Maltese , breed of very small toy dog of obscure origin that was widely popular in Europe by the beginning of the 19th cent. It stands about 5 in. (12.7 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 2 to 7 lb (0.9-1.4 kg). Its long, flat-lying, silky coat is pure white and hangs down on either side of the body almost to the ground. The Maltese is probably an ancient breed; dogs closely resembling the modern type were kept as lap dogs in Rome and Greece before the Christian era. Today’s lively breed makes a popular house pet.