The Maltese is classified as a toy breed and is covered from head to foot with a mantle of long, silky, white hair. Adult Maltese range from roughly 3 to 10 lbs (1.4 to 4.5 kg), though breed standards, as a whole, call for weights between 4 and 8 lbs (1.8 to 3.7 kg). There are variations depending on which standard is being used; many, like the American Kennel Club (AKC), call for a weight that is ideally between 4 and 6 lbs (1.8 to 2.7 kg), and no more than 7 lbs (3.2 kg). The coat is straight and silky and lacks an undercoat. The color is pure white and although cream or light lemon ears is permissible it is not desirable. Some individuals may have curly or woolly hair, but this is outside the standard. Characteristics include slightly rounded skulls, a black nose and lips, drop ears with long hair and very dark eyes, surrounded by darker skin pigmentation that is called a "halo", giving Maltese their expressive look. The body is compact with the length equaling the height. Their noses can fade and become pink or light brown in color. This is often referred to as a "winter nose" and many times will become black again with increased exposure to the sun.
Maltese can be very energetic and are known for their occasional wild outbursts of physical activity, bolting around at top speed with amazing agility, given this, they still do well for apartment dwellers. They are relatively easy to train and enjoy a playful game of fetch. These intelligent dogs learn quickly, and pick up new tricks and behaviours easily. Since they were bred specifically for companionship, they do not do well being left alone for long hours.
The breed has a reputation for being good-natured, but may be intolerant of small children or other dogs. They can be protective of their owner and will bark or may bite if animals or people infringe on their territory or are perceived as a threat.
For all their diminutive size, Maltese seem to be without fear. They are among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs, yet they are lively and playful as well as vigorous. Because of their size, Maltese dogs are not a good choice for families with small children because they can be easily injured.
Maltese have hair, not fur and have little to no shedding if cared for properly. They are considered hypoallergenic and so many people who are allergic to dogs in general, may not be allergic to Maltese. Regular grooming is required to prevent their coats 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. Tear staining can be a problem in this breed. If the face is kept dry and clean, the staining can be kept to a minimum.
The Maltese is generally a healthy breed with few inherent problems. Some problems seen are luxating patella, White Shaker Dog Syndrome, portosystemic liver shunt and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Average life span is 12-15 years.
As an aristocrat of the canine world, this ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the Melitaie Dog, he has also been known as "Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta", the Roman Ladies' Dog, the Comforter Dog, the Spaniel Gentle, the Bichon, the Shock Dog, the Maltese Lion Dog and the Maltese Terrier. Sometime within the past century, he has come to simply be known as the Maltese. The breed's history can be traced back many centuries. Some have placed its origin at two or three thousand years ago and Darwin himself placed the origin of the breed at 6000 BC.
The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz type dog found among the Swiss Lake dwellers and bred down to obtain its small size. Although there is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier, the exact origin is unknown. Maltese are generally associated with the Isle of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. The Isle of Malta (or Melitae as it was then known) was a geographic center of early trade, and explorers undoubtedbly found ancesters of the tiny, white dogs left there as barter for necessities and supplies. The dogs were favored by the wealthy and royalty alike and were bred over time to specifically be a companion animal. Some royals that purportedly owned Maltese were Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Josephine Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette.