How Smart is a Maltese Dog?

Maltese dog looking at his food

How Smart is a Maltese Dog?

Every Maltese dog owner will tell you that Maltese dog is smart and intelligent. It is a general rule of thumb that every loving dog owner tends to be partial to their breed. We often see dog owners who carry this as a blanket statement for all dogs in that particular breed. You hear them say, “how dare you to insinuate that my Maltese is dumb?” 


Generally speaking, Maltese is fairly intelligent. From the book “The Intelligence of Dogs,” psychologist and author Stanley Coren ranked Maltese dogs 59 out of 79. This ranking was under the working or obedience type intelligence. Coren considered this breed only fair in their obedience and working ability. In this regard, the Maltese share an equal ranking with the Brussels griffon.  

The major question has always been whether we can quantify the intelligence of dogs accurately. 


Like we stated earlier, Maltese ranks 59 out of 79 in the obedience or working intelligence results. This is just one aspect of canine intelligence. The best contenders in this category include Border Collie, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. This ranking is based on the ability of the dogs to understand and remember simple new commands. It also involves the reliability of the dog to follow these commands. 


In other words, the dog breeds that ranks low in this test comes off as stubborn and likely untrainable by their handlers. Examples in this category include Bulldog, Basset Hound, Basiji, etc. Maltese takes up to 25 repetitions on average to understand the new commands. They also require extended practice for them to master the commands. 


Naturally, Maltese dogs were selectively raised to court human attention in the comfort of their homes. They were not bred to hunt vermin or shepherd livestock or serve as guard dogs. Therefore, it is only natural to underperform in the duties associated with more “dependable” work breeds. 



Using Coren’s intelligence criteria, the judges were able to evaluate and rank several dog breeds. This criterion was solely based on obedience and working intelligence. Here are Coren’s criteria:

  • The number of repetitions required for a dog to learn a particular command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions were ranked higher on the list.
  • What is the success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt? A higher success rate meant that the dog was more intelligent and obedient. 

Maltese dogs will obey a command on the first try with a 30% or better success rate. This doesn’t show that the Maltese aren’t smart; rather, it only tells you that they not so obedient due to their stubborn nature. Some dog breeds in the same intelligence class as the Maltese include the Pug, Chihuahua, Saint Bernard, and Great Pyrenees.


Most of the Maltese owners we interviewed believe that their dog is smart. Then, how come Maltese ranked low on Coren’s intelligence test? The truth is, when it comes to IQ, it is difficult to standardize a test. Coren tried to calculate a dog’s IQ strictly on obedience and working intelligence. 


Although the approach is a great start, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t answer the question, “how smart is a Maltese dog?” Obedience and working IQ is the easiest to measure objectively, this it was used. That a Maltese doesn’t obey a command does not mean Maltese is not smart. 


Maltese’s performance could be attributed to their stubborn and independent nature. The Maltese have been known to have a stubborn personality, meaning they will always want to get their way. They often engage in “protest” until they get what they want. Maltese dogs can go on their stubborn streaks from time to time; therefore, extra patience is needed when dealing with them. 

Their stubborn nature makes sense that a Maltese wouldn’t perform well under Coren’s intelligence test. 



Aside from the obedience and working intelligence employed by StableyCoren, there is so much more to canine intelligence. The other two dimensions of canine intelligence include adaptive and intuitive intelligence. If you truly want to measure a dog’s true IQ, then adaptive and intuitive intelligence is indispensable. The major problem is that they are less objective, thus making them harder to measure.


This breed was originally bred in Malta to hunt pesty rodents and other vermin, mostly in factories. They were once cold-hearted hunters that would track and eliminate pests in factories. The Maltese innate ability to track and hunt vermin can be classified as their intuitive intelligence. Most Maltese owners attested to the fact that their dogs still exhibit their prey drive from the past. 

  • Maltese adaptive intelligence

Adaptive intelligence is the ability of the dog to learn for itself. It is arguably the most important aspect of canine intelligence. How smart is a Maltese to learn from past experiences? You must note that adaptive intelligence in Maltese can vary greatly. Although all Maltese may have their instincts to hunt, not all of them will have a high adaptive IQ. 

  • Maltese in dog sports 

There are good compilations of Maltese dogs performing in dog sports. You can check the American Maltese Association for videos of these dogs taking part in seemingly tough sports activities. Examples of the sports include Obedience, Rally, Agility, Lure coursing, Barn Hunt, Trick Dog, Nose work, Weight pull, and freestyle. 


You should not pick a dog strictly based on intelligence. All dogs, including the Maltese, can provide you with everything you want in a companion and family pet. How smart is a Maltese dog doesn’t have to be why you need to get the dog. Unless a dog is specifically trained for a specific job, there is no reason to go for a “smart” dog. Instead, it would be best if you considered the temperament and personality of the dog. 


There is currently no reliable indicator of the true intelligence of any dog breed. However, we provide a reasonable guess on how trainable a dog breed can be compared to another. Meanwhile, it doesn’t necessarily mean one breed is dumber than the other. Since these studies were conducted for only pure breeds, it becomes even more unpredictable for mixed breeds. In the end, Maltese dogs are smart, and so are all other dogs.

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