How the Maltese Got Their Topknot

I am going to give you an interesting history lesson about topknots throughout the years.

Originally, Maltese didn’t have topknots; they were actually just parted to each side of the head as seen in some of the pictures. As time went on, some people started using yarn to hold the hair in place. Eventually, the yarn became bows tying the hair. Then someone decided to start wrapping the hair in rubber bands, so it would be easier to hold the bows rather than tying a bow to the hair. From there someone (or fashion) decided it was easier to make a small square of netting to go over the hair to protect it from the rubber bands breaking the hair. Not long after, a little square of wax paper took over where the netting left off. So, the horn was developed with a bow attached! These were gently placed up the skull and to each side. They had such a beautiful expression with nothing overdone. The bows gently enhanced their face and adoring eyes. In those days, a lot of people used red, blue, pink or purple bows.

My mother, Rena Martin, thought black would enhance the expression of the coal nose and black eyes, and started using black ribbon for the bows. Many people followed suit as it looked wonderful for the pure white Maltese and the black contrast. However, as time went on (and Poodle people got involved) their creativity carried through. First, they started teasing the ear hair to frame the face; usually, the faces of longer muzzles saw more teasing to balance the head. Then to change the look of flatter heads, or longer muzzles, the teasing of the actual topknot bubble started growing. At one point, some handlers added cotton balls or hair from the brush to create a bigger skull or shorter muzzle! That fad went out the door when the judges were made aware of what was happening. At one specialty, the judge started throwing dogs out of the ring for teasing, cotton balls, and hairspray! As the years went on, people started making the topknots like unicorns and they kept growing to meet the nose! The Maltese started looking like cartoon characters!

When the Internet began to flourish, Maltese started to flourish in other countries where other standards are used—not our AKC standard. Like everything else, exaggeration became the fashion; the bigger the better. The topknots grew higher, the eyes got bigger and buggier, and the noses got shorter and shorter. The look became more and more like Shih Tzu or Pekingese, which is totally different than our standard states. So, for whatever reason, people copied and have made our topknots be entire heads that form globes. The heads with the topknots of today are totally round in front and in back, and the entire topknot is a single round adornment. The entire head is teased and extended over the muzzles! This is a far cry from what our standard calls for. Some of the dogs have a mean look to them. Hopefully, in time, we will go back to a very gentle, pleasing Maltese look. If the breeders breed to the standard and not to the fashion it will be easy! Look beyond the topknot for a proper head!

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  • Daryl Martin was born into the world of show dogs. Under the tutelage of her late mother, Rena Martin, a renowned professional handler and breeder of Maltese, she quickly became very proficient in the world of breeding and showing dogs. She started showing dogs at six years old. Ms. Martin continued the family breeding program after her mother passed away in 1986, and has bred close to over 100 champions, including Best in Show winners, Group winners, several number one Maltese, National Specialty Best in Show winners, Sweeps winners, and many Register of Merit dogs and bitches. Some standouts in her breeding program are BIS Ch. Martin’s RazzMaTazz Puff, BIS BISS Ch. Martin’s Sazerac Tedi-Bear Puff, Ch. Martin’s Sweet Bean Puff, Ch. Martin’s Glimmer Bean Puff, Ch. Martin’s Fourhall’s Gleam Puff. Ms. Martin says, “I cannot go without mentioning two very powerful dogs in my breeding program that I had the honor of showing/owning; BIS Ch. Sazerac Eye Opener ROMX and BIS BISS Ch. Joanne-chen’s Mino Maya Dancer. Many breeders of today’s top dogs go directly to my dogs, if you check their pedigrees many generations back.” Ms. Martin has been a member of the American Maltese Association for 50 years, serving in many different capacities, and was honored with the American Maltese Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been an AKC Gazette columnist, as well as longtime Chairman of the Education Committee, working to educate future judges about the Maltese. Ms. Martin also belongs to the American Shih Tzu Club, is a founding member of the Park Shore Kennel Club, a current member and officer of the Little Fort Kennel Club of Waukegan, and a member of Morris and Essex. Ms. Martin says, “Besides showing Maltese and competition, there is nothing more satisfying than your pet homes loving your dogs.”

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