History and Development

The history of the Maltese, as the oldest European toy dog, can he traced back many centuries to the pre-Christian era. Since they originated in an area which early became civilized, few breeds have had so much written about them at so early a time. Callimachus the Elder (c 384-322 B.C.), Strabo (c 63 B.C.-A.D. 24), Pliny the Elder (23 b.c.-a.d. 79) and Martial (c a.d. 38-a.D. 104) all wrote of the qualities of the Maltese dogs, praising their beauty and intelligence, and they had by this time become “comforters” and pet dogs. It seems probable that they were exported through the ports of Malta and that their widespread dispersal in ancient times can be related to their being exchanged tor goods along the trade routes, and also to their having been made as gifts by visiting diplomatic mission’.. They were quite common in China and the Philippines, between whom there was much trade.

Although it is generally believed that the first Maltese came to England during the early part of the 14th century, their popularity at the time of the Holy Roman Empire makes it likely that they were brought over during the Roman occupation of England, many centuries before William the Conqueror.

Dogs of the Maltese type appear in Italian paintings as early as 1466 and they continued to be included as part of the scene in paintings by such artists as Durer, Rubens, Hals, Jourdaens, Hogarth, Van Eyck, Goya, Titian, Reynolds and Landseer, who in 1830 painted the portrait called The Lion Dog from Malta – The Last of His Race – indicating their scarcity at that time. In 1841 the two dogs Psyche and Cupid were brought to England from Manila as a gift from the East India Trading Company to Queen Victoria. However, their condition after nine months’ traveling made them unfit as royal presents and they passed into the hands of Mr. Lukey, a mastiff breeder. In 1859, one of their children, another Psyche, was exhibited at a Newcastle-upon-Tyne dog show. The breed did in fact enjoy royal patronage; the Duchess of Kent’s Lambkin, painted by Landseer in 1851, was a great favorite and his “beautiful silky-white hair” was mentioned by the Queen in her letter of condolence to the Duchess when Lambkin died.

However, old as their origins are, it is only during the last hundred years that they have been standardized in type through breeding controls, although those featured by artists and sculptors many centuries previously arc very readily recognizable. Indeed, the name “Maltese” is comparatively modem, they were referred to as “shock dogs” and, following the Chinese habit of clipping the hindquarters, as “lion dogs”. Although declared by sonic to be “spaniels”, they were classified in the Terrier Group by Richardson in the middle of the 19th century, hence the name Maltese Terrier which was in common use in England until the late 1950 s, although they lacked terrier characteristics and were not suitable for the work of an earth dog.

There is not much information available about the first importations of Maltese dogs into the United States. In 1877 we find the record of the lust Maltese to appear in the American show ring, and it was entered as a “Maltese Lion Dog” called Leon, owned by Mr. W. Morgan.

The popularity of the Maltese in the show ring is gradually increasing and they are exhibited in most countries of the world.

Maltese: Color

All Maltese seen in the show ring today are pure white in color although lemon or light tan markings, often associated with deep pigmentation, are sometimes seen on the ears and body coat and these do not count against the dog- A previous Standard of the Maltese Club of Britain included the ruling that the breed could be any self-color, and this is borne out by the offering of classes tor Maltese “other than white” at several of the major shows between 1908 and 1913.

Maltese: Care

As the mantle of white hair with which the Maltese is covered is such an attractive feature it is obvious that puppies should become accustomed, from an early age, to the daily grooming routine. A suggested procedure is to lay the puppy on its back on one’s knee and brush with a bristle brush (never nylon) through the legs and tummy hair. Then the same areas are combed through using a comb with widely spaced teeth. At this stage, a little baby powder can be sprinkled on the leg and tummy hair to keep the dog tidy between baths.

With the dog now standing on a table, the body coat is brushed through in horizontal layers from beneath until it is all lying flat against the body, and the operation is repeated using the comb. The hair on the head is combed out and tied up with ribbon in cither one or two topknot;;, or in two plaits. The hair is then given a central parting along the back. Finally the “debris” from the hair beneath the inner corner of each eye is removed with a fine comb and that hair is wiped with a piece of damp cottonwool to minimize the staining which can occur on the face of any white dog.

Because of the long hair on their feet, the toe-nails are not kept short by wear and must be regularly clipped back. As with most toy breeds, the teeth require regular cleaning and this can be done with a baby toothbrush and a mild dentifrice. If the care of the coat seems too much for the pressure of family life, it is possible to cut the hair short over the head, legs and body while leaving the ears and tail hair the natural length.

Maltese: Character

The Maltese has, through long association with man, developed great

intelligence and sensitivity.

They are sweet-tempered, gentle and extremely good with children, so that they make ideal family companions.

Their intelligence has led to their being worked in obedience classes and circus acts. They arc most adaptable about exercise and will equally well manage a two mile walk or five minutes round the block.

Despite their small size, they arc vigorous and healthy little dogs, having a long life span, and remaining gay and playful into old age.


The American Standard is considerably more detailed than the English one, but both ask for a sweet-tempered, lively dog which is compact in body and level in topline.

The question of size is met in England by requiring a dog to be not more than 10″ at the shoulder, while in America the criterion is weight, with the ideal being between 4 and 6 lbs.

Both Standards ask for moderate angulation in the hindquarters which helps to give the typical smooth-flowing gait.

The coat is single and has no undercoat so that the dogs do not molt.

The hair should be of good length, lying flat, straight and silky over the sides of the body with no suggestion of curl or wooly texture. Both

British and American Standards apply here.

Pigmentation, that is the color of the nose, lips, eye rims and pads of the feet, should be black, while the eyes are dark brown.

The length of the neck should be consistent with a fairly high head carriage, adding to the elegance of the dog. The legs should be short and straight with shoulders well-sloped. The English Standard, unlike the American, lists outstanding faults separately as, a bad mouth, over or undershot; a gay tail; curly or wooly coat; brown nose; pink eye rims; unsound in any way.

Selections from the book: “The World encyclopedia of Dogs” (1971)