The development of the Coton de Tulear in Madagascar is bathed in speculation, folklore, eyewitness accounts and tales from those on the island and the early Coton breeders. Little to no factual documentation exists. Yet, through these tales, one can garner a better understanding, or piece the puzzle together to validate certain traits of the breed. Accepted origins of many natural breeds have come out of folklore and speculation. These tales, stories and accounts have become a necessary cornerstone in our breed’s history and development. That is why learning about the culture, geography, environment, topography and history of both the breed’s homeland and its people can only broaden an understanding of the breed’s attributes, characteristics and function both in history and as we view them today.
A Deadly Shipwreck Landing. One tale that has become widely credible among the Coton fanciers is a handed-down account of an alleged shipwreck near the coast of Madagascar. Legend tells that from a shipwreck with no known human survivors, Cotton Dogs de Reunion (with possibly other small, white dogs on board) swam their way to the coast of Madagascar, met up with possible feral dogs of the island, and over generations, evolved into a sturdy survivor that ultimately made its way to Tulear (Toliary) on the west coast. It is widely accepted that the early Cotons were living in the wild. They obviously had to hunt to survive and adapt to the rugged, harsh and diverse environments of the land. Wild boar was a mainstay on the island, thus was presumed the protein of choice. Breeders observe the breed’s love of fruits, berries, vegetables, sticks and paper, which would allude to their foraging abilities in the rainforests. Weather conditions, such as monsoons and dry spells, along with the vast beaches along the coasts, would probably contribute to their development of the coat, keen intelligence, high survival skills, vigilance, agility and stamina.
An Effective Boar Hunter. Another story is that the early Coton de Tulear has been credited to being a boar hunter because of its amazing ability to communicate and gather in packs. These dogs may have aided locals in wild boar hunts by taunting and keeping the boar at bay in pack formation until the hunter finished the job. To some breeders, the evidence is clear. To others, the Coton is viewed solely as a sweet companion breed and lapdog. Yet, breeders have noticed their Cotons exhibiting strong social pack structure, cunning coups and pack “take-downs” of toys and objects.
A Clever Problem Solver. One of the most valued legends reveals the Coton’s intelligence, cleverness and ability to solve puzzles, which validates their survivability in the harsh environments of the island. Madagascar is known for its diverse quantity and species of caimans (a reptile in the alligator family). As wild dogs living in the rainforests, wilderness and on the beaches, the Coton’s cunning ingenuity to elude these lurking predators was put to the test when they needed to cross rivers. The Coton would seek out the narrowest passage of the river and gather there in packs. One Coton would then break away and lure the alligators to the widest part of the river by using his ear-piercing, high-pitched bark, coupled with clownish body language to engage and summon as many alligators as possible away from the narrow passage. As the Coton drew them closer, the clumsy reptiles would start up the bank toward what would seem to be an easy meal. It was then that the swift Coton would sprint away, back to the narrow passage and join his pack mates, disappearing into the wilderness on the other side of the river.
Accounts stated that this strategy was still practiced among the undomesticated Coton in the island’s most remote regions. Many breeders believe this to be true, as one present-day breeder shares a first-hand account of her client’s three Cotons devising a strategy to accomplish their sinister mission. The female ran to the front door and started her warning bark and body contortions. When the unsuspecting owner got up from his freshly grilled steak dinner to investigate what would turn out to be an unfounded alert, one of the males hopped onto the chair and quickly snatched the juicy steak. The other male and female swiftly ran into the kitchen to divide and devour their prized kill!