Vital Stats:Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
Height: 8 inches to 1 foot tall at the shoulder
Weight: 8 to 13 pounds
Life Span: Starts at 14 years
For the smart and sweet-natured Coton de Tulear (Coton for short), the perfect day consists of nothing more than being with his person, whether it's lying at her feet while she works, following her from room to room — not even the bathroom is sacred — or going for a ride to Starbucks.
This small, longhaired, cottony-coated dog was never bred to be anything but a companion, and to this day, that's what he does best. He cocks his head intently when spoken to and will even try to answer back.
The Coton de Tulear takes his name not only from his cottonlike coat but also from the seaport city of Tulear (now known as Toliara), located on the African island nation of Madagascar, where the breed originated. He's related to the Bichon Frise and Maltese but has his own distinct style.
People who love the Coton praise his intelligence, sociability, and easy-care coat. He's an observant dog who quickly learns routines and adapts to his person's needs. He sleeps while you're busy, one eye cracked so he can follow if you leave the room. He's known as a good and flexible traveler, perhaps a remnant of his seafaring days, when he accompanied ladies making long journeys by ship.
When it's playtime, the Coton will grab his favorite toy and bring it to you for a rousing game of fetch. He loves to go on walks, but his exercise needs aren't excessive. Playing inside or in a fenced yard will just as easily satisfy his need for activity, as long as he has plenty of human companionship. Because of his desire to please, he excels in activities such as obedience and agility.
The well-socialized Coton loves everyone. When your doorbell rings, the Coton may bark once, then politely accompany you to the door to greet your guest. The only risk a housebreaker faces is being licked to death.
He likes to "talk" to his people, using his own special language of unique vocalizations, including grunts and growls. He'll love it when you talk back to him.
His soft, shaggy white coat may look difficult to care for, but once the adult coat has grown in, dirt falls out easily with brushing. Brushing three or four times weekly, plus bathing as needed, will keep your Coton clean.
The Coton aims to please, and whatever makes you happy makes him happy — as long as it doesn't involve being apart from you. Consider this breed if you're a stay-at-home parent, empty-nester, or retiree who has lots of time to spend with a canine best friend and will enjoy taking him places.
- The Coton de Tulear originated on the island of Madagascar and is related to the Bichon Frise and the Maltese.
- The Coton loves being with people and dislikes being separated from them.
- The Coton is smart and takes well to training. He's an enthusiastic participant in agility and obedience competitions.
- The Coton is a hardy dog, but he's a companion breed who should live indoors. He's particularly well-suited to apartment living.
- Cotons enjoy playing and going for walks, but they adjust their activity to their people's level.
- Cotons require brushing several times a week to prevent mats and tangles from forming. Bathe them as needed, weekly or monthly.
- Coton puppies need extra grooming while their adult coats are coming in, usually between seven and 15 months of age.
- Never buy a Coton from a puppy mill, a pet store, or a breeder who doesn't provide health clearances or guarantees. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, who breeds for sound temperaments, and who has signed the breed club's code of ethics.
The large island of Madagascar, located off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is home to many unusual creatures, but one of them has become a beloved export throughout the world: the soft and shaggy Coton de Tulear, a member of the Bichon family who probably came to Madagascar as long as several hundred years ago.
It's said that the little white dogs either accompanied ladies on long sea voyages or were used as ratters on ships. It's also claimed that the dogs were beached on Madagascar after being the sole survivors of a shipwreck.
However they arrived, they soon established themselves there. Some of the dogs became pets in the royal court and wealthy Madagascar households, while others were street urchins.
It wasn't until sometime in the 1970s, however, that a Frenchman visiting the island brought some Cotons back to France and worked to establish them as a breed. Cotons were brought to North America during the same decade.
The Coton de Tulear is still found in his native land, but his sweet personality has made him a favorite throughout the world, including in the United States.
He's not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club, but he is registered with the AKC's Foundation Stock Service (FSS), as well as the United Kennel Club and Europe's Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI).
Male Cotons stand 10 to 12.5 inches at the shoulder and weigh 9 to 13 pounds; females are 8.5 to 11 inches and weigh 8 to 11 pounds.
The happy and boisterous Coton is a people-pleaser, who wants nothing more than to spend time with his humans. He forms strong bonds with family members and doesn't like to be separated from them.
He's smart and easy to train, responding well to praise, play, and food rewards. He'll play the clown for attention, which he loves. Cotons may bark once or twice if the doorbell rings or they see something interesting, but they don't generally bark just for the fun of it. Guests and intruders alike run the risk of being licked to death.
Females are more independent than males and often rule over them.
Like every dog, Cotons need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences. Socialization helps ensure your Coton puppy grows up to be a well-adjusted, happy dog.
The Coton is generally healthy. Following are some of the conditions that have been seen in Cotons, although they're not widespread in the breed.
Luxating patellas, (knees that slip in and out of place) are a common problem in any small breed, and the Coton is no exception. It's important to protect puppies from jumping on and off furniture while their joints are still developing. Cotons think they're invincible, as well as capable of flight, so it's important to protect them from themselves.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness in one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it may sometimes be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a hereditary degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don't make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs' eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.
Reputable breeders provide health certifications for a puppy's parents. In Cotons, expect to see Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification for knees, hips, elbows, and hearts, as well as certification of eye health from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Some breeders may also provide OFA thyroid certifications. Health clearances are not issued to dogs younger than 2 years of age. That's because some health problems don't appear until a dog reaches full maturity. For this reason, it's often recommended that dogs not be bred until they are two or three years old.
The Coton is a hardy dog who enjoys playing in all types of weather, including snow and rain. But he should always live indoors with his people (as should all dogs).
He's well-suited to living in any environment, from apartments to ranch houses, but if he has a yard it should be fenced so he doesn't wander off — or get stolen away by someone who admires him as much as you do.
Some people find the Coton difficult to housetrain, but given a regular schedule, frequent outings to do his business, and praise when he potties in the right place, a Coton can pick it up very quickly.
Crate-training can help him learn to wait until he's taken outside to potty, as well prevent him from getting into trouble when you're not around to supervise.
Cotons take well to training, especially when it's presented in a positive manner. Reward him with praise, play, and treats, and let him know what a great job he's done. Remember that his goal is to please you.
Recommended daily amount: 3/4 cup daily of a high-quality dog food, divided into two meals.
How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog.
The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.
Keep your Coton de Tulear in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test.
First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.
Coat Color And Grooming
The Coton's coat is one of his distinguishing features. It's long, soft, and thick, with what can only be described as a fluffy, cottony texture. By adulthood, it's usually four inches long.
The coat is white, although it may have a few shadings of light gray or red-roan (a mixture of white and fawn hairs) on the ears. Puppies are born all white or with yellow, brown, rust, or black spots on the head, ears, and sometimes the body. These spots disappear as puppies mature, leaving behind areas that range in color from light to medium champagne or gray.
Cotons shed little, mainly in the spring. They're often recommended for people with allergies, but it's always wise to meet and spend time with a number of different Cotons before deciding you can actually live with one.
To prevent matted fur, brush the coat three or four times a week with a pin brush that has uncoated metal pins. Pay special attention to the areas behind the ears, legs, and elbows. Using a spray conditioner as you brush will keep hair breakage to a minimum.
The more often you brush, the less frequently you'll have to bathe him. A fine-toothed metal comb and a smaller comb for the face will also help keep your Coton looking sharp. If you want to see his eyes, use a coated hair elastic to create a cute topknot. You can also keep his coat in a short puppy clip for easier care.
Depending on how dirty he gets, your Coton may need to be bathed weekly, every two weeks, or monthly. When bathing your Coton, you'll probably want to use a whitening shampoo to keep him looking his best. After a bath, pat him damp dry instead of rubbing him with a towel or his coat will knot up. Then you can brush the coat out as you blow him dry.
The adult coat starts coming in between seven and 15 months of age, and during this time your Coton puppy will need additional grooming to prevent mats and tangles.
Other grooming needs include dental hygiene and nail care.
Brush your Coton's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar and bacterial buildup. Daily is better.
Trim his nails once or twice a month, as needed. If you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short nails keep the feet in good condition and won't scratch your legs when your Coton jumps up to greet you.
Begin getting your Coton accustomed to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears.
Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.
Children And Other Pets
Cotons are good with kids if kids are good with them. They're fun-loving and energetic enough to be playmates for older children who treat them respectfully, but they'll learn to hide from clumsy younger children who may pat them too hard or accidentally kick them or step on them.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party.
Teach your child to never approach any dog while he's sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog, no matter how good-natured, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Cotons prefer the company of people, but they get along well with other Cotons, dogs of other breeds, and cats. If his people aren't around all the time, a Coton will appreciate having the company of another animal.
Consider adopting a Coton de Tulear from a rescue group before going to a breeder.