The Coton de Tulear identifies with the island nation of Madagascar. It is believed the Coton arrived on the island in the 15th century. During this time ships frequently sailed to the West Indies and around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope through the Mozambique Channel to the Indian Ocean.
There is a common story that during a violent storm, a shipwreck occurred in the proximity of Tulear, a small seaport city at the southern tip of Madagascar. Everyone aboard died except some of the little white dogs that were owned by passengers on the ship. These lone survivors swam ashore near Tulear and settled on the island, eventually mixing with the local dogs.
Around the beginning of the 1900’s, French colonial residents took a fancy to the little white dogs associated with the port city, and began calling them ‘Coton de Tulear’, or “Cotton of Tulear” in French.
France is credited with the recognition of the Coton de Tulear as a breed, when a gentleman visiting Madagascar returned to France with some of the dogs in 1971. Around the same time, the first dogs entered the USA directly from the island of Madagascar. This North American group of Cotons is generally known as the Malagasy Coton line.
Other breeds that are assumed to be in this lineage of establishing the current breed are the Bichon Frise, Bolognese, Maltese, and Havanese. These genetics produce the dark pigmentation and the deep coloration of the coat on puppies that uniquely fades to white over time. They also contribute to the white with markings, such as black, brown, or champagne as a byproduct of this cross breeding.
The historical popularity of these companion dogs among the upper classes has been well documented through many Renaissance period paintings, where they are quite often depicted sitting with royal ladies and other notable figures. This has earned the Coton the title, "The Royal Dog of Madagascar", which was portrayed on the nation's stamp.