CHAPTER XLVI. THE MALTESE DOG AND THE PUG

No doubt has been cast upon the belief that the small, white, silky Canis Melitaeus is the most ancient of all the lap dogs of the Western world. It was a favourite in the time of Phidias; it was an especial pet of the great ladies of Imperial Rome. It appears to have come originally from the Adriatic island of Melita rather than from the Mediterranean Malta, although this supposition cannot be verified. There is, however, no question that it is of European origin, and that the breed, as we know it to-day, has altered exceedingly little in type and size since it was alluded to by Aristotle more than three hundred years before the Christian era. One may gather from various references in literature, and from the evidence of art, that it was highly valued in ancient times. “When his favourite dog dies,” wrote Theophrastus in illustration of the vain man, “he deposits the remains in a tomb, and erects a monument over the grave, with the inscription, 'Offspring of the stock of Malta.'“

The “offspring of the stock of Malta” were probably first imported into England during the reign of Henry VIII. It is certain that they were regarded as “meet playfellows for mincing mistresses” in the reign of Elizabeth, whose physician, Dr. Caius, alluded to them as being distinct from the Spaniel, “gentle or comforter.”

Early writers aver that it was customary when Maltese puppies were born to press or twist the nasal bone with the fingers “in order that they may seem more elegant in the sight of men”—a circumstance which goes to show that our forefathers were not averse to improving artificially the points of their dogs.

The snowy whiteness and soft, silky texture of its coat must always cause the Maltese dog to be admired; but the variety has never been commonly kept in England—a fact which is, no doubt, due to the difficulty of breeding it and to the trouble in keeping the dog's long jacket clean and free from tangle. Thirty or forty years ago it was more popular as a lap dog than it has ever been since, and in the early days of dog shows many beautiful specimens were exhibited. This popularity was largely due to the efforts of Mr. R. Mandeville, of Southwark, who has been referred to as virtually the founder of the modern Maltese. His Fido and Lily were certainly the most perfect representatives of the breed during the decade between 1860 and 1870, and at the shows held at Birmingham, Islington, the Crystal Palace, and Cremorne Gardens, this beautiful brace was unapproachable.

It is a breed which to be kept in perfection requires more than ordinary attention, not only on account of its silky jacket, which is peculiarly liable to become matted, and is difficult to keep absolutely clean without frequent washing, but also on account of a somewhat delicate constitution, the Maltese being susceptible to colds and chills. If affected by such causes, the eyes are often attacked, and the water running from them induces a brown stain to mar the beauty of the face. Skin eruptions due to unwise feeding, or parasites due to uncleanliness, are quickly destructive to the silky coat, and constant watchfulness is necessary to protect the dog from all occasion for scratching. The diet is an important consideration always, and a nice discernment is imperative in balancing the proportions of meat and vegetable. Too much meat is prone to heat the blood, while too little induces eczema. Scraps of bread and green vegetables well mixed with gravy and finely-minced lean meat form the best dietary for the principal meal of the day, and plenty of exercise is imperative.

The following is the standard description and points of the Maltese Club of London:—

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HEAD—Should not be too narrow, but should be of a Terrier shape, not too long, but not apple-headed. EARS—Should be long and well feathered, and hang close to the side of the head, the hair to be well mingled with the coat at the shoulders. EYES—Should be a dark brown, with black eye rims and not too far apart. NOSE—Should be pure black. LEGS AND FEET—Legs should be short and straight, feet round, and the pads of the feet should be black. BODY AND SHAPE—Should be short and cobby, low to the ground, and the back should be straight from the top of the shoulders to the tail. TAIL AND CARRIAGE—Should be well arched over the back and well feathered. COAT, LENGTH AND TEXTURE—Should be a good length, the longer the better, of a silky texture, not in any way woolly, and should be straight. COLOUR—It is desirable that they should be pure white, but slight lemon marks should not count against them. CONDITION AND APPEARANCE—Should be of a sharp Terrier appearance, with a lively action, the coat should not be stained, but should be well groomed in every way. SIZE—The most approved weights should be from 4 lb. to 9 lb., the smaller the better, but it is desirable that they should not exceed 10 lb.

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There seems to be no doubt that the fawn-coloured Pug enjoys the antiquity of descent that is attached to the Greyhound, the Maltese dog, and some few other venerable breeds.