bichon, companion, terrier, water dog
Area of Origin:
Date of Origin:
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The Maltese is the most ancient of the European toy breeds, and among the oldest of all breeds. The island of Malta was an early trading port, visited by Phoenician sailors by 1500 B.C. Maltese dogs are specifically mentioned in writings as early as 300 B.C. Greek art includes dogs of Maltese type from the fifth century on; there is evidence that tombs were even erected to favor Maltese. Although the dogs were often exported and subsequently widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia, the core population on Malta remained relatively isolated from other dogs, resulting in this distinctive dog that bred true for centuries. Though the Maltese's hallmark is its long, silky, dazzling white hair, early Maltese came in colors other than white. By the early 14th century, Maltese had been brought to England, where they became the darlings of upper-class ladies. Writers of the succeeding centuries continually commented upon their diminutive size. Still, these little dogs were never commonplace, and an 1830 painting entitled The Lion Dog From Malta Last of His Race suggests that the breed may have been in danger of extinction. Soon after, two Maltese were brought to England from Manila. Although originally intended as a gift for Queen Victoria, they passed into other hands, and their offspring became the first Maltese exhibited in England. At this time, they were called Maltese terriers, despite the lack of terrier ancestry or characteristics. In America, the first Maltese were shown as "Maltese lion dogs" around 1877. The name lion dog probably arose from the habit of dog fanciers, particularly those in Asia, of clipping the dogs to look like lions. The AKC recognized the breed as the Maltese in 1888. The Maltese slowly increased in popularity and now ranks as one of the more popular toys.
Long a favorite lap dog, the gentle Maltese fills this role admirably. It also has a wild side and loves to run and play. Despite its innocent look, it is bold and feisty and may challenge larger dogs. It is reserved with strangers. Some bark a lot.
The exercise requirements of the Maltese are easily met with indoor games, a romp in the yard or a short walk on leash. Despite its coat, the Maltese is not an outdoor dog. The coat needs combing every one or two days; show coats may be "wrapped" for protection. The white coat may be difficult to keep clean in some areas. Pets may be clipped for easier care, but then an essential trait of the breed is lost.
Major concerns: none
Minor concerns: patellar luxation, open fontanel, hypoglycemia, hydrocephalus, distichiasis, entropion
Occasionally seen: deafness, white shaker-dog syndrome
Suggested tests: knee, (eye)
Life span: 12 14 years
Form and Function
Even though the breed is known for its coat, its body structure, facial expression and overall carriage are essential components of the type. The Maltese is a diminutive dog with a compact, square body, covered all over with long, flat, silky, white hair hanging almost to the ground. The expression is gentle yet alert. It is a vigorous dog, with a jaunty, smooth, flowing gait. The well-built Maltese seems to float over the ground when trotting.