Coton – History of the Breed
The Coton de Tulear (Cotton of Tulear in French) originates from Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The capital of Madagascar is Antananarivo. Tulear is a small sea port city at the southern tip of the island. The city was been renamed Toliara after the formation of the new, independent government, The Republic of Madagascar (Repoblikan’i Madagasiraka). Although French is still spoken widely in Madagascar, Malagasy is spoken by most of the 18 million people who inhabit the island.
The island’s people are extremely poor, and people there are often just barely surviving. There are many good humanitarian agencies working in Madagascar and with international interest in the many unique creatures that live there, hopefully the people and the forests will benefit. Madagascar’s forests are a shimmering mass of dripping leaves and quirky creatures: lemurs, baobabs, geckoes, sifakas and octopus trees. Sadly, they are threatened by aggressive deforestation. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 hit Madagascar’s east coast near the towns of Manakara, Sambava and Vohemar, destroying infrastructure and leaving close to 1000 people homeless. Luckily no deaths were recorded. This is also an area where the Coton de Tulear still lives.
It’s in the forests of Madigascar and with these people that our little Cotons lived near the sea, in the same area as the now famous ring tailed lemurs. A woman of Indian descent from France who grew up in Tulear was recently visiting Portland, Oregon where she instantly recognized one of the club member’s Cotons. She told stories in French of how these little dogs were the precious pets of many richer households, were traded across the channel to Africa into Mozambique, and were the friendly dog street urchins running in packs in the city and outlying forest when she was growing up.
Historically, the Coton’s arrival to Madagascar dates to approximately to the 15th century. Ships frequently sailed to the West Indies around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope into the Mozambique Channel to the Indian Ocean.
Sea voyages were often long and boring and sailors’ quality of life was very poor. To offset these hardships and the loneliness of the ladies also traveling on these ships, little spirited white dogs accompanied them. The same little dogs were also used to rid the ships of unwanted mice and rats. They could be trained and were more companionable than cats, and many ocean going people found small white dogs excellent seafaring companions.
There is a common story that during a violent storm, a shipwreck occurred in the proximity of Tulear, Madagascar. No one knows the name of the ship or its flag but all versions of the story tell that all the sailors perished. Some of the little white dogs from this ship swam ashore near Tulear, and it is assumed that they are the ancestors of the Coton de Tulear. These little white dogs also developed into the Bichon Frise, the Bolognese, Maltese and other similar breeds. You can see these small dogs in some Renaissance paintings, sitting with royal ladies and notable figures.
The dogs settled on the island, became wild, and eventually met with the local dogs. The Coton de Tulear resulted from this relationship. It’s thought by some that the deep coloration on puppies that later fades to white or champagne came from this cross breeding. There is a small wild dog, now extinct, with a patchy brown, black and tan coloration of the wild dogs of South Africa that lived in this area during the time of the Coton, and a mix of this wild dog with the small white dogs from the ships may have resulted in the coloration we see on Coton puppies. It’s also thought that the common dog of Madagascar, a mix of many breeds where also their ancestor. There were also terriers on the island. Whatever the ancestory the Coton de Tulear is as unique as many animals found on the wild and isolatolated island of Madagascar, and people who live with them can attest to their not being quite like other dogs in their intelligence, happy temperment, and unique vocalizations, just a few of the many excellent traits of the rare Coton de Tulear.
These little dogs foraged for food to survive and learned to protect themselves against bigger predators. There are stories that they even hunted in packs. Even now when numbers of Cotons live together, they form strong heretical packs. The Coton de Tulear still has many primitive attributes, and will hunt for fun if given the chance. Coton packs always have a strong female leader who keeps everyone in line. The males are less dominant, although the Alpha male is clearly the top male in the pack. Unlike many breeds that have been around for a long while, it’s easy to tell the male Cotons from the females. The females are truly little ladies, and the males are somewhat larger and more masculine. If you go the home page of this site and refresh your browser, you will cycle through a number of photos of Cotons. It’s easy to spot the females and to see the difference in the males. Because the Coton de Tulear has not been bred for very long, it’s easy to see the difference between individuals, unlike breeds who have been bred for a long time where each individual looks a lot like the others, and males and females are similar.
Here is story from Madagascar about Cotons who wanted to cross a river infested with crocodiles: There were a number of large reptiles with wide open mouths waiting patiently for a feast near a river. Since swimming across was sheer suicide, our dogs needed a diversion to reach the opposite bank, and that is exactly what they did. The dogs looked first for the narrowest passage and left some of the pack there. Then some ran to the widest part of the river and started barking ferociously on the bank. The racket lured all the crocodiles to that spot where they got out of the water and slowly made their way to where they heard the barking dogs. Our sly dogs sprinted back to the narrowest passage, jumped in the water and swam across!
The native Malagasy’s fell in love with these little dogs, domesticated them and then offered them as gifts to the King and the Merino nobles. Because of their charming personalities and adorable appearance, the Coton soon became a favorite of Kings and nobles. For many years, only people of the ruling caste were allowed to own a Coton.
Around the turn of the century, French colonials also fell under the spell of the Coton. The breed has only been recognized since 1971 when a Frenchman brought some dogs from Madagascar with him back to France and established it as a breed.
According to the Federation Cynologique Internationale (the FCI) breed standard, the height of the male at the withers varies between 25 cm to 32 cm (approximately 9.8 in. to 12.5 in.) with the ideal being 28 cm (11 in.) and the height for the female at the withers varies between 22 cm to 28 cm (approximately 8.5 in. to 11 in.) with the ideal being 25 cm (11 in.) The male weighs between 4 to 6 kg (approximately 8.8 to 13.2 pounds) and the female weighs between 3.5 to 5 kg (approximately 7.7 to ll pounds).
The Coton de Tulear is a small, sweet “cottony” long-haired dog with a big dog’s heart. The coloring is white, champagne and white and also tricolor. It is a happy, somewhat boisterous little companion, often acting like a clown, very eager and intelligent, and forms very strong bonds with his/her masters. The dark brown eyes are round, well spaced, rimmed with black, showing a lively and intelligent expression. The nose is black the lips are thin and rimmed with black. The ears are dropped, thin, triangular and covered with long hair. The ratio of the height at the withers to the length is 2:3. The Coton de Tulear has a slightly curved top-line which in part differentiates him from other members of the Bichon family.
The Coton thrives on love, food, human companionship and protection from his family. It will never tire of too much TLC! Pet him, carry him, talk to him and you will see great results. He will shower you with kisses since he is so affectionate and, being a good listener, will cock his head to the side while you talk to him. Being a lively companion, he is always ready to play, seldom tires and will clown around and jump to attract your attention. He will happily trot next to you in the house, observe your gestures and vocalize to you with a particular sound that does not resemble barking, but more like grunting or growling, so go ahead, make his day, and answer him in the same fashion.
The Coton gets along well with other dogs, cats and children. He is a good traveler, is easily trained and housebroken. He will love taking walks with you (on a leash of course).
The Coton is seldom sick and has an approximate life span of l5 to 19 years. Although he is very hardy, and does not mind to playing in the rain and the snow, he still is an indoor dog. While not known as a”guard dog” the Coton is an excellent alarm dog. He is very protective of his house and master and because of his keen hearing he will alert you right away to strange noises.
Puppies are born either all white or with spots, mainly around the head and the ears, but also sometimes on the body. These spots which are yellow, brown, rust or black, disappear as the Coton matures and can leave behind a light to medium champagne and/or grey coloring.
The hair is shorter as a puppy but reaches approximately four inches or so in adulthood. Because the Coton has minimal shedding (mainly springtime) and has hair and not fur, he is a good choice for people with allergies.
The Coton de Tulear’s hair is soft and fluffy to the touch, non-oily, and light as the cotton flower. Gentle brushing 3 or 4 times a week with a special pin brush (without balls at the end of the pins which tear and damage the coat) will help alleviate matting that can occur especially behind the ears, legs and elbow region. Particular attention will be needed with the coat between the age of 9 to l4 months when the adult hair is coming in. Matting can be at its highest during that time. Besides the fact that the dog will love the attention if introduced to grooming as a puppy, less bathing will be required. If you need to bathe the dog, make sure to use an appropriate shampoo for the Coton coat and its hair. How often to bathe depends upon many factors and your own individual choice. Please remember that, when it comes to advice, your breeder and veterinarian can offer you invaluable help. You can also get a lot of help from other members of the USACTC, which is a great source for all Coton owners.