The Maltese is a small breed of dog in the toy group. It descends from dogs originating in the Central Mediterranean Area. The breed name and origins are generally understood to derive from the Mediterranean island nation of Malta; however, the name is sometimes described with reference to the distinct Adriatic island of Malta, or a defunct Sicilian town called Melita.
This ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the "Canis Melitaeus" in Latin, it has also been known in English as the "ancient dog of Malta ," the "Roman Ladies' Dog," the "Maltese Lion Dog." The origin of the common name "Cokie" is unknown, but is believed to have originated in the mid-1960s on the U.S. East Coast and spread in popular use. This breed has been referred falsely as the "Bichon", as that name refers to the family ("small long-haired dog") and not the breed. The Kennel Club settled on the name "Maltese" for the breed in the 19th century.
The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz-type dog found among the Swiss Lake Dwellers and was selectively bred to attain its small size. There is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier; however, the exact origin is unknown. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. Some writers believe these proto-Maltese were used for rodent control before the appearance of the breed gained paramount importance.
The oldest record of this breed was found on a Greek amphora found in the Etruscan town of Vulci, in which a Maltese-like dog is portrayed along with the word Μελιταιε (Melitaie). Archaeologists date this ancient Athenian product to the decades around 500 BC. References to the dog can also be found in Ancient Greek and Roman literature.
Coat & color
The coat is long and silky and lacks an undercoat. The color is pure white; although cream or light lemon ears are permissible, they are not regarded as desirable. Also, a pale ivory tinge is permitted. In some standards, traces of pale orange shades are tolerated. Also, the Maltese has hair, not fur. It sheds less, and is a better choice for people with dog allergies. The Maltese has lemon or brown markings along with the white hair. Some people prefer to have the coat short. The most common cut for the Maltese is called the "puppy cut".
Adult Maltese range from roughly 5 to 12 lb (2.3 to 5.4 kg), though breed standards, as a whole, call for weights between 5-8 lbs. There are variations depending on which standard is being used. Many, like the American Kennel Club, call for a weight that is ideally less than 7 lbs. They stand normally 7-12 inches.
Maltese have no undercoat, and have little to no shedding if cared for properly. Like their relatives Poodles and Bichon Frisé, they are considered to be largely hypoallergenic and many people who are allergic to dogs may not be allergic to the Maltese (list of Hypoallergenic dog breeds). Daily cleaning is required to prevent the risk of tear-staining.
Regular grooming is also required to prevent the coats of non-shedding dogs from matting. Many owners will keep their Maltese clipped in a "puppy cut," a 1 - 2" all over trim that makes the dog resemble a puppy. Some owners, especially those who show Maltese in the sport of conformation, prefer to wrap the long fur to keep it from matting and breaking off, and then to show the dog with the hair unwrapped combed out to its full length. Some Maltese need to be blow-dried in order to prevent mats because drying is ineffective to some dogs.
Dark staining in the hair around the eyes, "tear staining," can be a problem in this breed, and is mostly a function of how much the individual dog's eyes water and the size of the tear ducts.
Maltese are susceptible to "reverse sneezing," which sounds like a honking, snorting, or gagging sound and results often from overexcitement, play, allergies, or upon waking up. It is not life threatening.
Maltese are bred to be cuddly companion dogs, and thrive on love and attention. They are extremely lively and playful, and even as a Maltese ages, his energy level and playful demeanor remain fairly constant. Some Maltese may occasionally be snappish with smaller children and should be supervised when playing, although socializing them at a young age will reduce this habit. They also adore humans, and prefer to stay near them. The Maltese is very active within a house, and, preferring enclosed spaces, does very well with small yards. For this reason, the breed also fares well in apartments and townhouses, and is a prized pet of urban dwellers. Some Maltese may suffer from separation anxiety.
An Australia-wide (not including Tasmania) research project carried out in conjunction with RSPCA found owners likely to dump their Maltese, citing the tendency of Maltese to bark constantly. This breed is Australia's most dumped dog. In addition, figures released in 2010 by the Korean National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service show that 208 Maltese were abandoned between January and August 2010, making it the most abandoned breed in Seoul, Korea.