A complete guide to the Maltese breed. Information, tips and advice for owners and prospective Maltese puppy buyers.
Maltese are small, long haired members of the Toy group of dogs. Well known for their silky, white, coats.
They are popular, cheerful and friendly family pets, who are very sweet natured and loving.
If you are thinking of bringing a Maltese puppy into your home, then in this article we will help you to get to know this glamorous breed of dog.
You’ll find all the information you need on temperaments, characteristics, behavior, training, health and much more.
This is an ancient breed, whose history is thought to go back thousands of years.
They have always been primarily bred as lap dogs and companions, rather than as working dogs. The Maltese temperament still reflects this role today.
They are thought to have originally been bred from a mix of Spaniels and Poodles, potentially having still been crossed with Poodles in the not too distant past.
The Maltese are named after the country of Malta, however there are various theories suggesting that they were originally produced in Italy or even Egypt, where they are believed to be depicted as far back as 600 BC.
Despite their long history, the first Maltese dogs were not imported to the UK or US until the late 1800s.
There are records of Maltese dog stud books from the 1850s in the UK and show records of Maltese from the early 1860s.
They are first noted as arriving to the US as recently as the 1870s, where they were recognised by the American Kennel Club fairly soon after,, in the late 1880s.
Maltese are a very distinctive looking breed of dog, with a gorgeous coat of fur.
They have a round skull with a healthy length of broad muzzle and black nose, with well proportioned bodies and heads for their size. Shortened legs contribute to their overall small stature.
Maltese eyes are oval and brown in color. They have delightful black ’eye liner’ like rims around them, and often some fur discolouration just under the eyes.
Coat growth and matting
The coat on your puppy will get very long as he matures. You’ll need to chose between clipping at frequent intervals or intensive daily grooming.
The fur on your puppy’s head and ears will grow so long that it will fall into his eyes. You will need to clip or tie up this hair so that he can see.
These charming little dogs require a real dedication to grooming, or regular visits to the dog groomer for a close cropped cut.
It is essential that you accustom your puppy to being groomed from the first day he is home with you.
Make sure to be very gentle, and make each grooming session a rewarding experience giving him treats and praise along the way. Keep sessions short to prevent him becoming bored or irritated with your attentions.
You will need a good grooming kit to manage your grooming sessions. Including:
- A pin brush
- A stainless steel comb
- Dog safe de-tangling spray
- Dog shampoo and conditioner
To keep your friend in good condition, regular bathing is also recommended.
At least every two weeks to keep the fur staining at bay.
Scheduling in a monthly appointment with the dog groomer will help you to stay on top of their high-maintenance hair.
Remember, if you decide not to clip your dog’s head hair, then you must tie it back away from his face.
All purebred Maltese puppies and dogs are white. Although there have been colored varieties in their history, the breed standard now states that they should be a ‘smart white-coated dog’. Lemon yellow markings are allowed in pedigree Maltese, but only in very small areas.
You may however find that as they age their coat discolours in places. Where staining occurs on the fur around their faces.
You can reduce this by wiping their mouths and regular bathing, but are unlikely to be able to avoid it completely. Tear staining can also occur under the eyes, and their faces should be wiped to reduce this too.
This doesn’t mean they won’t be lovely dogs of course, but they won’t be able to be registered, shown or produce pedigree offspring.
The Maltese’s long coat means that he is not a prolific shedder. Although he will drop hairs from time to time, this won’t be anything like on the scale of some other breeds.
This is a very small breed of dog. In adulthood these dogs will only weigh between 4 – 7lbs, and will grow up to 10 inches in height at most.
To find an estimate of your Maltese puppy’s growth, take a look at this puppy growth chart:
There is no official separate breed called a Teacup Maltese. You will however see them advertised from time to time. This is simply an advertising choice made by the breeder, rather than a recognised type of dog.
Be aware that these slightly smaller than average puppies will be more likely to suffer from health problems associated with their size, and are best avoided.
Maltese puppies and dogs tend to be bold, confident and social. They have been bred for generations to be very friendly, and to love human companionship.
As lap dogs you will find that they are happy to spend hours curled up with you on the sofa in the evenings, but they will also be very keen to play during the day.
Maltese Family Dog
Maltese can make great family dogs. They are well suited to most sizes of home.
They are also incredibly friendly, loving little dogs, ho will delight the whole family with the lively games.
Maltese and Children
Puppies are very small and very fragile. Although as a breed they are known for being well tempered, the risk with mixing a Maltese puppy and young kids is one of damage to the dog.
Toddlers and small children must not be left to interact with a Maltese unsupervised.
A moment of accidental roughness can have terrible consequences for these delicate little dogs.
If you have small children and are thinking of bringing a Maltese puppy into your home, then give this decision very careful consideration.
Make concrete plans for how you will ensure that you keep them separated when you are not closely supervising, and ensure the safety of your vulnerable pup.
You will also find that most breeders will be reluctant to sell miniature puppies to homes with resident children under five years of age.
Although this breed is naturally well tempered, socialization is still important. This enables your dog to grow up to be confident in a variety of situations and with a range of people.
The American Maltese Association recommends waiting for a puppy to be 12 weeks of age before you bring him home. The problem with this is that you will miss most of the socialisation window, which lies between 8 weeks and 3 months of age.
This means that you will be totally reliant on the breeder to socialise your puppy for you. Not an easy task with an entire litter of pups
You will need to talk to your potential breeder about this, and either arrange to bring the puppy home a couple of weeks early or ensure that they are following a good programme of socialisation themselves up to the point of collection.
It’s important to remember that although your Maltese is happy being carried before his vaccination course is complete, it’s essential for his socialisation and quality of life that he is treated just like his larger canine cousins as soon as possible.
Maltese are energetic little dogs, who love to play and get stuck in with their family’s activities.
But they are equally happy to chill out with you on the couch, or to lie by your feet.
Maltese temperament makes them great therapy dogs, as they are happy to be fussed and petted by anyone and everyone.
The down side of this is that they are prone to separation anxiety, as they simply love to be around people.
Maltese dogs love the sound of their own voices. They are keen barkers, and excellent watchdogs.
If you want a breed who is likely to let you know every time someone approaches the front door, a Maltese is unlikely to let you down.
However, if you live in a very built up area or are quite noise averse, a Maltese might not be ideal for you.
Maltese are strong willed little dogs. Due to their bold and confident natures, they are not suited to traditional punishment based training methods.
They do however respond excellently to modern reward based methods.
Positive reinforcement training should be started from the first week your puppy arrives home.
You can find out all about how to get off on the right foot with your training here.
Maltese are intelligent little dogs, who are capable of joining in with fun activities such as agility and even tracking.
They can also make fabulous performers. You can teach this lively little dog lots of fun tricks to show off to your friends, and have great fun deepening the bonds between you through positive training.
Although they are lapdogs by breeding, Maltese puppies and adults still require regular exercise to stay fit, healthy and happy.
Even if your dog seems very laid back at home, don’t think that this is a sign of a lack of need for some time running around.
A back yard is recommended for ease of potty training your puppy, but is not essential in terms of exercise if you are committed to taking him for walks throughout the day.
Be aware when you do walk your Maltese of any larger dogs giving warning signals to your dog.
Due to their small size they are at risk of injury from bigger dogs, so you will need to pick them up on occasions to keep them safe if a suspicious dog approaches.
It’s important to put them down whenever you can however, in order to allow them to exercise and express normal canine behaviors.
Maltese Health Problems
As a closed-register pedigree dog breed, the Maltese is prone to some inherited health problems. It also is at risk of suffering from some health problems relating to their very small stature.
It is not uncommon for heart murmurs to be picked up at first vet checks when puppies are young. Most will grow out of this, but heart murmurs in older dogs can be more of a cause for concern.
There are a variety of possible reasons for heart murmurs, and grades of strength of murmur.
You can reduce the chances of your dog suffering by making sure that their parents have had recent health checks.
Patent Ductus Arterioles (PDA)
PDA is a congenital heart problem that occurs when puppies are born. It can lead to congestive heart failure in severe cases.
Due to their small skull size, Maltese dogs can suffer from dental overcrowding. This can be assisted by regular veterinary check-ups and teeth cleaning.
In cases of severe overcrowding resulting in gum disease, your vet may decide to remove some teeth to improve your dog’s health.
Asking your potential puppy’s breeder about their line’s history of dental issues will help you to assess whether your puppy is at greater than average risk.
Try to find a breeder who deliberately breeds for good dental health.
Some small dog breeds like Maltese can suffer from Tracheal Collapse. This is where the windpipe becomes unsupported and restricts the dog’s breathing.
Luxating Patellas are a problem in many pedigree dog breeds, especially smaller breeds.
This condition occurs when the knee joint is malformed, causing the dog’s kneecap to dislocate.
Shaker Dog Syndrome
Maltese have been known to suffer from a condition known as Shaker Dog Syndrome or White Shaker Dog Syndrome.
This is a condition that causes a characteristic shuddering of the dog, with shaking or shivering movements. It is also known as idiopathic cerebellitis, which refers to the part of the brain, the cerebellum, becoming inflamed.
White dogs are more prone to this disorder, which can be severe enough to require them to spend some time in a veterinary hospital. Symptoms can be treated, but may recur throughout the dog’s lifetime.
Maltese can also be prone to a few different gastrointestinal disorders. Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Portosystemic Vascular Disease and Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD).
Ask your breeder whether there is any history of bowel problems in their dog’s lines. If there is, then this litter is best avoided, and your puppy search should be continued elsewhere.
Being careful with your dog’s feeding routine and keeping quantities small but regular will help to promote good digestion.
Deafness has been linked to the gene for white coat color, and these dogs have a higher than average chance of deafness as a result.
Your puppy should have been vet checked before he comes home, therefore you will know whether they have hearing problems before you decide whether to choose them as your new companion.
Maltese Health Summary
Maltese dogs may also suffer from some diseases common to all closed-register pedigree dog breeds. These include Progressive Retinal Atrophy and some eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts.
Your puppy’s breeder should be able to show you a clear DNA test result for PRA, as well as a veterinary eye test completed less than a year ago.
Although the the breed does have a fairly long list of potential health problems, if you buy your puppy from a good breeder you can drastically reduce the chances of them suffering from many of them.
They also have a lot of the qualities of some other more popular dog breeds, such as the Pug, without the crippling structural health problems that are bred into those breeds.
Maltese lifespan based upon a survey of pedigree dogs is shown as being on average around 12 years. The oldest dogs included in the study did make it to a ripe old age of 19.
When you visit a litter of Maltese puppies they should all look bright eyed and be lively. They should be clambering over each other to greet their visitors.
Their mother should confidently approach you with a wagging tail and happy open mouthed expression.
The breeder should be happy to offer you the opportunity to meet the stud dog if he is housed elsewhere, but this is not essential when picking up a Maltese puppy in order to asses their temperament as they tend to be such friendly dogs.
The breeder should welcome any questions that you have regarding health and temperament, and should show a keen interest in finding out all about you, your family and your situation at home.
A good breeder is invested in the puppies they produce, and wants assurances that they are being matched to the right people.
Maltese prices vary dramatically depending upon where you live and the purpose that the breeder is raising the puppies for.
Show bred puppies will come with a higher price tag, as will puppies whose parents have been through all the appropriate health tests.
Spending a little more money to get the right puppy now will potentially save you a huge amount of money in terms of vets bills later on. Not to mention a lot of heartache.
In the US you can expect to spend from $600 to $2,000 for a puppy.
Is Maltese The Right Breed For Me?
The right environment for a Maltese will be one with adults or older, sensible children and where someone is normally home for much of the day.
They will have the time and energy to keep this active, intelligent dog busy, but also a dog-friendly couch for them to curl up on in the evenings.
If you buy a Maltese puppy you must be prepared to commit to managing their coat for the duration of their lifetime.
This will involve either monthly trips to the groomer for a very close clip, or at home grooming several times a week.
They are best suited to areas where the climate doesn’t get too hot, and where there are not lots of close neighbours who might be upset by excessive noise.
If you can offer the right home to a Maltese puppy, you will be rewarded with a dog who is incredibly loving, fun and friendly. Who will make a delightful addition to your family and your home.