The Coton de Tulear, also known as the “Royal Dog of Madagascar”, is a hardy, sturdy small white companion dog. The Coton de Tulear is characterized by a natural long, white, dry, profuse, cotton-like coat, rounded lively dark eyes, black on white joie de vivre expressive smile and witty personality. The breed is somewhat longer than tall. The topline is very slightly arched over the loin with a happily carried tail curved over the back on the move. At rest, the tail is down with an upward hook at the tip revealing the distinguishing outline of the Coton de Tulear.
The Coton is in general a healthy breed. However, there are still some health issues as there are in all breeds. The most serious issues are heart problems, liver shunts, back (disc) problems, and eye problems. Luckily, these are still relatively uncommon in the breed. The small gene pool of this breed is owing to its near extinction. Due to inbreeding by disreputable breeders there is an increased incidence of disease. The smaller the gene pool, the more likely a breed is to have genetic abnormalities.
The happy and boisterous Coton is a people-pleaser, who wants nothing more than to spend time with his humans. He forms strong bonds with family members and doesn’t like to be separated from them. He’s smart and easy to train, responding well to praise, play, and food rewards. He’ll play the clown for attention, which he loves. Cotons may bark once or twice if the doorbell rings or they see something interesting, but they don’t generally bark just for the fun of it. Guests and intruders alike run the risk of being licked to death. Females are more independent than males and often rule over them. Like every dog, Cotons need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences. Socialization helps ensure your Coton puppy grows up to be a well-adjusted, happy dog.
Cotons like to swim and play. They enjoy wide open spaces and can follow their masters on horseback for many miles. They do well in various areas of dog sports, such as agility skills trials and catch. As active as they are, they will adapt well to the family’s situation, so long as they are taken for a daily walk.
The Coton de Tulear is intelligent, making it a quick learner, but it can be a bit stubborn. It thrives on its master’s approval, so a praise-based approach, rather than punishment, should be employed.
Cotons are good with kids if kids are good with them. They’re fun-loving and energetic enough to be playmates for older children who treat them respectfully, but they’ll learn to hide from clumsy younger children who may pat them too hard or accidentally kick them or step on them. Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child to never approach any dog while he’s sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how good-natured, should ever be left unsupervised with a child. Cotons prefer the company of people, but they get along well with other Cotons, dogs of other breeds, and cats. If his people aren’t around all the time, a Coton will appreciate having the company of another animal.
Cotons shed little, mainly in the spring. They’re often recommended for people with allergies, but it’s always wise to meet and spend time with a number of different Cotons before deciding you can actually live with one. To prevent matted fur, brush the coat three or four times a week with a pin brush that has uncoated metal pins. Pay special attention to the areas behind the ears, legs, and elbows. Using a spray conditioner as you brush will keep hair breakage to a minimum.
The more often you brush, the less frequently you’ll have to bathe him. A fine-toothed metal comb and a smaller comb for the face will also help keep your Coton looking sharp. If you want to see his eyes, use a coated hair elastic to create a cute topknot. You can also keep his coat in a short puppy clip for easier care. Depending on how dirty he gets, your Coton may need to be bathed weekly, every two weeks, or monthly. When bathing your Coton, you’ll probably want to use a whitening shampoo to keep him looking his best. After a bath, pat him damp dry instead of rubbing him with a towel or his coat will knot up. Then you can brush the coat out as you blow him dry.
The adult coat starts coming in between seven and 15 months of age, and during this time your Coton puppy will need additional grooming to prevent mats and tangles. Other grooming needs include dental hygiene and nail care. Brush your Coton’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar and bacterial buildup. Daily is better. Trim his nails once or twice a month, as needed. If you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, they’re too long. Short nails keep the feet in good condition and won’t scratch your legs when your Coton jumps up to greet you. Begin getting your Coton accustomed to being brushed and examined when he’s a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you’ll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he’s an adult.
The Coton de Tulear developed on the island of Madagascar and is still the island's national dog. It is believed that the Tenerife dog was brought to Madagascar and mated with a dog of the island, creating an unexpected result. The Coton's ancestors were possibly brought to Madagascar in the 16th and 17th centuries aboard pirate ships. Madagascar was a haven for pirates and pirate graveyards can still be seen there. Pirates established a base on St. Mary's Island, Madagascar and some of them took Malagasy wives. Whether the dogs were brought along to control rats on the ships, as companions for long voyages, or were confiscated from other ships as booty, no one knows. Tulear is a port now also known as Toliara. The Coton is of the Bichon dog type, linked most closely to the Bichon Tenerife and the Tenerife Terrier. There have been many stories circulating about the history of the Coton in recent years, most of them untrue. The Coton de Tulear was never feral on Madagascar. It did not hunt wild boar or alligators, as its size, strength, and demeanor can disprove easily. It was a companion dog of the Merina (the ruling tribe) in Madagascar. It has very little prey drive and is not a hunting dog.
The cottony coat may be the result of a single gene mutation. This small, friendly dog caught the fancy of the Malagasy royalty and they were the only people allowed to keep Cotons. When Dr. Robert Jay Russell discovered the breed in Madagascar in 1973 and brought the first ones to America, he coined the phrase the Royal Dog of Madagascar and the name stuck. They were also imported occasionally into France by returning French colonists, but were not officially imported to Europe until the 1970s. In 1974, Madagascar released a stamp with the image of the Coton, affirming their status nation's “royal dog”.
The Coton de Tulear was first formally recognised as a breed by the Societe Centrale Canine (the French national kennel club) in 1970 and was accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, which published the breed standard in 1972. The Coton de Tuléar is recognised internationally through the Fédération Cynologique Internationale and by major kennel clubs (The Kennel Club (UK) in the Toy Group, and the United Kennel Club (US) in the Companion Group), using standards based upon the Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard. The breed is not recognised by the New Zealand Kennel Club or the Australian Kennel Union. It also may be recognised in the English-speaking world by any of the very large number of minor registries, clubs, and internet-based dog registry businesses.
In the United States, another standard for the Coton de Tulear was developed based upon the breed in Madagascar in 1974 by a biologist, Dr. Robert Jay Russell. Russell established the Coton de Tulear Club of America in 1976 and was opposed to American Kennel Club recognition. The Coton de Tulear entered the American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service (their first step in breed recognition) in 1996, and became a fully recognized breed on July 1st, 2014. The American Kennel Club Parent Club for the breed is the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club.