The Coton De Tulear Is A Bright And Happy Dog

Coton De Tulear

The Coton de Tulear is also called ‘The Royal Dog of Madagascar’.

With a surprising origin on the big island of Madagascar, off the South East coast of  Africa, the Coton is an endearing and happy toy dog breed with a strong desire to please their owners. They are companion dogs, and love being with their special person.

A white Coton de Tulear dog sitting on grass
Coton de Tulear

Coton de Tulear – Temperament

This is a happy and affectionate breed, known for it’s love of playing games and learning new tricks, especially if a treat is on offer. For some reason, they seem to like standing up and walking on their back legs for a few steps, to entertain their owners.

The Coton is primarily a companion dog, and they form very strong bonds with their owners. They are light-hearted and clownish. This is not a shy nor cautious breed, and they love meeting new people.

This energy means that they are active dogs, and enjoying running around in the back yard as well as a walk out on a leash. However, they are suited to apartment life as long as they can be taken out several times a day. They are generally quiet dogs, and unlikely to disturb your neighbors, unless they get excited by something when they will bark.

The Coton loves to swim, and is a strong swimmer, which is surprising as they were not bred to be water dogs.

A Coton de Tulear sitting down indoors on a carpet
Coton with trimmed coat; image courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Coton de Tulear – Breed History

 The history of the breed can be divided into 2 parts – the more recent part which is undisputed regarding their development on Madagascar, and the more distant part in time explaining how they got to the island in the first place.

There are several versions of how these dogs arrived. One claims that a pack of the dogs was being transported by ship, which sank in the Malagasy channel and the dogs swam ashore. They then fended for themselves as feral dogs, before being adopted by locals.

Another theory claims that the dogs arrived on pirate ships, and were introduced to homes on the islands as family dogs when some pirates married local Malagasy women.

A third theory states that small white companion dogs such as the Maltese were widely traded and bartered aboard merchant ships around the Mediterranean and North Africa. They were regarded as luxury items at the time.

The last theory is perhaps the more likely to be true, and would explain how these little white companion dogs became a favorite of Madagascar royalty and nobility. They were the only ones who could afford to buy these dogs from passing merchants, and they guarded the breed by passing laws that made it illegal for commoners to own one of these dogs.

The nobles of Madagascar were also very reluctant for any of the dogs to leave the island at all, resulting in centuries of isolation for the breed, and thus breeding true for hundreds of years.

A long-haired coton de tulear dog indoors
Coton with a long coat

The AKC reports that the first Cotons to be exported in any numbers were taken to France by French tourists in the 1960s. They were quickly popular in France, and spread to several other European countries within a few years.

In 1973 the first examples of the breed were taken to America, where they also had the name ‘Royal Dog of Madagascar’ due to the connection with nobles and royals there. Full official recognition by the AKC did not happen until 2014.

The breed is named after the town of Tulear, which is now the city of Toliara. The word ‘coton’ refers to the fluffy white coat, which is very soft and fine, like cotton, as opposed to the typical fur of other dog breeds. ‘Coton’ is the French word for ‘cotton’.

Vital Statistics;

10 to 11 inches (male)
9 to 10 inches (female)

9 to 15 lbs (male)
8 to 13 lbs (female)

Life Span;  15 to 19 years

Color;  White, with grey or yellow markings.

Ease of Training

The Coton de Tulear is not difficult to train, as they are bright, intelligent, and keen to please their owners. They like to learn new tricks, and quickly pick up new ideas, particularly if there is a small treat on offer!

It is important to socialize your Coton from an early age. They are not naturally suspicious of strangers, but should be gradually introduced to new sights, sounds, smells and people in order to get them used to the outside world.

It’s a good idea to take your dog along to puppy training classes as part of their socialization, and to get them accustomed to training. They should be trained at home in short 5 minute sessions, repeated 2 or 3 times a day, to make training fun and avoid boredom or distraction setting in.

A coton de tulear puppy with a trimmed coat sitting down indoors
A puppy with trimmed coat


The Coton de Tulear does not make for a particularly good watchdog nor guard dog. They love welcoming new people, and are likely to bark in excitement if they see something new, rather than to alert their owners of danger.

Your Coton is most likely to welcome an intruder rather than try to repel them. They were bred to be companion dogs and are innately friendly.

Even if they take  a dislike to an intruder, they are not big enough to act as a deterrent, and would not be physically able to put up much of a defense. If you are looking for some extra protection, I recommend you look for a larger breed.


The defining feature of the Coton de Tulear is its fine white coat. If you leave it at its natural long length, you will need to comb it through carefully and gently every few days, using a spray conditioner to help get the comb through the fine hair. You need to get down to the skin, in order to remove loose and dead hair.

Although the Coton does shed hairs, they mostly stay trapped in the coat, and will become matted if not combed out. This low hair loss and low dander level makes the breed suitable for people with allergies.

If you prefer not to have to spend too much time combing, you can get your Coton trimmed into a short coat by a professional groomer. Although they will still need regular brushing to remove dead hairs, it’s much easier with a short trimmed coat.

These dogs do not have a ‘doggy smell’, and don’t have much of an odor at all unless they get into something dirty outdoors. They usually only need an occasional bath to keep them fresh.

The ears should be checked every week for any signs of redness, swelling, or bad smell that might indicate infection. The claws should be checked every month and trimmed if they are getting too long. The dog’s teeth should be brushed every day with a dog-specific toothpaste, not a human toothpaste as this contains xylitol.

Health Considerations

This is a very healthy breed, and they generally have very few issues. As always, there is a certain percentage that may develop some conditions, including;

  •  Patellar luxation
  •   Eye problems
  •   Hip dysplasia
  •   Cardiac issues.

Responsible breeders will have their dogs evaluated regularly to detect any potential issues.

Famous Cotons de Tulear

I couldn’t find any! If you know of any famous Cotons de Tulear, please let me know by using the Contact Me link.

Thank you!

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