Maltese Breed Spotlight

The Maltese is an ancient breed of the bichon family, with bichon being the Middle French word meaning “small long-haired lapdog.” The exact origin of this delightful breed remains a mystery, but it is believed to have originated in the central Mediterranean, Sicily, Egypt, and various parts of Europe. However, the island republic of Malta is where the breed draws its namesake. The name Malta is believed to have been derived from the Phoenician word for “a haven.”

It is largely believed by breed historians that the ancestors of the Maltese breed were brought to the islands of Malta via Phoenician trade routes. These dogs were often described as small and mostly white, with shaggy or long coats. As far back as 1000 BCE, the Phoenicians used the island as a stopover on their trade routes between various parts of the Mediterranean and Cornwall. History shows that small white dogs were used to keep the Phoenician trade ships free of vermin, in addition to serving as companions to the sailors and the land-dwelling natives. The little dogs grew in popularity to the point that they were kept as lap or sleeve dogs by wealthy aristocrats and even the Roman Governor, Publius.

Trade and the invasions of other empires brought the Maltese out from the island of Malta into the world, where demand for the small, white lapdogs only increased. Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary of the Scots were both avid lovers of the little dogs. The original breed was bred throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. However, by the 19th century, breed enthusiasts decided that it was time to “fix” the little dogs into a proper breed. To reach an even more diminutive size, they were bred to ancestors of today’s Bichon Frise, Poodles, and small spaniels. Originally occurring in any color up until 1954, the standard now requires the coat be solid white. Today, the little Maltese is one of the most well-recognized breeds of dog in the world. He is well-known for his luxurious long coat and endearing personality.

Want to learn more about the Matlese? Click here to view the full breed standard. 

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