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History of the Coton de Tulear

A photo of Coton De Tulear.


History of the Coton de Tulear

The information in History of the Coton de Tulear article is approved by the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club, AKC Parent Breed Club.

Pirates, shipwrecks, survival in harsh climates, tales of encounters with crocodiles! “Yes”, we’re describing the origins of the Coton de Tulear! Oh, you thought this was a “French” breed, sitting in Royal Courts in the laps of nobility! The reality is, this elegant, dynamic and robust white dog, with a beautiful long, flowing coat, finds its roots on the Island of Madagascar.


The Sixteenth Century

European courts were enamored with the small white dogs of the Bichon family. Their size, sturdiness, and pleasing character made them the perfect companion. Ancestors of the Coton de Tulear (pronounced: KO-tone Dih TOO-LaY-ARE) began to accompany fine ladies on long sea voyages as lap dogs. Sailors, however, discovered that they possessed great skills in controlling vermin onboard. Several varieties of Bichons, scattered throughout the Mediterranean region, soon found themselves as highly valued crew members, among them the Bichon Tenerife, considered by many to be the closest relative of today’s Coton de Tulear.

Ships navigating the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean, led to the arrival of the Bichon Tenerife on the Island of Reunion, located 500 miles east of Madagascar, where matings with other breeds already inhabiting the Island, resulted in the Coton De Reunion. (Now extinct)

The prospect of acquiring treasure from merchant vessels traveling along the East Indies trade route made the region a haven for pirates. Legends spin a tale of a merchant ship that became engaged in a furious battle with a pirate ship. Following this battle, a violent storm arose and both ships sank. There were no survivors, except the strong white dogs they were carrying, the Coton de Reunion, the Bichon Tenerife and other Bichon type dogs that accompanied these sailing ships, who swam safely ashore in close proximity to the Madagascar Seaport of “Tulear”. It was there that the adaptation of these original Bichon type dogs begins and continues for over four centuries (300 to 400 generations) of rigorous natural selection, accompanied by some selective breeding with local and imported dogs. The remarkable result is todays extraordinary beautiful, charming, intelligent, robust and adaptable “Coton de Tulear”!

On Madagascar, The Coton was forced to hone survival skills in a harsh, rugged and diverse environment. Conditions range from tropical temperatures along the coast to the much cooler temperatures of inland rain forests and rugged mountains. One of the main adaptations is the surviving strains of long, fluffy, white hair that provided thermal insulation in this varied climate.

Beneath this beautiful and practical coat, lies a well built, robust and muscular dog, of keen intelligence that possesses the essential tools for survival.


The Story Was Reported by Several Explorers

A small band of Cotons decides to cross a river infested with crocodiles. A pack leader moves along the shoreline. There he barks loudly and makes every effort to attract the attention of the crocodiles. They come running from all sides, expecting that he ventured into the water, in the hopes of an easy meal. At this time, the rest of the band comes out of hiding and quickly crosses the river at a lower point. Seeing and hearing this, the crocodiles then turn and swim to the other dogs, but to no avail. They have been outsmarted and all of the Cotons are on the other side of the river.

This adventuresome and beautiful dog became a favorite of the Merina, the ruling tribe of Madagascar. It was decreed that they could be owned only by “nobility”. This designation earned the Coton the title of “The Royal Dog of Madagascar”.


The French Connection

In the 16th century, Europeans settled the Island of Madagascar, many of whom were French. The French played a strong role in Madagascar history and many expatriates still live there.

One of the early governors, Etienne de Flacourt, governor of Fort Dauphin wrote that he observed “amount of dogs that are small, have a long snout and short legs like foxes. There are some who are white. They are caused by dogs who came from France and stayed… they have short ears.”

French colonists also became enamored with the descendants of their beloved Bichons. They now saw a dog that was extremely pleasing to the eye, thanks to its beautiful fur. Beneath this alluring appearance was a very intelligent, well built, dog whose joie de vivre made him absolutely irresistible!

The desire to preserve all of these wonderful qualities was to follow, but no registry existed on Madagascar, until 1966, when the “Societe Canine de Madagascar” was established by a group of Coton enthusiasts including Mr. Louis Petit. The Societe immediately applied to the FCI for recognition.

Monsieur Leblond, Monsieur Triquet and Monsieur Petit, all considered expert judges, studied the Coton de Tulear on Madagascar and developed the first description of the ideal Coton. The picture below is said to be the “example” upon which that standard was based.

Early exportation to France and Belgium, where the Coton became known as the “Anti Stress Dog”, was followed by the appearance of the Coton in the United States in the mid-1970s. These bloodlines are the foundation of today’s Coton de Tulear.

In 1970 the first standard was written. Approval and publication by the FCI followed in 1971. That original standard was revised four times, to the current FCI Standard of 1999.


Coton de Tulear in the USA

  • 1996: AKC FSS accepted Cotons de Tulear into the registry.
  • 2008: AKC Performance Events participation granted.
  • 2012: THe United States of America Coton de Tulear Club, incorporated in 1993, with its established history of dedication to preserving the breed, accompanied by the largest Coton de Tulear registry in the United States, was designated as the AKC PARENT BREED CLUB.
  • 2012, Jan. 19: AKC Coton de Tulear Standard for the Breed: written by the USACTC and Approved by the AKC
  • 2012, June 30: AKC Miscellaneous Class: Approved.
  • 2014: July 2: AKC Non Sporting Class: Full Recognition