What Were Malteses Bred For?

What Were Malteses Bred For?

The Maltese dog is a very peculiar member of the toy group of dogs, possessing features such as hair in place of fur and stunning white color. How a dog can be so cute and unique is a wonder, and usually provokes questions about its origin. 

Maltese dogs have existed for thousands of years and were initially associated with nobility. A popular nickname for this breed is the Roman lapdog, and best describes what it was initially bred to be the ideal companion for women of nobility. Less widespread use for the Maltese was for healing purposes, which was practiced in ancient Egypt. 

For the rest of this article, we will take a more in-depth look into the origin of Maltese, and what they have evolved to be today.  

The History of the Maltese Dog

The exact source of the Maltese remains a mystery as historians continue to give differing places of origin, ranging from Egypt to Sicily, and also Malta.

Although there is no evidence to show that the Maltese dog originated from Malta, many Grecian, as well as roman philosophers, believe that the breed originated from Malta.

It is said to be descended from a small Terrier-like dog breed, which was popular in Malta at the time. Hence, it was given the name Melitaie dog (Melitaie is the old name for Malta). 

Other historians, however, hold that the Maltese dog did not originate on the island of Malta but was brought there by the Phoenicians at about 1000 BC when they arrived at the island to colonize it.

They insist that Maltese dogs were used as erotic trading articles at the Malta trading center. Then the breed soon became popular among the elite and begun spreading to other parts of civilization.

Yet another theory is that this breed originated or was bred by the people of southern Europe as companions.

This theory maintains that Maltese was distributed as an “article of trade” at the ancient trading center of Malta, subsequently migrating by caravans to other parts of civilization like the middle east, Tibet, China, and Japan.

In all this, though, the most plausible theory would be that these stunning toy dogs originated from Egypt in Africa. The earliest known representations of the Maltese dogs on artifacts were found at Fayum, Egypt (600-300BC).

These artifacts suggest that the Malteses were one of the dogs worshiped in ancient Egypt. It was also believed to possess healing powers. The sick would place the dog on their stomach or chest for comfort and speedy recovery. 

Its comforting nature, warmth, and portability increased its popularity, and it came to be known as the comforter. 

The Maltese has remained a dog breed of distinction—highly esteemed and quite sought-after. This breed became fashionable among upper-class ladies in England in the 1300s. Two prominent people in history owned it; Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. 

Maltese dogs almost went extinct in the around the 17th century when attempts were made to breed and make them smaller. These experiments produced tiny squirrel-sized dogs.

They were crossbred with other small dogs to save the breed from extinction, and this resulted in the development of several related breeds. 

We are grateful that the Maltese breed was strong enough to evolve from a small grouping that was separated from other countries. Fortunately, the bloodlines persevered, and we all have the opportunity to own this fantastic toy dog.

The Modern History of Maltese

The Maltese dog was one of the first dogs to be part of the exhibition shows in Europe. The first record of its participation was in 1862 at a dog exhibition show in London, with about 20 Maltese exhibited.

It remains a dog show favorite today, scoring a win at the 2010 cruft toy group judging competition.

After making it to the United States of America, in the 1800s, the Maltese popularity spread like wildfire, and in the year 1888, it was inducted into the American Kennel Club. 

How Does Breeding Affect Maltese Today?

An already stated fact throughout this article is that presently, the Maltese dog is bred solely as a companion. This fact is in no way an accident as they were intentionally bred and evolved for this purpose.

Now we will breakdown the effects of this purposeful breeding on the modern Maltese.


The most distinctive feature of this breed is its possession of actual hair in place of fur. The toy dog breed is famed for the silky white hair, which you can groom to cover the whole body, falling to the floor.

Maltese dogs weren’t always all white, they had varying colors initially, but these days they are mostly white due to selective breeding. 

Owning a Maltese is one thing, grooming him is a whole different level. To maintain their long flowing white hairs, you would have to do a lot of brushing, combing, and bathing.

Some of these activities are to be done daily, and others a little less frequently. The thing is, even if you choose a shorter hairstyle for your Maltese, you will still need to groom regularly to maintain a healthy look.

But a Maltese is more than his coat. The modern Maltese was bred to specification for all its features, including its alert eyes, rounded skull, and button nose, all of which are intentional features of the breed. 

Personality and Temperament

First off, Malteses are sweet and intelligent dogs that are entirely devoted to their owners. They are playful yet dignified, petite yet brave, and they seem to be an instant favorite wherever they go.

There seems to be a certain grace about the Maltese dog, from their expressions to their stride, to the very core of their character.

Years of associating with aristocracy and nobility have rubbed off on this breed, and it can be observed immediately by how well they carry themselves.

Experienced Maltese owners and breeders can testify that Maltese dogs seem to think too highly of themselves. If you own a Maltese, the chances are that he thinks he’s smarter than you.  

You may not notice this trait outrightly, but I bet you’ve experienced the signs before. Have you ever had your Maltese try to play tricks on you, or try to use an indirect approach to get what it wants or do what you made clear it shouldn’t?

These are clear signs of Maltese thinking it can get away with just about anything because it’s smarter.

Another trait Maltese dogs evolved to have as a result of their familiarity with royalty is a deep sense of pride. Most people refer to this enormous pride in a small body as the “small dog complex.”

This pride becomes apparent when you get into a power tussle with your Maltese over who’s in charge, and then you find out just how tenacious Maltese dogs can be.

It is this inherent pride mixed with a sense of nobility that makes the Maltese a fearless dog breed. A Maltese dog is quite willing to challenge other dog breeds to a duel, even breeds much larger than they are.

In this regard, owning a Maltese means, you have to be really watchful and avoid it challenging bigger dogs. Essentially, you have to save your Maltese from itself.

Yet another evidence that Maltese dogs were bred for human companionship is the incredible amount of attention they demand to function normally.

They continuously want to be within reach of their human companions and are quite willing to follow you around if that’s what it takes. This is the ideal dog breed for you if you’re easily bored and in need of constant company.

Modern Uses of Maltese Dogs

For Show

Maltese dogs are an ever-present in dog events due to their beautiful white coats that meet show requirements if adequately cared for. While they are not the most intelligent or athletic of dog breeds, they make up for in beauty what they lack elsewhere.

It takes experience and great care to show Maltese dogs successfully, but that doesn’t stop many people from trying.

Hollywood Loves Malteses

Being the cute dogs they are, it isn’t hard to imagine this breed has been in a few movies. The first movie involving a Maltese was Benji and was released as far back as 1974. In more recent times, Maltese dogs have had roles in films like The Maltese Dog, Cinnamon, and Lucky Dog – a TV show.

Apart from its role in movies, Maltese dogs seem to be a favorite amongst Hollywood superstars, with a host of them regularly flaunting their beautiful Maltese’.

Some of the A-list celebrities who own a Maltese are the late Frank Sinatra, Lindsay Lohan, and Halle Berry, who regularly flaunts her two Maltese dogs.

A Companion for the Wealthy

Like their ancestors, Maltese pups of today attract the wealthy and highest class of society, further increasing the breed’s popularity. Once again, their cuteness and apparent air of class are the primary reasons for this attraction.

The most famous Maltese in history was named Trouble, and the late billionaire Leona Helmsley owned her. When Mrs. Helmsley died in 2007, she left a whopping $12 million fortune for her pet Maltese, once again highlighting the unique relationship between Maltese dogs and aristocracy.  

Cost of Owning a Maltese

It’s interesting to find that Maltese dogs are pretty expensive pets to own. A typical purebred Maltese puppy from a reputable breeder will go for anywhere from $2,500 and above.

This high price is partly influenced by the initial expense to purchase a Maltese champion line, the cost, and skill necessary for breeding new litters, and the extensive research to improve breed quality, which are all expenses incurred by the breeder.

Another crucial factor that influences the price of Maltese these days is the high demand they attract. This high demand is due to the breed’s popularity, cuteness, and uniqueness, amongst other factors.

Initial costs aside, a Maltese pet can attract various expenses throughout its lifetime and they live quite long.

These recurrent costs include grooming services and products, medical costs ranging from vet registration to complete dental care in some cases, and the costs of the different training your Maltese would need. The good news is you don’t get to spend so much on food as their stomachs are tiny. 

And yeah, your Maltese is going to demand a substantial amount of time from you, and since time is money, that is another expense to consider.

John Carter

My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially dogs. I've got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.

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