Maltese: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Maltese

 

Laures / Getty Images

The Maltese is a small and affectionate toy dog breed that hails from the Mediterranean region and is known for its trademark silky, white fur that accentuates its big, dark eyes. It can make for a charming lapdog, though it does still need daily exercise. The Maltese also can be an alert and fearless watchdog, despite its small size. Plus, it can be a good option for those who want a low-shedding dog, though it does require some involved grooming.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy

HEIGHT: 7 to 9 inches

WEIGHT: Under 7 pounds

COAT: Long, silky

COAT COLOR: White, black points

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 15 years

TEMPERAMENT: Affectionate, alert, fearless

HYPOALLERGENIC: Yes

ORIGIN: Malta/Mediterranean region

Characteristics of the Maltese

Maltese tend to be very affectionate with their family. But their watchdog tendencies can make them somewhat defensive around strangers. They can be a bit stubborn when it comes to training, and they are a medium-energy breed.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Maltese

The Maltese can be traced back thousands of years to the Mediterranean region, specifically Malta. The breed can be found on ancient Greek pottery and was even admired by the philosopher Aristotle. 

Roman aristocrats kept Maltese as status symbols and carried the petite dogs around with them. Unlike many small dog breeds, the Maltese was not bred down from larger dogs; it has always had its small stature. 

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Maltese numbers diminished. But Chinese breeders kept the breed alive and refined it via crosses with their toy breeds. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1888, and it has remained popular to this day.

Maltese training for Westminster dog show
Maltese training for Westminster dog show Nina Leen / Getty Images 

Maltese Care

Maltese need exercise and playtime every day, and they prefer to receive a lot of attention. They need proper training and socialization to ensure they have good manners. And they have fairly high grooming needs.

Exercise

The Maltese have a moderate energy level. They should get at least a half hour to an hour of exercise per day via brisk walks, hikes, fetch, and other play. Puzzle toys and even dog sports like agility can help challenge them mentally, as well. Due to their small size, they don't require that much space to get in a good workout.

Note that the breed does not tolerate extreme temperatures well, as it lacks an insulating undercoat. It's best to keep outdoor exercise short in cold weather, and provide your dog with a coat or sweater.

Grooming

The silky coat of the Maltese grows continuously. For easier maintenance, many owners opt to trim the coat short, and it takes on a wavy, fluffy quality. Others keep the coat long and flowing.

Because of this coat type, routine grooming is an absolute necessity. The Maltese should be brushed two to three times per week and up to daily if the coat is kept long. Regular trims will be necessary as well to maintain the desired coat length.

Furthermore, weekly to monthly baths will be necessary to keep the coat clean. Check to see whether the ears need cleaning weekly, and see whether your dog is due for a nail trim roughly once a month. In addition, Maltese are prone to showing tear stains underneath their eyes. There are products available at pet stores to help remove these stains. Moreover, those cute bows or topknots you see on a Maltese serve the purpose of keeping the hair out of the dog's eyes to prevent irritation.

Finally, this breed needs good attention to dental hygiene to prevent teeth and gum problems. Aim to brush your dog's teeth daily, and take it for professional cleaning as needed.

Training


Like all dogs, the Maltese needs proper training and socialization to be happy and well-adjusted. These dogs can be somewhat headstrong, and centuries of living closely with people have taught them how to get what they want. However, they still respond fairly well to training when offered treats and other positive reinforcement. 

Aim to start training and socialization when your dog is a puppy. Enroll in a puppy obedience class as soon as your dog meets the age requirement. And expose it to different people, other animals, and various situations. Maltese can be protective around strangers and in strange situations, potentially barking a lot or nipping. So it’s important to instill comfort and confidence in them, along with good manners. 

Furthermore, many Maltese exhibit separation anxiety if they’re left alone for long periods. They might bark continuously and engage in destructive behaviors. Behavioral training can help curb some anxiety. However, it’s best for a Maltese to live in a household where someone is home for most of the day.

In addition, as a delicate little dog, the Maltese is not recommended for a household with small children due to the risk of injury to the dog. But it might be a suitable choice for families with gentle older children.

Maltese puppy
 icarmen13 / Getty Images
Maltese walking outside
kimrawicz / Getty Images 
Woman lying in bed with Maltese
miodrag ignjatovic / GettyImages  

Common Health Problems

Maltese are usually healthy dogs, though they are prone to some hereditary health conditions. They include:

Maltese as pets illustration

The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your Maltese. And feed a quality, nutritionally balanced dog food. Most owners opt to feed two meals per day. A diet formulated for small dogs can be ideal, as the pieces will typically be smaller and easier to eat while providing proper nutrition. Monitor treats and other food intake to prevent overeating. Discuss the type of food and quantity with your vet to make sure your dog is getting what it needs for its size and lifestyle. 

Where to Adopt or Buy a Maltese

Check local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups to find a Maltese in need of a home. If you plan to go to a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $2,000 for a puppy, though this can vary widely depending on bloodline and other factors. For further information to connect you with a Maltese, check out:

Maltese Overview

Pros
  • Enjoys being a lapdog

  • Very affectionate

  • Low shedder

Cons
  • Requires regular grooming

  • Can be stubborn and defensive

  • Does not tolerate cold weather well

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before bringing home a Maltese, take the time to research to get to know the breed. Discuss it with veterinarians, Maltese owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Maltese good family dogs?

    Maltese can be good dogs for families with older children who understand how to be gentle with the small breed. Younger children might be too rough with a Maltese.

  • Are Maltese aggressive?

    Maltese typically aren’t aggressive dogs. But their watchdog nature can cause them to become defensive around strangers, usually with lots of barking.

  • Are Maltese good apartment dogs?

    Maltese can be excellent apartment dogs as long as they are trained and socialized well enough that they don’t bark excessively and disturb neighbors. They don’t require much space for their exercise and playtime.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Maltese. American Kennel Club.

  2. Maltese Puppies For Sale. American Kennel Club.