Maltese Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
Maltese Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
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. Some lines (or some individuals) are more confident and outgoing, while 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 and insecure, or bratty and yappy. Instead you should require him to show the same good manners as you would expect from a larger dog.
Very sensitive and responsive to nonforceful training, many Maltese excel in competitive obedience and agility. Unfortunately 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 breeds
- Is polite with people and other animals
- Sheds very lightly (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.
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Maltese have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Maltese to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 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...
- Grooming. Without frequent brushing and combing, Maltese become a matted mess. I actually recommend keeping your dog's coat sheared short. Then it's always neat, sanitary, and comfortable for the dog, so easy to brush and bathe. And it makes your Maltese look like an adorable puppy throughout his life!
- Housebreaking. 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 about housebreaking a Maltese.
- Fragility. Too many people acquire a toy breed puppy without understanding how incredibly fragile a toy breed is. You can seriously injure a Maltese by stepping on him or by sitting on him when he's curled under a blanket or pillow. 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 snapping) may be the result.
- Separation anxiety and barking. 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.
Barking is an issue with almost all toy breeds. They are so alert, you see, and because they're so small, they try to sound intimidating. But it can easily get out of control. 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. Read more about Maltese Training.
- Health problems. Maltese often suffer from itchy skin conditions caused by chronic allergies. The constant scratching can drive them nuts, and you, too. Maltese are also very prone to knee joint problems requiring expensive surgery. Other health problems in Maltese include eye diseases that can lead to blindness, bladder stones, heart disease, and epilepsy. Read more about Maltese Health.
To help you train and care for your dog
Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.
The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.