There are numerous myths surrounding the origin of the coton de Tulear. The most common is the story of a merchant ship of the sixteenth century which sailed the coast of Madagascar and was attacked by pirates. On board there was a lady who was traveling with her three little adored Bichons: Belle, Bijou and Trésor. After a furious battle and a violent storm, both ships sank. Only the three Bichons and the pirate ship’s “rat catcher” called Brigand, survived and swam to the island of Madagascar.
Once on the beaches of Madagascar we may suspect what happened next. Brigand managed to seduce the ladies and created the coton de Tulear breed. It takes its name from the characteristic of fur reminiscent of cotton flowers and Tulear which was the main port city of Madagascar. It is also called the Royal Dog of Madagascar.
But we also know that at this time the Europeans had settled on the island of Madagascar and settlers were moving in with their pet dog. We know that the Bichon was very popular at the time, so we suspect that the coton is born of the breeding of local dogs and Bichons. We can see by its morphological characteristics that the coton is related to the Bichon.
So we have a mixture of incredible qualities of these two races. The lineages of white, long and fluffy fur survived as it provided the thermal insulation required in these climates. For the harsh life of the island, coton should have been sharp and intelligent, muscular and strong, have a strong survival instinct and an iron constitution. Add to this the ability to charm and seduce you’ve got a good description of the coton de Tulear. Over the centuries, only the hardiest lineages survived natural selection.
The export of coton to France became more frequent and coton more popular, so that the Madagascar Canine Society submitted to the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) an application for recognition of the breed. In 1970 the first standard of the breed coton de Tulear was published under number 283. It was around 1975 that North America sees the arrival of its first cotons.
Unfortunately, this recognition of a purebred increased the exodus of cotons into France. It has not been possible to export coton de Tulear from Madagascar Island as it became unmanageable in the late 80s.