The History of the Coton


This sweet, clown like breed originates from the African continent on the small island country of Madagascar. In their native country this dog was considered the pet of royalty and those who were not of the royal family were not allowed to own them. They are called "The Royal Dog of Madagascar". This beautiful rare breed wasn't introduced into the United States until the 1970's.

The Coton de Tulear is a member of the Bichon [pronounced "BEE-shawn"] family of dogs. The Bichons (as well as the Poodle and Briard) are descendents of an ancient European breed, the Barbet. A small, short-haired descendent of the Barbet, the "Bichon Tenerife," was introduced to the Canary Islands by the Spanish. The Tenerife gave rise to the modern, Mediterranean Maltese, the French Petit Lion Dog and Bichon Frise, the Italian Bolognese, the South American Havanais, and the Coton de Tulear.

The Tenerife, now extinct, was introduced to the Indian Ocean Islands of Mauritius and Reunion by sailors in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The breed acquired a long, cotton-like coat (perhaps the result of a single mutation) and was known as the "Coton de Reunion." The Coton de Reunion, a valued possession, accompanied merchants, officials, and pirates on their voyages.

The Coton de Reunion is extinct, but its descendent, the Coton de Tulear, appeared at the pirate and slave-trading port of Tulear, Madagascar, during the 17th Century. Adopted by the ruling Merina ["MARE-in"] tribal monarchy, it quickly became known as "The Royal Dog of Madagascar." During its long development on Madagascar, a native hunting dog -- the Morondava Hunting Dog -- was added to the Coton's ancestry, giving this Bichon-family breed extraordinary soundness and stamina.

The ruling Merina controlled the breed closely. They forbid both coastal tribesmen (85% of the population) and non-noblemen to own a Coton. At the turn of this century, conquering French colonists adopted the Coton as well. Today, usually only social-climbing Malagasy and Frenchmen own a Coton de Tulear.

The Coton is the "Official Dog of Madagascar," and has been honored on a postage stamp. In 1970, the world-wide French Kennel Club [the FCI] recognized the Coton de Tulear as a rare, pure-breed. Unfortunately, political and economic crises on Madagascar now threaten the Coton with extinction in their native land.

The Coton is the "Official Dog of Madagascar," and a Tri-Color Coton was honored on a postage stamp in 1974. Since the '70s, the Coton de Tulear has been recognized as a rare, pure-breed dog. Unfortunately, political and economic crises on Madagascar now threaten the Coton with extinction in their native land.

In 1974, three years before Cotons appeared in Europe, Dr. Robert Jay Russell, a biologist studying Madagascar's lemurs, sent Coton breeding stock to America. Dr. Russell's father, J. Lewis Russell, founded Oakshade Kennel in New Jersey, and the breed was enthusiastically received. Articles about it have appeared in many publications including Dog World, Dogs USA, Gentleman's Quarterly, The Robb Report, and The American Express Company Newsletter. The Coton has been featured on ABC's Good Morning America program and has appeared on The David Letterman Show accompanied by actress Glenn Close, a devoted owner.

The Coton was imported into French-speaking Europe (primarily France and Belgium) in 1977. The breed there has taken a very different direction from the breed in Madagascar and North America.

Following the creation of a standard for the breed in 1974, the Coton de Tulear Club of America [CTCA] was formed by Dr. Russell in 1976 to maintain the Breed Standard, Pedigrees, Stud Book, History, and Registrations for all Cotons in the Western Hemisphere. The Coton is one of the world's rarest and most desirable dogs. As of December, 1999, nearly 1,000 Coton de Tulear produced by 60 breeders worldwide were registered by the CTCA (in contrast, more than 17,000 Cotons have been produced in Europe since 1977).