The Maltese is a small breed of dog which derive from the Mediterranean island of Malta and is classed in the toy dog group.
It is thought to have descended from a Spitz type dog, possibly the Volpino Italiano found among the Swiss lake dwellers and was selectively bred to attain its small size. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with migrating nomadic tribes, some believe these proto Maltese were used for rodent control before the breed gained paramount importance.
During the 17th century, some breeders decided to try to make the breed smaller, Swedish botanist and zoologist Linnaeus wrote in 1792 that these dogs were about the size of a squirrel. The breed nearly disappeared and was crossbred with Poodles, miniature spaniels and other toy dogs, early in the 19th Century there was as many as nine different breeds of the Maltese dog.
The Maltese dog has a slightly rounded skull with a narrow dome, a black button nose and brown eyes. They usually grow to between 7 to 10 inches and have a compact body with the length equal to the height, the tail is almost always curled. The ears drop down and are surrounded by a darker skin pigmentation (called a halo) which help give them their expressive look.
The coat is long and silky and does not have an undercoat, some Maltese can have curly hair, especially behind their ears, but this is considered to be a fault. A light ivory tinge can be permitted on the ears otherwise the coat is pure white, it does not shed so is ideal for people with allergies.
Adult Maltese range from 1.5 to 4.5 kg in weight, though breed standards are usually 2.5 to 4.5 kg, there are variations depending on the standard being used. The American Kennel club sets the weight standard at 1.8 to 3.2 kg while the Europeans prefer a heavier standard of around 3 to 4 kg.
The Maltese moves with a jaunty smooth flowing gait, viewed from the side they give the impression of rapid movement, in the stride, the forelegs reach free and straight from the shoulders with elbows close, hind legs move in a straight line.
Maltese are great companion dogs, they are playful and lively and even as they age their energy levels remain fairly constant. They are good with children as long as they are socialised from a young age, they are very loyal and like to stay close to their owners. The Maltese stays active within the house, so does not need a great deal of exercising, and can even manage well with just a small yard, for this reason the Maltese is liked by urban dwellers.
Teeth problems are common in the Maltese, most of which can be avoided with regular brushing. They are also susceptible to reverse sneezing, a snorting gagging sound which often results from getting over excited, it is not life threatening or dangerous and usually only lasts for a few seconds. Like a lot of dogs its size, the Maltese has a lifespan of 12 to 15 years.