Whether you have a Toy dog or a Great Dane, your pregnant bitch is likely to feel the need for a whelping box. There are a number of different approaches to providing your girl with a whelping box. We’ll examine some of the possibilities in this article.
In the wild female wolves instinctively dig out large dens in order to whelp their young, even though they typically have small litters. They dig out large dens because they will lie inside the den with the pups and, at times, other adult wolves will be inside the den with them as well. In some cases wolves may dig out adjoining dens and make a connection between them to have a front and back entrance in case they need an escape from danger. The dens can be quite large and elaborate. Pups can stay in them for weeks before finally coming out to stay full-time.
By contrast, the whelping boxes that our dogs use today are just a remnant of the dens used in the wild. A bitch may make attempts to dig holes under bushes or under a porch in order to have her puppies outdoors in a “natural" situation but, for most bitches, this is just an instinct that she doesn’t fully understand. She doesn’t have a pack to support her and she’s certainly not equipped to have puppies under these circumstances.
That’s where you come in. It’s up to you to supply your bitch with an appropriate whelping box that will both satisfy her instinct for a “den" that will be safe for the puppies and that will be clean and easily accessible for the bitch and for you.
A whelping box needs to be large enough for your bitch to stretch out in comfortably. You need to take into consideration her increasing size and the fact that she will soon have a litter with her. Not only that, but her litter will be constantly growing. An ideal whelping box will be situated in an area so that you can expand it as the puppies grow and need more room. For example, a Labrador Retriever will need a whelping box that’s about four feet by four feet, plus the puppies will need room after they get larger.
You can make your own whelping box. There are plans and designs for whelping boxes on the Internet and the basic concept is simple. You need a flat piece of plywood for the bottom and four pieces of wood for the sides. You should install what are called “pig rails" inside the box a couple of inches from the bottom of the floor. Pig rails are small railings that stick out and provide a place for newborns and young puppies to roll to get out of the way of danger, such as if their mother should lie on them. Pig rails can often save a puppy’s life and prevent the mother from smothering the puppy accidentally.
Many people often build their whelping boxes with hinges on the sides so the box can be taken apart and put together easily.
Once your box is built you may wish to paint it with non-toxic paint – the kind of paint that is used for painting children’s furniture. This will make the box easier to clean and help it to last longer.
If you’re planning to build your own whelping box you can often take your plans to a home supply store and they will help you get the things you need as well as get the lumber cut to the right specifications.
Some people prefer to build the four sides of the whelping box and leave out the bottom of the box. They simply place the box on a carpet remnant and keep the bottom lined with newspapers that can be tossed out. The carpet remnant can then be thrown away when the puppies are weaned.
Other breeders decide to buy a good whelping box. There are several good brands such as Jonart and Durawhelp. These whelping boxes are usually sturdy and long-lasting, albeit somewhat expensive. They come in different sizes so you can get one that’s the right size for your dog. These boxes are often made of specially-coated corrugated cardboard which does hold up to having several litters; or they can be made from hard PVC plastic. They have the added benefit of not needing any tools to put them together.
Some people choose to use the bottom of a large pet carrier for a whelping box but these can be cramped for some dogs and they aren’t square-shaped, so your dog may not have as much room as she needs in some directions.
Whichever kind of whelping box you choose you should be sure that you have it on hand at least a couple of weeks before your bitch is due to deliver her puppies. Bitches become anxious about whelping and they want to have a whelping box. Your bitch will dig in the box and make it the way she wants it. You can place some lightweight blankets in the box or put a fleece pad on the bottom of the box. Don’t worry if your bitch tears things in the box apart. That’s perfectly normal.
Many people having a litter like to put up an x-pen around the whelping box to keep other dogs and children away from the newborn puppies. As the puppies get bigger and start exploring, the x-pen can also keep the puppies from going too far or getting into trouble. Some people will set up a weaning pen adjacent to the whelping box. This pen can be built like the whelping box. It allows the puppies to toddle directly from their mom in her box to an area where they can play and later start eating some soft food.