Judging the Coton de Tulear

The Coton de Tulear is the newest AKC Non-Sporting Group breed. Here are some tips for judges who will be getting hands-on with Cotons in the ring.

By Pat Enright | Posted: June 9, 2014, 4 p.m. PST

Coton de Tulear
A Coton with the tail up in a natural stack. Photo by Doug Loving.

About the size of a Bichon Frisé, the Coton de Tulear has dark eyes and nose, with dark-lined lips that exhibit an almost human quality to their mouths (they are especially known for "smiling"). Their beard and mustache add to their intelligent and lively expression. The adult cottony coat is either all white or predominantly white. Their hair is full, long, supple, cottony, dense, yet airy, and is so surprisingly soft and downy even though it is almost completely absent of oils.

Their body is well proportioned, somewhat triangular with laid back shoulders and good length of leg. Their movement is swift, free and effortless. There is a very gradual rise in the backline, starting past the withers that apexes at the loin, and then gracefully descends seamlessly into a well-developed and angled croup. The tail is set low and easily carried over the back when on the move, and let down with the tip turning upward when pensive. They move with an attitude that suggests great agility, endurance and efficiency.

Silhouettes may not be as they seem at first sight with this breed. Thorough hands-on examination cannot be stressed enough. Their coat, its coiffing and the way exhibitors present them may fool the judge’s eye, sometimes even to the discredit of the exhibit. For instance, the stop, which should be "slight,” may look more pronounced than it really is because of the way the head furnishings are coiffed. Because no topknots are allowed, many exhibitors may try to stabilize the hair out of the way of the eyes, inadvertently creating a higher look to the stop. Those who leave the hair fall alone may have to deal with the hair falling into the eyes, especially on a bitch on the move. Even the head can appear large in relation to the body when the hair is plumped and opened. The topline might look more raised than it should be if the coat is especially downy and full. Don’t be afraid to feel for the musculature, angles and proportions.

Read about the Coton's ancient history (Part One)>>

Early descriptions of the personality of the Coton included that they were "leery of strangers.” Breeders will share that many Cotons may tend to back up when directly approached by a stranger head-on but will relax as soon as they get a cue from their master. Some inexperienced dogs may scoot their rears off to the side if the judge approaches them too quickly while they are on the ground and hovers over them to double check withers, spring of rib, topline, etc. It is recommended to have the dog put back on the table, especially with young Cotons, if further examination is needed.

Going down a lineup, the judge soliciting eye contact and expression is received more eagerly, as Cotons love attention and communication. Judges might see that when on the table, some display an eagerness to lick, wag the tail and communicate with eye contact. That is not to say that calm and pensive individuals are not displaying Coton essence. The Coton has the ability to swing from pensive to "turned on,” and then pensive again. Their ability to rebound almost instantly from high energy into a calm state is one of the characteristics that has attracted many to the breed (i.e., a relatively small dog without the small dog hang-ups).

Coton connoisseurs can tell their dog’s state of mind visually through their tail. The standard states that when the dog is at rest, the tail is also at rest — low with the tip in an upward position, like a water pump. When on the move, as in gaiting, the tail will rise to the appropriate carriage position. Sometimes it may take a few steps before the tail rises. It is important to understand that if the Coton is in an alert state of mind in the ring, perhaps in free baiting, his tail can still be held high, even wagging, as if waiting for a treat. In contrast, he may be free standing and relaxed in a pensive state, thus causing the tail to drop into the water pump position. You might see both positions in the lineup, especially in the final lineup, if some exhibitors are enticing the dog into animation while others are hard stacking in the typical low-tail silhouette.

Read about the Coton's history as a show dog (Part Two)>>

Coton de Tulear Coat
While the Coton coat may part on its own, it should never be artificially parted.

Because the shoulder, upper arm and lower arm are of equal length, Coton movement should be free and effortless. In the ring, Cotons are usually held to a reasonably easy trot in order to assess footfall, but in the real world, their trot can be exceedingly swift, so much so that their feet can hardly be seen, and all four feet have been known to completely lift off the ground. As speed increases, their head will extend out, and there will be a convergence of their legs toward a center line. The beauty they exude when moving at that speed is exhilarating, especially when their coat is clean and airy. Their topline should never waver, appearing as if they are gliding on air. It is not uncommon to see the rear footpads as the dog moves away. Full extension fore and aft in the line of travel, displaying equal distribution, neither pushing off the rear nor pulling with the front, reveals an effortless balance in movement. Gaiting on a loose lead is best, as the head will tend to extend when on the move, as opposed to the Havanese, whose short upper arm produces a springy gait that results in a high head carriage. On the contrary, when in a slow walk, Cotons may exhibit a slight lateral roll.

There has also been question about the parting of the Coton coat. The coat should never be artificially parted. Yet, many times the Coton coat will part and fall away from the topline on its own. Natural parts can be seen in movement, while standing on the hind legs and even lying down in prone positions. Depending on the downiness of a coat, there may be no part at all. Bitches may tend to possess a finer coat due to estrogen, appearing thinner, especially at the withers. The most downy area on the top of the body would be in the arch and croup area.

Coton coats can dry out very easily, and products can often weigh it down or affect its texture. Keeping the coat in proper condition is a challenge both in and out of the show ring. The best way to assess proper coat texture on the Coton is to go to the underside, where virgin hair is usually not affected by the day-to-day stresses and harshness of products. The coat should spring back when taken into hand and gently squeezed toward the body.

Read about the folklore and legends surroundingthe Coton de Tulear>>

The Coton is a sturdy, dense, well-muscled, well-boned dog that surprises those who think they are fluffy froufrou dogs. Their athleticism and stamina is not revealed in the conformation ring, nor is their ability for tracking and nose work. They are ideally suited for therapy work and are very successful in agility. It is no doubt that new worlds of performance events should open up to them in the future. And most breeders agree that we have only touched the tip of the iceberg with their abilities as service, therapy and possibly rescue dogs.

They are exceptionally affectionate and love attention, yet they are tough and can adapt to almost any way of civilized life when properly exposed. The breed is a family dog, keeping its initial attraction to humans centuries ago in Madagascar intact. They are warning dogs, sounding their alarms at intruders, and they will throw their body around in celebratory glee at your return and lie at your side as a couch potato. They expect to be involved in every aspect of their humans’ lives. The Coton simply refuses to be ignored.

Cotons have earned expressions over the years, such as the "Anti-Stress Dog of the Nineties,” a big dog in a little dog suit and a perpetual toddler. They are known to be great shipmates, golf partners, hikers, and swimmers (when properly equipped and supervised), as well as travel partners. They have obviously retained their primal abilities and could utilize them if needed. Respected as survivors in a land that is known for harsh environmental, social and economic conditions, the Coton de Tulear has defied the little fluffy white dog syndrome.

From the June 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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