Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated August 17, 2009)
The origin of few dogs is as puzzling as that of the Maltese, a name which has been famous in dogdom for perhaps 3000 years. No one can be certain that the darling of the Roman and Greek ladies before the time of Christ was the same delightful toy dog which today owns the name.
The Maltese Dog of today is a pure white dog weighing from 2-1/2 to 7 pounds, with hair which completely covers the frame, hanging in an even part from the nose to the tail. Maltese dogs are strong and, as a rule, very healthy.
The earliest evidence of the Maltese dog, as we know him today, comes in Sir Joshua Reynolds' noted painting of Nellie O'Brien. She has a dog of distinct Maltese type in her lap. This picture was painted in 1763.
The breed became quite popular in various parts of Europe and England after 1800. By that time the dog was known under various other names. Buffon had called him "Chien de Malte," or "Bichon." He appears to have preferred the latter. Still another name was "Shock Dog," apparently derived from the dog's shock of hair.
Richardson, in 1847, gives a good description of the modern dog, about in the terms of a present day uninitiated dog lover. That is, he describes it as a "small poodle, with silky hair instead of wool, and the short, turned up nose of the pug."
At various times they have been called Spaniels and Terriers, with the latter name predominating in the United States and Canada. However, because it is obvious that a three-pound dog can hardly be used for sporting purposes, the majority of governing bodies in dogdom now limit the name to Maltese Dog.
The Maltese is extremely fearless, despite his size. He is trusting and affectionate, adding to his appeal as a house pet. He is also of the gentlest nature, although lively and playful.
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