Coton de Tulear Smiling
Coton de Tulear on Wooden Bench
Coton de Tulear Facing Camera
Coton de Tulear Standing in Front of Foliage
Coton de Tulear in Front of Bushes
This cute member of the Bichon family hails from the African island nation of Madagascar, where he is variously said to have arrived via shipwreck, pirates, traders or sailors, and then to have mated with local dogs. He is usually gentle and friendly, but be prepared for lots of grooming. Named for his soft, cottony coat as well as the port city of Tulear in Madagascar, the Coton de Tulear (pronounced KO-tohn day TOO-lay-are) tends to be a lively, loving companion. The Coton loves to snuggle with his people, but he’s typically easy to train and ready for a good time.

If you’re looking for a lap dog who can also be active in dog sports such as agility, nose work and rally, he’s one to consider. And unlike some Bichon-type breeds, the Coton tends to be easier to housetrain.

This is an indoor dog who requires extensive grooming to maintain his beautiful, fluffy coat. He tends to be easygoing and is sturdy enough to live in a family with children, as long as they are supervised when handling him. He also generally gets along well with other pets, including cats.    

Quick Facts

  • Cotons have dark eyes with an engaging expression, black lips and a black nose. The face is adorned with a prominent beard and mustache, and hair falls over the eyes. Floppy ears are covered in long, flowing hair.
  • A Coton’s coat may be white (sometimes with champagne-colored patches), black and white, or tricolor (mostly white with champagne patches and a dusting of black hairs).
  • The Coton is the official dog of Madagascar and has appeared on that country’s stamps.

The History of Cotons de Tulear

Small, fluffy, white-coated dogs have been favored companions for more than 2,000 years. Being portable, they quickly spread throughout the known world, becoming a little different in each place they settled. These Bichon dogs, as they became known, often took their names from the places they were found. One is the Coton de Tulear, from Tulear, Madagascar.

How they actually came to be is unclear. One tale suggests that the dogs swam ashore after a shipwreck and then mated with local dogs. Others claim that the little white dogs were brought to the island by visitors, whether those were sailors, pirates, traders or diplomats. Whatever the case, they are said to have a 300-year history there and eventually became known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar.

The Federation Cynologique Internationale recognized the Coton as a distinct breed in 1970. The Coton de Tulear Club of America (now the Madagascar Coton de Tulear Club of America) was formed in 1976. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2014 through another club, the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club.  

Coton de Tulear Temperament and Personality

Described as the ultimate companion dog, the Coton de Tulear is typically sweet and cuddly with a clownish personality, ready to play and have fun. The outgoing little fuzzballs cock their heads to listen intently when spoken to and are as likely to prance around on their hind legs as they are to walk on all fours. Many toy breeds have a reputation for being yappy, but the Coton is not one of them, although he may bark to sound an alarm if anything strikes him as out of the ordinary.

With his family, the Coton tends to be loving and attentive. He likes to snuggle in a lap or at least be as close as possible to his people. Some have described him as a “kissing” dog. He enjoys playing with children and adults alike, as long as he is treated respectfully, not roughly.

The Coton is smart and lively and generally takes well to training. That’s probably because he studies family members closely and learns what they like. You may note that he makes a sort of grunting sound when he’s excited. One of the pleasures of living with a Coton is that many of them retain a puppylike joy into old age. If you believe in the adage that laughter is the best medicine, a Coton might be a good prescription for what ails you.

As with any breed, Cotons vary in temperament. Some are assertive, some are mellow, and some are reserved — although not necessarily shy.

Start training a Coton the day you bring him home or, before you know it, he will have you trained. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limiting exposure to other dogs and public places until the puppy series of vaccines (including those for rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until his puppy vaccinations are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect Coton de Tulear puppy doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and one who has been well socialized from an early age.    

What You Need to Know About Coton de Tulear Health

The Coton is a generally healthy breed with a potential life span of 13 to 16 years. 

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Health certifications your pup’s parents should have:

One or more of the following exams are optional:

Careful breeders screen their dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in many cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines or because her dogs have been vet checked, or if she gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of dogs, walk away immediately.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common canine health problems: obesity. Keeping a Coton at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to protect his overall health.    

The Basics of Coton de Tulear Grooming

The Coton has cottonlike hair that is dry and wind tossed. It shouldn’t look shiny, and it shouldn’t be so long in the chest or abdominal area that it touches the ground. Although the Coton’s coat is not especially difficult to maintain, considering its length of 4 to 6 inches, it does require a regular investment of time.
On the plus side, the Coton’s hair dries quickly, requires relatively little brushing and doesn’t shed much.

To keep the Coton looking nice, brush his coat a few times a week. It’s easy to do this while you’re watching TV with the dog in your lap. At a minimum, this will take 20 to 30 minutes.

It’s also a good idea to trim the hair on the feet between the pads and toes. It may be necessary to trim the hair over the eyes if it seems to impair the dog’s vision. Of course, it’s important to keep the eyes and ears clean.

A Coton puppy’s coat is easy to groom, but when he reaches 7 to 8 months of age, the coat starts to change and begins to mat more easily. It’s essential to begin grooming the Coton at an early age so that when this coat change occurs, he is already used to being brushed and combed and is less likely to put up a fuss.

Grooming tools you should have on hand for the Coton include a small or medium-size slicker brush to remove mats and dead hair, a comb to remove food or other debris from the facial furnishings (beard and mustache), a nail trimmer and styptic powder in case you accidentally cut into the quick and cause the toenail to bleed, and a good coat detangler recommended by your dog’s breeder or groomer.

How often you bathe a Coton depends on personal preference. You can bathe him weekly if you use a mild pet shampoo, or you can give a bath every three to four weeks. Be sure you comb out any mats or tangles before bathing him. 

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every three to four weeks or as needed. Brush the teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.    

Finding a Coton de Tulear

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Coton de Tulear Breeder

Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems.

Start your search with the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club and the Madagascar Coton de Tulear Club of America. They should be able to refer you to breeders in the United States or Canada. This is a rare breed, so you may have to wait a while before a puppy is available, especially if you want a specific color or gender. Note that European Cotons may have a different appearance than those bred in North America, so be sure of what you’re getting.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activity, such as conformation showing, obedience or other dog sports, or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she will take the dogs back if at any time during their lives if the owners cannot keep them. Check the clubs’ codes of ethics and ask breeders if they subscribe to them.

Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for health problems in the breed and have results registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC).

Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It could save you money and frustration in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store or another source, don’t forget the adage “let the buyer beware.” Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Coton might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Coton, if one is available, may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. You can find adult dogs to adopt through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.

If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From a Coton de Tulear Rescue or Shelter

Bear in mind that the Coton is a rare breed. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group. If you want to search, however, here’s how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder and can have you searching for a Coton de Tulear in your area in no time. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Cotons available on Petfinder across the country). can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Coton. That includes vets, dog walkers and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescues

Most people who love Cotons love all Cotons. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Coton is an uncommon breed in North America, so few dogs are available through rescue, but breeders and breed clubs work to place dogs when they are in need of new homes.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They may also offer opportunities to foster a dog if you are an experienced dog owner.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

  • What is his energy level?
  • How is he around other animals?
  • How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
  • What is his personality like?
  • What is his age?
  • Is he housetrained?
  • Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
  • Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Coton, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopter’s Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or adoption, take your Coton to your veterinarian soon after acquiring him. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.