Are Maltese Good Dogs? (Temperament, Personality, Health)

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Aside from being a delightfully pretty dog, the Maltese breed can be surprising too. This diminutive canine has a playfulness and warmth which belies his high maintenance appearance. So, are Maltese good dogs?

Though the Maltese are glamorous and small, they are in many ways a gentle, friendly giant. As a good family pet, Maltese dogs can be stubborn, but a little patience and persistence go a long way toward earning their loyalty. They are lively and very playful.

As Maltese dogs are a toy breed, the assumption is they must be easy to care for. While it’s true they don’t need much space and will happily share a home with other animals, they present owners with challenges just like every breed does. So, if you’re thinking about welcoming a Maltese into your family, it’s important to understand his personality first.

This article answers some common questions about the Maltese to help you decide if the breed is right for you.

Are Maltese Safe Around Children?

The Maltese is an extremely friendly dog who greets everyone he meets with a perpetually wagging tail and boundless enthusiasm. As the breed is playful, intelligent and often mischievous, its natural temperament suits younger children. Maltese dogs are more than willing to race about a yard fetching tennis balls or play games of hide and seek with their favorite treats.

It’s ironic, then, that many Maltese breeders refuse to sell their dogs to families with young children. It’s not an issue of temperament. Rather, the Maltese is so small it can be easily crushed and maimed by good natured horseplay. Any children in a Maltese’s home must be taught the importance of careful handling. The wrong type of contact can kill this tiny dog.

Maltese Good With Other Pets?

Unlike some toy breeds, the Maltese has a wonderfully inclusive nature. Everybody is his friend until proven otherwise. If properly socialized at an early age, these dogs can live harmoniously with pets of all species and sizes. As with children, keep a close eye on your pets’ interactions, so you can intervene if things get too rough for your tiny toy.

They tend to behave cautiously around unknown dogs and will attempt to leave a shared space before barking at a stranger. When a Maltese feels threatened, his bark is definitely worse than his bite. Owners must always supervise their pet off leash to ensure he doesn’t forget his size and go toe to toe with a dog three times his height.

Are They Easily Trained?

In a nutshell, no. The Maltese hides fierce independence and enough stubbornness for a Great Dane and a Rottweiler combined. These little dogs are strong-willed which is why persistent training is required at an early age. This encompasses socialization training, obedience training, and toilet training (often the hardest of the three).

Toilet training can take a long time with them – some dogs never fully learn to potty outside – because the breed is quite particular. They’re very confident animals but also strangely fussy. If you live in a cold, wet climate, you might have trouble convincing your Maltese to even attempt toileting outdoors.

More than a few owners have torn their hair out after months of fruitless training only to discover their dogs are just too stubborn to ‘go’ outside a sheltered space. Keep this in mind when toilet training. As far as obedience training goes, patience is the key. Your dog will respond eventually. Whatever else you do, be persistent. You might be a day or two away from a big breakthrough when you get frustrated and decide to abandon the whole project.

How Smart Is This Breed?

The Maltese doesn’t score highly on the Coren scale of dog intelligence. It is in the ‘fair intelligence’ category along with the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard and Chihuahua. Yet, critics of the Coren criteria say they assign too much value to the speed at which a breed can learn commands.

On average, they need 40 to 80 repetitions to learn a brand new command. Lovers of the breed argue this is a clear sign of its intelligence rather than the opposite. There is certainly evidence to suggest Maltese dogs can grasp commands very quickly. They just ignore them if they’re not in the mood to showboat or the treat isn’t appealing enough.

A dog that develops selective hearing when you haven’t got his favorite treat to hand? Sounds pretty smart to us.

General Temperament/Personality

The Maltese is a laidback breed. While he’s capable of responding angrily to humans and animals, he rarely sees the need. These dogs won’t back down from a fight – they seem oblivious to their size sometimes – but they are not aggressors. They prefer to avoid confrontation where possible.

Instead, they are excited and always eager for new experiences. The breed responds well to positive reinforcements and approaches the world with a remarkable fearlessness considering he’s a toy and somewhat fragile. Maltese dogs crave socialization and need constant companionship. When left alone for long periods, they develop separation anxiety, destructive chewing, and barking habits.

How Much Exercise Does A Maltese Need To Stay Healthy?

The minimum amount of exercise a Maltese need is 20 minutes per day as part of a moderately fast outdoor walk. Ideally, these dogs should be walked twice per day to ensure they’re provided with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. However, being so small, they’ll tolerate a single walk per day as long as other forms of indoor exercise are provided.

Maltese puppies should not be walked outdoors until they’re eight months old. It’s safe to exercise a young dog in an enclosed backyard. However, his juvenile bones are still developing and not immediately strong enough for a full-size trek to the park. Older dogs may be reluctant to go outside in the rain even for walkies.

Overall Health

Like most dog breeds, the Maltese is vulnerable to certain health problems and physical dysfunctions. This doesn’t mean every Maltese suffers with them. They’re just at a slightly higher risk due to their unique size and shape. For instance, this breed can suffer from problems with the joints including displaced kneecaps and hips.

Being so small, they are especially vulnerable to weight issues and health conditions associated with being overweight such as canine diabetes. Some Maltese dogs are prone to hypoglycemia and become noticeably unsteady when their blood sugar drops. Reverse sneezes are a health quirk that isn’t serious (but is rather funny). When a Maltese is overexcited or overeating, they may make strange noises caused by windpipe spasms.

It is important you take your Maltese to the vet for routine checks at least once per year. That way, they can inspect your dog for signs of illness or deformity and ensure that any health problems relating to his breed are properly monitored.

Final Thoughts

The Maltese is a lively and sociable breed that appreciates being the centre of his owner’s world. For this reason, he’s particularly well suited to older people who are looking for companionship without high maintenance care and demanding physical needs. These dogs also make great pets for single people who have lots of love to lavish on a pet.

It’s not totally accurate to say they are unsuitable for young families though many claim it. If children can be taught how to handle a dog safely, they have an opportunity to develop a beautiful friendship with a mischievous, playful pal. Unfortunately, it’s rarely a question of whether babies and toddlers mean to cause harm. It’s common in any case because children, like Maltese dogs, do not understand the impact of their size.

There will always be a risk of accidental injury to the pup in a house with children. The parents must decide if this risk is worthwhile. Most breeds strongly recommend waiting until children are older or choosing a larger, sturdier breed.

Suitable For:

  • Older people (retirees)
  • Apartment dwellers
  • People with impaired mobility (exercise needs are mild)
  • Households with other pets

Not Suitable For:

  • Owners who work long hours/are frequently away from home
  • Families with young children who can’t handle safely
  • Owners unwilling to invest time in toilet training
  • Owners who do not want to groom their dog

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