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What’s that one word for extreme cuteness? Maltese.

As of today, the Maltese dog is one of the most popular dog breeds around, and it is for a good reason. This small dog is the perfect companion — he is loyal, affectionate, and brilliant!

When you look at this little white dog, the common question arises “What were Maltese bred for?” I mean, the Maltese certainly does not come off as a fierce hunting dog, nor does it show a lot of skill in herding livestock. It is so small that larger animals could easily step on it.

What could this small breed possibly be bred for?

We can put the Maltese dog in the same doggie toy group with Bichon Frise, Havanese, Pomeranians, Poodles, and other toy breeds. No, they were not bred to be someone’s “toys”. But they were produced for another, very interesting purpose.

Let’s find out what were Maltese bred for!

What Were Maltese Bred For?

maltese on a park benchmaltese on a park bench

Their small size and innocent looks were made for people to go “aww!” and pet the living heck out of Maltese pooches! That’s exactly what they were bred for — Maltese were bred to be top-notch companion dogs!

The Maltese dog quickly acquired the reputation of a comforter and a lap warmer, also known as the lap dog. This little dog also has a bunch of other names such as Maltese Lion dog, “Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta”, Roman ladies’ dog, “Melitaie dog”, and the Maltese Terrier.

You are about to find out when, how, and where this little dog was developed!

History Of The Maltese

The history of the Maltese dog is pretty straightforward, but it does have some confusing parts, like any other ancient story.

Many paw lovers are surprised when they find out that the Maltese dog is an ancient breed that managed to outlive the most resilient hunting and watchdogs.

While many of those big dog breeds, unfortunately, became extinct, the Maltese dog breed continued to thrive and conquer the laps of many rulers and nobles.

Where And When Was The Maltese Dog Developed?

Let’s go back to ancient times when the Maltese dog appeared and won over the hearts of many people. While it is not precisely known where the Maltese dog appeared, research shows that it was wagging its tail around Sicily, Malta, Egypt, and some parts of Southern Europe.

However, one region, in particular, is known for continuing to develop, breed, and preserve the Maltese dog breed — the Island of Malta.

The Maltese dog traces back to around 1500 BCE when the Phoenicians colonized the Island of Malta. Here’s the story.

The Island of Malta is located right below Sicily and it used to be the main trading point of Europe. No wonder, because Malta was strategically located right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. Such a location was perfect for all kinds of people to visit — from merchants, travelers, and sailors, to nobles, leaders, and rulers. Additionally, the Phoenicians weren’t the only nation that had an interest in Malta; Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were pretty fond of this little dog.

Malta had all sorts of merchandise which is why everyone wanted to visit to trade or buy interesting things. Silk, jewelry, gemstones, pottery, figurines, spices, and different materials were all available in Malta back then. Are we missing something? Yes, the Maltese dog!

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You could purchase or trade something for a Maltese dog, but it was not inexpensive. It was the ladies who were especially fond of the Maltese dog and would pay a high price to own one. Well, it was usually the higher-ranked ladies who could own one.

Who Developed The Maltese Dog?

cute maltese dogcute maltese dog

We are not entirely sure who developed the Maltese dog first, but there are some speculations and clues. This ancient little dog was developed so many years ago that it is difficult to trace its true creator and breeders who continued to develop the signature Maltese dog characteristics.


Located on the southern coast of Italy, the Island of Malta has seen many rulers come and go. Phoenicians were the ones to colonize the Island of Malta before the rise of the Roman Empire, which is why we give them more recognition for developing the Maltese dog breed.

Phoenicians took the Maltese dog everywhere, which is why this white little dog quickly took over the world!

This is why research shows that the Maltese dog may have its roots in Egypt, Greece, or even central Europe. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the dark ages, the Maltese dog has seen it all.


Further development of the Maltese dog was perfected in Rome, when this little dog not only had a role of a companion, but it was also a fashion icon, a canine hit among the ladies! This is why it got its name as the “Roman ladies’ dog”.

However, not all women could own a Maltese puppy — only the rich and wealthy could have this little white dog by their side.


Let’s trace back to the Dark Ages, a time period following the fall of the Roman Empire. Dark Ages took place between the 5th and 14th centuries, a dark period that lasted over 900 years.

There were all kinds of dangers lurking on both humans and canines; from the plague, famine, hunger, and other nasty things that made living a nightmare.

Luckily, the Maltese dog, as resilient as it is, was able to remain the way it was. It must be due to aristocrats and nobles who lived pretty comfortably, so they could provide the same comfort to their beloved companions and lap dogs, the Maltese dogs.

Asian Breeders

Another theory and historic speculation are that Asian breeders continued to enhance the Maltese dog bloodline by breeding these pups with similar-looking Asian dog breeds, most of them being Tibetan and Chinese dog breeds.

By the time Europe was in shambles and the Dark Age was taking its toll on both human and animal lives, breeders in Asia took it upon themselves to preserve and enhance the Maltese dog breed.

It is believed that the Maltese dog was crossed with other Chinese dog breeds like Pugs and Tibetan Spaniels.

This is why many researchers claim that the Maltese dog originates from Asia — China, to be more precise.

Famous People Who Owned The Maltese Dog

statue of aristotlestatue of aristotle

Because the Maltese dog is so widespread, there were many famous people who owned one. Not only was the Maltese dog a great comfort companion and a warm lap dog, but it was also an inspirational little dog with a lot of influence.

The Maltese dog is one of the first dogs that was sculptured in ancient Terracotta figurines,

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

While we are not entirely sure if the Greek philosopher Aristotle actually owned one, he was certainly amazed by the Maltese dog breed so much that he wrote a lot about it.

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In fact, he was the first one to give a more detailed description of the Maltese dog back then. Are you wondering what Aristotle had to say about our loving little white dog?

Aristotle was fascinated by the Maltese dog’s beauty and proportion. He noticed how this toy dog stands its guard while looking absolutely gorgeous!

Aristotle took his time to inform everyone that the Maltese dog is “perfetto nella sua piccolezza” which translates to “perfect in its small size”!

I think that we can all agree with Aristotle on this one!

Publius — the Roman Governor of Malta

Moving on to Publius, the Roman Governor of Malta who also fell under the spell of the beautiful Maltese dog breed.

Publius had a female Maltese dog who went by the name “Issa”. And boy, oh boy, was Issa popular back then! This little female Maltese dog was so loved by Publius that he had her picture painted!

Issa was also one of the main reasons why many poets started writing more about dogs. Everyone noticed the strong bond Publius had with his perfect lap dog, Issa.

Legend says that Publius was laying on his deathbed due to dysentery. At that time, a traveling apostle of faith named Paul (today Saint Paul), found himself shipwrecked on the coast of the Island of Malta.

It is believed that Saint Paul healed Publius and saved him from the jaws of death. As graceful as he was, Publius gifted Saint Paul a small Maltese dog!

Note that the Maltese dog still was not called the “Maltese”. It went by the name “Melitaie”.

Marcus Valerius Martialis

We mentioned that Publius’ Maltese dog, Issa, was so popular that she was the main topic of many poems, epigrams, folk stories, and artworks.

Naturally, poet Martial took it upon himself to write a beautiful poem about Issa. He was also fascinated by the dog’s beauty, just like his friend, Publius was.

Here is the epigram that the Poet Martial wrote about the wonderful Publius’ pet dog, Issa:

“Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla’s sparrow. Issa is purer than a dove’s kiss. Issa is gentler than a maiden. Issa is more precious than Indian gems . . . Lest the last days that she sees light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has had her picture painted.”

What a beautifully written epigram about the ancient Melitaie dog, don’t you agree?

Queen Elizabeth I

You see, the Maltese dog was cherished by upper ranks, aristocrats, nobles, and such. Perhaps it is its white coat that made the appearance of something holy, clean, and noble.

Queen Elizabeth I was also charmed by the versatile character and beautiful appearance of the spunky small dog, the Maltese.

While we do not know the name of her dog, Queen Elizabeth’s Maltese was a cuddle bug that perfectly fitted into her lap.

There are many artworks and poems in British literature featuring Queen Elizabeth I with her beloved Maltese dog.

Mary Queen Of Scots

Just how affectionate and loyal a Maltese dog can be is shown in the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary, the former queen of Scotland, loved and owned different dog breeds. Among her favorites were Terrier dog breeds and of course, the Maltese.

It is believed that Mary Queen of Scots once owned a Skye Terrier and a Maltese dog.

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In the year 1587, Mary Queen of Scots faced the inevitable — she was sentenced to death by guillotine.

Her Maltese dog was by her side during the whole ordeal. It is said that Mary’s Maltese pup was underneath her petticoats. After a short while, her Maltese dog is said to have died because of sadness and grief.

Queen Marie Antoinette

While some sources state that the French queen, Marie Antoinette owned Pugs, others state that she owned a Maltese dog. My guess is that at some point, Marie Antoinette owned both of these adorable dog breeds, but that the Maltese dog breed was her favorite.

The fact that her little Maltese dog jumped from the Saint Michele Bridge after her execution, proves how much of a strong bond the two had.

The Maltese dog breed was unconditionally beloved by the French Queen Marie Antoinette during the period between 1774 to 1793.

What Is The Maltese Breed Known For?

small maltese dogsmall maltese dog

Whoah, the Maltese dog was loved by so many influential people, no wonder it was a well-known dog breed! After reading about its history, you may have some hints about what the Maltese breed was known for.

Besides being the favorite dog of aristocrats, the Maltese dog had its breeding purposes.

Divine Roman Dog

The Maltese dog always had a white coat, so ever since it appeared in the Roman Empire, it was pictured as something sacred.

Because of its white coat, the Maltese dog was often exhibited by Romans as a divine creature! There was something about that white coat of the Maltese dog that was appealing to the eye and somehow addictive. There were no other Maltese colors back in the day, only pure white.

The white coat of the Maltese dog was (and still is) very fluffy and soft and it seems to have repelled all the dirt from the environment.

With its squeaky clean white coat, the Maltese dog was glowing! A true display of divinity!

Roman Ladies’ Dog

When researching what were Maltese bred for, paw lovers often stumble upon the term Roman Ladies’ dog. Now, this is just a sequel to our previous story about the Maltese being a divine doggo.

There is no doubt that all Romans were in awe of the white coats of Maltese dogs.

Roman women were especially mesmerized by this little dog. Soon enough, the Maltese dog became a fashion statement of noble women in Rome.

Because it was an outgoing and friendly small dog, the Maltese always accompanied women to various events. It is also said that these little dogs were often snug underneath Roman women’s sleeves!

Comfort Dog

Besides being a fashion icon and a divine symbol the Maltese dog was used as medicine. Now, I know it sounds weird, but don’t worry— the Maltese dog was not harmed in any way!

Legend describes that the Maltese dog was used as a comfort dog because his little body was warm enough to relieve someone’s stomach pain.

Maltese dogs’ compact size and body warmth were also used to help soothe tense muscles and stomach cramps.

When you think about it, the Maltese dogs served as hot water bottles — a natural remedy that alleviated the painful stomachs of nobles and aristocrats. It is a damn pity that poor people did not have this kind of comfort.

Personal Hygiene Dog

I know you may be wondering if there is such a thing as a personal hygiene dog. But, according to various stories, a personal hygiene dog existed back in the day. The Maltese dog was labeled as one.

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Although the term may sound confusing, as a personal hygiene dog, the Maltese is thought to have repelled insects out of aristocrats’ bedrooms during medieval times. I can’t say the same for rats because the Maltese dog was never a good hunter.

Unlike larger dogs, the Maltese were always small dogs that had very clean coats which is why the rich and wealthy kept them in their beds, dining rooms, and everywhere in the house basically.

Additionally, the Maltese dogs seem to have rarely exhibited normal doggie behavior like rolling on dead animals or sticking their faces into feces or garbage as many other dog breeds did.

Lap Dog

Let’s get back to the Maltese dog’s perfect size that makes it fit into any lap. The Maltese is as light as a feather, and it was always a light pooch that didn’t weigh over eight pounds.

When we look at the Maltese dog today we have to keep in mind that it didn’t look the same before. It took a lot of time for the Maltese dog breed to gain the physical appearance and temperament that we know today.

However, as Aristotle said, the Maltese was always a proportional and small dog with an excellent temperament that made it at the top of the list of the kindest lap dog breeds in history.

The Maltese dog didn’t mind sitting in the comfy laps of all aristocrats and nobles. Even today, the Maltese puppy does not mind some extra cuddling and snuggling.

So, yeah, it is safe to say that the Maltese dog was, in fact, bred to be the perfect lap dog.


Let’s shed some light on whether or not the Maltese is a good watchdog. Well, all dog lovers know that small dogs are usually louder than large dogs.

Some may argue that they are even more annoying than large dogs. Although the Maltese is small, its voice is sure to be heard.

The Maltese will bark to some extent, not as much as the Siberian Husky barks, but it will make sure to notify its owner of any upcoming events.

What Dog Breeds Make Up The Maltese Dog

Maltese Dog Playing In Autumn ForestMaltese Dog Playing In Autumn Forest

This may be a bit difficult to answer because of the abundant history of the Maltese dog breed. Remember when we talked about it being transferred to Asia where Asian breeders introduce different dog breeds? This was all done in order to strengthen the Maltese genetics which included the different types of Tibetan, Chinese, and Spitz dog breeds.

With today’s technology, we are able to find out what dog breeds were used in the development of the Maltese dog breed. When you look at its appearance and take a peek into its DNA, the Maltese dog seems to be related to the Havanese, Bolognese, and Bichon Frise dog breeds.

All three of these dog breeds have a similar historical background and all are thought to have been developed, raised, or situated and further bred on the Island of Malta.

What seems to be very confusing for many paw lovers is that the Maltese dog is often referred to as a terrier breed. It makes us all wonder what kind of Terrier breeds were bred to get the Maltese dog.

Well, it is believed that the Maltese dog breed has a versatile gene pool that includes the Tibetan Terrier, as well as the Yorkshire Terrier dog breed. But, let’s just stick to the three previously mentioned dog breeds: the Bichon Frise, Havanese, and Bolognese.

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All of them are dogs that very much resemble the Maltese pooch that we know today.

What Are Maltese Bred To Hunt?

If you have ever stumbled upon a Maltese dog, then you probably know the answer to this question.

First and foremost, the Maltese dog is everything but a hunting dog breed. It may have been a personal hygiene dog which means that it probably chased after rats on some occasions. But, the Maltese dog was not so successful in hunting anything but insects. In fact, I believe that the Maltese could care less for them anyway.

There is no denying that the Maltese did show a bit of Interest in chasing other dogs and rats (which is common doggie behavior), but it is important to mention that they were not specifically bred to do any hunting. We really can not compare the Maltese dog breed to any hunting dogs, be that deer, elk, rabbit, or bird hunting dogs.

This little white dog simply does not care about hunting anything — it is only there for snuggles, quality play time, and not to forget quality dog treats.

What Are Some Characteristics Of The Maltese Breed?

child playing with maltese dogchild playing with maltese dog

I could go on for days saying what makes the Maltese dog so special, but I will try to make it as short as possible.

All I can tell you is that you will never meet a more affectionate little dog than the Maltese! This fella truly gets under your skin and nests in your heart forever!

The Most Loyal Pooch

The Maltese dog is primarily a very loyal companion. It might not seem like it at first because most people believe that the Maltese dog only wants to cuddle and receive free food. But, trust me when I say that this little white dog is the most affectionate, dedicated, and loyal to its owner.

Making Friends With Humans And Animals

It is by nature an outgoing puppy which means that the Maltese dog will form strong bonds with other family members and even other animals. All of the Maltese dogs that I know get along very well with cats and some are even scared of them.

When you see a Maltese dog interacting with other animals for the first time, you can only notice friendliness, and willingness to play, rather than aggressive or predator-like behavior.

Super Athletic Little Dog

We are all used to tall skinny dog breeds being the athletic and the most physically active pooches around. But, even with small and short legs, the Maltese is as active as a pea in a bladder!

Many people misjudge the Maltese dog breed as just a lap dog but this breed is very athletic and can perform a lot of physical tasks and tricks.

The Maltese dog loves to play fetch, hide and seek, and puzzle games. Which leads me to another trait that makes this dog very special.

Smarty Pants

Do not underestimate the small head of a Maltese dog because this is a pooch with a big and very smart brain.

What makes the Maltese super smart is its affectionate nature too! This little dog is not as stubborn as some dog breeds like the Shiba Inu. The Maltese are also not as dramatic as Huskies which is why their intelligence is easier to notice. They sit still and listen as if they understand each word their owner is saying!

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Many do not believe it but the Maltese dog is, in fact, one of the smartest dog breeds that can be trained very easily. With proper socialization and training instructions, the Maltese dog is one of the easiest dogs to potty train!

As Gentle As A Dove

It may not be among the big fluffy dog breeds that are often described as gentle giants, but the Maltese is a small fluffy dog breed that happens to be extremely gentle and kind. This is not something that we see in other small dogs such as Chihuahuas which are known for being aggressive.

A very important thing is to train the Maltese dog correctly. What I mean by that is that this small dog does not respond well to harsh treatment.

So, that means no yelling and no scolding your Maltese pup in training. It is a very laid-back little dog that wants to be treated nicely. I mean, how can anyone treat this little cutie badly anyway?

What Is The Name Of The Maltese Breed’s National Club?

woman carrying her maltese dogwoman carrying her maltese dog

As affectionate and beautiful as they are, Maltese dogs have an entire national club behind their paws.

The American Maltese Association is the national Maltese breed’s club which is an associate and a member of the American Kennel Club (AKC).

So, it is a reputable place that fuses Maltese owners, breeders, and enthusiasts. It gathers Maltese dog experts from all around the U.S. and provides a lot of health information on these wonderful dogs.

The American Maltese Association also provides reputable Maltese breeders that are located in different parts of the United States.

This Maltese breed national club has a variety of services and dog events. Here you can also find the American Maltese Rescue Organization as an associate of the American Maltese Association, as well as other Maltese member clubs.

Not only does the American Maltese Association provide seminars and dog shows but they also educate the public about this incredible small dog breed.

So, aspiring Maltese dog owners that are not sure where to find the best Maltese puppies, can check out the American Maltese Association or some of PupVine’s reputable Maltese breeders in the United States.

Final Words

The Maltese dog breed has been around for centuries. It is an ancient breed with a vivid historical background that many paw lovers find interesting.

Although some historical research is more accurate than others, the Maltese dog that we know today is undoubtedly the world’s most loyal lap dog.

Because this pooch has been around for quite a while, it has inherited some health concerns like skin problems, tear staining, reverse sneezing, and luxating patella. Overall, the modern Maltese dog is doing well. Luckily, it is on the healthier side of small dog breeds with longer lifespans.

Hopefully, this article gave you an insight into “What were Maltese bred for” and made you want to get one too! Trust me, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, and all Maltese-loving nations knew that there is no better canine companion than the Maltese dog!

Make sure to share your new knowledge about the common topic that many paw lovers want to know about — what were Maltese bred for?

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By Andy Marcus

Hello, my name is Andy Marcus, and I am a passionate dog lover and enthusiast. For me, there is nothing quite like the joy and love that a furry friend can bring into our lives. I have spent years studying and learning about dogs, and have made it my mission to share my knowledge and expertise with others through my website. Through my website, I aim to provide comprehensive information and resources for dog owners and enthusiasts. Whether it's training tips, health and nutrition advice, or insights into dog behavior, I strive to create a platform that is accessible and useful to everyone who loves dogs.

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