Adorable, vibrant and tiny, the Maltese and the toy poodle are both appealing little dogs. On the surface, it would seem these two breeds have much in common -- and they do. However, quite a few differences distinguish the Maltese from the poodle. History, health concerns and coat maintenance are a few of the areas where these little dogs' characteristics are dissimilar.
If you're looking at a fuzzy little dog, you will be excused for not knowing at first glance whether the dog is a toy poodle or a Maltese. The Maltese stands 8 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 4 and 7 pounds. The toy poodle is about the same height, though he may carry up to 10 pounds on his frame. The poodle is available in a wider range of colors than the Maltese, who tends to be white or tan. The toy poodle may wear a black, white, brown, gray or silver coat, like the other, larger poodle breeds, the standard and miniature.
Personalitywise, it's hard to lose when you're choosing between a toy poodle and a Maltese. The Maltese literally was bred to be a companion, and he excels at his role. Very intelligent and playful, he'll respond well to training and will enjoy showing off whatever tricks you're able to teach him. The toy poodle is a smarty-pants, sporting a happy-go-lucky nature. His intelligence means he takes to training quickly; however, he may have a stubborn streak since he can think for himself. Both of these guys are devoted to their people, wanting little more than to hang out with their families. Small children, if they play rough, can be hard on either the toy poodle or the Maltese.
Maltese have been around for centuries, charming people around the globe for 2,000 years. From the Mediterranean island of Malta, Maltese were valued greatly enough to be traded by the Greeks and Romans, and were presented as gifts to China's emperor by the Holy Roman emperor. Occasionally Maltese had work to do, such as serving as magnets for fleas in the wealthy European homes they graced. Maltese history isn't as storied in the United States, where they gained registry into the American Kennel Club in 1888. Poodles, meanwhile, have had their share of fans, including King Louis XVI of France. The French were especially fond of toy poodles and thought of them more as companion -- as opposed to in their native Germany, where they were bred as water retrievers. All three sizes of poodle were recognized by the AKC in 1887.
Keep Your Brush Handy
The Maltese and the poodle have very different coats, but they'red both high-maintenance dogs when it comes to grooming. You might be impressed with the Maltese you see strutting around in a dog show; but his long, silky hair requires daily grooming because it tangles very easily. Many Maltese owners elect to keep their dogs clipped, a proposition that's much less grooming-intensive. The poodle's curly coat requires regular clipping -- approximately every 6 to 8 weeks -- as well as daily brushing because it mats easily. Let a professional do the clipping on these dogs. You may want to cord your poodle, allowing his hair to naturally grow into cords, but that also takes work. Both dogs will develop tangled, matted coats if not tended to, possibly leading to skin infections. On the upside, neither dog sheds much, so there's not much vacuuming or sweeping up to do behind your pup.
Every dog has potential health problems, and many purebred dogs are predisposed to specific conditions. The Maltese is vulnerable to portosystemic shunt, a congenital liver defect, as well as "shaker dog syndrome," a condition causing the dog to tremble uncontrollably, particularly when he tries to stand or move. The toy poodle is prone to Addison's disease and Cushing's syndrome, as well as hypothyroidism, hemophilia and von Willebrand disease. Small dogs in general are prone to luxating patellas and periodontal disease due to their small, crowded mouths. Despite the potential health problems, the toy poodle and Maltese each have long life spans of 14 to 18 years.