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The Coton de Tulear: Intelligence, Temperament, and Personality

Brian is a dog lover who's highly interested in the mental and emotional lives of dogs. He owns and trains Wally, a 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 to show you more about this somewhat rare dog breed (at least rare here in the United States).

Wally, a happy Coton.

Wally, a happy Coton.

A Quick Biography 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)

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. 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.

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 keeping 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.

Wally, just after a good combing

Wally, just after a good combing

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, but 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 control, but instead, is seeking information and communicating with you that he notices something is different. 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!

Cotons are also well known for their ability to stand and walk on their hind legs. Many times, they simply do this on their own to have fun or get attention (or both).

This ability to stand readily and easily on their hind legs also lets them explore the tops of surfaces, especially those not much taller than they are when on all fours. Just something to keep in mind, especially if you do use and encourage this in your training.

Wally's French Face expression

Wally's French Face expression

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 shyer 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, oftentimes even faster than a physical activity of the same duration!

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.

Informative Video About the Loveable Coton

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!

Coton de Tulear Breed Standards and Information

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can the Coton de Tilear have mental issues and do they bite a lot?

Answer: Any dog has the potential to develop mental issues. However, it is not common in the Coton breed that they develop such issues. As for the biting, Cotons generally tend to be gentle and rarely bite, especially outside of excited/rough play.

Question: Are there a lot of really bad breeders?

Answer: Unfortunately, I can not tell you with any certainty the prevalence of breeders that do not use good practices or have the pups' best interest in mind. As in any endeavor, there are those who will take reasonable care and go the extra mile and those who may not understand the responsibilities of being a breeder.

The best any prospective owner can do, be it for a Coton or any breed, is to ask questions and engage in a respectful dialogue with a prospective breeder. A good breeder will welcome informed, respectful questions as it shows you have an interest in your would-be pup and want to ensure he or she gets the best start on life as possible and that you aren't just looking for a quick transaction, but that you're taking a living creature who will be with you up to two decades in the case of a Coton.

Good breeders will be open about how the pups and the breeding pair(s) are cared for and will be transparent as reasonably possible. They may, and likely will, ask you questions because a good breeder also wants to place the would-be pups with good prospective owners.

There are never any guarantees, but by engaging in an open and constructive conversation, both you and the breeder can learn about each other and make the best decision for both you and the potential pup. In the end, that's what counts.

Question: We are on a waiting list for a Coton. I work every day. My husband is semi-retired and he works close to home. Is it okay to leave our Coton at home with my husband coming home for lunch or during the day to play a little and check on things? I'll be retired soon, so will be home all the time then.

Answer: Your Coton will appreciate the company and will adjust to your husband's schedule over time. The play time will help your Coton get some exercise, some bonding, and use some of that energy. This is a good arrangement and should do fine.

© 2010 Brian McDowell

Comments

Donna on March 09, 2020:

To Maria,

I have a beautiful Coton, Maximilian, from an outstanding Breeder in the United States if you are still looking for a puppy.

Our MAX is a decision we are so glad we made.

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on January 19, 2019:

@Maria

I can suggest looking at the Coton club for Canada and see if they can help you in your search.

https://www.coton.ca/

Maria T mt2775@telus.net on January 17, 2019:

l live in White Rock BC Canada .My little Cotton passed away .Would like to buy or adopt another Cotton..There is never any in our SPCA Please help me to locate one .Thank you .Maria T

Teresa M on October 21, 2018:

I am hoping to add two Cotons to my home. They are 4 years old and being rehomed because their person is moving & cannot take them with her.

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on July 31, 2018:

That's wonderful! I'm so glad they are giving you and your husband smiles and joy!

Kim Drake on July 30, 2018:

My husband and I have two they are litter mates and now 3 years old.....I found them through an online quiz about what is the right dog for you. I saw that picture and went on the hunt for the perfect pooch for our household...we decided on two kinda last minute bc we always end up getting a friend withinn two years. We got a male and female and they couldn’t be more different coat and all ...we traveled to Nashville TN from Delaware to get them. We do enjoy their company!! They seem to gravitate to my husband and I am the one home all day...just like kids can’t wait til daddy comes home! They are silly and cute as can be, I am so very happy to have found the breed Pino and Dira give us lots of smiles and make the house feel alive. We are empty nesters no more!

Junocoton on April 07, 2018:

I have coton named JUNO . I find her very intelligent and playful.Enjoys her company a lot .A great family toy.

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on July 08, 2017:

@Diana - I know! It's awesome who bright and aware Cotons are. I learned quick that he won't just learn what I teach him and be content. No, he's going to use it to explore his world.

They definitely challenge you to come up with new things for them to learn and for you to respond to what they have already learned and used in new ways. They'll also tell you your patterns, even more so than a lot of dogs who are already pattern-seeking. Cotons seem to see the smallest things!

Diana on July 07, 2017:

Mine is very intelligent; had him from a puppy; 6 plus years young; still very playful, was very quickly housebroken; tests me on many things but in a cute way; he is patient but tenacious when he thinks he is owed a treat for something; memory like an elephant; thinks things out, plans things in advance; like having another human in the household; understands things I say in full sentences & responds to them. He challenges me daily.

Bety Stewart on May 26, 2017:

Got dog from pound.Knew nothing about JOY,She,s smart.Lives in an apartment but she does like the outside.No problem about coming in house.I"m 88 best house pet ever.Excuse errs.;no

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on May 18, 2017:

Indeed - the ready willingness to stand on their hind legs is one of their unique and endearing characteristics.

Wally is definitely one that has a louder voice. Especially when he goes into this new-found bark-bark-bark into howl-ish sound that's really, really loud!

I remember when I first heard him bark. Definitely not a "small dog" bark!

CotonOwner on May 17, 2017:

Cotons also like to stand up on their hind legs and "walk" or "dance" when excited. They also have can have a loud voice and much deeper growl than expected from a dog its size.

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on May 23, 2015:

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)

Deb, Pacific Northwest on May 22, 2015:

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!

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on December 27, 2010:

Added in on the links section - thanks for reading!

Sandra Bearden on December 27, 2010:

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

Brian McDowell (author) from USA on December 21, 2010:

: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!

shibashake on December 21, 2010:

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! :)