Maltese are best known for their long, silky, white coats. They are gentle, affectionate, intelligent, and trusting. But would you believe me if I said that they are good hiking dogs?
Their small stature would say otherwise, but their liveliness tells a different story. According to the Maltese Club of Great Britain, Maltese only need 30 minutes of exercise per day, but they can go much longer than that in the right conditions.
My five-year-old Maltese routinely goes on multi-mile hikes with me in the mountains of Salt Lake City and through the deserts of Moab. This article will explore tips and tricks to make hiking with your Maltese as enjoyable as possible for both of you.
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Hiking Tips with a Maltese
On the island of Malta, Maltese were bred specifically as companions and comforters. Unlike other breeds, Maltese have been selectively bred to be gentle. Their muscles, bodies, paws, and attitudes have been selectively bred to be docile.
Because of this, Maltese can initially be timid when outdoors. These are all important things to keep in mind when hiking with your Maltese.
Paw Pad Considerations
Maltese have exceptionally small paws with a thin layer of padding. In the summer, it’s best to take your Maltese for a hike early in the morning or late in the evening. Paw pad burns are unfortunately common, especially for small breeds like Maltese.
If the asphalt, concrete, sand, or dirt is too hot, then your Maltese is at risk of burning its paws.
The more you walk outside with your Maltese, the thicker its paw pads will become. The more that they are used, the thicker the skin – much like callouses on human hands and feet. If you’re new to hiking with your Maltese, then start out with short hikes and work your way up to long hikes while your dog’s paw pads callous up.
If you notice that your pet is licking at its paw pads frequently or limping, then it may have burned its paw pads.
In this case, you’ll have to take a couple of weeks off while the skin regenerates. Depending on the severity of the burn, you may need to take your pet to the vet for antibiotic treatment.
Similar issues arise in the cold – it’s possible for your Maltese to get frostbite on its paws. During the winter, take your Maltese for hikes in the afternoon when the temperature is the warmest. Road salt can also be harmful to your dog’s paws, so avoid hiking paths that are heavily salted.
Whether warm or cold weather, consider purchasing hiking boots for your Maltese. There are several reputable brands that sell hiking boots designed specifically for small breed dogs like Maltese.
Also, consider purchasing a carrying backpack for your Maltese. If you notice that your pup is in pain but don’t want to stop the hike, then you can just put them in the backpack and continue on.
When it comes to my Maltese, I use Musher’s Secret and other paw protective waxes to help moisturize and protect his paws. I apply a thin layer of a natural wax to his paws before and after every hike.
Despite originating from the tropical islands of Malta, Maltese are sensitive to hot weather. My Maltese will sometimes refuse to hike if the weather is too hot, which is why we specifically go hiking in the early mornings or late afternoons in the summer.
On the contrary, winter weather prevents him from hiking because of frostbite on his paws.
The summer heat is particularly cumbersome to Maltese if they have long hair, so it’s advised to keep them trimmed short if you plan on hiking a lot. Be careful not to cut their hair too short, as not enough hair may result in sunburn to their sensitive skin.
My Maltese is particularly sensitive to the heat.
On walks, he will frequently stop to lay down in the shade. Because of his sensitivity to the heat, I look for hikes with multiple stream crossings and plenty of shade to cool down in. When he gets too hot, I put him in his travel backpack and continue on while he cools down.
Stopping for rests in the shade and stopping for water breaks is crucial in keeping your Maltese happy, comfortable, and ready for more.
Remember, your Maltese is much smaller than you and will ware out much faster. Every one step that you take is equal to 10 steps for your pet. Your Maltese is exerting much more energy much more quickly than you are. Try to stop for a water break once every 15-20 minutes. My wife and I stop for a water break with our Maltese once every mile.
Bring plenty of cold, fresh water for your pup to drink. A collapsible water dish that clips to your backpack is lightweight and easy to use. If your hike has stream crossings, then you shouldn’t let them drink the water despite their attempts. Stream or lake water might be rich in bacteria that may make your dog sick.
As you’re already familiar with, your Maltese is much smaller than you and exerts much more energy than you on hikes. Be wary of over exercising your pup. For my Maltese, his limit is about four miles.
In hotter weather, it’s even less. Start with shorter, easier hikes to feel out your pup’s abilities and slowly work your way up to longer hikes.
Be perceptive of signs of fatigue – excessive panting, trying to lay down, whimpering, and moving slowly. If you notice any of these signs, then pull over and give your pup a break. Having a carrying backpack on-hand is critical when your dog decides to sit down in the middle of a four-mile hike and refuses to go any further.
The intensity of the hike should also be closely considered. Apps like AllTrails rank hikes from Easy, to Moderate, to Hard. Start with easy hikes within minimal vertical elevation gains and work your way up to harder, steeper hikes. Avoid hikes with a lot of scrambling and technical areas.
Be sure to take breaks in between long hikes to give your Maltese time to rest and recover.
I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a bad dog – but there is such thing as a bad owner.
Make sure that your dog is well-trained and behaved before taking it out on a public trail. Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics by picking up your Maltese’s waste. Maltese’s waste is much smaller than other dogs and subsequently less stinky.
There is no excuse to leave your dog’s waste on a trail. I double-bag my Maltese’s waste and put it in my backpack for the remainder of the hike.
When it comes to leashes, you’ll have to check with the guidelines of the trail that you choose to hike. Some trails allow dogs to be off-leash on odd days while requiring leashes on even days.
Even if your dog is well-behaved, be sure to follow these guidelines carefully as you never know how another dog will react as it passes by.
Maltese aren’t exactly the breed that comes to mind when you think of hiking with a dog, but with these tips and tricks, your Maltese will be stomping out multi-mile hikes without an issue. Passerby’s will be shocked to see your Maltese pass them on the trail with a wag in their tail.
Remember to take care of their paws, their bodies, and their mind while on a hike. Lastly, be respectful of the trail’s rules, be respectful of others, and always have control of your Maltese.