Look at the lovable, fluffy, pint-sized white Maltese dog and most immediately think “lap dog.”
This is primarily true. Most Maltese owners’ 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, including hunting experience!
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 most modern Maltese dogs are destined for a life in a warm lap somewhere, these dogs 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 exists if you are interested.
Meet a Maltese Hunting Dog
In this video made by a professional dog trainer, you can meet a tiny bird dog named Lola in training.
Lola is a Maltese and is learning how to do scent (nose) 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 seem like these names describe 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 repeatedly.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), this dog breed likely started in 1,500 B.C.!
Depending on who you ask (and which account of history they have read), the Maltese descended from a spitz or 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. Both spitz dogs and spaniels are excellent 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. As Black Dog Outfitters points out, this enhanced their hunting abilities, as terriers are incredibly effective at hunting small prey like rodents.
Some breeders and owners still call these dogs Maltese terriers for this reason, although it would be more precise to call them Maltese spitz spaniel terriers.
Maltese Make Great WatchDogs
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 have a talent for barking. Their strong tendency to bark at anything and everything is one reason they can do well as 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 enjoy participating in canine athletics that feature their innate hunting skills.
The American Maltese Association explains that 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 brilliant but is also known to be stubborn. These dogs have been spoiled for centuries and 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 associated commands and performance measures.
Rally is an excellent type of canine athletics to foster close teamwork between you and your dog.
Like Rally, Agility requires you and your dog to partner to complete an athletic course.
You will give your dog commands as your Maltese runs, jumps, turns, and navigates an increasingly complex series of maneuvers.
Lure coursing is a canine athletics event that brings out a Maltese dog’s natural hunting abilities. The goal is for your Maltese to chase a lure through a field successfully.
Your Maltese will need to employ speed, accuracy, focus, athletic endurance, and sighting skills to excel at lure coursing.
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).
While you might not think that a Maltese dog could compete in any event requiring pulling a heavyweight, these dogs can do quite well in this sport!
They weighted pulling nods to the spitz dog background in the Maltese breed. Dogs use a harness that safely distributes the weight being pulled.
Nose work is another vital skill for hunting dogs and a skill Maltese dogs typically excel at.
Sometimes called scent work, nose work contests require dogs to search an area to locate a predetermined scent.
Maltese dogs are natural 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 rallies, agility, and obedience.
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 canine athletics mentioned in the previous section can help your dog develop their natural hunting talents into valuable skills.
The specific type of training you provide should match the type of hunting you plan to do together. A Maltese is a small dog and tends to do best-hunting birds and tiny mammal prey such as rodents.
As Gun Dog Magazine outlines, building a firm foundation for your Maltese puppy is essential, starting with basic skills like obedience.
It will be necessary 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 undergo 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 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 will want to seriously consider keeping your dog’s coat in a short puppy clip for safety and time’s sake.
There is no requirement to involve your Maltese in hunting or canine athletics. But both provide a fun opportunity to bond with your dog.