Thank you TNT, Bonnie, and the AMA for asking me to write this. It is always a pleasure and an honor to be invited to write about dogs, particularly the Toy Dogs, where type is defined by many, many details.
The Maltese is clearly one of the most beautiful of the Toy dogs and also one of the most difficult to breed and show. Judges have little, if any, input on breeding programs other than by rewarding the dogs presented to them in the show ring. This actually can be a bad thing for breeds because we often must award winners to dogs we really know could and should be better, yet that’s what is there for us to sort. The winners may be good, but they may also be the best of a sad lot because there are no other options. When those become champions, they may be bred together and produce much of the same, and the cycle continues. So, please be reminded, the biggest burden for judging the Maltese correctly lies with the breeders who are in charge of the direction of their breed. For we can only judge what you bring to us.
When judging, it is rather easy to identify a really wonderful example of the breed, yet it is RARE to have one. The wonderful ones jump out because they will be a true Toy dog, clothed head to toe with a silky, white coat and a strikingly beautiful, moderate head with round skull, round black eyes with black eye rims, and a black nose. They will be fine-boned, compact in body, ribs well sprung, level in back with its plumed tail carried over the back, but with the tip lying to the side (not flat on the back).
The correct Maltese may appear slightly longer than tall to many, because the standard measures the body as being equal from the withers to the ground as from withers to the root of tail. With proper, moderate angulation, front and rear, to my eye, this appears longer than tall.
I am always hoping to see the Maltese presented so as to allow its lively and playful nature to come through in the ring. I realize it is difficult to keep the coat lying perfectly while allowing the dog to act naturally, but when a Maltese does it on its own and then flows around the ring with little movement on the topline, high head carriage and nice reach and drive, it is a sight to behold.
The coat must be silky without any undercoat. It must be white, pure white. Even color on the ears is discouraged. It must be carried flat and silky over the sides of the body, and it should be long. The frosting on the cake is when you have all this and the dog has furnishings nearly to the floor—and a coat that hangs beyond the floor. With all the “products” that are readily available and used today, and the use of irons, seldom is the correct coat seen. This, undoubtedly, comes back to haunt, for there is little incentive to breed for the right coat.
These are the details that make up type for the ideal Maltese. As judges, our challenge is to sort through those that are NOT ideal. Based on my hands-on experience with this breed as a breeder for Carol Frances Andersen’s Sand Island Kennels, as a Professional Handler of Maltese, and as a Toy Dog Judge since 1995, I have determined this list of priorities when judging the Maltese, in this order:
- Coat Texture and Color
- Overall Balance
- Topline, Tail
- Head, Pigment