How to Train a Coton de Tulear

Want to learn how to train your Coton de Tulear to be one of the best-trained dogs? Click here to find out how.

About the Coton de Tulear

The Coton de Tulear (KO-Tone Dih TOO-Lay-ARE) is a small, immensely charming dog standing between 9 and 11 inches high and weighing anywhere from 8 to 13 pounds. Cotons are known for a profuse white coat that is as soft as cotton (or, as the French say, “coton”). Their primary job is to provide amusement, comfort, and companionship.

Prefer to listen? Check out the Dog Works Radio podcast below and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts

The bond between Cotons and their people is so tight that owners discuss it in human terms. Coton fanciers describe them as “witty” companions “at times boisterous but never demanding” and “naturally clownish and lighthearted,” who possess a “remarkably gentle, sympathetic awareness.” Amusing traits of these long-lived jesters include unique vocalizations and a knack for walking on their hind legs.


Cotons de Tulear, named for the seaport town of Tulear, was once the preferred lapdog of the nobles of Madagascar. The island nation lies some 250 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa, but the population is primarily related not to African peoples but rather to those of Indonesia. Because of a bond with France that resulted from former colonial rule, Madagascar developed strong links with the French-speaking nations of western Africa. French is still widely spoken by Malagasy elites, hence their little white dog’s French accent.

The island’s aristocrats were jealous guardians of their fluffy little comedians, even passing laws that prohibited Coton ownership to commoners. “They were also extremely reluctant to allow any of their pets to leave the island,” a canine historian wrote, “with the result that these dogs remained isolated from the rest of the world and were breeding true for centuries.”

The Coton de Tulear’s AKC breed standard begins with a tantalizing assertion: “In Madagascar, the Coton de Tulear survived in packs in the wilderness, later to become a companion dog of the native Malagasy and Merina tribal nobles.” The standard stops short of explaining how these delightful lapdogs wound up fending for themselves on an isolated island. There are fanciful tales of a shipwreck off Madagascar and how a cargo of little white dogs swam ashore to safety, formed a feral pack, and mated with local dogs to create the Coton. (It’s a wonderful story, and it might even be true. It is known that, in the ancient world, small white companion dogs, such as the Maltese, were luxury items avidly bartered by seafaring merchants around the Mediterranean and North Africa.)

The Coton lived in its splendid isolation until the 1960s, when French tourists discovered the breed. It was an immediate hit in Europe, where generations of selective breeding further refined the breed into the Coton we now know. The AKC registered its first Cotons de Tulear in 2014.

Quick Facts

  • Temperament: Charming, Bright, Happy-Go-Lucky
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 81 of 197
  • Height: 10-11 inches (male), 9-10 inches (female)
  • Weight: 9-15 pounds (male), 8-13 pounds (female)
  • Life Expectancy: 15-19 years
  • Group: Non-Sporting Group


A high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the breed needs. Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high-fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.


Grooming the Coton puppy is a breeze. During that time you should groom him regularly and ensure that he learns to see grooming sessions as positive times of bonding with his person. Unless you are going to keep your Coton in a short “puppy clip,” your dog will require a great deal of brushing. You must be careful to get your comb and brush all the way to the skin (gently) during daily brushing, or the hair next to the skin will mat and if this is too extensive your dog may need to be shaved down. You should use a spray conditioner while brushing to avoid breakage. A couple of times a week, check the ears and remove any excess hair, wax, or debris to avoid ear infections.


The Coton is a fairly active dog who requires a moderate amount of exercise. Daily walks with his human at a slow speed will keep him in good weight and condition. Chasing a tennis ball around his backyard can keep his mind active as well as his body. A bored and unhappy Coton can become destructive. He does best when provided with enough exercise, lots of attention from his owner, and plenty of interesting toys to keep him occupied.

[bctt tweet=”Behind the Breed: Cotons de Tulear, named for the seaport town of Tulear, was once the preferred lapdog of the nobles of Madagascar.” username=”alaskadogworks”]


The Coton is an alert dog and naturally territorial. Cotons should be well socialized from an early age so that they will enjoy going with you wherever you go. Obedience training is a good idea, for socialization as well as reinforcing lessons and manners. A bored Coton will be unable to learn anything. Keep your training sessions lively and entertaining for the best results. Cotons respond poorly to negative training practices but will excel in most dog-sport activities when trained with positive methods. They do well in agility and obedience and make excellent therapy dogs.


The Coton de Tulear has remained fairly free of genetic health issues. That is not to say that they do not exist, but that any incidences are of an extremely low percentage. In the Coton, known incidences are usually in the one- to five-percent range. Coton breeders are working diligently to keep the breed as problem-free as possible by doing genetic screening of all breeding stock. Occasionally eye problems and hip dysplasia do occur in the breed. As with all small breeds, there is a chance of luxating patellas, and spinal disc disease has been known to occur.

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Patella Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam

Want to learn how to train your Coton de Tulear to be one of the best-trained dogs? Click here to find out how