When it comes to evaluating the intelligence of dogs, there are various factors to consider. Intelligence in dogs is often measured based on their ability to learn commands, problem-solving skills, and their overall adaptability to different situations. While some dog breeds are known for their exceptional intelligence and trainability, others may rank lower on the intelligence scale. One such breed that often falls into the latter category is the Maltese. Although they are incredibly lovable and make great companions, Malteses are not typically regarded as the most intelligent dogs.

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind their lower intelligence rankings and delve into the Maltese dog breed's information and personality traits to answer the question, "Are Maltese smart?" While Maltese dogs may not rank high in traditional intelligence tests, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to their lower rankings. We will discuss their independent thinking, selective focus, sensitivity, adaptability, and affectionate nature, which all play a role in their perceived intelligence. By examining these traits, we can gain a better understanding of the intelligence of Maltese dogs and appreciate the unique qualities they bring as companions. So, let's dive into the world of Maltese dogs and explore the question, "Are Maltese smart?"

Understanding Dog Intelligence

Before discussing the intelligence of Malteses specifically, it is essential to understand how dog intelligence is measured. Stanley Coren, a renowned canine psychologist, developed a widely accepted ranking system to assess dog intelligence.

This system is based on a dog's working or obedience intelligence and their ability to learn new commands with minimal repetition. Coren's system categorizes dogs into three groups:

  • Bright dogs: These dogs are highly trainable and can learn new commands with fewer than five repetitions. They are quick learners and can understand new tasks in less than five exposures. Breeds like Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds typically fall into this category.
  • Intermediate dogs: Dogs in this category require 5 to 15 repetitions to understand and learn new commands. While they may not be as quick as the bright dogs, they are still considered above average in terms of trainability. Breeds like the Boxer and Dalmatian often fall into this group.
  • Low dogs: This category includes dogs that rank lower in terms of intelligence and trainability. These dogs require more than 15 repetitions to understand new commands and may have a harder time adapting to new tasks. It is important to note that low intelligence does not imply that these dogs are not affectionate or incapable of forming strong bonds with their owners.

Coren's Dog Intelligence Criteria

Coren's Dog Intelligence Criteria, as developed by Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology and an expert on dog behavior, outline a framework for assessing and ranking dog breeds based on their working and obedience intelligence. Coren's criteria are based on the understanding that different dog breeds have varying levels of intelligence and that intelligence can be measured through observable behaviors and trainability. The criteria include the following components:

  • Understanding of New Commands: This criterion measures how quickly a dog breed can learn and understand new commands. Breeds that can learn and respond to new commands within five or fewer repetitions are considered highly intelligent in this aspect.
  • Obedience: Obedience refers to a dog's ability to obey a known command the first time it is given. This criterion assesses how likely a breed is to obey a command immediately, without needing multiple repetitions or corrections.
  • Working and Job Performance: This criterion evaluates the breeds' ability to perform tasks related to their working roles or jobs. Dogs that were historically bred for specific working purposes, such as herding, hunting, or guarding, are expected to excel in this category if they can perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.

It is important to note that Coren's criteria primarily focus on working and obedience intelligence, which involve trainability, learning, and responsiveness to commands. The criteria do not encompass other aspects of intelligence, such as problem-solving skills, adaptability, or instinctive intelligence specific to certain tasks or roles.

Based on his research and analysis of data from obedience trial judges, Coren published a book titled "The Intelligence of Dogs" in which he ranked various dog breeds based on their performance in these intelligence criteria. The rankings placed certain breeds, such as Border Collies and Poodles, among the top in terms of working and obedience intelligence, while other breeds, including the Maltese, ranked lower in comparison.

It is important to approach these rankings with an understanding that intelligence is multifaceted and can vary based on different factors, including individual dog traits and training techniques. Each breed possesses unique qualities and characteristics that make them suitable for specific roles and as companions, regardless of their ranking in specific intelligence tests.

Maltese Dogs and Intelligence

The Maltese is a small toy breed known for its luxurious white coat, compact size, and charming personality. They have a rich history dating back to ancient times, and they were highly regarded by aristocracy and royalty. While they may not top the intelligence charts, they excel in other areas, such as companionship and loyalty.

Maltese dogs, characterized by their small size, silky white coat, and playful demeanor, often rank low on intelligence tests. However, this does not mean they lack intelligence entirely. Malteses possess unique qualities and traits that make them stand out, even if their intelligence scores do not place them at the top of the list.

Independent Thinkers

One reason Maltese dogs may rank lower in intelligence tests is their independent nature. Unlike some breeds that thrive on constant direction and obedience, Malteses are known for their strong-willed personalities. This independent thinking can sometimes be perceived as stubbornness during training sessions, leading to lower scores on obedience intelligence tests.

Selective Focus

Maltese dogs have a reputation for being easily distracted. Their curious nature can lead them to explore their surroundings and lose focus on training tasks. This tendency to prioritize exploration and playfulness over obedience can affect their scores on obedience and working intelligence tests.

Sensitivity and Emotionality

Malteses are highly sensitive and emotionally attuned dogs. While this makes them excellent companions, it can also affect their performance in intelligence tests. Their sensitivity can make them more reactive to stimuli, resulting in heightened distraction or anxiety during testing scenarios.


Despite their lower rankings in certain intelligence tests, Maltese dogs display remarkable adaptability. They can easily adjust to different living environments, making them suitable for various households, including apartments or houses with limited space. Their ability to adapt to new situations, although not specifically measured in intelligence tests, is a valuable quality for a companion dog.

Affectionate and Loving Nature

Maltese dogs are renowned for their loving and affectionate nature. They form strong bonds with their owners and thrive on human companionship. While not directly related to intelligence, this emotional connection with their humans adds immeasurable value to the breed.

The Value of Maltese Dogs as Companions

While Maltese dogs may rank low on certain intelligence tests, they possess qualities that make them exceptional companions:

  • Affection and Loyalty: Maltese dogs are known for their unwavering love and loyalty towards their owners. Their strong bond with humans fosters a deep connection and makes them incredibly devoted companions.
  • Playfulness and Energy: Despite their small size, Malteses are full of energy and love to play. Their playful nature can bring joy and entertainment to their owners, making them ideal companions for families, including children.
  • Adaptability: Maltese dogs adapt well to different living environments, including apartments and houses with limited space. Their adaptability makes them suitable for various lifestyles, ensuring they can thrive in different situations.
  • Low Maintenance: The Maltese breed has a single-layered, silky white coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting. However, they are non-shedding dogs, making them suitable for individuals with allergies or those who prefer a cleaner living environment.

How to Make Your Maltese Smart

While the Maltese breed may not be ranked among the top in terms of traditional dog intelligence, it's important to remember that intelligence is not solely determined by genetics. Dogs, including Malteses, have the capacity to learn, problem-solve, and exhibit remarkable cognitive abilities. With the right training, mental stimulation, and care, you can help unlock your Maltese's intelligence and enhance their cognitive skills.

Establish a Strong Foundation

Before diving into specific training techniques, it's crucial to establish a strong foundation for your Maltese's learning and development:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques, such as treats, praise, and rewards, to motivate and encourage desired behaviors. This will create a positive learning environment and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
  • Consistency: Consistency is key in training. Set clear rules and expectations, and ensure that all family members follow them consistently. This will prevent confusion and help your Maltese understand what is expected of them.
  • Patience and Persistence: Every dog learns at their own pace. Be patient and persistent in your training efforts, understanding that progress takes time. Celebrate small victories and remain consistent in your training routine.

Socialization and Exposure

Socialization and exposure to various environments, people, and animals are crucial for developing your Maltese's intelligence and adaptability. Here's how you can enhance their social skills:

  • Puppy Classes: Enroll your Maltese in puppy classes to provide them with opportunities to interact with other dogs and learn basic obedience skills. These classes offer a controlled environment for socialization and learning.
  • Dog Parks and Playdates: Regularly visit dog parks or arrange playdates with well-behaved dogs. This will expose your Maltese to different play styles, personalities, and social cues, fostering their social skills.
  • Expose to New Environments: Introduce your Maltese to various environments, such as busy streets, parks, cafes, and different surfaces. This exposure will help them adapt to new situations and build confidence.

Mental Stimulation and Enrichment

Mental stimulation is essential for keeping your Maltese's mind active and engaged. Incorporate the following activities into their routine:

  • Puzzle Toys and Treat Dispensers: Provide puzzle toys and treat dispensers that require your Maltese to problem-solve and work for their rewards. These toys stimulate their cognitive abilities and provide mental exercise.
  • Interactive Games: Engage your Maltese in interactive games, such as hide-and-seek or treasure hunts. These activities challenge their problem-solving skills and tap into their natural instincts.
  • Training Sessions: Regular training sessions not only reinforce obedience but also stimulate your Maltese's brain. Teach them new commands, tricks, or even basic agility exercises to keep their minds sharp.

Incorporate Scent Work

Scent work is an excellent way to engage your Maltese's sense of smell and mental capabilities:

  • Nose Games: Play nose games with your Maltese, such as "find the treat" or hiding scented objects around the house. These games tap into their natural scenting abilities and provide mental stimulation.
  • Scent Training: Introduce scent training activities, like teaching your Maltese to identify specific scents or locate hidden objects. This type of training enhances their problem-solving skills and reinforces their natural talents.

Continual Learning

Learning should be a lifelong journey for your Maltese. Continue to challenge and expand their knowledge and abilities:

  • Advanced Training: Once your Maltese has mastered basic commands, move on to more advanced training. Teach them complex tricks, agility courses, or even participate in canine sports like obedience trials or rally. This continuous learning will keep their minds engaged and their skills sharp.
  • New Environments and Experiences: Expose your Maltese to new environments, experiences, and challenges. Take them on different types of outings, introduce them to new people and animals, and provide opportunities for them to problem-solve in unfamiliar situations.
  • Interactive Toys and Games: Invest in interactive toys and games that provide mental challenges and stimulate problem-solving skills. There are various puzzle toys and interactive devices available that can keep your Maltese engaged and continuously learning.

Bonding and Communication

Building a strong bond with your Maltese is essential for effective training and enhancing their intelligence:

  • Quality Time: Spend quality time with your Maltese, engaging in activities that they enjoy. Whether it's cuddling, playing, or going on walks, this bonding time strengthens your connection and promotes trust.
  • Clear Communication: Use clear and consistent communication to convey your expectations to your Maltese. Use verbal cues, hand signals, and positive reinforcement to help them understand what you want them to do.
  • Eye Contact and Focus: Train your Maltese to maintain eye contact and focus on you during training sessions. This helps them develop attentiveness and enhances their ability to understand and respond to your cues.


In conclusion, while Maltese dogs may rank lower in traditional dog intelligence tests, it is important to understand that intelligence is not the sole measure of a dog's worth or ability to be a great companion. Malteses possess their own unique qualities and charm that make them smart in their own right. Their independent thinking, adaptability, and affectionate nature contribute to their intelligence as loyal and loving companions. It is crucial to look beyond standardized intelligence rankings and appreciate the individuality of each dog breed. Whether a Maltese ranks high or low in intelligence, their unwavering loyalty, playful nature, and ability to form deep bonds with their owners make them incredibly smart in terms of companionship. The true measure of a dog's intelligence lies in their ability to bring joy, love, and happiness to our lives, and Malteses excel in that aspect.