The Coton de Tulear is a little white bundle of fluffy joy from Africa. This rare and rather exotic pup is becoming increasingly popular in America. So we figured that many of our readers are after the full canine Coton lowdown.
This small pooch package is bright, charming, and always happy to see you. In all honesty, there isn’t much not to like about him. But like all dogs, there are a few things that you need to know before you welcome him into your home.
In this breed information guide, we discover all the doggy details you need, including his potential pirate-pooch history, happy-go-lucky personality, exercise needs, intense grooming requirements, and much more. Let’s take the voyage into this guy’s world and discover whether you and he could be a match made in heaven.
The Coton de Tulear hails from the island of Madagascar, namely the port of Tulear, which is 250 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa. And although this pup is officially an African dog breed, he is linked more to the French nation. This is down to their former colonial rule over Madagascar. This is why this pup has a French name, pronounced: “Ko-Tone Dih Too-Lay-Are.”
The history of this adorable dog is shrouded in secrecy, mainly because the Madagascan elites were jealous guardians of their beloved doggos. So much so that they passed a law that prevented common people from owning a Coton. Many believe that they came to the island several hundred years ago. There are many stories about how and why they came to be in Madagascar.
One story describes how these little white dogs were the sole survivors of a shipwreck and took over the island. But it is more likely that these Bichon Frise-related pups accompanied aristocratic ladies on their voyages to exotic islands like Madagascar and eventually planted roots. Many Cotons joined the royal households, whereas some became street dogs.
They were kept an island secret until the 1960s when a visiting Frenchman discovered these delightful pups and took them back to France. There he promoted the breed and worked to standardize them. The story goes that Cotons first came to America shortly after this in 1973, thanks to Dr. Robert Jay Russell. He also fell under the spell of this breed and took them back to America.
He was named the official Royal Dog of Madagascar, and this name still sticks today. Famous celebs, including Barbara Streisand and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are proud owners of these wonderful pups.
Cotons have never-ending jokes and antics up his sleeve, and his family is in for a daily barrel of laughs with this pup. They view their primary role as the family entertainer – they take it very seriously and do it very well. Their happy-go-lucky personality is infectious, and they brighten up everyone’s day for sure.
This breed is fun but not too boisterous in the home. This is one of the many reasons why Coton fans love them so much. They are also very in tune with their family’s emotions and know when someone needs a cuddle over entertaining. This is why these sympathetic pups make fabulous therapy dogs too. They are well-balanced and almost always very well behaved (with the proper training, of course!)
This charming breed is a very sociable and friendly pup who gets along with everyone. Strangers and visitors have no worries about being warned off. Instead, this pup will probably lick them to death. If you’re looking for a mean-looking guard dog, Cotons may be the worst choice. He’s cute and wants to be friends with everyone. For this reason, he makes a great travel buddy.
They adore their family and cannot bear to be without them. However, unlike many other companionship dogs, they are drawn to their main caregiver in particular. A bit like German Shepherds, Cotons are often described as a one-person dogs. This is often the primary caregiver, so you and the rest and the family can fight amongst yourselves. But once he has chosen his special buddy, the decision is made for life.
Cotons are sensitive dogs who crave human companionship. They will follow you around everywhere. This makes them a prime candidate for suffering from separation anxiety. Some love their neediness, but it can be frustrating for those looking for a more independent pup. But unlike other needy dogs, they are not demanding when you are there – they are just happy to be with you.
Size & Appearance
Females typically weigh between 8 and 13 pounds, and they measure between 9 and 10 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. Males are usually slightly bigger, but there are exceptions to the rule. They typically weigh between 9 and 15 pounds, and they measure between 10 and 11 inches tall.
Cotons are longer than they are tall, giving them a rectangular shape. They have a long-ish tail that reaches their hocks, but they carry it high when in motion or happy. Their eyes are very rounded and are usually black in color, and always happy in their expression. Under all that hair of theirs, they have long, pendulous ears that reach their jawline. Overall, they are a fluffy bundle of doggy goodness.
If you want to show your Coton in the show ring, there are certain standards they need to meet. You can find all of this in the Coton de Tulear AKC breed standard. If you are just looking for a family pet, they can deviate from the breed standard. This does not affect their personality in any way. Those pups that stray from the breed standard are often priced lower by breeders.
Coat and Colors
Their coat is unique from almost all other dogs. Many believe it resulted from a genetic mutation many centuries ago. It is long, dense, and cotton-like in texture, hence its name. Their coat is wavy, giving him a Poodle-esque appearance.
They are double-coated and not considered to be hypoallergenic. By the time they mature, it is usually four inches in length. For this reason, many owners tie their pup’s hair in a cute topknot so that they can see their beautiful eyes.
The preferred Coton coat color is all white. However, some have a slight hair shading around their ears that is usually light gray or light tan. These hairs can also be found across their bodies. Many puppies are born with these shadings, which usually disappear by the age of one year. But if you want to show your pooch in the show ring, preference will always be given to all white dogs.
This breed is not your typical small lapdog, and he will not sit pretty for hours on end. But thankfully, their exercise needs aren’t excessive either. They’ll need at least 30 to 45 minutes of exercise every day. But they could happily take up to 60 minutes if you have the time to give them. Their little legs mean that playtime at home will count as exercise too.
Cotons have a lot of cognitive energy for small pups, meaning they need mental stimulation throughout the day. If you don’t provide them with this, you can expect a bored, unhappy, and destructive doggo. These guys love to entertain, so why not invest in a bunch of toys where they can show off their fetching or tugging skills. They are also very intelligent, so giving them a challenging puzzle toy that releases treats will keep them entertained during solo playtime.
This breed’s adaptability is one of his huge appeals. He could live in small city apartments up to large country estates and anywhere in between. His only real ask is that his family is at home for most of the day. He can’t bear to be separated from his favorite humans for more than a few hours.
Cotons would prefer access to a private yard, but this isn’t necessary. If they are lucky enough to have a private yard, you’ll need to doggy-proof it. This friendly guy will wander off with anyone who pretends to be his new best friend, so a secured yard is essential.
The Coton’s friendly nature means that he can live with children of any age. He might be small, but he is sturdy enough not to be injured by excitable young children. But it’s still important to teach kiddos how to interact properly with dogs for everyone’s sanity and safety.
Training these canines is relatively simple. They are super eager to please their humans and love to learn new tricks, making them suitable for first-time dog owners who are new to doggy training. There are a few things you’ll need to learn, though, as they will not become pleasant pups without your direction.
Start your Coton’s training from day one. Establish the house rules (are they allowed on the sofa? upstairs? etc.), and stick to the boundaries. This will make training much simpler instead of changing the rules every week. Dog training requires patience, but you’ll soon start seeing results with consistency. Positive reinforcement training is the best training method to use. They will likely be motivated by treats, toys, and praise in equal measures.
Socialization is one of the most important parts of doggy training, even for polite pups like this one. A good quality breeder will socialize their litters long before you bring your Coton home. But it’s your job to continue the training. Mix them with as many other dogs, animals, humans, and new experiences as possible. The crucial socialization period is 3 to 12 weeks. Doggy parks are a great way to socialize your pup.
Another training recommendation for this breed is crate training. This is because they are sensitive pups who are prone to separation anxiety and research shows that providing a safe space and adequate exercise will calm their nerves. It also means that you can relax knowing that they aren’t munching on your favorite furniture while you aren’t around.
Generally speaking, Coton’s health is better than the average canine for sure. It also enjoys one of the longest lifespans in the canine kingdom. At 15 to 19 years, you’ll have many happy years with them. But you need to keep them healthy to enjoy that expected lifespan.
Keeping up to date with regular health checkups, feeding them the best quality nutrition you can afford, and keeping them fit with regular exercise are the best ways to keep them healthy. Working with a good-quality breeder who screens for known health concerns is also a great way to minimize health issues.
Below we have listed the main health conditions found in the Coton’s bloodline. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start your research. It’s worth saying that the AKC states that the occurrence of these conditions falls between one and five percent of the Coton population, making these conditions rare.
This condition is one of the most common skeletal problems to affect the overall doggy population. Parents with poor hips can pass this down through their genes, or it can result from rapid growth. Symptoms include reduced mobility, painful movement, and struggling to sit, stand, and climb.
This is another skeletal concern that is common in smaller dog breeds. This time it affects the kneecap, which essentially becomes dislocated. Again, it is a painful condition that reduces mobility. If you notice your little fluff ball kicking out or has an uneven gait, there could be an issue that needs investigating.
Eye concerns are also common in many dog breeds. The most common eye condition in the Coton is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA is a degenerative disease of the retina, and over time, it can result in complete vision loss. If your pup becomes sensitive to light or rubs them more than usual, it’s time for a visit to the vets.
Cotons will usually consume a half to one cup of food every day. Split this allowance into at least two different meal sittings. How much you feed will depend on your canine’s age, weight, and activity levels. Always follow the package feeding guidelines to avoid overfeeding them.
There are three important things to remember about your Coton’s nutritional needs:
- Choose a food specifically designed for small breeds that’s nutritionally optimized and sized for small doggos.
- Be sure to feed them an age-appropriate kibble, especially during developmental and senior stages.
- Always feed them high-quality food that meets their nutritional needs. Poor quality dog food can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Start grooming your Coton from a puppy so that they can get used to you handling them. If you haven’t got the time or the patience to look after their coat, you might want to pick a different dog breed altogether.
Cotons have a unique double-coat that is the texture of cotton. From eight weeks to eight months, your puppy will have a short and extra soft puppy coat that is much easier to maintain than an adult coat. Your pup requires daily brushing to prevent mats, and it’s a great way for you and your pup to become accustomed to the grooming requirements.
From 8 to 15 months of age, the adult coat will start to come in. This is much longer and thicker, and the cotton texture really starts to come through. This makes matting and tangling a huge problem for the Coton. Daily grooming is necessary, but it should only take around 15 minutes. Concentrate on the matt-prone areas such as behind the ears, legs, and elbows.
If you notice any tangling, spray your pup with a conditioning doggy detangling spray. This will help tease the tangles out. Matting can become very painful and lead to further skin problems that might eventually require a full shave to resolve. A short puppy clip will make their coat much more manageable for those who prefer an easier grooming regime. But they’ll still require daily brushing – it’ll just take up less time. This is only an option for non-show dogs.
The best grooming tool for your Coton’s coat is a pin brush to remove dead hair, tangles, and mats. A finishing comb is great for giving your pup the once-over to perfect the finish and ensure that they are mat-free. The dead hair will get stuck within his coat. This is great for those who don’t like excess doggy hair everywhere, but it means you need to get it out. It’s important to detangle your Coton before bathing them. Otherwise, the tangles will get worse.
Most Coton owners bathe their pup once every four weeks. If you have a show pup, you might want to wash them a little bit more than this. Their coats need rinsing and drying thoroughly. A damp coat can be a breeding ground for bacteria and infection. For this reason, many owners opt to take them to a professional groomer. Just be sure that your groomer is familiar with Coton coats.
The Coton will need his teeth brushing at least three times a week to prevent periodontal diseases. Their little mouths mean that their teeth are tightly packed, so they also need extra attention. Lastly, small white dogs are prone to staining around the eyes and mouth. There are many stain-removing products available at pet stores if this is something you want to resolve.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
You might have to travel to find a reputable breeder, depending on where you live. It’s really important to research any breeder before committing to work with them. It can be the difference between buying a healthy puppy or an ill one. A great place to start your search is on the AKC’s Coton de Tulear breeder page.
Responsible breeders will do everything they can to produce healthy litters and promote the breed’s health. They do this by screening their parents for common health concerns. They’ll follow this up with regular health checks, as well as socializing them. Always meet the pups and at least one parent in person, and ask to see the relevant health certificates.
The average starting price of a Coton puppy from a reputable breeder is around $2,000. But online sources show it can reach up to $4,000 or more for a pup from a quality show dog lineage. You also need to remember the ongoing costs of owning a canine. From setting up your home to ensuring they are taken care of. Thankfully, because they are small, they shouldn’t cost as much as an XXL doggo might.
An irresponsible breeder or a puppy mill will tempt you with lower puppy prices. And although it might seem tempting, you will probably end up buying a sick or unsocialized puppy. This will then cost you more in the long run through vets and training bills. Not many people know that pet stores often source their pups from irresponsible breeders, too. Ultimately, it’s best to work with a responsible and reputable breeder.
Rescues and Shelters
Welcoming this type of puppy into your home might not be the best option for you. If this is the case, you should consider adopting one from a rescue shelter. You just need to remember that they are a rare dog breed, so they are unlikely to be found in most animal shelters.
There are two main options here. Firstly, you can head out to your local rescue shelters to see if you can spot any Cotons. If you can’t, be sure to speak to the staff there who might know of a Coton in a nearby shelter. Or secondly, the American Coton Club has an adoption information page on their website. There are contact details available for those looking to adopt or foster.
As Family Pets
In general, these white fluffy white pups are:
- Super adaptable to most types of families.
- Comical little canines who love to make people laugh every second of every day.
- Very affectionate dogs, but they have a soft spot for their primary caregiver.
- Friendly and will welcome strangers and intruders in with open arms.
- Eager to please and super trainable, meaning they are also obedient pets.
- Good family dogs and love the company of children of all ages and other animals.
- Active and need between 30 and 45 minutes of exercise every day, so they need a moderately active family.
- High-maintenance and require an incredibly intense grooming regime compared to most other dogs, so this is something that will take up a lot of your time.
- Social and hate to be left alone, but thankfully, they aren’t too needy when you are home either.
- Happy-go-lucky dogs that are tons of fun for the whole family.
The Coton de Tulear might be a rare dog, but with their huge personality they deserve a bit more attention. After reading this breed guide, it’s easy to see why Coton fans love these little cuties so much. They are adaptable, loving, fun, well-balanced, friendly, and downright awesome. As long as you can meet their basic doggy needs and provide them with the companionship they crave, you’re sure to get on wonderfully.