The Maltese dog is an ancient breed that makes a great family pet. Feisty, loyal and intelligent, these dogs are more than just cute.

The Maltese dog, or as it is sometimes mistakenly called, the Maltese terrier, is a small dog generally weighing under 7 pounds. The name terrier conjures up the image of a feisty dog, bred to serve a particular working role. Although the Maltese dog can undoubtedly be feisty, as far as I know, it is a real lap dog and not bred for any particular purpose apart from looking cute; a role for which it is particularly suited.

The breed is graceful, elegant and generally pure white. The fur is non-shedding and will continue to grow into a luxuriant mane if not periodically trimmed. It is ideal for any potential owner with pet allergies. The eyes are dark and expressive and reveal that this is an intelligent breed. Like the Poodle, the Maltese are prone to tear staining. This can be controlled with food supplements and commercially available cleaners. Although small, and considered a lap dog, it would not be wise to think that this is a delicate breed.

On the contrary, the Maltese is a tough, robust dog and is notoriously fearless. Woe betides anyone rash enough to threaten their master or mistress. They are also known for their total devotion to their owner and, if given a choice, will never wander far from their chosen companion.

Maltese dogs enjoy good health and live about 15 years. As with many small dogs they often have problems with their teeth. In addition to regular health checks and vaccinations, it is recommended that good oral hygiene is observed. A daily comb and brush is a must to ensure that the shiny coat remains tangle and knot free.

This small dog requires little exercise and is ideal for apartment dwellers. However, in my experience, Maltese dogs relish their daily walks and owners should be prepared to exercise their dogs on a regular basis. Although a gentle dog they are lively companions and enjoy rough and tumble play. The Maltese are best suited for families with older children. The breed is relatively easy to ‘housebreak’ and train but requires a firm and dedicated hand from the trainer.

The Maltese Dog

The Maltese Dog

Ancient Maltese Dog

The Maltese dog is an ancient breed and probably originated in the Middle East, although this is not certain. An identifiable direct ancestor of this dog may have existed as long ago as 6000 BC and is likely to have given rise to similar breeds, such as the Bichon Frise. An early statue of a Maltese, dating between 600 BC and 300 BC, has been unearthed in Egypt. The breed was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and was the particular preserve of the rich and privileged. It is said that the Roman emperor Claudius owned one. Owning a Maltese was considered a status symbol and indicated that you belonged to the ruling elite. As the name suggests, there is a Maltese connection. This pampered pooch was probably transported to the island by Phoenician sailors and bartered as a luxury trade item.

The Maltese Moves West

I want to think that the breed made its way west during the Crusades. The image of tough, rude, barbarian knights lovingly cradling a small, white, fluffy dog is beguiling. Perhaps the thought of special favor from a beautiful maiden overcame any embarrassment. Anyway, as these men were bearing swords and axes it is unlikely that the apparent discrepancy was ever pointed out to them; the peasants could snigger in private. During the reign of Henry VIII, the Maltese arrived in England. Mary Queen of Scots is reputed to have carried one in the folds of her garments on the way to execution. Mary lost her head; the dog remained unharmed.

The Dog of a Million Kisses

The Dog of a Million Kisses

The Modern Maltese Dog

In European aristocratic society, the Maltese became very fashionable and evolved into the lapdog of the favorite image. Today, many people show their dogs and must abide by strict breed criteria. I have neither space nor inclination to explore this fascinating topic further and must leave the arena free for others. The breed has become the basis for many designer cross breeds (mongrels to you and me), such as the Malti-Poo and the ever popular, Malti-Pom.

Dog of a Million Kisses

In conclusion, the Maltese is a great dog to own. Healthy and robust, this is not a soft dog, although ribbons and bows may persuade you otherwise. The affectionate and friendly nature of these dogs has rightly earned them the name, ‘Dog of a Million Kisses.’ I own three Maltese and am truly a fan of this extraordinary dog. If approached while walking the dogs and asked who owns them, I always answer: ‘they are my wife’s dogs.’ In private, the story is different.

Dog 101: Maltese


  • Guide to Owning a Maltese, Brandyn James. TFH Publication, Inc. ISBN: 0-7938-1871-0.