McEmn Mark III Whelping Box - Frequently Asked Questions

Flooring/Whelping Box Bottom

Q: As I finish my neighbor's whelping box from your plans, it appears it intentionally does not have a "bottom"--which I assume is omitted because pups' "mistakes" might soak into plywood, and better to have only newspapers?

A: We do not want a hard floor on the box, thus the design. We want the bottom to be as cushioned as possible. A soft bottom means that Mom can accidentally step or lay on the puppies with less chance of serious damage, while the same accident with a hard floor or box bottom may mean a broken leg. And a broken leg means a trip to the vet every two or three days for weeks. We know that from experience! Getting rid of the hard floor was why we got rid of our previous whelping box and designed and built the new one. If you have small dogs, then a hard floor may be less of a problem.

Q: Was the floor of the box the floor of your home? And if so, how did you prevent the floor from absorbing urine etc?

A: Our normal setup is placing the whelping box on our existing carpeted floor with a tarp on the carpet. The box sits on the tarp. On top of the tarp, inside the box, we have two layers of the fleece that's mentioned on the design page or similar thick cushioning. Newspapers might be okay when the puppies are a few weeks old and moving around well, but we stick with the fleece until the puppies move out of the whelping box into the garage. And yes, that means a lot of laundry at our house when we have puppies.

Q: More information on the tarp, please.

A: We put a 5' 6" x 7' 6" tarp on the carpeted floor and set the whelping box on it. Tarps that size cost under $10 at Home Depot. The edges of the tarp stick out around the edges of the whelping box. You might find it useful to use some rope or string to tie the edges of the tarp up toward the handle cutouts to keep the box from moving off the tarp. We don't bother, and just smooth out the tarp every couple of days.

Q: I see you have the fleece, do you keep anything under it? and would you use this all the time from day one? I ask for I remember how often I was changing paper, when paper way back was the recommended choice. I know since then how it is not a good choice because of the possible swimmer.

A: Yes, we use the fleece from day one until the puppies move to a run. During the first couple of days while mom has a discharge, we usually have a layer of old towels on top of the fleece. If you have a particularly good Mom, you may be able to get by with only a couple of fleece changes per day. Otherwise just plan on keeping the washer and dryer running. During the weaning process, Mom will lose interest in cleaning the puppies. You may find that a layer of old towels or sheets on top of the fleece makes cleanup quicker and easier.

Pig Rails

Q: I am new to this and have a question about pig rails. They are supposed to keep the mother from rolling over on the pups, right? Seems to me this will only work if a pup can get under the pig rail first. Am I missing something?

A: The purpose of the pig rail is to keep the puppy from being smashed between its mother and the side of the whelping box. The puppy slides under the rail, and mom's back just presses against the face of the rail. It won't prevent mom from laying or stepping on the puppies. Puppies are attracted to the darkness under the pig rails, and our experience with Great Danes is that the puppies learn that the area under the pig rails is a safe place and spend most of their time there long before their eyes are open.

Q: How long do you keep the pig rails in your box? My husband is afraid that if we take them out, the pups will get injured on one of the corner braces. Also, how many weeks do you use the box?

A: We leave the pig rails in place for the entire time of use. The puppies like to sleep under the rails and lie on top of them. Our Great Dane puppies usually move out to a puppy run in the garage between five and six weeks old. With the dimensions provided, the pig rails do not provide an avenue of escape for the puppies until they are already old enough to need to move out of the whelping box.

Q: Are the pig rails only held in by the screws in each corner, or should I send some in from the outside of the box in along the 2x4?

A: The pig rails are held in place quite securely by their interlocking design and the corner brackets. If you've built according to the plans, the pig rails should easily support a few hundred pounds. The screws through the pig rails are just to keep them from being accidentally raised up off the corner brackets. Additional screws won't hurt anything, but they will make it much harder to assemble and disassemble the box.

Q: Thanks for posting the construction plans for a whelping box on line. I may have missed it but how high above the floor of the box is the bottom of the pig rails?

A: For the design as shown with the mounting holes 5" from the bottom edge of the side panels (see instruction step 1), you will have about 5-3/8" under the pig rail. For smaller breeds, you could lower the rail a bit. The concept is that you want the pig rail as high as possible while preventing the mother's back or hips from slipping under it.

To determine the ideal height for your breed, I would suggest the following procedure. On a hard floor, lay out a couple layers of fleece or whatever padding you plan to put in the bottom of the whelping box. Have your (hopefully not too pregnant) mother or another adult of the same breed lay on her side on the fleeces. Measure from the floor to the center of her backbone. That dimension is the height for the BOTTOM of the pig rail. Remember that the puppies will compress the fleece much less than an adult, so the padding significantly reduces the amount of clearance under the rail for the puppies.

Q: Another neighbors says to use 3" diameter PVC pipe in lieu of 2 x 4s------your comments appreciated.

A: PVC pipe could work as a pig rail, but with the same clearance underneath, the pipe's large radius means that mom's back pressing against it will tend to lift the whelping box off the floor. If that happens, the round pig rail does little to protect the puppy because mom can slide underneath it. And I don't even want to think about puppy appendages that happen to be under the edge of the whelping box when mom moves away and the box drops back to the floor. If you crave to use PVC, I'd suggest you stick to the rectangular tubes they use to build fences.

Whelping Box Dimensions

Q: Any idea how big I need to build my box for a (insert your dog breed here)?

A: If the bitch you are breeding can lay comfortably on her side in a 36" or 42" long crate, a 48" square whelping box will be okay. If she needs a 48" crate or larger, you need a 60" whelping box. The only chart of recommendations for smaller breeds that I've been able to find is here:

Q: We are considering making the sides 24 inches high instead of 20 inches. Do you think we would encounter any problems if we did this? I think we are going to try the slats for the door panels, too.

A: Structurally, that will not be a problem. The hardware is plenty strong. However, the additional height may prevent the mother from jumping in or out except at the door. Often, the mother may jump out on a non-door side, just to get away when the puppies are a bit older.


Q: Should I polyurethane the box? Just wondering if doing so might pose a danger to gnawing pups.

A: Thoroughly dried, polyurethane varnish will be quite safe. If you want to be totally non-toxic, you can use a water base polyurethane. I strongly recommend a waterproof finish on all surfaces of the whelping box. It is much easier to clean and sanitize a finished surface between litters. It's a lot less splintery, too.

Access Panel

Q: How did you keep the pups from climbing out the entrance as they get a little older?

A: The adjustable access panel can be unscrewed and moved upward as needed to keep the puppies in. When they are first born, the panel is left off so that the mother can get in and out of the box very easily. This is particularly helpful if she's just had surgery. As the puppies get more mobile, you raise the panel sufficiently to keep them inside. When the puppies are climbing out over the sides, it is time to move them out of the whelping box.

Miscellaneous Questions

Q: I assume with all the added extras on the floor makes it unnecessary to have a bottom, which is than raised off the floor? I say this, for I see many recommend raising a whelping box up off the floor by at least 2 inches. My biggest concern is we live in upstate NY, and it is mighty cold here, and I am sure it will be below freezing when the puppies are due. We have a VERY old farmhouse that is quite drafty, no matter what room it is.

A: Here in Florida we don't have to worry about cold floors, but I lived in the Jamestown, NY area for seven years in an 1890 farmhouse and know about cold floors. I remember my cats' water bowl freezing over. In your situation, I think I would make a 6' x 6' x 2" platform out of foam insulation board and set the whole business on top of it. That will do a much better job of keeping the whelping box floor warm than just having a couple of inches of air gap between the house floor and the floor of the whelping box. The padding we use is targeted toward avoiding puppy injury rather than insulation, but it helps with that, too.

Q: What have you found to be the best heat source for the newborns aside from Mom. Heat Lamp? Small space heater? I do have a heating blanket, but not sure if that would be wise. And what would you say is the ideal air temperature?

A: The problem with any sort of radiant heater or electric blanket is that the puppies can't get away if they get too hot. I would use an oil-filled radiator type heater. They warm the air very gently and never get so hot that you can't hold your hand on them. They have fairly accurate thermostats and are safe to operate overnight, which I would not do with a typical cheap space heater. 78 to 80 degrees F is what we use for newborns. You really have to watch the puppies to see what temperature they want. If they are always piled up, they are too cold. If they are always spread out, they are too warm.

Q: Have you felt this design meets all the needs?
A: This is our third-generation whelping box, so we feel that we have all of the major bugs worked out of the design. I just checked with Nikki and she says that there is nothing that she would change. There are several different ways to make the adjustable access panel, each having its pros and cons. You can see several of them on the feedback page. I have also thought about adding holes near the top edge to allow lacing the tarp to the box.


Please let us know if you have problems with these instructions or have ideas for improvement to this design.  If you build a whelping box from our design, send us a photo.  All comments about the whelping box should be directed to

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See whelping boxes that other breeders have built on the feedback page.




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Last edited October 14, 2011