The Coton de Tulear was developed on the island of Madagascar and is still today the national dog of the island.

The Cotons ancestors were possibly brought to Madagascar in the 15th and 16th centuries aboard pirate ships, Madagascar was a haven for pirates and pirate graves can still be seen there now, whether the dogs were brought to control rats on the ships or purely as companions for the long voyages, or were confiscated from other ships as booty, nobody really knows.

There have been many stories about the history of the Coton de Tulear, most of them are untrue, the Coton was never feral on Madagascar, it did not hunt wild boar, and it was actually a companion dog of the Merina (the ruling tribe) in Madagascar.

The Coton de Tulear is of the Bichon family, linked most closely to the Bichon terrier and the Tenerife terrier.

They gained their name from the port of Tulear (also known as Toilara) where they originated from and their cottony like coats.

Around the 17th century, the Coton de Tulear caught the eye of the Malagasy royal family and it became illegal for a commoner to own a Coton, gaining them the name "Royal dog of Madagascar".

Although still rare, they are becoming increasingly popular in the United States and Europe. The first Cotons were imported into the UK in 1997 and were recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 2000 and made their debut at KC licensed shows in 2001 and are shown in the Toy Group.