Your Purebred Puppy, Honest Advice About Dogs and Dog Breeds

Maltese: the most honest dog breed review you'll ever find about Maltese temperament, personality, behavior, traits, and characteristics.

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Maltese dog breed

Maltese Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em

Maltese Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016

One of the brightest and gentlest of the toys, the Maltese is exceedingly playful and enjoys clever games of dexterity such as "pull the hidden toy from under the cabinet with your paw."

This curious, quick-moving sprite doesn't need much outdoor exercise, but he does enjoy dashing around the (fenced!) yard and accompanying you for walks. Larger dogs may view him as a delicacy, so a Maltese must always be leashed or fenced for his own protection. Fences should be triple-checked for slight gaps through which he might wriggle.

Maltese are generally peaceful with the world, though some lines (and individuals) are more confident and outgoing, and some are more standoffish or cautious.

Training and socialization also play key roles in how a Maltese turns out. If you treat him like a helpless baby or spoil/indulge him, he is likely to end up overdependent, insecure, or bratty and yappy. You should require him to show the same good manners as you would expect from a larger dog, and this is easily accomplished because Maltese respond very well to respect training.

Very sensitive and responsive to nonforceful training, many Maltese excel in competitive obedience and agility. However, they are notoriously difficult to housebreak -- consider an indoor litterbox, or a doggy door leading outside to a small covered potty yard. Excessive barking may also need to be controlled.

If you want a dog who...

  • Is one of the smallest of all breeds
  • Is one of the brightest and most playful of the toy breeds
  • Is polite with people and other animals
  • Has a cute face with expressive eyes
  • Sheds very little (often a good choice for allergy sufferers)

A Maltese may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

  • The fragility of toy breeds (see below)
  • The fine line you need to walk with toy breeds, where you need to protect their safety, yet require them to stand on their own four feet and be well-behaved
  • "Separation anxiety" (destructiveness and barking) when left alone too much
  • Notorious housebreaking difficulties
  • Frequent brushing and combing, or regularly shearing the coat short (which looks really cute!)

A Maltese may not be right for you.

But you can avoid or minimize some negative traits by
  1. choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
  2. or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
  3. training your dog to respect you
  4. avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy

More traits and characteristics of Maltese

If I was considering a Maltese, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Grooming. Without frequent brushing and combing, Maltese become a matted mess, so I recommend that pet owners keep their dog's coat sheared short. Then it's always neat, clean, comfortable for the dog, easy to brush and bathe....and it makes your Maltese look like an adorable puppy throughout his life!
  2. Fragility. Too many people acquire a toy breed puppy without understanding how incredibly fragile a toy breed is. You can seriously injure or kill a Maltese by stepping on him or by sitting on him when he's curled under a blanket or pillow, where he frequently likes to sleep. And Maltese can seriously injure or kill THEMSELVES by leaping from your arms or off the back of your sofa. A larger dog can grab a Maltese and break his neck with one quick shake. Owning a toy breed means constant supervision and surveillance of what's going on around your tiny dog. Maltese must always be kept on-leash – they are just too easy to injure when not under your complete control.

    Maltese are NOT suited to young children, no matter how well-meaning the child. Children cannot help being clumsy, and that a child meant well is little solace to a Maltese who has been accidentally stepped on, sat on, rolled on, squeezed, or dropped onto the patio. In addition, most Maltese feel overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that children can't help making – and stress (even defensive biting) may be the result.

  3. Housebreaking issues. As a behavioral consultant, I would put the Maltese on my Top 5 List of "Hardest Breeds to Housebreak." If you live in a cold or rainy climate, housebreaking will be especially difficult, because Maltese hate cold and wet. A COVERED potty area is strongly recommended. Sometimes a doggy door is necessary so your Maltese can run outside the moment he feels the urge in his tiny bladder. An indoor litterbox also works well for Maltese. Read more on housebreaking a Maltese.
  4. Finding a healthy one and keeping him healthy. Maltese often suffer from chronic allergies and itchy skin conditions, as well as knee joint problems that can require expensive surgery. Other health problems in Maltese include eye diseases, heart disease, hypoglycemia, and epilepsy. To avoid these problems, buy your Maltese from the right breeder. And once you have your puppy home, you need to keep him healthy, starting with feeding the best foods.
  5. Separation anxiety. More than most other breeds, Maltese need a great deal of companionship and do not like being left alone for more than a few hours. They tend to express their unhappiness through destructive chewing and barking. My dog training book (see below) provides a step by step guide for preventing separation anxiety.
  6. Barking. Maltese are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You must teach them not to bark excessively and to stop barking immediately when you tell them to. But this only works if you establish the right relationship between you and your Maltese, where you are the leader and he is the follower.

    In other words, you must teach your Maltese to respect you. A dog who respects you will do what you say and will stop what he's doing when you tell him "No."

    My book Teach Your Dog 100 English Words, gives you a unique vocabulary to use with your dog AND teaches my Respect Training Program. Your dog will look at you when you speak and do what you say. Not just when he's hungry for a treat or feels like it. But all the time. Because he respects you.