The Coton de Tulear is a hardy, sturdy yet small dog. Although bred as a companion, it once survived on its own. Their hallmarks are a bright personality and profuse, white, cottony coat. The approximately 4 inch coat has the texture of soft cotton. It is dense and abundant and stands off the body. It’s believed its texture allows air to circulate within it, insulating the dog from heat and cold. The white coloration is another breed hallmark. However, puppies may be born with spots, mostly around the head and ears, which fade with age.
The Coton de Tulear (pronounced co-TAWN day-too-LEE-are) means Cotton of Tulear in French, with cotton referring to its coat and Tulear coming from the sea port at the tip of the island of Madasgascar. These dogs’ ancestors, which are also ancestors to the Bichon Frise, Maltese, and Bolgnese, were kept as companions on sea trading ships. One of these ships sunk off Tulear, and several little white dogs survived and came ashore. Some became feral and mixed with native dogs. In the 17th century, the native Merina people adopted the dogs and presented them to the Merina nobility. When the French laid claim to Madagascar in the late 17th century, French nobility adopted the dogs and decreed no commoners could own them. They became known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar.
When Madagascar attained independence in the mid 1900s, tourism increased and visitors took Cotons home with them. The first Coton came to America in 1974. The Fèdèration Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized the Coton in 1987, increasing demand and depleting native stocks. In 1992, Madagascar began limiting the number of exported Cotons. There is some disagreement about the proper type of the breed between the prominent breed clubs, further fueled by disagreement over pursuing AKC recognition. The AKC admitted the Coton de Tulear into the Non-Sporting group in 2014.
The Coton is a playful, merry, boisterous companion, eager to entertain and please. He is very affectionate and loves to be loved. He typically gets along with strangers, children, other dogs, and other pets. Many are easily trained. He is calm inside. Although not a big barker, he can still produce an assortment of vocalizations.
The Coton is active indoors and can run off most of his energy with lively games inside or in the yard. However, walks are also necessary for mental stimulation. Although shedding is minimal, coat care is the breed’s biggest challenge because the coat tangles and mats easily. Brush with a pin brush daily. Any leaves or twigs in the coat must be removed immediately before they cause a tangle. Weekly bathing is recommended.