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 man visiting Madagascar returned to France with some of the dogs in 1971.
Around the same time, the first Coton's entered the USA directly from the island of Madagascar. They have steadily gained in popularity and, according to the AKC, they are quickly becoming one of the fastest growing rare breeds in America. Coton's were recently featured on Animal Planet.
The historical pupularity of Coton de Tulear's among the upper class 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 postage stamp.
Other breeds that are assumed to be in the Coton lineage include the Bichon Frise, Bolognese, Maltese, and Havanese.