A Guide for Potential First Coton Owners
By Kathy Salinger
So you're thinking about bringing a puppy into your family. There are certainly a lot of things to consider. Is the Coton de Tulear, a rare breed dog, right for you? Are you prepared for the responsibilities of owning a new Coton puppy? Where can you purchase one? How much do they cost? How do you know you are purchasing a good quality, healthy puppy? How soon can you get one? What do you feed the puppy? How do you select a veterinarian? What about training?
I am familiar with these questions because I, too, have recently been in the very same situation. I've learned a lot from the process and would like to share with you what I have learned. My goal is to provide information to the prospective Coton owner that will serve as a guide in your decision-making process. While the nine considerations above may seem overwhelming, they are important. You're welcome to use this information as part of your checklist prior to making a decision to purchase your first Coton puppy.
The first step-and you have already begun, is to read everything you can about the Coton de Tulear breed. L'Echo des Elingues e-magazine is an excellent reservoir of information. A good location to bookmark is the information on the breed standard. Read it often (!) so that you are aware of the important elements of the breed. That way, when you see a Coton, you can better evaluate the quality and temperament of the breed as it pertains to the qualities you are looking for in a pet. The Coton de Tulear is a rare breed and, therefore, it is not as common as other dog breeds you may know. For that reason, you will want to actively research and educate yourself on the qualities of the breed. Study pictures available on the Internet. Compare the dogs in the pictures with the breed standard. Can you identify how the breed standard is reflected in the Coton in the picture? If possible, attend dog shows where the breed is being shown. What qualities do you see in the winner? Visit a breeder or a Coton owner's home and interact with a Coton.
Talk to breeders. Email, call, write, and check their websites to learn what living with a Coton is like and what their breeding philosophy is. Read pedigrees and become familiar with their champion lineages. I recommend that you talk to five to ten breeders and owners-not just one or two. It would be very wise to have a list of questions prepared ahead of time. Have they had any health problems in their lines? How often do they have litters available? Please note that over breeding should always be avoided. Ask how often they breed their females. Do they have health certifications for their breeding stock? Check the websites of Coton de Tulear organizations and clubs - both national and international! Talk to owners who previously purchased a Coton from the breeder to obtain references.
Be sure to ask questions relevant to your personal situation. For instance, if you already have other pets (e.g., dogs or cats)-how do Cotons react to other pets? If you have small children, find a breeder or Coton owners with small children and ask those questions that might relate to your situation. Talk to breeders and owners who live in similar communities as yours. Find out how Cotons acclimate to conditions in Alaska, Africa, Tokyo, farms, ranches, condos, flats or whatever pertains to your community. Don't be afraid to ask questions. It is important. After all, at some point, all Coton owners have been in your position and have had similar questions, to be sure!
I have found Coton breeders and owners to be very open and honest people who enjoy talking about their dogs and answering questions. I would gently remind all that your email to the breeder is likely to be one of many!! So please respectfully understand if your email isn't responded to immediately. There could be many emails to answer from other prospective owners!
Once you have talked with several breeders, you may find that you can relate to one or two breeders better than others - a natural progression. I believe it is important to find a reputable breeder and one with whom you can develop a good relationship. It is likely that in the years to come you will remain in contact with them. You may have questions or want to share stories or pictures. Choosing a breeder you can work well with is as important as finding a reputable and responsible breeder.
The ideal situation is one in which the reputable and responsible breeder lives "just down the road from you." However, that may not be realistic with this rare breed. When selecting a breeder, your concerns for the health of your puppy and quality of the breeding program should rate higher than logistics. Some breeders do ship puppies. Some do not. Be sure to ask about their shipping policy.
If you are beginning to see where this process of acquiring a Coton puppy can take time, you are correct! Further, once you feel pretty confident that you are ready to purchase a Coton, be prepared to wait. Puppies are not readily available. There is usually a waiting list. As a point to consider, I will tell you that my first research contact with a Coton breeder was January 8, 2001. I am scheduled to receive my puppy the first week of September 2003. I know whereof I speak.
To purchase a Coton de Tulear puppy, expect to pay $1,500 - $3,000 dollars (U.S.), not including accoutrements such as veterinary expenses, feeding, grooming, and supplies. Puppies destined to be in the show ring are more costly than the puppies whose only goal is to be loving members of your family. Non-show ("pet quality") puppies may be identical to show quality puppies in every way except for possibly a slight bite misalignment, or the amount of color other than white. They are still every bit as loving and precious.
At this point, you may believe the Coton would be a "good fit" for you and your family. You still have questions though. The focus now shifts from the Coton puppy, to you, the owner. What are the responsibilities of owning a Coton puppy? Well, let's see. The obvious basics are shelter, food and water, health, nurturing and training. Right? From your research you know the Coton is a dog that should live indoors, but enjoys romps outside. We know that water should always be provided as well as food. Food. Have we researched what to feed a Coton puppy?? Oh my!
Again, a good source of information on feeding your puppy is your breeder. It is very important to find out what type/brand of puppy food your breeder is feeding your puppy. I have found different breeders use different products. The one consistent factor is that Coton puppies should be fed good quality puppy food, whether it is a special order item found only on the internet, a product that can only be purchased at the veterinary office, or a product purchased at the nearby pet food store. What is especially important for new puppy owners is that they don't abruptly change puppy food. If you are going to use a different product than what the breeder has started your puppy on, gradually decrease using the breeder's food product and increase the new product when feeding your puppy. This will help acclimate your puppy to the different taste, as well as help prevent digestive problems during the time when you are trying to potty train your precious pup. Talk to your breeder for their advice about switching your puppy to the new product before doing so.
It is important that you ask your breeder about vaccinations. Puppies are ready to go to their new home around the age of three months. By that time, your puppy should have received its initial vaccinations. The first set of vaccinations is usually given to six to eight-week old puppies. Their mother's milk provides protection up until about that point. There is a booster set of vaccinations that usually follows three or four weeks later. The puppy should also have had its health checked and certified by a veterinarian. When you get your puppy, the breeder should provide these vaccination and health certifications to you. By the way, the initial vaccinations must be followed up by regular visits to a veterinarian for further vaccinations and checkups. Of course, you will be responsible for these.
Your research has provided many illustrations of the playful, sweet disposition of Cotons. What could come more natural than the nurturing of a cute little Coton puppy? What a treasure!! As part of your nurturing, you must also socialize them, protect them, groom them, and train them. We'll explore these elements of owning a Coton in the next article.
In the first article the focus was on making decisions about whether or not the Coton is the right breed for you and the process of obtaining your first new Coton puppy. In this article, the focus changes. Now we are contemplating the responsibilities of a new owner in raising a happy, healthy, good-mannered family pet. After all, these dogs can live to be 20 years old, and we have made a commitment to make them a true member of our family.
The first few months that you have the puppy in your home will be the most crucial. Puppies are like little sponges and are the most affected by nurturing at this time. What are the good traits you want to see in your Coton when it is fully grown? Make a list. Be specific. That list will serve to remind you of the goals you are working towards. Why? Because it is just as easy for you to stray from consistent training as it is for your puppy to forget! On that list it would be good to also add the reminder that the cute little Coton puppy is just that--a puppy and not able to know exactly what you want it to be or do to please you.
Experts tell us that the most important thing we can do for a new puppy is to allow them to "discover" their environment without pushing or overwhelming them. Do you live near a noisy traffic area? Are there several active children in the home? Are their other animals living there? Allow the puppy to become accustomed to the various environmental situations of the home as the puppy chooses. Never allow the puppy to be in a situation that overwhelms them. Puppy attention spans are very short, 5 - 10 minutes at best. Ensure that the puppy is handled, petted, and introduced slowly to new things. Be encouraging but not insistent. Make new experiences, such as grooming, fun! Reward them by praising them.
Giving puppies the full run of your home is not the best option. That's why a number of people choose to use crate training. Crate training is based upon the idea that dogs are den animals. A den is a place that they feel warm and safe. A place that they can easily return to if something frightens them or they need a nap. Therefore, a crate is used as a contemporary "den" for new pets. It should not provide opportunities for children to tease or poke, nor should it be used as punishment. The crate should be placed where it is in an "out of the way", quiet, dim spot in your house--a safe haven by your puppy. Please note that this does not mean your Coton puppy should be banished to solitary confinement in a back room!! Find a quiet area in the room where there is human activity and place the crate where the puppy can see you.
Wild animals reportedly do not urinate or defecate in their dens. They go elsewhere to eliminate rather than soiling their "den" quarters. Crate training uses this idea as the basis of potty training. Puppies should certainly have enough room in a crate to stand, turn around, room to play a little bit, but not much room. Otherwise the puppy will determine that some area of this new playpen is appropriate for soiling and will do so. This is a case where bigger is definitely not better. With a new puppy, it is recommended that you start out by crating for a very short period of time. You never want to give the impression of punishment if you want to train successfully. So start by crating as little as 15 minutes and gradually work up. Puppies chew all the time, so be sure to leave some interesting chewable toys in the crate at all times.
Potty Training! This is certainly a big important step for all new puppy owners. Crate training and potty training are the subjects of many articles, books, videos available on the Internet and in stores and shops available to you. While there does seem to be a few variations of style, the main points appear to be consistency and positive reinforcement. What I have learned is that, like children, puppies do the very best when there is a consistent routine in training. After a puppy eats or drinks, there is a natural urge to urinate or defecate. This is a golden opportunity for training. Escort the puppy to the area where you want him to eliminate and gently encourage him to do so. Use repeated gentle encouragement and the puppy's name (as opposed to a "command") until the puppy eliminates. Then use profuse but gentle praise as reinforcement. Never ever hit, spank or yell. He or she will need to have positive reinforcement for every "puppy" step they make towards meeting the training goals you have established for some time to come. Within a week or so you should be able to make discernable progress in potty training your new puppy. Be sure to repeat this potty training process after a period of play or upon waking in the morning or after a nap.
A relatively new idea is the use of litter boxes for small, indoor dogs. This is particularly exciting as it apparently is best used for dogs the size of Coton de Tulear, a breed that does live indoors. The litter product used in the dog litter box is different than cat litter. It has the texture of pellets, and it is made of recycled paper. There are even automatic litter boxes for dogs. Despite all the latest "technology" on the market-nothing can replace consistent training and positive reinforcement.
Once your puppy has had all the puppy vaccinations and your veterinarian approves it, you should make every attempt to socialize your puppy with people and pets other than those at home. Again, gradually and in a gentle manner, introduce your puppy to a variety of people--people on bicycles, large people, people with dogs or other pets, noisy people, small children, and the sights and sounds of your community. An outing here or there as little as a few times a week can provide great training opportunities.
Every puppy has its own personality. Some are more outgoing than others. So don't assume that because your puppy isn't excited about each new sight or sound, or meeting new people or animals that he or she won't ever be. However, experts say that socialization training is one of the biggest factors in preventing negative behaviors later when the puppy is grown. So do spend quality time socializing your puppy.
At this point you have been socializing your puppy and have been pretty successful with potty training. What's next? At about 4 months old, you may want to enroll your furry baby in a puppy kindergarten class. These are classes to further promote socialization skills, teach basic command obedience (clicker/hand/voice commands), and promote the elimination of behavior traits such as biting. Although prices can vary, you may find a kindergarten that is quite reasonable. Just be sure to choose one where vaccinations and health certificates are required, and the initial classes are limited to a few puppies. These classes are highly recommended for puppies destined for the show ring.
Grooming is very important and should be considered part of the training. From the first week you have your puppy home, you should be grooming him or her so that your puppy is comfortable with the regime. Very short, regular grooming sessions that are full of praise will help your puppy become a more content participant later in life as the grooming sessions become a little more serious. Consistency is very important and helps the puppy understand that grooming is part of its normal routine. Regular grooming sessions help prevent matting. Trying to groom fur that has matted can take much longer and is also not quite so pleasant as without any mats! L'Echo des Elingues e-magazine has a link to some great information on how to groom your Coton. Isn't it lovely that we have these great Coton resources at our fingertips? This link will provide you with good tips!
Choosing a veterinarian can be intimidating. How do you know which to choose? I was able to find some good information on the Internet that alleviated some fears of mine. Of course, it would be great if your breeder lived close by or there were other Coton owners nearby. You could certainly ask them about their veterinarian or perhaps ask other small dog owners. I suppose if you live in a very rural area, where there might only be one or two veterinary offices, your decision is much easier. Some of us don't have these options or perhaps some of us would just like a few guidelines. Here are some tips I have found.
Select a veterinarian that meets your needs and one where you can establish a long-term relationship. If a veterinarian's expertise is based on experience with large animals, obviously a Coton de Tulear needs may not be best met. Schedule a visit with several potential veterinarians to discuss your puppy's needs before you actually have a Coton puppy. That way you will be able to select a veterinarian you feel most comfortable with before the puppy arrives.
While you are in the veterinary office, check the office hours for availability
and determine if they are compatible with your schedule. As part of this
process, find out:
Ask what payment arrangements are accepted. Make sure you get a copy of the office policies so that you are aware of what is and is not acceptable. Check what professional organizations the veterinarian belongs to.
As you wait to speak with the doctor, take special note of how the staff handles appointments, customers, and telephone calls. Does the office facilities appear clean? Is there an odor? Once you have selected your veterinarian and you receive your new puppy, be sure to schedule the puppy's first visit very shortly thereafter. Your veterinarian will be able to verify the puppy's health and help you maintain the good health of your wonderful Coton de Tulear for a long, long time.
There is much to learn as we take on the responsibilities of being a new Coton owner. We should always take very seriously the care and feeding of these precious rare breed little dogs. Having taken great care to provide responsible care and training of our new little babies, I am sure we will see the benefits every day in the special relationship and love our Coton de Tulear gives us in return.
I hope this article has provided you with helpful information as you consider the purchase and ownership of a Coton puppy. It is my belief that all responsible Coton owners understand the value of researching the breed before making the decision to bring a puppy into their home. I applaud your commitment to spending the time necessary before you welcome your new furry family member into your home. In doing so, I am sure you will develop a wonderful long-term relationship with your very special little angel. Congratulations!
Just wanted to send you an update! I picked up my little boy "Nikketts
Top of the Mark" aka "Danny" the weekend of 9/6/03. Danny
is four months old. Danny was entered into two dog shows in the 3 -6 month
old puppy class in the Rareties Canyon Classic II Dog Show in Anaheim
Hills, California. He won Best in Show in both dog shows!! Eva was kind
enough to be Danny's handler in both dog shows. I tried to soak up all
that experience and skill that was so evident!!
Kathy Salinger (USA)
© - L'Echo des Elingues - 2003