Did the Coton de Tulear’s ancestors actually survive shipwrecks and swim ashore to Madagascar many centuries ago? We may never know for sure. But we do know that once on the island, the Coton de Tulear (KO-Tone Dih TOO-Lay-ARE) became the beloved Royal Dog of Madagascar. Today, the Coton’s growing fan club adores his lovely white cottony coat, cheerful disposition, vivaciousness, and joyful antics.
The story of the Coton weaves fact and folklore. Madagascar was a popular stopping point for trade with voyagers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Travelers sometimes had small, Bichon-type canine companions. Today’s Coton is likely related to the Cotons on the island Réunion. Accounts of the breed’s arrival specifically on Madagascar include stories of pirates, traveling ladies, French sailors, and a shipwreck or two. Once on the island, the Cotons developed survival skills, adapting to the rugged conditions. This history contributes to the breed’s traits today: highly adaptable and small but sturdy. On Madagascar, Coton ancestors likely got frisky with local dogs and voila! The Coton de Tulear as we know him. The Cotons became a favorite with the monarchy. Ownership of Le Coton de Tulear was reserved for Malagasy nobility and the wealthy.
Today, anyone can share a delightful friendship with the sweet Coton. Always hopeful for fun activities, Cotons are active, but they don’t demand strenuous exercise. In fact, the Coton makes a charming apartment companion, as long as he’s walked daily.
Cotons greet their owners with excitement. Some show a famous Coton “smile,” sing a song, or dance a jig. Frisky and lighthearted, Cotons usually can play nicely with (generally older) respectful children. Properly socialized Cotons are polite with other dogs, too. An ideal guard dog? Not exactly, although most Cotons do sound an alarm when newcomers arrive. Eager to please and easy to train, the Coton’s versatility keeps him at the top of his game, starring in sports like obedience, rally, agility, and canine freestyle.
What does life with a Coton look like? Well, don’t expect boredom, that’s for sure. According to longtime owner Eileen Narieka, if you share your life with a Coton, you can probably expect:
Celebrities and non-celebrities alike revel in the cottony dog with the island history. Barbara Streisand, Debra Messing, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all adore Cotons. Looking for male celebs with a heart for Cotons? My guess is quite a few of them cuddle Cotons, too, but maybe not in front of the paparazzi lens. Actress Jane Fonda shares her life with a Coton named Tulea. Tulea was the smallest in her litter and still only weighs 9 pounds today. As for smiling, Jane confirms the renowned Coton social skills. “My Coton does smile on occasion, especially when she sees an old, close friend,” she has said.
Where history is muddled about the origin of the Coton, folklore fills the gaps. Here are a few of the chronicled options: