What Were Maltese Bred For? Original Role, Jobs, History, and More

Written by Ashley Day
Updated: August 5, 2023
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The Maltese are a captivating breed with a rich history and an irresistible charm. Known for their elegant appearance and loving nature, Maltese dogs have captured the hearts of dog lovers around the globe. With their silky white coats, expressive eyes, and graceful presence, they exude an air of sophistication and beauty. But there is more to these small and enchanting dogs than meets the eye.

In this guide, we will delve into the fascinating world of this intriguing dog, exploring what Maltese were bred for, their origins and original role, the breeds’ history, temperament, care requirements, and much more. Whether you are considering adding a Maltese to your family or want to learn more about this delightful breed, join us as we unravel the mysteries and unveil the wonders of the captivating Maltese.

Young maltese dog in a meadow

The Maltese is classified as a toy breed by kennel clubs.

©Dora Zett/Shutterstock.com

All About Maltese

Maltese Facts
Preferred TemperatureModerate temperature, as Maltese are sensitive to extreme heat and cold.
ShedabilityMinimal shedding due to their single-layered, long, and silky coat.
General HealthGenerally healthy but prone to dental issues, eye problems, and patellar luxation.
SizeSmall-sized breed.
Energy LevelModerate energy levels, enjoying short bursts of playtime.
Exercise NeedsDaily walks and interactive play sessions suffice for their exercise requirements.
Friendly With Other DogsGenerally friendly with other dogs and animals.
Family and Kid-friendlinessMaltese are known for their affectionate and gentle nature, making them suitable for families with children.
Trainability and ObedienceIntelligent and eager to please, they respond well to positive reinforcement training methods.
TemperamentSweet-natured, lively, and playful, with a penchant for companionship.
Barking TendenciesProne to barking and may require training to curb excessive vocalization.
Chewing TendenciesModerate chewing tendency, which can be managed with appropriate chew toys.
Cost to Own a PurebredThe cost of owning a purebred Maltese can vary, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on factors such as lineage, breeder reputation, and location.
Dog GroupMaltese belong to the Toy Group, as recognized by kennel clubs.
CompanionshipHistorically, these dogs were bred as companions but also showed a talent for ratting.
IntelligenceMaltese are considered intelligent dogs, capable of learning tricks and commands.
Hypoallergenic (nonshedding)Maltese are often considered hypoallergenic, as they have hair rather than fur and produce less dander.
Life span12 to 15 years.
Female Weight4-7 pounds.
Female Height7-10 inches at the shoulder.
Male Weight4-7 pounds.
Male Height7-10 inches at the shoulder.
Separation anxietyMaltese are prone to separation anxiety and thrive in households where they receive ample companionship and attention.

Evolution and Origins of the Maltese

With its enchanting appearance and captivating charm, the Maltese breed has a rich history that traces back centuries. Let’s delve into the fascinating evolution and origins of the beloved Maltese dog.


The origins of the Maltese are shrouded in antiquity, and their precise ancestry is a subject of speculation. Believed to be one of the oldest toy breeds, the Maltese has ancient roots dating back 6,000 to 8,000 years. These delightful dogs are named after the Mediterranean island of Malta, where they were highly favored.


The exact evolution of the Maltese breed is difficult to trace due to the lack of comprehensive historical records. However, many experts believe the Maltese shares ancestry with other small white dogs, such as the Bichon Frise, Bolognese, and Havanese. These breeds likely descend from ancient Spitz-type dogs, selectively bred for their small size, luxurious coats, and affectionate personalities.

Ancient Origins

Additionally, one popular theory suggests that the Maltese descend from small dogs originating in ancient Egypt. These dogs, often depicted in Egyptian artwork, were revered for their beauty and believed to possess divine qualities. It is believed that Phoenician traders brought these dogs to the Mediterranean region, including Malta, where they eventually developed into the Maltese breed we know today.

Royal Companions

Throughout history, the Maltese have been associated with nobility and royalty. They were cherished companions of aristocrats, queens, and kings across different cultures. The ancient Greeks and Romans were particularly fond of these small, regal dogs and believed they possessed healing powers.

Travels and Trade

Moreover, the Maltese’s captivating charm and portable size made them popular among traders and sailors throughout the ages. They were often brought aboard ships to serve as companions and ratters, helping to control the rodent population on long voyages. Their presence extended beyond the Mediterranean, with records suggesting they made their way to Asia, where they gained popularity among Chinese nobility.

Breed Standard and Recognition

Although the precise development of the Maltese breed remains somewhat mysterious, the breed began to take shape nearly 8,000 years ago. This involved breeding efforts focused on breeding a small lap dog for companionship, refining their appearance, including the distinct silky, white coat, one of their defining features.

Additionally, normal recognition of the Maltese breed came in the early 19th century. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Maltese in 1888, and other kennel clubs worldwide followed suit. The breed standard outlines specific characteristics, including size, coat, and temperament, to ensure consistency among Maltese dogs bred for exhibition and companionship.

Today, the Maltese continues to captivate dog lovers with its elegant beauty and endearing personality. Whether prancing in the show ring or snuggled up on a lap, these delightful companions embody a long and illustrious history that stretches back through the ages.

Maltese dog, pet, white puppy in garden, summeritme

The scientific name of the Maltese is

Canis lupus familiaris


©Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock.com

There are popular mixed breeds that combine the endearing qualities of the Maltese with other breeds. Let’s explore some of these beloved Maltese mixes.

1. Maltipoo

The Maltipoo is a crossbreed between a Maltese and a Poodle. This mix combines the intelligence and hypoallergenic coat of the Poodle with the friendly and affectionate nature of the Maltese. Maltipoos are popular for their adorable appearance and low-shedding coats.

2. Malshi

The Malshi, also known as the Mal-Shi or Malti Tzu, is a mix between a Maltese and a Shih Tzu. This mix results in a small companion dog with a luxurious coat, a friendly disposition, and a playful nature. These dogs stand out due to their loyalty and adaptability.

3. Morkie

Additionally, the Morkie is a crossbreed between a Maltese and a Yorkshire Terrier. This mix combines the charm and elegance of the Maltese with the spunky and lively personality of the Yorkshire Terrier. Morkies are known for their intelligence, affectionate nature, and vibrant personalities.

4. Malchi

Finally, the Malchi is a mix between a Maltese and a Chihuahua. This mix brings together the tiny size and feisty character of the Chihuahua with the gentle and loving temperament of the Maltese. Malchis make devoted companions and are well-suited for households with limited space.

These Maltese mixes have gained popularity due to their appealing characteristics and unique combinations of traits. Each mix offers a blend of the Maltese’s endearing qualities with those of the other parent breeds, resulting in a delightful and distinctive companion.

Adorable Maltese and Poodle mix Puppy or Maltipoo dog.

Maltipoos are a popular mixed-breed consisting of the Maltese and Poodle breeds.


Pros and Cons of Owning Maltese

It’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of owning a Maltese before making a decision.

Their adorable appearance, loving nature, and compatibility with different living situations make them popular with dog lovers. However, you should consider the fragile physique, separation anxiety, grooming requirements, potential health issues, and barking tendencies of the Maltese to ensure a successful and fulfilling ownership experience.

So, let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of welcoming a Maltese into your life.

Is Owning Maltese Right For You?


As a small toy breed, Maltese dogs are perfect for those living in apartments or houses with limited space. Their compact size makes them easy to handle and transport and requires less physical space than larger breeds.
Barking Tendency:

Maltese dogs can be prone to excessive barking, especially if they are not properly trained and socialized. This behavior can be managed through consistent training and addressing the underlying causes of their vocalization.
Companionable Nature:

Maltese dogs are known for their loving and affectionate personalities. They thrive on human companionship. Their loyalty and devotion make them wonderful companions for individuals of all ages.
Separation Anxiety:

Maltese dogs are known to develop separation anxiety when left alone for long periods. They thrive on human company and can become distressed when left by themselves.
Low-Shedding Coat:

Maltese have a single-layered coat of long, silky hair rather than fur, which minimizes shedding. This characteristic makes them a suitable choice for individuals with allergies or those who prefer a breed with reduced shedding.
High Maintenance Coat:

Their luxurious coat is one of their defining features. It requires regular grooming to keep it in top condition. The long hair of a Maltese can become easily tangled and may require daily brushing, regular bathing, and occasional professional grooming to prevent matting.

Maltese dogs are intelligent and eager to please, which makes training them a relatively straightforward process. They can quickly learn commands, tricks, and good behavior with positive reinforcement methods and consistency.
Fragile Health:

Maltese dogs are prone to certain health issues, including dental problems, eye conditions, and luxating patellar (knee joint dislocation). Regular veterinary check-ups, proper dental care, and monitoring of their overall well-being are essential to ensure their health and longevity.
Maltese dog lies on the grass in the park

Maltese are delicate dogs with big hearts.


The Best Food for a Maltese

Choosing the best food for your Maltese is essential to ensure their overall health and well-being. Providing a balanced and nutritious diet will help keep them happy and thriving.

Remember, it’s always advisable to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best food for your Maltese, as they can provide personalized recommendations based on your dog’s specific needs.

However, to get a good idea of the preferred diet for your Maltese, here are some key considerations when selecting the right food.

High-Quality Ingredients

As the primary protein source, opt for dog food containing high-quality ingredients, such as real meat (e.g., chicken, turkey, or fish). Avoid products that include fillers, artificial additives, or by-products.

Small-Sized Kibble

Due to their small mouths and delicate jaws, Maltese dogs may find it easier to eat small-sized kibble. Look for dog food specifically formulated for small breeds, with appropriately sized and textured pieces.

Balanced Nutrition

Moreover, ensure that the food provides a balance of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Look for products labeled as complete and balanced, meeting the nutritional requirements set by recognized authorities.

Age-Appropriate Formulas

Consider your Maltese’s age when selecting food. Puppies have different nutritional needs compared to adult or senior dogs. Choose a formula designed specifically for their life stage to support their growth and development.

Avoid Allergens

Furthermore, some Maltese dogs may have food allergies or sensitivities. Monitor their reactions to certain ingredients and consult your veterinarian if you suspect an issue. A limited ingredient or hypoallergenic diet may be a suitable recommendation in such cases.

Portion Control

Maltese dogs are prone to obesity, so feeding them appropriate portions is important. Follow the feeding guidelines on the packaging and adjust as needed based on age, activity level, and overall health.

Teacup Maltese

Maltese are considered hypoallergenic and require regular grooming.

©May Rice/Shutterstock.com

Size and Weight of Maltese

The Maltese, with its small and dainty stature, is a toy breed that captures the hearts of many dog lovers. Individual Maltese dogs may deviate from the average size and weight range. Genetics, diet, exercise, and overall health can influence the specific measurements of an individual Maltese.


Maltese dogs are considered small-sized dogs. They have a compact and proportionate body structure. Standing around 7 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder, they are well-suited for various living spaces, including apartments or houses with limited space.


The weight of Maltese can vary, but generally, they weigh between 4 to 7 pounds (1.8 to 3.2 kilograms). Their lightweight build and small size make them easy to handle and carry, adding to their portability and convenience.

Cute child, boy and his maltese dog, eating doughnut ice cream in the backyard of his home garden

Maltese are great companions for children and families.

©Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock.com

Maltese Common Health Issues

Like all dog breeds, Maltese dogs are susceptible to certain health issues. Owners need to be aware of the potential health concerns associated with the breed.

So, while these health issues are more commonly associated with Maltese dogs, it’s important to remember that not all individuals will develop these conditions. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, proper exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can help promote overall well-being and minimize the risk of health problems.

If you are considering getting a Maltese, it is essential to choose a reputable breeder who conducts health testing on their breeding dogs to help ensure the best possible genetic health.

Dental Problems

Maltese dogs are prone to dental issues such as dental decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. Regular dental care, including tooth brushing, dental check-ups, and professional cleanings, is crucial to maintain good oral health.

Eye Problems

Moreover, Maltese dogs can be susceptible to various eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and dry eye. Regular eye examinations and proper eye care are important to detect and manage eye-related issues.

Luxating Patellar

Patellar luxation, or kneecap dislocation, is a common orthopedic condition in Maltese dogs. It can cause lameness and discomfort. In severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the condition.

White Dog Shaker Syndrome

This condition, also known as idiopathic cerebellitis, can affect white-coated dog breeds like the Maltese. It causes tremors, shaking, and a lack of coordination. Medication and supportive care can help manage the symptoms.

Liver Shunt

Additionally, this breed may be predisposed to liver shunts, where blood bypasses the liver, leading to the accumulation of toxins. Surgery may be necessary to correct the shunt and restore normal liver function.


Finally, Maltese dogs can develop allergies, including food allergies and environmental allergies. Symptoms may include itching, skin irritation, and digestive issues. Identifying and managing allergens, along with guidance from a veterinarian, can help alleviate the symptoms.

Veterinary treatment - lovely Maltese dog and friendly veterinary

Maltese are prone to certain health conditions such as idiopathic cerebellitis, liver shunts, and eye problems.


Maltese Temperament

The Maltese breed is known for its delightful temperament and charming personality. These small dogs have a gentle and affectionate nature that endears them to their owners and the people around them.

Moreover, Maltese dogs are renowned for their loving and devoted nature. They form strong bonds with their human companions and thrive on attention and affection. Their loyal and affectionate disposition makes them wonderful family pets and excellent companions for individuals of all ages.

Maltese dogs often possess a lively and playful spirit despite their small size. They enjoy interactive play sessions and can be quite entertaining with their antics. Their playful nature makes them great companions for children, as they are generally patient and gentle.

Maltese dogs are known for their sociability and friendly attitude toward humans and other animals. They typically get along well with other dogs and pets when properly socialized from a young age. However, as with any dog, it’s important to supervise interactions and provide appropriate introductions to ensure positive relationships.

While Maltese dogs are generally friendly and outgoing, they can be sensitive. They may require gentle handling and positive reinforcement during training. Their intelligence and eagerness to please make them trainable and responsive to consistent and positive training methods.

Finally, the Maltese temperament is a harmonious blend of affection, playfulness, and loyalty. These dogs’ sweet and friendly nature makes them excellent companions and beloved family pets.

girl 9 years old with long hair model with a pet dog Maltese schoolgirl at home lifestyle on a beige background allergy veterinarian

Maltese are friendly and sociable.


How To Take Care Of A Maltese

Taking care of Maltese involves several key aspects to ensure their health, happiness, and well-being. So, here are some essential elements of caring for Maltese.

Maintenance and Grooming

The Maltese have long, silky coats that require regular grooming to keep them in top condition. Daily brushing is needed to prevent tangles and matting. Regular bathing, nail trimming, ear cleaning, and teeth brushing are necessary to maintain overall hygiene and prevent dental and ear problems.


Moreover, Maltese dogs are intelligent and eager to please, making them trainable. Positive reinforcement methods, such as rewards and praise, work best for training these sensitive dogs. Consistency, patience, and gentle handling are key. Their training regimen should include basic obedience commands, socialization, and house training.


While Maltese dogs have moderate exercise needs, they require daily physical activity to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. Daily walks, interactive play sessions, and access to secure and safe outdoor spaces for supervised playtime are essential.

Maltese Puppies

In addition, Maltese puppies require special attention and care. Socialization from an early age is crucial to help them grow into well-rounded adult dogs. Positive experiences with different people, animals, and environments will help them develop into confident and friendly individuals. Also, house and crate training should be initiated early to establish good habits.

The Full Picture

Finally, remember to provide your Maltese with a balanced and nutritious diet suitable for their age, regular veterinary check-ups, and plenty of love, attention, and companionship to ensure their overall well-being.

Maltese dog white happy animal

Maltese don’t require excessive exercise, but they love to play.


3 Dog Breeds Similar To Maltese

If you are drawn to the adorable charm of the Maltese but are considering other breeds with similar qualities, there are several options to explore. While these breeds are similar to the Maltese, it’s important to remember that each dog has unique personality and care requirements. Furthermore, considering the size, grooming needs, and temperament will help you find the best match for your lifestyle and preferences. Here are three dog breeds that share certain characteristics with the Maltese.

1. Bichon Frise

The Bichon Frise is a small, fluffy breed known for its friendly and affectionate nature. Like the Maltese, Bichon Frises have a white, hypoallergenic coat that requires regular grooming to maintain its appearance. They are playful and sociable and make excellent family pets.

2. Havanese

Moreover, Havanese dogs are another toy breed with a lively and affectionate temperament. They have a silky coat that comes in various colors, including white. Havanese dogs are known for their social nature and enjoy being part of a loving family. They require regular grooming and enjoy participating in activities with their owners.

3. Shih Tzu

Finally, the Shih Tzu is a small breed with a distinctive long, flowing coat. While their coat may require more grooming than the Maltese, they share a similar gentle and affectionate nature. Shih Tzus are known for their loyalty and enjoy being close to their owners. They make great companions and adapt well to different living situations.

funny small havanese is running on a stubble field

Havanese are very similar to the Maltese.

©Bianca Grueneberg/Shutterstock.com


In conclusion, the Maltese is a beloved and enchanting breed with a rich history and captivating qualities. Their elegant appearance, including their silky white coat, expressive eyes, and graceful posture, is often the first thing that captures the heart. Known for their loving and affectionate nature, Maltese dogs form strong bonds with their human companions and make excellent family pets. Their small size and adaptability make them suitable for various living situations. While they require regular grooming to maintain their beautiful coat, their low-shedding nature is a bonus for those with allergies. With proper care, training, and socialization, the Maltese thrive as loyal and playful companions, bringing joy and companionship to their owners.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Ashley is a writer for A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on wildlife, nature conservation, the environment, and pets. As a writer and wildlife photographer, Ashley has been writing, photographing, and researching about animals and the environment for over eight years. Ashley is a resident of the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys being out in nature, hiking, and scouring local bookshops. Insatiably curious and drawn to knowledge, she has a passion for sharing the wonder of the natural world with others.

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