Are you looking for a small, fluffy white dog that is smart, affectionate, funny, and more like a baby than a dog? If so, a Maltese might be the right dog for you. Maybe you saw a Maltese champion at the Westminster Dog Show or a local show, or youve seen Elizabeth Taylors Sugar or Tony Bennetts Boo. In that case, a Maltese might still be the dog for you, but perhaps one of our rescues is not exactly what you had in mind. So, before you decide, lets talk Maltese.
The AKC standard for Maltese calls for a dog that weighs under 7 pounds (4 to 6 pounds preferred) with a long, flat, white silky coat, "black points," and "a long-haired plume tail carried gracefully over its back." This is the dog you see at Westminster, in Elizabeth Taylors arms, and at Tony Bennett concerts. But, 99 times out of 100 these are not the dogs that show up in rescue. Most of the Maltese that come through our rescue operation weigh in at between 8 and 12 pounds. They range in age from 4 to 10 years (this isnt "old" for a Maltese, their normal life span is 15 to 17 years). Some of our dogs are the products of backyard breeders; some began life in puppy mills. Usually, they dont have long, silky coats because a long coat takes a lot of work. A Maltese must be brushed every other day and bathed once a month at the very least. They need a good grooming (by you or a groomer) about once a month, and should have their teeth brushed daily. Maltese are the best, but they are definitely "high maintenance" dogs. If you dont have the time (or money) to take care of their grooming needs, this probably isnt the right choice for you.
The AKC standard also describes the Maltese temperament perfectly, calling them gentle mannered, affectionate, eager, lively, playful, and vigorous, with a trust and affectionate responsiveness that are very appealing. But many rescue dogs have some emotional baggage and need extra love and care to regain their trust in people, and some just miss their original families and need some time before they are ready to commit to you and yours. Speaking of families, Maltese generally love children, but in our experience, homes with small children are not appropriate for them. Maltese tend to be very fragile because of their size and can be seriously hurt in an instant by a young child. So if you have toddlers in the home or are planning to start a family soon, choose another, larger breed.
Maltese are very social animals. They were bred to be companion dogs and thrive on love and attention. Some of our rescues came to us because they suffer severe separation anxiety and spent their lonely days barking, soiling the carpet, or being destructive in other ways. While these are extreme cases, Maltese (or most breeds for that matter) should not be made to endure long periods of isolation. You dont have to spend every waking minute with your Maltese (though you will want to), but if your lifestyle keeps you away from home for long periods of time each day, a Maltese might not the best choice for you. If your work requires you to be away for more than 6 to 8 hours, you will need to have a dog walker or a friend drop by to give your little guy or gal some quality time. They will miss having you around and will need companionship as much as they need a quick walk outdoors.
The AKC places Maltese in the "toy" category, but they are not toys. Maltese are very, very smart. They will out-think you and out-maneuver you in the flash of an eye. So it is really important to invest time and money in obedience training. This is especially true for a rescue Maltese because of their past experiences and because you need to teach them what your expectations are. Like all dogs, Maltese bark, will try to chase the neighbors cat or back down another dog, and have their own ideas about "right" and "wrong" behavior. If you want to live happily with any Maltese dog (but especially a rescue Maltese) you need to spend some time with the basics (sit, stay, down, come) and probably a lot of time on that important word in doggy vocabulary, NO! If the dog you rescue is like most Maltese, the trip to obedience classes will be a bonding experience for both dog and human, and you will probably find this little one is first in the class to learn its lessons. Many Maltese win ribbons for agility training and are certified companion dogs who are so well trained in obedience that they go to hospitals, homes for the elderly, schools, and so on to share their love with people who need it.
If you can commit time and attention to a Maltese, your home will be filled with laughter, your life with love. Thats the true magic of these little white dogs. You will never be Elizabeth Taylor or Tony Bennett or a Westminster winner, but your Maltese will think you are and so will you.
Written by Cathy Brown
United Maltese Rescue--MD/VA/DC