Are Maltese Hunting Dogs: the Surprisingly Fierce History of This Tiny Pup

Take one look at the lovable, fluffy, pint-sized white Maltese dog and most people immediately think “lap dog.”

This is mostly true. For most Maltese owners, their primary motivation to own one of these adorable dogs is to have a companion at home and in daily life.

But the Maltese dog breed wasn’t always an indoor dog breed. This purebred dog has a surprisingly diverse background, which includes experience with hunting!

In this article, learn about the origins and history of the Maltese dog breed and what types of hunting skills this small dog can develop.

Are Maltese Hunting Dogs?

While the majority of modern Maltese dogs are destined for a life in a warm lap somewhere, these dogs actually have a hunting and working dog lineage.

The Maltese dog breed is descended from a very long and ancient line of spitz-type sled dogs that were also used to help with hunting and retrieving.

So while most people don’t have any intentions of using their Maltese as a hunting dog, the possibility definitely exists if you are interested.

Are Maltese Hunting Dogs

Meet a Maltese Hunting Dog

In this video made by a professional dog trainer, you can meet a very small bird dog in training named Lola.

Lola is a Maltese and she is learning how to do scent (nose) work and retriever work.

The Maltese Have More Than One Hunting Dog Ancestor

According to Mental Floss, the Maltese dog breed has amassed what can only be described as an impressive amount of nicknames.

Lion Dog, Comforter Dog, Shock Dog, Sleeves Dog – it might almost seem like these names are describing two entirely separate dog breeds.

But as it turns out, the Maltese is such an ancient dog breed that they have had to reinvent themselves time and time again.

On that note, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), this dog breed likely got its start all the way back in 1,500 B.C.!

Depending on who you ask (and which account of history they have read), the Maltese were either descended from a spitz dog or a spaniel dog. But in either case, both the spitz and the spaniel breed lines are working dog lines.

And both are prized as hunting dogs. In fact, both spitz dogs and spaniels are great retrievers and flushers, which means they can get the hidden games to leave their hiding place or alert their human hunting partners to the prey’s location.

At some point, the Maltese breed line was also crossed with terriers. This simply served to enhance their hunting abilities, as terriers are incredibly effective at hunting small prey like rodents, as Black Dog Outfitters points out.

Some breeders and owners still call these dogs Maltese terriers for exactly this reason, although it would be more precise to call them Maltese spitz spaniels terriers in that case.

Maltese Make Great Watch Dogs

Many fans of the Maltese dog today do not realize these dogs have hunting abilities. But most people who own Maltese dogs are well aware of their watchdog tendencies.

As PetMD explains, the Maltese makes a very alert and vocal watchdog. These dogs never hesitate to sound the alarm if a strange person or animal approaches.

Sometimes this can even cause problems because the Maltese can be a high-strung dog to start with and is easily prone to developing anxiety issues. Separation anxiety is a particular concern with the Maltese, as World Dog Finder explains.

And as Vetstreet points out, the Maltese has a definite talent for barking. Their strong tendency to bark at anything and everything is one reason they can do well as both hunting dogs and watchdogs.

Hunting Athletics That Maltese Dogs Can Enjoy

Even if you don’t have any interest in training your Maltese dog to be a working hunting dog, these naturally athletic dogs can really enjoy participating in canine athletics that feature their innate hunting skills.

As the American Maltese Association explains, despite these dogs’ long hair coats, they are excellent canine athletes.

Here is a list of canine athletics events that Maltese dogs frequently participate in and excel at:


Obedience training will always be the foundation of any other skill you want your Maltese to learn, including hunting.

The Maltese dog may be very smart, but they are also known to be stubborn. These dogs have been spoiled for centuries and they seem to be born knowing it.

So you always want to start with a very firm foundation in basic commands before building on that foundation to develop another specific skill set.


The rally is a canine athletics discipline where your Maltese is your partner in navigating through a set number of stations, each with its own associated commands and performance measures.

Rally is a particularly great type of canine athletics to foster close teamwork between you and your dog.


Like Rally, Agility requires you and your dog to partner together to complete an athletic course.

You will give your dog commands as your Maltese runs, jumps, turns, and navigates an increasingly difficult series of maneuvers.

Lure coursing

Lure coursing is a canine athletics event that really brings out a Maltese dog’s natural hunting abilities. The goal is for your Maltese to successfully chase a lure through a field.

Your Maltese will need to employ speed, accuracy, focus, athletic endurance, and sighting skills to excel at lure coursing.

Barn hunt

The barn hunt is another canine athletics discipline that seems tailor-made for the Maltese dog’s terrier and spaniel background.

The barn hunt requires each canine contestant to navigate various hay bales and a tunnel to locate a hidden rodent (who is safely held inside a tube so the dog can’t harm it).

Weighted pulling

While you might not think that a Maltese dog could possibly compete in any type of event requiring pulling a heavyweight, these dogs actually can do quite well in this sport!

Weighted pulling gives a nod to the spitz dog background in the Maltese breed. Dogs use a harness that safely distributes the weight being pulled.

Nose work

Nose work is another vital skill for hunting dogs and it is a skill Maltese dogs typically excel at.

Sometimes also called scent work, nose work contests require each dog to search an area to locate a predetermined scent.

Canine tricks

Maltese dogs are naturals at learning tricks and they love the attention of performing those tricks for their people.

Competing in canine tricks contests nicely pulls together skills from many of the other athletic events, including rally, agility, and obedience.

Canine freestyle

The relatively new sport of canine freestyle pairs a human with a dog to create a customized, unique routine that showcases their close working partnership.

The routines are called presentations and are typically set to music. The canine-human team performs in front of judges and a live audience.

How to Train a Maltese Hunting Dog

Enrolling your Maltese in any of the canine athletics mentioned in the previous section here can help your dog begin to develop their natural hunting talents into useful skills.

The specific type of training you provide should match the specific type of hunting you plan to do together. A Maltese is a small dog and tends to do best-hunting birds and very small mammal prey such as rodents.

As Gun Dog Magazine outlines, it is important to build a firm foundation for your Maltese puppy, starting with basic skills like obedience.

It will be important to crate train your Maltese so you have a safe and secure way to transport your dog to and from the areas where you plan to hunt together.

Your Maltese will also need to go through desensitization training so they won’t get startled or scared at the sound of gunfire.

The same type of desensitization training can help your Maltese learn to handle still-alive prey without flinching or dropping the prey when it moves or makes noise.

The Best Haircut for a Hunting Maltese Dog

The Maltese dog has become popular in recent years among people who want a dog that does not shed.

The Maltese breed actually does shed, but because the coat is so long, the hairs get trapped in the surrounding coat and do not fall out.

As any Maltese show dog owner will tell you, keeping a Maltese in a long show coat requires a tremendous amount of maintenance work in terms of brushing, detangling, and managing the coat.

If you want to train your Maltese to hunt with you, you are going to want to seriously consider keeping your dog’s coat in a short puppy clip for safety and time’s sake.

There is certainly no requirement to involve your Maltese in hunting or canine athletics. But both provide a fun opportunity to bond with your dog.