How Can I Tell if My Puppy Is a Maltese or a Coton de Tulear?

The coton de Tulear kept 15th century ships free from rat infestation.
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Delightfully charming and devoted, the diminutive Maltese and his cousin, the coton de Tulear, have long life spans and lush, white coats. Their sweet dispositions and big hearts have endeared them to dog fanciers the world over, and though they belong to the bichon family, they are not the same. A close look at breed standards and a puppy's conformation will help owners identify their favorite furry friend.

Heads and Tails

The ears of the Maltese are low-set on his skull and boast long hair carried close to the dog's head. His cousin the coton has high-set ears carried close to his cheeks and reaching the corners of his mouth when extended. While the skull of the Maltese is a medium length, and in proportion to the dog's size, the coton's head is short and triangular. His tail is low-set, carried below his hocks. The tip of his tail may curve up slightly. When he is in motion, he will carry his tail resting on his back, pointing toward his withers, according to the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club. The tail of the Maltese is always carried curled upon his back, with the tip hanging over his hindquarters.

Coat Matters

Although the lush, white coats of the coton and the Maltese may appear similar at first glance, they are different in texture. The Maltese has a single-layer coat of fine, white hair that must be brushed daily to prevent mats. Though a lemon or tan color on the ears is allowed by the American Kennel Club, it is not desirable. The ideal Maltese coat should contain no curls or kinks. The Maltese may sport a topknot to keep hair out of the eyes. The coat of the coton de Tulear is quite dense and may be wavy but is always soft, having the appearance of cotton. Only 5 percent of an adult coton de Tulear's coat may contain tan shading, but a puppy may have tan, brown or grey markings on his head or body. The markings will fade after the puppy reaches a year of age. A coton puppy's coat will be much softer than the adult dog's coat, according to the USACTC.

Body Differences

The brave little Maltese has a compact body that is as long as he is tall. His even build contributes to his flowing, smooth gait, at which he may travel very quickly. The sturdy coton de Tulear is longer than he is tall, appearing rectangular in build. His back is one-third longer than his height as measured from his withers to the point of his buttock, according to the USACTC. The coton's movement is easy and free, without any unevenness.

Weights and Measures

Though both the Maltese and the coton de Tulear are small dogs, the coton is slightly larger, weighing in at 15 pounds at the most. The coton can stand no higher than 12 inches at the withers for full qualification at AKC events. The coton's smaller cousin, the Maltese, is judged on substance rather than size, but is not allowed to weigh more than 7 pounds. Weights between 4 and 6 pounds are preferred, according to the AKC.