These cute little white dogs with their black button noses are not prone to aggression, but their human companions tend to pamper and protect them leaving some Maltese to think they're the pack leader. Maltese are excellent companion dogs as long as rules are established for their behavior.
Small Dog Syndrome
Small dog syndrome is seen in spoiled toy breeds who overstep their leadership in the house. If you suffer from your Maltese's small dog syndrome, it's because your dog is the pack leader of the humans. These dogs tend to show aggression if their pack status is questioned by a human moving in for a hug or kiss, touching the dog's feet or ears, placing the dog in a belly-up position, walking through the door at the same time as the master or worst of all, trying to take away the Maltese's bone, food or toy. Growling, snarling, snapping, lunging or full-on biting are some ways your Maltese may respond if his pack status is challenged.
Breaking the Syndrome
Everyone in the household needs to establish pack status above the Maltese, so rules must be followed by everyone who has contact with the Maltese — including visitors. Most importantly, do not allow your Maltese to do things that are unacceptable for large breeds, such as jumping on you or walking all over your lap. Do not carry him around like he is a helpless baby. If your Maltese is barking at you to get what he wants, ignore him. It's important to remember that no matter how cute your Maltese is, he is still a dog. If you're holding your Maltese and he is growling or barking at someone, do not cuddle and pet him to calm him since this praises the dog for the aggression. Instead, put the dog on the floor. Do not act confrontational with your Maltese by yelling or hitting him since these can provoke aggression when your Maltese sees your behavior as a threat or a challenge.
Other Aggression Types
Some Maltese's show different types of aggression that have nothing to do with their pack status. A Maltese with a history of abuse or who has endured a traumatic experience may show aggression out of fear. These dogs are most likely to bite if they feel cornered or trapped, but their main motivation is to bite and run away. Other Maltese's may be territorial of their home or possessive of their personal items, such as toys, food, bedding and bones. Regardless of the type of aggression your Maltese displays, a younger dog is easier to fix than an older one. A professional dog trainer can help you develop a plan to assist in modifying your Maltese's behavior problems at any age.
If your Maltese is usually friendly and has suddenly started to show aggressive traits, it's time to make an appointment with little Snappy's veterinarian. There are several health conditions that can lead to aggression, such as being in pain, hypothyroidism, adrenal dysfunction, congenital dysfunction, orthopedic problems and seizures. Some older dogs can develop aggression, especially if they're losing their hearing or vision.
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.