Grooming Maltese


By Marjorie C. Martin (1938-1993), a former Columbus Public Schools librarian and dog breeder, showed and wrote about Maltese dogs. She produced more than 40 champions, was active in the American Maltese Association, and authored many articles for various canine publications.

Maltese coats are truly at the mercy of brushes. Unless the hair is kept very short, it needs regular brushing to prevent matting. And the brushing must be done gently to prevent damage and loss. Brushing needs can vary considerably depending upon length, texture and condition of the hair, as well as the dog's behavior and environment. Inexperienced Maltese brushers would do well to start with a short, strong, healthy coat and grow in brushing expertise along with the hair. The most important time to brush a Maltese is after his bath, when he is just damp out of the towel. Mats are most likely to give up to the brush when they are washed, rinsed with conditioner and oil, and not yet dry.

Besides the above, and a belief that every hair is still in one piece and attached to the dog, all that's needed for the brush-out are a pin brush and a metal comb with long teeth, far-spaced at one end and close at the other. I also have handy a spray bottle of anti-static coat gloss in case the brushing takes longer than the damp lasts.

After a bath, I always brush and comb a dog's head and feet when he is towel-wrapped to do his ears, eyes, teeth and toenails. So when I stand the damp dog facing right on the table, only his body, legs, neck and tail need brushing. Anyone doing brush-outs for success should keep in mind that all procedures which stretch or break the hair and pain the Maltese are counterproductive. Pull-damaged hair becomes dull, frizzy and more difficult to manage. And hair-pulled Maltese become less cooperative. So, to begin, I lightly brush all the hair somewhat into place and then start on the dog's right, front quarter. I make a vertical part in the hair from the spine to the floor with my left hand and the brush in my right. I hold the hair on the left side away from the part with my left hand while I gently brush the hair, root to end, to the right of this part. If the brush hits a mat, I search out the mat. I hold it away from the dog and try to undo it with my fingers pulling in various directions. Smaller tangles are eliminated by alternating light brushing and finger pulling. Then the hair is checked with the coarse-end of the comb with short, easy strokes. Stubborn mats are remembered.

Moving right along, I brush the hair straight down from the back and make another vertical part about an inch to the right of the first and repeat the above brushing to the right, finger detangling, and comb check. This continues one inch at a time to the tail end of the dog. I then lift up the right front leg, reach under and brush the hair on the inside of the left front leg. And do the same with the hind legs. At this point, I face the Maltese away from me and do the hair on the wagging tail and rear end-one small section at a time.

Next, the dog is turned facing left, and inch by inch, his left side is brushed, smaller tangles are eliminated and stubborn mats noted. The insides of the right legs are done before moving to the neck. Starting at the part down the back of the dog's neck, the brushing and untangling proceeds with head-to-body hair parts every inch around his neck-left side first, throat next and right side last. From here, I lift up the front end of the Maltese and do any belly areas missed. Some super Maltese brushers lay the puppy on his sides and/or back, but standing and sitting are the usual brushing positions for me and mine. Generally, I use a grooming arm to steady the dog, but sometimes brushing is easier without it.

Once around the dog, and I know where the problem mats are. Taking each mat in turn, I brush lightly; hold away from the dog pull it every which way to loosen the hair. If it is getting dry, I spray liberally with anti-static coat gloss. Then do the same for the next mat, always progressing clockwise around then his neck and belly as many times as it takes. It is amazing how each time, around what had looked like impossible mats will loosen and disappear. More and more hair comes free and the Maltese is becoming a winner. The meanest mats may hang on through five or six brush/finger attacks. Dried-in mats are the worst, so I try not to take a brush-break until every hair - from skin out - will pass the comb test. Often for a change, especially with a small and young Maltese, I'll set the dog in my lap and ease out the mats.

Sometimes, if brushing has been really neglected, and there are still mats long past quitting time, it will then become a contest of hairs. Holding the mat away from the dog, I pick up the involved hairs, a few at a time, near the root and try to ease them out of the tangle. I may use the first tooth on the comb trying to free hair. Frequently, I lightly brush and spray the resistance. By the time I've separated every hair possible, the mat may be gone, hopefully without taking any hair a difficult brush-out can be a test of endurance. Every time I get into one of these hair disasters, I kick myself and promise, never again! There are many ways to alleviate such frustrations. If a coat setback is acceptable, cutting the hair may be the best solution. Just shaving the dog's belly and inside of all four legs halfway to the can save a lot of brush-out time. Mats around the ears and throat may be held away from the dog, a scissor lengthwise - just a snip may allow the hairs to be loosened. A little hair lost in these areas is not terribly noticeable so long as the ears, skirts and tail can be saved.

Ideally, the very day after a Maltese is bathed and brushed out, or as soon as there is any hair more than a half-inch long, you should stand the little white wonder on the grooming table and go through the entire brushing routine, lightly spraying anti-static coat gloss on each area before putting a brush to it. Thus, I would advise brushing the hair every day for several days until the matting is under control. Always be on the lookout for tangled surprises. I have had super coats (on dogs that would cooperate) grow quickly into show coats with only two or three fifteen-minute brushings a week between monthly baths. I recall one Maltese successfully growing a show coat until his crate neighbor, in just a few hours, scratched in a big mat setback. And then I have had coats that the right front quarter would be matted again by the time I had inched around the dog. In conclusion, here are a few brush-out suggestions:

  1. Don't blame the dog.
  2. Never brush dry hair.
  3. Be an avid mat hunter.
  4. Put the scissors far away.
  5. Neuter/spay adorable Maltese with impossible coats and enjoy them in shortcuts.

One last note: Brush-outs are not always advisable. Maltese long neglected, those with skin and other problems, young puppies, and pregnant and nursing dams may need other care much more. Sometimes mats are really beyond reason, and it may be best to just cut the hair off and start over.

Maltese Shortcut

By Marjorie C. Martin

All Maltese would look best in special coat, of course. But sooner or later, for reasons such as health, comfort, grooming, and time, most Maltese Champions, broods, studs, pampered pets and those on the other side of the hill are wearing cut hair. And what sorry cuts many Maltese get! Well-meaning owners give them a "hack-in-the-dark" and groomers do them out like misfit Schnauzers and Poodles.

Maltese deserve their own haircut. It should be attractive. After all, cut Maltese are often the ones who "sell" puppies and stud service, greet visitors at the door and go visiting with you. And since cut hair is essentially an everyday outfit for the Maltese, it should be simple to do and easy to keep.

I've tried a lot of trims and variations and have found one cut that I think is most practical and complimentary. I call it the "Maltese Shortcut." It takes no special skills and little time to do. It's a snip to maintain and grows out nicely. Scissors, comb, clippers, and three blades (sizes 5, 10, and 5/8), then ten short steps and your Maltese has a shortcut.

 Chanel, fresh out of her show coat, has such super thick hair that she looks pretty sharp in her shortcut, especially wearing a rhinestone bracelet. Actually, she gets more attention now on walks than she did in oily wrappers!
 Heidi was just in for a bath and touchup. Her shortcut is two months old and is quickly growing into a puppy cut.
 1. Comb the hair on top of the dog's head back and cut off at the top of the neck between the ears.
 2. Shave the back and sides of the neck and body with the # 5 blade. To keep the topline as short as possible, do not shave even a smidgen onto the tail. Make the arch high above each leg for a long-leg look.
 3. Part the head hair in the middle and comb down on either side. Cut a line between the ears and eyes on both sides of the face.
 4. With a # 10 blade, shave the sides of the head, the front of the neck, underside and rear end. Shave also the inside of each leg down a couple inches from the body to eliminate snarled areas.
 5. Shave a small area between and under the eyes using the # 5/8 blade. This gives a "deep stop" look and eliminates most tear stain. DO NOT shave the muzzle all the way to the end of the nose to avoid a pointy profile.
 6. Scissor hair on the top of the head into a "mushroom cap" effect. If the hair is thick and will stand, leave it a little longer (unless the head is large), for a more baby doll look. A little longer toward the back is generally most attractive.
 7. Part the muzzle hair and comb down and forward on both sides. Trim along the sides straight out so hair is about 3/4 inch at the end of the muzzle and round off toward the nose. Comb the beard down and scissor to match the mustache with a point at the chin. Make sure you get those long hairs stuck in the dog's mouth.
 8. Comb ears down and cut the ear hair off in a bob - even with the beard or longer if the hair is suitable. If the ears are matted or to minimize grooming, hold the ears out and cut the hair off, about 1/2 inch from the ear edges. The shorter ear cut makes the neck appear longer and accents the eyes.
 9. Hold the tail straight out back, comb all the hair down and cut about two inches long. A little shorter at both ends, so when it is curled over the back it looks like a pompom. A sparse haired tail looks better cut shorter. A low tail set may appear higher with the hair cut quite short near the body. If the tail does not go up and over at all, make certain that all the photographs are taken from the front.
 10. Scissor the hair on each leg gradually getting longer from the shaved areas to make the legs look as straight as possible. Leave the leg hair about 1 1/2 inches long if it is thick and not a grooming problem. Cut the nails short and trim the hair off the bottom of each foot and scissor around the edges to minimize the foot. Do not shave the toes.

Well, that's my Maltese Shortcut. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is and how good your Maltese looks in it. (If your Maltese's hair is quite long or very matted, you might not get the perfect fit the first time, but it should be close.) I tie satin ribbons around the necks of customers Maltese. My owners Maltese wear fancy collars and name tags regularly and, when we go out, rhinestone people bracelets or flowers. Shortcut Maltese look cute in sweaters too. Dressing up is not a Poodle's prerogative, you know!

With the shortcut, your Maltese can always be neat, clean and attractive with very little effort. Just fluff his mustache and comb his ears and tail once in a while. If he is a super stud, you might have to spot-wash his rear leg or two! When he does need a bath, it takes only a few minutes. Once a month, do a touchup. Cut his toenails and scissor the hair off the bottoms and edges of his feet. With # 5/8 blade shave a circle ON THE BODY around the base of the tail to keep the body short and the tail high. Unless you are going to grow coat, trim area between and under the eyes to keep the deep-stop look and avoid eye stain

After two or three months, since the hair on the body grows fastest, your Maltese will look like he has a "puppy cut" with generous ears and tail. After four to six months, when your Maltese's hair becomes a grooming problem, repeat the complete "shortcut." Thus, with two or three shortcuts a year and a few touchup minutes, your Maltese is always presentable to show off your line's disposition and structure - or just to show off! Now, don't you and your shortcut Maltese have more fun? Perhaps one day a Schnauzer or Poodle will ask his groomer to do him out in a Maltese Shortcut!


Eye stain can be caused by heredity, health, or environment. While a small amount of stain due to the moisture from the eyes can be considered normal, a Maltese should not have an orange face. If your veterinarian will not work with you to find the cause of a staining problem, then find another vet.

  1. TEETHING is the likeliest cause of heavy staining in puppies. If ALL of their permanent teeth are in (back molars and pre-molars included) and the baby teeth have been removed the tear staining should start to taper off now (approximate age 8 months). If you're still having a lot of staining, it's time to think of other things. Dirty or decaying teeth in older dogs can also be the source of stain. Be sure to have your dogs teeth cleaned at least once a year.
  2. HAIR: The most common but not often recognized culprit, in my opinion, is little wisps of hair in the eye. Do check daily to sure there is no stray "fuzz", especially up under the eyelid. Re-do the top knot morning and evening, and use gel to keep the stray hairs of the forehead and muzzle slicked down away from the eyes.
  3. EYE IRRITATION from pollution, dust, dirt, pollen, etc. (the same things that irritate our eyes) can irritate a Maltese's eyes. Some people use an antibiotic eye drop in the eyes at bedtime to kill bacteria and wash away irritants. Bausch and Lomb Collyrium For Fresh Eyes Eye Wash is great for this, as it has boric acid in it that kills the bacteria that can promote staining. I put this is a small spray bottle and "mist" it in the eyes and on the hair under the eyes.
  4. CLEAN the eye area at least twice a day with an eyewash and pack with corn starch after cleaning to keep the area dry. Many people have recently had a lot of success with the product Eye Envy. This is available online at or from 3-C's. Eye Envy makes use of the regiment of clean first and then keeping it dry with a powder like corn starch. (Do not put talc powder on your dogs face.)
  5. CLIPPING the hair around the eyes can exacerbate the problem, in my opinion, because when the shaved hair grows back in, in grows in the direction of the eye and causes MORE tearing. If you have clipped hair around the eyes now let it grow out and retrain the hair to grow where it belongs using a styling gel to slick it down and keep it out of the eyes.
  6. FOOD DYES, WATER MINERALS, etc. have all been blamed for increasing tear staining. You can eliminate these possibilities by using bottled water or filtered water. Use foods that have been proven not to contain dyes or contribute to staining. The food we recommend is Freshpet® Select Roasted Meals. It is a good "safe" food that does not promote staining.
  7. HAVE YOUR VET CHECK TEAR DUCT FUNCTION: it's a simple eye drop test: if the tear ducts are blocked, tears overflow all over the face and cause a lot of staining. It's a simple procedure to clean out the tear ducts and get them working again.
  8. BACTERIA: A low grade eye infection can cause tearing. Your Veterinarian can prescribe an oral antibiotic such as Doxycycline (after teething) or Tylan. Angels' Eyes is a food supplement that contains Tylosin, an oral antibiotic. Eye ointment such as Neo-Poly-Dex Ophthalmic can also be very helpful.
  9. EARS: Ear Mites or an ear infection can also cause eye stain. Cleaning the ears after every bath with an ear cleaner/drying solution is very important. Any dark discoloration in the ears can be a sign of infection, yeast or mites. Please consult your veterinarian.
  10. ALLERGY is the least likely cause of tear staining, especially in a very young puppy, but if you want to do a food trail to see if it helps, you might put him on a bland diet with hypoallergenic protein sources. You should always eliminate any health concern as the cause of tearing, such as teeth, bacterial infection, or food allergies, but food allergy is the least common cause of tear staining.

All these things are preventatives, and it's always easier to prevent staining than to get rid of staining. We do not recommend bleaching, as it is very dangerous and can cause serious damage to the eyes.


Brush out all mats before bathing. Wet the coat. Then apply a moisturizing or reconstructing shampoo diluted per manufacturer's instructions. Pour the mixture over the dog evenly and begin working into the coat. Then rinse the shampoo. Bath Video


Dilute the conditioner as per manufacturer's instructions. Place the mixture into a liquid applicator. Put the dog in the tub and pour the conditioner over the coat. Distribute the conditioner throughout the coat assuring that the mixture is evenly distributed through the coat. Let the mixture sit two or three minutes then rinse.

Top Knot

While the coat is still damp use a styling gel, mousse or spray lightly on the top knot area. Once dry this will give you texture to the base so that you can build the top knot. Use hair spray to set the top knot in place. This will hold the base.


You should always towel dry first, to absorb as much water as possible. With a Denman Porcupine-Style brush and a hair dryer, brush slowly in a downward motion so as not to tangle the coat. Lightly spray a finishing spray while drying the coat. The hairs should not be allowed to dry without being brushed. If the hair becomes dry before being brushed, dampen it again before brushing. Brush the hair until the whole dog is completely dry. 

Flat Iron & Trim

Depending on the final texture of the coat when dry you can use a conditioning spray for more conditioning when ironing or a finishing spray if the coat is how you want it.