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What Were Maltese Dogs Originally Bred for? (Explained)

Maltese dogs are one of the oldest breeds of dogs and they originated from an island named ‘Malta’ more than 28 centuries ago. There has been a lot of debate about their actual origin.

Some say their ancestors are from Asia, some say Sweden, others say they were bred by the Romans. The list goes on and on. But why were they bred? Let’s find out.

What were Maltese dogs originally bred for?

There are many theories about why they were originally bred. Let’s look at the most popular ones. They were bred to be companions for women in Egypt. Another story suggests that they were bred for hunting rodents and as lapdogs for women in Malta. They have also been bartered for food.

They were bred from a spitz-type or a spaniel dog. It is highly likely that they were bred to be companions because they continue to do so even today. They make great comforters and companions.

For the Romans, they were considered a social status symbol. If you had a Maltese dog back in those days, you would be deemed high status. This is why Maltese dogs were expensive too. 

This lived up for a long time because the Maltese seem to attract royalty. Even the Queens of England had a particular liking for Maltese dogs. Maybe this is why Maltese dogs are picky eaters, they have always been used to consuming rich quality food. 

Moreover, the great Aristotle has mentioned the dog in a place named ‘Melita’ where they were apparently used as lapdogs. They were named ‘The Comforter’ as well because Europeans believed that they cured diseases. They would place Maltese dogs on pillows of ill people thinking it would cure them.

In the 1500s, breeders tried to make Maltese dogs the size of a squirrel which almost led to their extinction. They were already small but they were trying to make them even smaller.

After the failure of this, Maltese dogs were bred with poodles, East Asian dogs, and spaniels to prevent them from becoming extinct. This led to various new breeds being formed.

Keep in mind that Maltese dogs which are below the size of 4 pounds have a higher health risk and can have more genetic diseases. 

What were Maltese terriers bred for? 

It is said that Maltese terriers were bred to be companions for Roman women around 2800 years ago. Back then, they were known as ‘Shock dogs’ and ‘Roman Ladies dogs’. They symbolized loyalty and were seen in the sleeves of Roman women. 

A Roman woman was considered not fully dressed if she didn’t carry a Maltese terrier with her. 

Maltese terriers were also bred to hunt and provide comfort. Terriers generally are good at hunting and a mix of Maltese was supposed to make them bold and cute at the same time. 

What was Maltese Shih Tzu bred for?

Maltese is a cross of two breeds, Maltese and Shih Tzu. They are often called Malt-Tzu, Malti-Tzu, or Malshi. This designer breed was developed to create a non-shedding dog in the United States in the 1990s.

That is practically impossible but they succeeded in a way because Maltese Shih Tzu’s shed extremely little. This is because both Maltese dogs and Shih Tzu dogs shed very little. 

They are low shedders but need to be brushed to keep their coats clean. They are small companion dogs that have grown popular especially in Australia and Northern America. 

They also hoped that the result of this cross-breeding would be a friendly, outgoing temperament, and a more tolerant dog. Due to their small size, they are seen lurking in the bags of many celebrities. 

What were Maltese poodles bred for?

Maltese poodles are also known as Maltipoos, they are an adorable crossbreed of Maltese and Toy Poodles. They were bred to small companion dogs for people who suffer from allergies. 

They were also developed to be playful and smart dogs. 

This is a comparatively new breed that was first bred in the United States in the 1990s. Just like Maltese Shih Tzus, they were expected to shed less. 

What were Maltese bred to hunt? 

Maltese dogs were originally bred to hunt rodents. It is also suggested that they were used to kill rats and mice in Europe back in the days before cats were there. 

Maltese dogs were bred from spitz-type dogs or spaniel dogs. And both of these dogs are known for hunting. Maybe this is why Maltese were called ‘Lion Dogs’ and ‘Shock Dogs’. 

Maltese were also bred with Terriers so that they can hunt rodents and other small prey.

Where Maltese dogs come from?  

It is said to be found around the Mediterranean Basin. The exact origin is unknown but there are many theories. Egypt, Sicily, and South-central Europe are some of the many suggested origins, but many historians say that it originated from the island of Malta.

And that this is where they got their name from. It is also said to be brought to Malta by the Phoenicians. By the mid 1900s it was established as a pet dog in Europe and also brought to show rings.

It was first spotted in the United States in the late 18th century. Maltese dogs were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888 as their 42nd breed. 

References of Maltese dogs can be found in ancient Roman and Greek literature. 

When were Maltese dogs bred?  

The exact date is unknown but it is said to be at least 2800 years old. They were mentioned as early as

370 BC and can be found in several Egyptian, Greek, and Roman writings. 

What are Maltese dogs known for? 

Maltese dogs are known for their exceptionally long and silky white hair! It is eye-catching which

makes it very easy to identify Maltese dogs.

They do come in colors other than white but were intentionally bred to be pure white. This is because, in Roman culture, white symbolizes purity. 

Their white coat of Maltese dogs is special but it needs to be maintained properly. It is like a blank canvas that can easily be stained. Their long hair is an attraction for show rings which is why they can make good show dogs too. 

Maltese dogs used to come in other colors as well. But this stopped in the mid-1900s because multi-colored Maltese dogs were not accepted in show rings. Since then, pure white Maltese dogs can only be found and this is how it is all over the world. 

It can discolor over the ears and other places but most of them are white and lemon in color. 

Maltese dogs are popular for their history too. It is one of the oldest breeds to exist and these dogs were pets of several famous people. Starting from Queen Elizabeth 1, Mary Queen of Scots, and Queen Victoria. 

Can Maltese hunt? 

Although history suggests it, they are not hunting dogs. They might chase after birds, rabbits, and

squirrels but they are still not suited for hunting. To Maltese dogs, everyone is a friend. 

However, you can teach them some things to bring out their hunting instincts. This can be obedience, agility and rally, nose work, pulling weight, and canine athletics.

Some canine athletics that you can teach your Maltese are barn hunting, lure coursing, canine tricks, and some customized canine routines. They can be taught to do retriever work as well. 

Some Maltese dogs naturally gain hunting skills. Maltese dogs have a tendency to bark at anything that seems harmful. This can be a useful hunting skill. 

What do Maltese hunt? 

Maltese dog owners have reported that their Maltese have hunted insects and bugs. Surprisingly, some have caught and killed rabbits as well. As rare it is, we can assume they got these hunting instincts from their ancestors.

A few Maltese dogs have also been said to bring frogs and other animals to their owners. It is likely that they were unsure what to do with it and just left it up to their owners to decide! 

Besides a few cases, Maltese dogs do not prey on other animals but prey on bugs instead. They may not hunt, but they do make good watchdogs. They are always alert and protective of their owner. Despite their tiny size, they are said to be fearless and feisty! 

If you have an ant situation at home, your small Maltese might try to get rid of it. To see if your Maltese dog has any hunting abilities, put a stuffed toy of an animal in front of them and observe what they do with it. If they are aggressive towards it, it is possible that they can be trained to hunt small prey. 

Do Maltese dogs hunt birds? 

No. They love to chase after birds such as pigeons but they never kill one. Most Maltese dogs don’t have a prey drive and are harmless to animals. 

They are not good hunters, but you can try and train them if you want! 

Do Maltese hunt mice?

Unfortunately, no. The best they can do is bark at most to keep away mice. Their origin suggests otherwise because they were used to hunt rats and mice from merchant ships and harbor warehouses.

Rats can be too big for them and they might even feel scared. Many Maltese dogs are unsure how to interact with animals and rodents.

If you’re looking for dogs that hunt mice, you should go for a Terrier. For example, a Jack Russell Terrier. 

It’s hard to believe that these adorable pups are alleged to be once worshiped by Egyptians! The history of Maltese dogs is endless. Where do you think they originated from? Was it Malta or Egypt or Europe?

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why do Maltese dogs lick their paws?

Why does my Maltese howl, growl, snore, grunt, or snort?

Why does my Maltese have brown spots?

Why Maltese dogs are expensive?

Are Maltese good dogs?

Are Maltese dogs always white?