not tell the dog from the picture.
Another interesting fact is that the word "ISSA" is still a very common word in the Maltese Language, which translates to the word "NOW" in English.
During the Renaissance, the poet Ludovico Ariosto in a few lines of his literary masterpiece, Orlando Furioso, describes a dog, that could possibly be a Maltese, however we cannot safely state that it is referring to one.
- "The tiniest dog Nature has ever produced --
- Her coat of long hair, whiter than ermine,
- Her movements exquisitely graceful and
- Matchless elegance of appearance."
- (Vol.II Canto 43) 3
During the 1940s Dr. Vincenzo Calvaresi was one of the prominent members of the Maltese fancy in the US with his Villa Malta breeding program producing over 100 champions. Toni and Aennchen Antonelli (Aennchen's Maltese) in the 1950s were the main force in establishing the Maltese breed in the US. One of the best know Maltese from their breeding program was the lovely female Ch. Aennchen's Poona Dancer, winner of 37 Best In Shows and owned by Larry Ward and the late Frank Oberstar. The top winning Best In Show record of 43 for Maltese was held for many years by Ch. Joanchenn's Maya Dancer, owned by Mamie Gregory, until recently broken in the 1990's. Marge Rozik continued the breed for years until her death in 1999 and Debbie Martin continues the Villa Malta line that made history.
In the 1950s the Maltese and Lhasa Apso were accidentally bred creating a type of dog that later became known as the Kyi-Leo rare dog breed in the 1970s.
- 1 Cutillo, Nicholas. The Complete Maltese. Howell Book House, 1986. ISBN 0-87605-209-X.
- 2 Leitch, Virginia T., 1953; Carno, Dennis, 1970. The Maltese Dog - A History of the Breed, 2nd Ed.. International Institute of Veterinary Science.
- 3 Iveria, Miki, Maltese Dogs - The Jewels of Women. The Maltese Club of Great Britain, J. Riches & Co., Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-9506129-0-1.
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