The Coton De Tulear and His Intelligence, Temperament, and Personality

The Coton de Tulear

Coton de Tulears, or Cotons for short, are interesting little dogs that have fun personalities and easy to live with temperaments. Here, we'll look at more of their traits and personality, hopefully, to show you more about this somewhat rare dog breed - at least here in the United States.

Wally, a happy Coton.
Wally, a happy Coton.

Quick Bio of the Coton

Official Name: Coton de Tulear

Common Name: Coton, Cotons (pl.)

Registry Recognition: FCI, UKC, AKC - The Coton is basically a "new" breed, recognized by FCI in 1976 and only since 1996 by the UKC. The AKC has now recognized the Coton officially in 2014.

Group: Companion Dog (UKC/FCI) / Non-Sporting Group (AKC)

Breed Family: Bichon

Size: Small (about 10-12" at the shoulder, weighing around 10-15 lbs)

History and Information

The Coton calls Madagascar his native home. There, the Coton is still considered the official dog of the African nation. It is sometimes said that the Coton de Tulear survived via natural selection before man found and domesticated the dogs, while his ancestors the Tenerife and later the Coton de Reunion formed the foundation of the Coton de Tulear. Today's Coton developed from those Reunions as they made their way via trade routes and such to Tulear in Madagascar.

The Coton was domesticated around the 19th century, not all that long ago as far as dog breeds go. Once that occurred, people quickly fell in love with the Coton's looks and temperament and the fact he didn't smell "like a dog", making him very attractive to the noble classes. This is how he got on his way to being the royal dog of Madagascar. He was also taken back to Europe by French traders, considering that Tulear was under French control at the time, which is how he made a home in the hearts of Europeans dog fanciers.

Wally, just after a good combing
Wally, just after a good combing

Personality and Temperament

The Coton is known to be a playful and silly dog around his people and others he knows and trusts. He is not beyond acting crazy to try to get attention and to make people enjoy his company. Still, he typically is not a demanding dog and tends to be easygoing and very adaptable to his people's routines and habits. In an active household with kids and people on the go, he'll be right there, looking at what's going on and wanting to take part. For a more quiet lifestyle, he'll be content to sleep in your lap or at your feet.

A gentle dog, at least until he's very excited, he tends not to care a lot about being touched or handled, making it easy to train him to further accept grooming. His gentle nature also makes him a good choice as a therapy dog or just a companion to relax you.

While Cotons are adaptable and easygoing, they can be slightly wary of strangers. He shouldn't be aggressive, but may bark and show hesitation. Even then, these actions shouldn't be so much as to be fearful or in a panic. Cotons are alert observers, carefully watching what goes on in and out of the home.

Intellect, Training, and Tricks

Cotons are both intelligent and biddable. Their intelligence shows in their ability to solve problems on their own or develop their own communications. This does make it important to be careful what you teach a Coton, because he might just take it, run with it, and use it in ways you didn't think of...and wished he hadn't thought of! They learn quickly can catch on to routine very well with their ability to grasp and observe patterns. They are typically biddable, which helps in utilizing their intelligence for training. Here, though, their intelligence can be a mixed blessing because he may think he knows what you're going for, and be certain that he is absolutely right. Still, patience often wins the day.

Cotons tend to flourish with positive reinforcement type training methods, given their gentle natures, but, as with all dogs, firm but kind discipline will help him thrive and be easier to live with. Be calm with the Coton, that doesn't mean he can't or shouldn't be corrected. He will learn quicker with a clear, concise communication and a firm but calm manner of correction and discipline.

Cotons can be 'stubborn'. They like to "ask questions" about when and where a behavior or cue is needed. They do this by hesitating and watching for your reaction. A calm and firm restating of the request will often have him comply and teach him at the same time. Part of this is again from his intelligence and ability to recognize small differences in their environment, which can cause them to think the rules might be different!

However, do not mistake this for "dominance". He is not trying to 'take over' you, but instead, is seeking information. Taking the time to 'answer his questions' in a calm and instructive way will go a long way in having him look to you for when he's uncertain about what to do.

While this isn't a "trick", one thing Cotons are known for is the so-called "French Face" expression. This expression is an alert but otherwise calm expression that denotes that the Coton is ready for action and waiting for what's going to happen next!

Wally's French Face expression
Wally's French Face expression

Grooming and Health

Cotons look more difficult to groom than they really are. The coat does grow long and can be thick, hence the 'Coton' part of their name, meaning 'cotton'. This does mean that a good combing will be needed every few days, which may take some time. It is worth it, however, because their coat is one of their most endearing and attractive traits.

Combing will help combat matting, which will hinder the coat's ability to shade the dog from the sun while keep the dog (somewhat) warm during cold weather. The Coton, however, is not an "outdoor dog" in the sense that he can do well living outside.

When combed loose and well, the hair will blow in a strong enough breeze. It will tend to the 'frizzy' side instead of the curly coat of the Bichon Frise or the silky smooth coat of the Maltese. A Coton's coat should be fluffy after being washed, blow dried, and combed as well as after just a routine combing between more extensive grooming. The coat shouldn't be combed dry as that can cause damage to the ends and over time encourage matting.

Health-wise, the Coton is very healthy with very few known disorders and diseases in his gene pool. This is theorized to be because of the natural selection of his origin and the retaining of all his color varieties. Cotons have an average life span of around 16 years, sometimes even breaking 20 years.

For the humans out there that are allergy sufferers or live with those who are, the Coton is a good choice as he sheds little, especially if brushed regularly, and does not create much dander, which is typically what triggers dog-related allergies.

Exercise and Activity

The Coton is often content with being lazy and curling up next to you, but he does enjoy and can use exercise and activity. The Coton used to run alongside his master on horseback and has often been well-regarded for his stamina and durability. Cotons may look like frou frou dogs, but they can walk over various terrain, love an expedition on a wooded trail, will welcome a long walk, or a hearty, fast paced activity like Agility or just a rousing game of fetch or chase. Cotons have good speed, especially for their size, and can jump well for their size also.

As with many dogs, a good exercise routine can help keep excess energy away, help give them a more fulfilling day, and satisfy an instinctive need to wander, explore, and leave "pee-mail". In addition, regular outings can give them more opportunities for socialization, both with dogs and people, which can be very important if you have a Coton that's on the shier side of the personality scale.

Don't forget the mental exercise as well. Remember that the Coton loves a mental challenge and that will also help to burn off energy, often times even faster than a physical activity of the same duration!

Informative Video About the Loveable Coton

Which of the Coton's traits do you find most appealing?

  • Easy to train and eager to please
  • Few serious health concerns
  • Silly and playful
  • That lovely coat
  • Adaptable and easygoing
  • All of the above!
  • Other (please mention as a comment!)
See results without voting

All Dogs Are Individuals

Remember that all dogs are individuals and will have their own personalities, traits, and if you are not their breeder or first owner, past experiences from before you arrived in their life. This can shape their personalities and temperaments, or at least cause them to act in a different way than they usually would.

As always, do your own homework and research and gather information from several sources. Talk to breeders as well as owners of Cotons to learn more about them if you are deciding on whether or not to add a Coton to your life. I think they would be wonderful for everyone, but only you know your own situation. I will try to help. feel free to ask any questions you may have, but I just provide what information I know. I can't make the decision for you!


shibashake profile image

shibashake 5 years ago

Great information here KB. Sounds like a great breed to have, especially given health and energy level. As for grooming, I find it to be a very peaceful and calming exercise. It is also a great bonding experience.

Thanks for a very enjoyable article. I especially like the "French Face" expression! :)

kblover profile image

kblover 5 years ago from USA Author

:D Yeah, the "French Face" is funny - I love little unique things about breeds like that. I never could find out why it's called that. I really want to know!

Sandra Bearden 5 years ago

The North American Coton Association is United Kennel Club's Coton Club. Please list it also. Thanks.....Sandra

kblover profile image

kblover 5 years ago from USA Author

Added in on the links section - thanks for reading!

Deb, Pacific Northwest 17 months ago

These are wonderful dogs to live with - our Sadie is a little clown, and her 'yodeling' way of talking to you is SO much fun. If Sadie is walking, her tail is wagging non stop. A big cuddler, very playful, and yes, I agree with the video, she absolutely ADORES my husband. She 'watches over' her humans, and its 5+ minutes at night after we've settled in bed that she sits up, listens, scans the room & makes sure 'all is right' before she cuddles up to one of us and goes to sleep. A great choice for a family of any size!

kblover profile image

kblover 17 months ago from USA Author

Hi Deb, thanks for your wonderful comment! My Coton does the same thing before settling in and if he hears ANY sound, he's alert and looking around. Wally will nestle in the bend in my leg or lay on my foot before he goes to sleep (then it's all bets are off where he is :D)

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