11 Spunky Facts About the Maltese
Everyone loves to pamper these little white dogs—one look at their expressive eyes and button noses and it's easy to see why. Learn more about one of the world's oldest lap dogs.
1. ITS NAME (PROBABLY) REFLECTS ITS PROVENANCE.
Unlike some breeds (looking at you, Labradors), the Maltese probably does come from its namesake, Malta. They were bred down from a spitz-like dog that was native to the area and was used for hunting rodents. Some suggest the little dogs actually have a pawhold in Asia, but evidence is murky. The history of the Maltese has been difficult to tease out, as the term was often used as a catchall for several breeds of toy dogs; many historical references to "Maltese" dogs, it turns out, were actually descriptions of Pomeranians.
The most compelling theory so far is that the dogs were bred in Malta, but were quickly snatched up by the Romans. In 1804, a knight of Malta wrote that, "There was formerly a breed of dogs in Malta with long silky hair, which were in great request in the time of the Romans; but have for some years past greatly dwindled, and indeed are become almost extinct."
2. MALTESE ISN’T THE ONLY NAME THEY’VE HAD.
Over the course of its existence, the breed has had a number of different monikers. Some include comforter dog, Maltese lion dog, Maltese terrier, Melitaie dog, Roman ladies' dog, shock dog, and the Spaniel gentle.
3. THEY’VE BEEN AROUND A WHILE.
The Maltese is one of the oldest-known breeds of dogs, and is said to be over 2800 years old. The small dogs happily sat on the laps of the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.
4. ROYALTY LOVED THEM.
These lap dogs were a hit among royalty; queens especially would cherish these pooches, feeding them out of gold dishes. The dog's likeness has been found on ceramics and other pieces of artwork in Egypt and in Greece, where owners would construct elaborate tombs for their deceased canines. Publius, the governor of Rome in the first century, had a little Maltese named Issa that was endlessly spoiled. Her likeness was captured in a painting and the poet Martial wrote a poem praising her beauty. Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots both had and adored their little Maltese pups.
More recently, the dogs have become a favorite with Hollywood royalty (famous fans include Halle Berry and Elizabeth Taylor).
5. THE WHITE FUR IS NO ACCIDENT.
The dogs were specially bred by Roman emperors to have that white coat we know today. The color white was sacred to the Romans, who wanted their pets to exhibit an air of divinity.
6. THEY DON’T SHED …
Sporting a thick coat of hair instead of fur, these little dogs don’t shed. Instead, they need occasional haircuts to keep their mops in check. Their white tufts are hypoallergenic, making them great for families with allergies.
7. … BUT THERE IS SOME MAINTENANCE REQUIRED.
Maltese have profuse coats, meaning they need a lot of attention. To keep their fur silky and white, they need to be brushed daily. Most non-show owners prefer to keep their dogs in a puppy cut to avoid having to constantly groom them.
8. IT'S BEST TO KEEP YOUR FAVORITE THINGS UP HIGH.
Though they be but little, they can jump. They also seem to have no fear of gravity and have no problem leaping out of your arms or off high ledges.
9. THEY MAKE GREAT THERAPY DOGS.
At Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Florida, Riley the Maltese is helping people every day. He has been working as a therapy dog since 2009, participating in more than 400 therapy sessions. Dogs like Riley are a wonderful help at nursing homes, hospitals, disaster areas, and underprivileged schools. Petting an animal can reduce stress, encourage empathy, and decrease bullying (just to name a few of the many ways dogs can make our days brighter). Maltese make great therapy dogs because they’re loving and small, which means they can cuddle right up to whomever they're trying to help.
10. THEY’VE GOT YOUR BACK.
The Maltese standards describe these dogs as loving and gentle, but also fearless and loyal. You can count on yours to come to your aid no matter what.
11. ONE WAS A MILLIONAIRE.
Meet Take Trouble, the Maltese worth $2 million. When real estate developer Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left $12 million to her pooch in her will. The government eventually trimmed the inheritance down to a measly two million, but that didn’t stop the dog from living it up until her death in 2011.