Information about the Coton de Tuléar

The Coton de Tuléar is a breed of small dog. It is named for the city of Tuléar in Madagascar and for its cotton-like coat.

Multiple registries with differing standards describe the Coton de Tulear, but in general, it has very soft hair, comparable to a cotton ball, a prominent black nose, large expressive eyes (usually covered by bangs) and somewhat short puffy legs. However it needs to be brushed or combed daily.

Coton de Tuléar has a medium to long, fluffy, cotton-like coat that is considered hair rather than fur. It is a non-shedding breed with low dander. Like the poodle or Havanese (thought to be the Coton’s cousin), this breed has very low allergic affects, and are considered hypoallergenic. This breed has little to no shedding. Mats should be removed through daily brushing and combing. Grooming the Coton de Tulear can be quite a challenge because the coat is quite special and different from many other dogs. There is not much literature in this area, but there is help available in the book: Grooming and caring for your Coton De Tulear. This breed does not have the common “doggie smell”, and when properly bathed and groomed does not smell at all. The Coton de Tulear comes in three accepted colors: white (sometimes with tan markings, all white preferred by show breeders), black and white, and tricolor. These colors generally do not fade, however the tan and white may become all white.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard specifies that the Coton’s coat should be white but may also have tan, or “lemon”, color on their ears and body, but the coat must be primarily white with no black hair. The US-based Coton de Tulear Club of America allows for three different but equally favorable colorings: white, black-and-white and tri-color which includes “honeybear”. White is described as nearly all white, sometimes with tan, or champagne, coloring on the ears, face or back. Black-and-white is defined as pure white with prominent black patches on the head and body (no ratio of white-to-black is specified or favored). Tri-color is described as mostly white with some brown markings and dustings of black on the body and head. A honey bear tri-color has light brown with black tips which gradually fades to off white or lemon color. The tri-color loses the most color of any of the color varieties, usually becoming mostly white with possibly some champagne markings and a dusting of black hairs on the ears and/or body.

The international Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard gives the Coton’s weight as from 4 to 6 kg (about 9 to 13 lb) for males and 3.5 to 5 kg (8 to 11 lb) for females. The Coton’s height (including tolerance) is from 25 to 30 cm (about 10 to 12 inches) tall for males and from 22 to 27 cm (8½ to 10½ inches) for females.

By contrast, the Coton de Tulear Club of America standard specifies the weight as no more than 18 lb (8 kg) with the average being between 11-15 pounds. The standard height is 9 to 13 inches (33 cm), except for the rare Tall Coton, which is 14 to 16 inches (43 cm) high.

The Tall Coton shows up in all three colors, and can be born to a litter with normal sized parents that carry the appropriate genes. These long-limbed dogs are exceptionally agile and graceful.

The nose is black in colour in the Coton de Tulear Club of America standard. However, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard, which does favor a black nose, states that brown is tolerable as well. A pink or partly pink nose is not accepted in either standard. The lips are tight and of the same colour as the nose, specifically black in the Coton de Tulear Club of America standard. The teeth are in a scissor bite or pincer bite. The eyes are round, dark in colour and wide set. The expression should be lively, intelligent, bright, and merry. The ears are triangular and set high. The leather of the ear should be thin. The neck is strong, without a dewlap and slightly arched.

The chest is well developed and reaches below the elbows. The feet are small and arched. The back should be strong and slightly arched. The pads of the feet are usually black. The body is of moderate length and should have a moderate tuck up. The loin is muscular and not too long. The hind legs are strong and straight. The hind feet similar to the front feet. The dewclaws may be removed. The tail is low set and tapering, carried over the back when in motion or excited, relaxed otherwise.

The Coton is a playful, affectionate, intelligent breed. Although generally quiet, it can become very vocal, grunting, barking and making other noises when having fun. Cotons are known to have a habit of jumping up and walking on their hind legs to please people. Most Cotons love meeting new people and are very curious in new situations. Cotons are easy to train, as they are very eager to please. Cotons are great with kids and other animals. The Coton de Tulear has a large dog personality much like the Lab. Cotons love to swim, run, and play. They adapt well to any kind of living environment.

The Coton has a coat which requires brushing and combing almost everyday, and requires bathing at least once per month. Cotons, like Poodles, do not “shed”, meaning they do not drop hair on furniture, carpeting etc. But they do lose hair the same way, the texture of their coat causes the shed hair to be trapped in the coat. If not brushed and combed daily, this breed will mat up quickly and may require shaving. Cotons need a short walk every day for exercise, but will appreciate a play session as often as possible and have the endurance to go on a long hike.

The Coton is in general a healthy breed. However there are some health issues as there are in all breeds. The most serious of these would be heart problems, liver shunts, back (disc) problems or eye problems. Luckily, these are still relatively uncommon in the breed. Like all purebreds, the Coton must be bred true to type to retain its unique characteristics. This will require stringent line and occasional inbreeding. All dog breeds are inbred, otherwise they would never breed true to type. The small gene pool of this breed is owing to its near extinction.

The Coton de Tulear has few health issues compared to many other breeds due to being rather generic in type. The Coton is a fairly rare breed and is just now being accepted and recognized by the AKC as of 2012. The fact that this is a breed being revived from extinction means the Coton de Tulear is rather expensive to purchase and prices may reach $3,000. per specimen. The average life span of a Coton de Tulear is 14 to 18 years.

The Coton de Tulear developed on the island of Madagascar and is still the island’s national dog. 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 Tenerife Terrier. There have been many stories circulating about the history of the Coton in recent years. Most of them are 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.

The Coton de Tuléar 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 is also recognised 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 on the Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard. It is not recognised by the American Kennel Club, 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 on the breed in Madagascar in 1974 by a biologist, Dr. Robert Jay Russell, and the Coton de Tulear Club of America was formed in 1976 by the same person. The American Kennel Club has offered Foundation Stock Service (their first step in breed recognition) to the Coton de Tulear since 1996, but the Coton de Tulear Club of America is opposed to American Kennel Club recognition for its breed. As a result many other Coton de Tulear breed clubs have been formed, accepting one or both of the standards for the breed. which started in 2001.