Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Why You Do and Don't Want a Maltese Dog

I live with the most wonderful little dog in the world. He is a Maltese named Scooter and he is preciously adorable, smart, playful, loving, and all-around delightful. However, when my husband was asked by a coworker if he recommended the Maltese as a breed, he said, “Absolutely not!”

Imagine my surprise!

“My Maltese baby is the light of my life, my little precious angel, the most adorably wonderful dog I ever met! Why on earth would my husband tell others to stay away from the breed?” I wondered as I cuddled my soft snugglebunny.

Then I forced myself to take a step back from the ridiculous dog-crush I have on my Scootiebug and evaluate him logically. In truth, I have to admit, my baby dog’s breed has its faults.

First of all, if you are considering a Maltese, be certain you can treat him like a big dog, not like the sweet baby you know in your heart that he is. A small dog that is over-pampered and overly catered to can become a holy terror of need---a barking, snappish, dependent, terrified little bundle of noise and teeth.

It is vital that babydog walks from room to room and explores the world like a big dog. She’s tougher than you think and needs the socialization that comes from four feet on the ground and interaction with a variety of people, situations, and other dogs. She needs to know that her place in the world is a confident one and that she has nothing to be afraid of.

Also, Maltese are prone to separation anxiety through no fault of their own. We create these needy little bark machines when we make the dog feel like every departure is the end of the world. If you have a freak-out fit of weepiness and cuddling before you leave him, he’ll learn to associate your departure with horrible emotional turmoil. Downplay your comings and goings from the house as if it is absolutely no big deal to you, so that he too will be totally cool with your leaving and coming home.

Of course, I understand that your heart breaks completely at being separated from your little angel for more than a few minutes but never show that to the dog.  Wait until you are in the car, then collapse into a pool of quivering emotion as you clutch his photograph. Just never let him see it! Ever! You are a person and understand that you are coming back. He is a dog and will only understand what you teach him. Teach him to be cool and confident with your routine and he will be happy all day long. Teach him to fear your departure and wonder if you are ever coming back any time you walk out the door and he will bark and cry all day long, making him seriously unhappy and fragile and making your neighbors furious.

In the same way, be wary of over-comforting Little Bit when he is upset or afraid. Doing so only reinforces the idea to him that the thing he fears truly is every bit as terrifying as he believes it to be. This leads to incessant barking at said vacuum cleaner or visitor or bug or raindrop. These things should be no big deal at all to a well-adjusted dog. Worse, should your baby decide that you need his protection from the terrifying world, you  can expect him to leap to your defense by barking at or even worse biting everyone who attempts to hug, kiss, talk to, or otherwise interact with you. You can forget having a love life if your dog decides he is your personal bodyguard.

Maltese are also much smarter than they get credit for. Dogs are frequently judged by how willing they are to learn and perform as the measure of their intelligence. Well, I’ve had smart dogs and dumb sweethearts and I have to say Scooter is a very intelligent little dog. However, as much as a Maltese knows, he is often too stubborn to be very obedient. Scooter knows lots of tricks but refuses to work without immediate food reward. Plus, the Maltese can be a pain to house train because of his small bladder and tendency to just pee wherever the hell he wants. I highly recommend crate training and indoor pee pads. Scooter will hold his poop pretty well until he goes outside, but uses a variety of pee pads through the house . . . usually. If you aren’t good with this, don’t get a Maltese. On the upside, they are very little dogs and their messes are also very little. Just deal with it.

When Scooter was a puppy, I made every attempt to socialize him as a confident dog. Now that he is grown, he handles separation very well. To the best of my knowledge, he is quiet at home alone and is content to pretty much sleep and gnaw on chew sticks while we are away. However, he does have a tendency to be vocal (that means bark his fool head off) when we have visitors until he is certain they present no threat. He also warns us whenever there is a moth in the house. This makes him a great guard dog; unfortunately the volume and timbre of his bark gets right under my husband’s skin. I have to vacuum the house with the dog outside or in another room entirely. In Scooter’s world, that vacuum cleaner is the spawn of Satan and must die a horrible death, pulled apart by tiny dog teeth. I think it is adorable.

Despite its challenges, the breed has many wonderfully positive traits that more than make up for their tendency to develop small dog syndrome. They do not shed and have the softest, most luxurious coats ever. If you’ll keep him bathed twice a month and trimmed up in a puppy cut every six weeks or so, he’ll have a relatively easy-care coat that is about as hypoallergenic as a dog gets.

But the best thing about a Maltese is she loves your lap. Well over two thousand years of breeding nothing but cuddly sweethearts culminates in your very own precious white bundle of snuggledom.

A Maltese loves to cuddle against you and sleep and stretch in precious ways. There is no place on earth she prefers to your arms as you walk around the house, and she’s small enough to carry everywhere (even though you shouldn’t since she’s a big dog and sometimes needs to walk like a big dog so she will remember that). Everything a Maltese does is precious to watch. They play and tumble and cuddle like perpetual puppies that never grow up, especially with a short cut. They also don’t need much room to exercise. A game of fetch in the living room can be enough to wear them out. Top that off with a round of tricks to work their brain and most of their excess energy will be consumed so you can lie on the couch and watch TV or read a book together in cuddly bliss.

Sadly, it is the Maltese’s complete adorability that is its worst enemy. It’s so easy to smother them in love that they become spoiled terrors who bark incessantly for even more attention. Apartment dwellers choose them because they are small and don’t need a lot of space. However, those barks can pierce walls and the neighbors will complain constantly if the dog is unhappy alone. If you aren’t willing to put in the effort to make sure your baby dog is well-socialized and trained, stay away from the Maltese.

In both Australia and Seoul, South Korea, the Maltese is the number one breed dumped at dog shelters, usually due to barkiness. This fact is particularly heartbreaking because these dogs adore their owners so completely. The owner creates a dog who is terrified of being alone, then because the dog barks constantly when alone, the owner dumps the dog in a shelter---alone and without the owner it needs so desperately. I donate each month to Maltese Rescue to help unfortunate sweethearts like these find homes with new owners who can love them through the rough spots until they are happy little dogs again.

My Scooter brings me so much joy each and every day and loves me so thoroughly that I could not imagine owning another breed. I have had other wonderful breeds and dogs that I loved with all my heart, but Scooter is special. The mix of intelligence, adorability, personality, and cuddliness in a Maltese can’t be matched. For those willing to invest themselves in their dogs (and willing to put up with some crap --- sometimes literally), I cannot recommend a Maltese highly enough.