According to a number of dog authorities the Maltese is the most ancient of all European toy dog breeds. Throughout its long history the Maltese has variously been known by any one of the following names:
- Maltese Terrier
- Maltese Spaniel
- Maltese Dog
- Maltese Lion Dog
- Maltese Poodle
- Bichon Maltais
- Melita Dog
- Melitae Dog
- Ancient Dogge of Malta
- Roman Ladies’ Dog
- Shock Dog
Maltese Dog Breed Origins
One would think (and understandably so) that the origins of the Maltese dog would be a no brainer, in that evidently from its name the breed must have originated from Malta. Well the origins of the Maltese dog breed is not the clear-cut case that it may seem and indeed there is a minority school of thought that believes that the Maltese actually originated from somewhere else altogether!
That somewhere else is believed to be another Island but this time one found in the Adriatic somewhere off the coast of Yugoslavia. That said, mainstream and the majority of authorities favor the idea that the Maltese was exported from the island of Malta by Phoenician sailors as far back as 1500 B.C. Back then the island of Malta was a very popular trading port.
The Maltese dog is believed to be a descendant from the spitz family of dogs, more specifically from a spitz type dog that originated from Swiss Lake dwellers. There is also some unsubstantiated scant evidence that the Maltese dog may owe at least some part of its origins to an Asian connection, the Tibetan Terrier.
No matter its apparent origins the fact remains that going back as far as the time of the Ancient Greeks, the Maltese dog was a big hit with the ladies. No wonder the breed was known at one time as the Roman Ladies’ Dog! The trend of being adored by the ladies has continued even up to this day and it is not uncommon to find the Maltese dog as a resplendent fashion accessory “adorned” by a latter day starlet or celebrity!
Though nowadays the Maltese dog typically appears with a long, silky, pure white coat, this was not always the case because the breed presented in several different coat colors. In fact up until the middle of the 19th century the Maltese dog was a hodge-podge of varying traits whose one uniform factor was they were all assembled in a small canine frame! It was not until the mid 19th century that serious efforts were made to homogenize the Maltese dog breed such that it could be recognized as a true breed apart! Indeed it was only after that time that the Maltese dog could truly and proudly boast to be a recognizable dog breed. Unsurprisingly prior to that time there existed nine different “breeds” of Maltese dog; some as small as squirrels.
Maltese Dog Breed Almost Becomes Extinct
Like many another dog breed the Maltese dog has suffered its fair share of getting-up-close and personal with extinction. That close shave with extinction was superbly illustrated by an 1830 painting entitled “The Lion Dog from Malta—Last of His Race!” Certainly by the early 19th century the fate of the Maltese dog breed was in jeopardy which once again was clearly shown through the documented records of a Knight of Malta’s remarks which were: “There was formerly a breed of dogs in Malta with long silky hair, which were in great demand at the times of the Romans, but have for some years past greatly dwindled, and indeed are become almost extinct.”
In 1840, or thereabouts, two Maltese dogs originally intended as a gift to Queen Victoria were nonetheless introduced to England and in effect becoming the first of their kind to be exhibited there. Furrowing through the 19th century and progressively through the 20th century the Maltese dog breed became increasingly popular and quickly developed a substantial following of admirers and fanciers.
The Maltese dog breed made its debut into the show ring in 1859 in England and in 1877 in the United States. The breed was eventually formally recognized by The American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888. Presently the breed standard only recognizes a dog with a pure white silky coat as being a true representative of the breed which explains why the typical Maltese dog of today is white throughout in color.
The Maltese dog is not big in any respect or form and should never tip the scales beyond a blushingly modest 7 lbs. Even so the breed standard calls for dogs that fall within the weight range of 4 – 6 lbs. This dog breed is relatively long-lived typically attaining ages of fourteen years. The average lifespan of the Maltese dog breed is between 12 – 14 years. Miniscule in size though it may be, that doesn’t detract from the fact that the Maltese has a big heart and is actually a tough and spirited dog that makes for a lively and entertaining companion.
Oh…and it also makes a great watchdog!
Article on Maltese by Kayye Nynne