Get to Know the Coton de Tulear: Cotton Candy on Four Legs

Find out why so many people cotton to the Coton de Tulear!

Caroline Coile  |  Jan 5th 2015


It’s a cloud! It’s a giant cotton ball! It’s a Coton de Tulear! Um, what? Yes, it’s the dog that looks like cotton candy come to life. And he’s bound to get questions no matter where he goes. How does he see? (Just like you would see through long bangs, but still, most people clip the dog’s hair back when he’s not being shown.) Is the coat as soft as it looks? (Yes. Put your hand on it, and it will sink down several inches before you reach dog.) Do they take a lot of grooming? (Yes. Rain, twigs, and the mere passing of hours can lead to tangles.) Are they great dogs to live with? (Yes!!)

More interesting things about the Coton de Tulear

  • The Coton de Tulear may be confused with a Bichon Frise, but the Coton is larger and has straighter hair. He may be confused with a Maltese, but he is much larger with puffier hair. He may be confused with a Polish Lowland Sheepdog or Tibetan Terrier, but he is smaller, and his hair is puffier and almost all white.
  • Coton de Tulear (pronounced co-TAWN day-too-LEE-are) means “cotton of Tulear” in French, with “cotton” referring to the coat and “Tulear” coming from the seaport at the tip of the island of Madagascar.
  • The breed is in the Barbichon family of dogs, which includes the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Havanese, and Bolognese.

  • These dogs’ ancestors were kept as ratters and companions on sea trading ships. The story goes that one of these ships sunk off Tulear, and several little white dogs survived and came ashore. Some became feral and mixed with native dogs.
  • A popular legend claims that the dogs were so smart that they could outwit crocodiles. Supposedly, one half of a group would go upstream and start barking to draw the crocs to them, while the other half of the group crossed the river.

    • In the 17th century, the native Merina people adopted the dogs and presented them to the Merina nobility.
    • When the French laid claim to Madagascar in the late 17th century, French nobility adopted the dogs and decreed no commoners could own them. They became known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar.
    • When Madagascar attained independence in the mid-20th century, tourism increased and visitors took Cotons home with them.
    • The Fèdèration Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized the Coton in 1987, increasing demand and depleting native stocks.
    • In 1992, Madagascar began limiting the number of exported Cotons.
    • Madagascar once issued a stamp featuring the breed.

  • The first Coton came to America in 1974.
  • There is some disagreement about the proper type of the breed between the prominent breed clubs (and even accusations of impure breeding), further fueled by disagreement over pursuing AKC recognition.
  • Against the wishes of many breeders, the AKC admitted the Coton de Tulear into the Non-Sporting group in 2014.
  • Owners include Barbra Streisand, Debra Messing, Glenn Close, Jane Fonda, Carrie Fisher, Paula Printess, Richard Benjamin, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Do you own a Coton de Tulear? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.