Are Maltese Smart?

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Are Maltese Smart?To some people, their dog’s intelligence doesn’t really matter. They’re just after a friend, and as long as their dog can understand basic commands and training principles like not going to the bathroom inside, they’re happy. For others, though, a dog’s intelligence can make a huge difference.

If you’re looking to train your dog, use them as an assistance dog or have them perform in agility training, you’ll need to consider a breed’s intelligence when looking for a new pet. In this article, we look at whether the Maltese is an intelligent and smart dog or not.

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Intelligent vs. Smart Dogs: The Difference

As with humans, there is a difference between a smart dog and an intelligent dog. Dog breeds as a whole can be intelligent, meaning that they have a natural predisposition to learning and picking up commands or skills. Individual dogs, however, can be smart. Intelligence is something that dogs may have from birth or that entire breeds may display, whereas ‘smarts’ are based more on what a dog has learned.

For example, a dog that is incredibly understanding of human emotions and reacts accordingly is likely an intelligent dog. This is something that the dog is likely to have just known. A dog who, after days of training, responds to a ‘sit’ command, is smart – the dog has had to have been taught the command.

In short, intelligence is an innate quality in dogs as it is with humans, but smartness can be learned through experience or training.

Determining a Dog’s Intelligence

When breeders and researchers are examining a dog’s intelligence, they will do so following set criteria and a list of rules. This helps to ensure that the ranking is accurate and fair and that it covers more than just the dog’s ability to follow commands.

Usually, the markers of a dog breed’s intelligence include how trainable the dog is, how well the dog can concentrate over a long period of time, how loyal and devoted the dog appears to be to its owners, how chatty the dog is, and how energetic the dog appears.

More specifically, though, researchers will use a canine psychologist’s work to determine how intelligent a dog or breed is. Stanley Coren, a respected researcher, published a book entitled The Intelligence of Dogs, in which he judged canine intellect through a couple of tests.

The first of those tests observed how long it took a dog to completely learn a new command. The fewer times it took for the command to be repeated, Coren believed the smarter the dog. The second of those tests involved ranking dogs on the success rate percentage that a dog would follow a command they knew on the first try.

Coren also writes that there are different types of intelligence in dogs, including kinesthetic intelligence (coordination and body movement), spatial intelligence (thinking about the world in geometric terms), musical intelligence (keeping pace with their owners), intrapersonal intelligence (limitations and strengths), linguistic intelligence (understanding commands and phrases), interpersonal intelligence (communication) and logical-mathematical intelligence (problem-solving).

Coren’s techniques of testing intelligence in canines are quite black and white and can lack nuance. It is possibly the most common technique, though. Generally, people at home judge their dog’s intelligence on a similar basis. Some people argue that this way of testing intelligence is actually testing a dog’s sensitivity, in that a dog that is eager to please will obey commands whereas a dog that cares less may know the command but may choose to not obey it.

How Intelligent Is the Maltese?

When the Maltese was put through Coren’s testing procedures, it demonstrated that the breed has below-average intelligence. The breed ranked 59 out of 79 in their work and obedience tasks.

It achieved this score after demonstrating that the breed needed 25 to 40 attempts to pick up a new command (the smarter dog breeds needed only 5) and had only a 30% success rate with known commands as opposed to the smartest dog breeds which achieved a 95% success rate. The Maltese, at 59, sits below fellow small dogs like the Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Finnish Spitz, and even its cousin, the Bichon Frise!

That’s not to say, though, that the Maltese cannot be trained. You’ll just need a touch more patience if you’re trying to get your Maltese to become an agility champion. You’ll also need a lot of spare time!

How to Tell If Your Maltese Is Intelligent and Smart

Outside of people like Coren’s research, there are a few ways to see if your dog is intelligent or smart. These are simple observations and tests that you can do from home to see if your dog’s reactions follow the responses you were looking for. If your Maltese does any of the following things, then it’s likely that it is.

Can Remember Commands From a Long Time Ago

Have you taught your dog commands and not needed to use them in a while? Practice using these commands with your Maltese again and see if they respond to them. If your dog remembers the command, it suggests that they have a good memory and are likely quite smart.

Can Solve Food Puzzles

Intelligent and smart dogs are very good problem solvers. They have great mathematical-logical thinking and you can see this by challenging them with some food puzzles. These are great enrichment tools, too, and will show you whether your Maltese is a bright dog or not.

Recognizes Guests

A lot of dogs get excited when anyone visits, but if your Maltese recognizes specific people either by name, scent, or appearance, it suggests a high level of intelligence. Dogs that can recognize people have very high interpersonal intelligence levels.

You might also find that your Maltese recognizes his favorite toy or your home – this is also a sign of intelligence. If on a walk your dog gets excited by the sight of your home, it’s a very good sign!

Uses Paws to Their Advantage

We use our hands every day, but dogs don’t really have to use their paws on a regular basis. If your Maltese seems to be using their paws to grab things from under furniture, swipe things towards them, push open doors, move things out of the way, or retrieve their favorite toy, it may well be a sign of intelligence!

How to Make Your Maltese Smarter

If your Maltese doesn’t seem particularly smart, or perhaps you just want to make sure that you’re engaging your pet and want to make them smarter, here are some ways to do it.

Socialize Your dog

Dogs can learn from one another and if you start to socialize your Maltese at an early age, you will expose the dog to new situations, environments, smells, and commands, and allow the dog to soak it all up. Young puppies learn quickly, so make the most of their youth whilst you can!

Provide Continued Exposure to Problem–Solving Tasks

Just as food-related problems and puzzles will help to determine how smart your Maltese is, they are also incredibly useful for improving your dog’s intelligence. They can be great to test and stretch your Maltese’s mind and can keep them from getting bored with their food, too!

Regularly Introduce New Tricks and Commands

If you have trained your Maltese to do all of the commands that you wanted them to learn, it’s recommended that you continue teaching them anyway. Teaching new commands regularly can help to keep your Maltese engaged and stimulated and will make them more intelligent over time.

Training your dog is also a great way to ensure you’re spending quality time together and continuing to solidify the bond between you. Try teaching them fun tricks like ‘speak’ or ‘play dead’; there’s always plenty for them to learn!


Malteses are not particularly intelligent dogs, but they can be trained to be fairly smart. With regular work, patience, effort, and time, a Maltese can learn plenty of tricks and commands. They will need a lot of teaching, and may need positive reinforcement, but will get there eventually.

If you are looking for similar, smarter breeds you can always opt for a related breed like the Bichon Frise, or an equally small breed like the Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, or Finnish Spitz, all of whom score higher on the Canine Intelligence Test.

It’s also worth considering, for those unfamiliar with training dogs, hiring a professional to help you in the training process with your Maltese. Experts are likely to know what will and will not work and can help you socialize, train, and work with your Maltese to get them to reach the fullest of their abilities.

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