The Coton de Tulear is a small breed with a big history. These charming companion dogs originated in Madagascar, where they’re often found today both as loving pets and as free-ranging street or village dogs. The Coton belongs to the Bichon family (along with breeds like the Bichon Frise and Maltese), descended from a breed called the Bichon Tenerife. The Tenerife likely interbred with a type of Malagasy dog known as the Coton de Reunion, which is now extinct, as well as the Morondava Hunting Dog and various terriers.
Historically, the Coton de Tulear was owned exclusively by the ruling tribal monarchy—the Merina. It was lemur biologist Dr. Robert Jay Russell who brought the first Cotons to America in 1974. Their descendants quickly captured the hearts of everyone they met.
This breed earned its name from its cotton-like coat, which comes in many colors—the most common being white and piebald (black and white markings) . Cotons tend to fade in color as they grow, so even a Coton with black markings could end up white or grey as an adult. Some kennel clubs only allow Cotons with no colored spots or minimal markings. Because some show lines are being selected for white coloring, it’s more common to see piebald in Malagasy Coton lines. Size can also vary by population and line, though Cotons should be on the smaller side. Occasionally, a “tall Coton” is produced—these are purebred Cotons who didn’t inherit the genetic variant for short legs.
Because the Coton was bred for companionship for many years, they want to spend as much time with their humans as possible. These are wonderful, loving family dogs who will amuse everyone with their clownish antics. Cotons especially like sitting on the edge of a couch to look out the window and announce visitors. Like many companion breeds, they can be prone to separation anxiety. Some Cotons may be very vocal, so training is important to curb that behavior early if it’s undesirable. Cotons are generally good with children and other dogs. It’s common for owners to have multiple Cotons as companions for each other.
Some versions of this breed’s history allude to a shipwreck off the port city of Tulear (now Toliara). While the sailors perished, their little white dogs were able to swim to shore. According to the story, these dogs bred with native Malagasy dogs to give rise to the Coton de Tulear we know today. While no one knows if this story is accurate, it is true that merchants transported small companion dogs like the Coton.
Explore some Embark dogs that share Coton de Tulear ancestry.