You might know Maltese for their long, silky coats or tiny 7-pound stature. Don’t let that fool you—this dog breed makes both a great watchdog and couch companion. Maltese are highly intelligent and, with training, are capable of excelling in agility courses or advanced tricks. While often stubborn, they respond well to rewards-based training. Their highly adaptable personality makes a great companion for all ages of pet parents and is one of the many reasons why Maltese often fall into the top 20 of America’s most popular dog breeds.
Pet owners often describe their Maltese as brave, playful, gentle and lively.
- Origin: Mediterranean
- Weight: <7 pounds
- Lifespan: 12-15 years
- Breed group: Toy group
- Activity level:
- Barking/howling level:
- Good with dogs: yes
- Good with kids: yes
- Good with cats:
- Easy to groom:
- Easy to train:
Maltese are in the toy breed category and weigh under 7 pounds, with 4-6 pounds often being ideal. Their most traditional look is one with a flowing, pure-white coat, however, more pet owners have started cutting it short for easier ongoing upkeep. The longer cut may even fall down the sides of their body, reaching the floor. Pet owners who prefer this look will often tie the hair around their face in a top knot—bow included.
Formal breed standards suggest that the coat should be sleek in texture: any curliness or kinks are objectionable. At Rover, we think regardless of the texture or haircut, they’re undeniably cute. Plus, long or short, they shed relatively little.
Both the eyes and nose of a Maltese are dark, even black in color. Their head is a rounder shape than many other breeds with a medium-length muzzle. Maltese have low-set ears, feathered with hair.
Maltese are a popular dog breed in the US for good reason. They’re smart, playful and sweet. Though their demeanor is relatively mild, pet owners can rely on their innate watch-dog mentality. Similarly, Maltese are one of the most loyal toy breeds—attaching themselves to their owner both on the couch and the street. Because they love lots of affection, Maltese can suffer from separation anxiety.
Maltese are unafraid. They’ll stroll up to new dogs and people comfortably. For pet owners looking for a social pup—a Maltese is a great option. Like any breed, Maltese benefit from plenty of socialization early on in their life. Expose them to new people, pets, smells and sights as soon as you’re comfortable.
Ideal Environment for a Maltese
Maltese are great dogs in both apartments and houses. While energetic, they’re petite enough to still run circles around a small space.
Because they’re alert and protective by nature, they can be vocal. If you live in an apartment that’s near a noisy stairwell, for example, you will likely need to spend extra time training a Maltese to not react. This instinct to protect the house comes from their undeniable loyalty to their owner, which is one of the things that makes them so loveable as a breed.
With proper gear and care, Maltese can adapt to any climate and geography—urban or rural. They might need a sweater in colder climates or need to stay inside more in the winter, however.
Ideal Human for a Maltese
Don’t let that teeny body fool you: Maltese will accompany their owner on longer walks and eagerly excel at agility courses. They’re great companions for families, as well as seniors looking for a snuggle buddy.
Maltese require quite a bit of affection and often don’t take well to being home alone for long periods. Pet owners who work from home or are retired would make for a great match to this breed.
For anyone hoping to welcome a Maltese into their home, their long life expectancy of 12-15 years should be considered.
It’s not surprising that Maltese fall into the top 20 most popular dog breeds in the U.S.—they’ll naturally fit into most families, big or small.
Training Tips for This Breed
Outgoing by nature, Maltese are quick to join the party. This means they’ll likely be comfortable with most dogs and people. Early socialization will ensure a smoother transition into new situations with both pets and people.
They’re extremely intelligent, which means they will pick up cues and tricks quickly. However, they also know how to get what they want from their humans and require ongoing training to keep them in check. Maltese often respond best to rewards-based training, which can be in the form of treats or overt positive reinforcement. They can air on the stubborn side, so that’s where the rewards come in handy.
Because they can suffer from separation anxiety, it’s helpful to work toward alleviating that on an ongoing basis. Crate training can be helpful—establish a positive relationship between them and their crate early on. Then, leave them in their crate for short periods of time, slowly ramping up to longer periods. Don’t use the crate as a form of punishment and only reward them when they go into their crate, not when they get out. To help alleviate separation anxiety, experts often recommend use of puzzle toys to keep them engaged.
Maltese are known for their long, glorious coats, but many pet owners instead opt for a shorter cut. It’s up to the individual pet parent to decide what’s best for them—both are cute, but the longer style requires daily maintenance.
It’s important to brush a Maltese with a longer coat daily to prevent mats and tangles. A frequent bath with coat conditioning helps it stay soft and shiny.
For Maltese with a shorter cut, weekly brushing should be sufficient to stimulate the skin to produce healthy natural oils.
Regardless, Maltese have fast-growing nails, requiring you—or a groomer— to clip them often. Every time you brush their coat, make sure to also brush their teeth, as this breed is more susceptible to dental disease in old age.
Like any other breed, Maltese should be fed according to their age and size. A higher-quality food with less byproducts is beneficial and can be achieved at different price points—some more accessible than others.
Because they respond so well to rewards-based training, they’re often given too many treats, leading to obesity. Obesity in dogs will lead to other health problems and ultimately reduce their life expectancy.
Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs and which are not.
While Maltese are a relatively healthy breed of dog, AKC recommends (if you’re not adopting) that you work with a breeder who screens for health conditions like luxating patella and heart anomalies. AKC also suggests testing Maltese for with a cardiac exam, as well as a patella evaluation.
Like all breeds in the toy group, Maltese benefit from a daily teeth regimen. Using dog-safe toothpaste is a plus! Many pet parents opt for pet health insurance, just in case.
It’s tricky to pinpoint the exact origin of the Maltese breed because it’s so ancient. They’ve trotted around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. Many believe the breed was brought to the island of Malta, off the coast of Italy, during its colonization by the Phoenicians.
The little, white dogs were treasured, mostly by women, for their proportional face and elegant coats. Having a Maltese on your lap became synonymous with wealth, serving as a status symbol above all else.
This narrative continued with women in the Roman Empire “wearing” their Maltese as an accessory, perhaps peeping out of their sleeve.
People in China eventually took to the breed, keeping the long lineage alive. The breed later became a staple at dog shows and was part of New York’s first Westminster show in the late 19th century.
Getting a Maltese
Like we mentioned above, Maltese make great pets for a wide-range of pet parents. If you’re hoping to adopt a dog, there are often Maltese of varying ages waiting in rescues for their forever home. While we often expect rescues to have mostly mixed-breed dogs, many report that a majority of their rescue dogs come from individual owners who surrender the dog due to a change in lifestyle or the breed not being right for them, according to AKC.
However, if you’re looking for a puppy, it might be tougher to find one. The benefit of adopting a dog is that they may already be house trained and have been microchipped and spayed/neutered.
If you’re hoping to get a Maltese from a breeder, it’s important to do the research to find an ethical breeder that you can trust. Thankfully, there are many resources out there to help inform this research and decision.
Regardless, get ready for an energetic bundle of joy in your home.
More on Malteses
Manic about Malteses? Can’t wait to make Maltese your very own companion? We’ve got more for you–from the best toys, to knowing the most chic hairstyles to get your Maltese the attention and praise they deserve.