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Are Maltese Smarter Than Most Dogs? Different Types of Dog Intelligence

Chelsea Mortensen Profile Picture

By Chelsea Mortensen

Cute maltese dog sitting on the rock

Say you want a beautiful, loving, and not-too-big dog. A Maltese might be for you! With silky white coats and friendly personalities, they’re an extremely popular breed for a reason. But let’s say you also care about having an intelligent dog. Is a Maltese out of the running? Well, maybe. The most famous dog intelligence test ranked them at 111 out of 138. But that test only measured one kind of intelligence.

Let’s take a look at what it means to be smart and how the Maltese measure up.

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Maltese Are Slow & Stubborn Learners

The most famous trial of intelligence was all about “working IQ”, a combination of learning speed or obedience. The researcher, Stanley Coren, worked with thousands of dogs of different breeds to compare their intelligence. There were two skills he looked for—first, how many repetitions it took to teach a dog a new command, and second, how reliable a dog was at following commands it already knew.

Maltese weren’t the worst, but they didn’t do great either—it took an average of 40 to 80 repetitions to teach one a command, and even then, they only obeyed about a third of the time. Compare that to a Border Collie that can learn a command in only five repetitions and obey more than 95% of the time!

Now, if you have a Maltese, you might begin to see the problem already. Maltese are stubborn dogs. Even if they know a command, they might not reliably follow through the first time you ask. It takes a lot of work to build a trusting relationship with a Maltese, and you might find that it only obeys when it feels like it. Working IQ is easy to measure, but it only captures one type of intelligence.

White Teacup Maltese
Image Credit by: Plernz, Shutterstock

Many Maltese Are Great Problem Solvers

Another type of intelligence many animal behavior experts look at is “adaptive intelligence,” or problem-solving skills. If your dog can get to the treat jar no matter how you try to lock it away, it must have a high level of adaptive intelligence.

However, it’s a little trickier to measure adaptive intelligence than working intelligence. You can measure how long it takes dogs to solve a problem, but different dogs will do better on different problems. Problem-solving skills often vary a lot within a breed, though—so some Maltese will blow away the competition, but others will lag behind.

Maltese Instinctive Intelligence

You can also look at “instinctive intelligence”—that’s the smarts that are inborn into any dog. Dogs have done all sorts of different tasks over the years, and instincts help your dog naturally gain certain skills. A shepherd breed of dog will pick up herding right away, but they might have a hard time learning to be a good hunting dog.

Maltese have an instinctive skill set of their own—and it may surprise you. Despite their cute, fluffy appearance, these dogs are actually killers! Specifically, Maltese were bred to kill rats and other vermin. If a mouse moves into your home, you might be surprised to see your sweet, loving lap dog kill it on sight, even if it has never tried before. That’s instinctive intelligence at work.

Image Credit by: Pezibear, Pixabay

Maltese Have a Reputation for a High “EQ”

Those types of intelligence are all good, but there’s one in particular where Maltese shine. That’s emotional intelligence, sometimes called EQ. Although there aren’t any studies showing how breeds stack up against each other, Maltese are known for being “in tune” with their owners’ emotions. This helps them seem loving, caring, and empathetic—perfect traits for a canine companion. This high EQ is one of the main reasons the Maltese are so beloved today.

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Last Thoughts

We hope that this whirlwind tour through all the different types of intelligence helps you get a better understanding of Maltese. Like all dog breeds, this one has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s not the most obedient or fastest learner, but that doesn’t make it a dumb breed. Instead, we can appreciate all the other ways Maltese are intelligent—from their inborn hunting skills to their loving, emotionally intelligent personalities.

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Featured Image Credit: Sadovnikovrn, Shutterstock

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