How the History of the Maltese Led to a Modern Problem

How the History of the Maltese Led to a Modern Problem
12 Dec 2015

The Maltese is a lovely breed, in terms of character and looks. These intelligent little dogs are even said to be hypoallergenic, because their long silky hair does not shed as much as other breeds. Their small size, attractive white coat, and perky characters means they are a delightful pet.

Indeed the Maltese has a long history which goes back over 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all adored the Maltese, which also went under names such as the “Roman Ladies Dog” or “Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta”. Indeed, some wealthy owners even built tombs for their deceased Maltese dogs.

The breed continued to be popular for centuries, but was almost wiped out in the 17th century by a misguided breeding program. For some reason, it was decided to reduse the size of the Maltese to that of a squirrel – with the result that the breed was almost eradicated. Fortunately, common sense prevailed before it was too late and the Maltese recovered.

However, one of the personality traits of the Maltese that make it so popular – its love of human company – also means these dogs are prone to stress or anxiety when left alone.


What is Separation Anxiety?

When a dog likes being in your company so much that he is distressed when left alone, this is known as separation anxiety. The problem also tends to get worse as time goes by, because the dog soon learns to associate the owner leaving with physiological sensations of stress such as a racing heart and feelings of fear.

Is Your Maltese Showing Signs of Anxiety?

As a breed, the Maltese are prone to being dependant on their owner, which may means the dog feels stressed when separated. As an owner it is helpful to know the telltale signs of anxiety.

Each dog shows their distress in different ways, but when are preparing to go out, some dogs will follow your heels like a shadow, or else retiring to her basket wearing a miserable expression. Other classic signs include whining, pacing, licking or biting at herself excessively, chewing and destructive behaviour, and messing in the house when you’re out.


What Can You Do About It?

The dog becomes anxious because she has no concept of time and doesn’t want to be alone. What you need to do is teach her that you do return. You do this in slow steps.

The first stage is to teach her “Sit” and “Stay” commands. Once the dog sits on command, you get her to stay on her blanket whilst you briefly leave the room. Return almost immediately (whilst she is still quiet) and give her a treat or reward.

Then, gradually increase the amount of time you spend out of her sight. If at any stage she cries, wait until a moment of silence before you re-enter the room. This is because you want to reward the good (ie the quiet) behaviour, rather than crying.

And finally…

Separation anxiety is not the exclusive domain of the Maltese, and can affect any breed of dog. However, it is a very real source of distress for the pet, so if your pet messes in the house when you are out – don’t scold her – the chances are she thought you were never going to return.

Want to Know More about the Maltese?

Vital Statistics

  • Height: 10 inches (25 cms)
  • Weight 4 – 6 lbs (2 – 3 kg)
  • Life expectancy: 12- 15 years
  • Coat: Long and silky, requires daily grooming

Special Considerations

Health: Like any purebred dog, the Maltese is at higher risk than others of certain inherited conditions. For the Maltese these include:

  • Heart disease as a result of stiff heart valves (in later life)
  • Yeast infections affecting the skin
  • Portosystemic shunt – this is a blood vessel that bypasses the liver and results in neurological symptoms in young dogs
  • Luxating patellas (better known as wobbly kneecaps)
  • White Shaker Dog Syndrome – the exact natures of this condition is not fully understood, but the symptoms are those of uncontrolled shaking such that the dog falls over or is unable to eat
  • Hydrocephalus – water on the brain

Temperament: Because Maltese are physically small, you need to take this into consideration if you have boisterous children. Although the breed is robust enough to catch rats (it original job!) they can easily suffer broken bones if dropped or generally rough-housed.

Like all puppies, the Maltese benefits from good socialization as a youngster. The breed is good-natured and intelligent, but is renowned for getting their own way!

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Pippa Elliott

Pippa Elliott, BVMS MRCVS, is a veterinarian with 27-years' experience in companion animal practice. Pippa's first job was in a practice by the sea, where she acquired her first (of many) waif-and-stray, a Dockyard Cat Rescue kitten, called Skate. She then worked for the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) which is a national charity that provides veterinary care for the animals of owners with limited finance. Currently Pippa works in a Veterinary Clinic in UK.


  1. cathy Caballero : June 9, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Hi, nice blog i enjoyed reading your post, hello to your dog. Have a nice day!

    Cathy XoXo
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