Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column
“Conversations with Champions” for the BCSA magazine, “Borderlines.”
Border Collie Puppies at 3 Weeks
Solaras Border Collies
Whelping Puppies for Beginners
Having everything ready for the whelping a week before the litter is due will
help you and your girl feel prepared for the big day—or evening, as it often
These best practices are based on my personal experiences as an AKC Breeder of
Merit. I also include tips and videos shared with me by friends in the dog
breeding community. Using these tools and techniques will ensure a successful
Selecting Your Whelping Box
There are many plans online for building your own whelping box. If you choose
to build your own whelping box, make it out of corrugated plastic or plywood
that can be purchased at Home Depot.
What Material Is Best for a Whelping Box?
Plastic is easy to clean, sterilize, and move around, while wooden boxes can
be extremely heavy, are more absorbent, and are more likely to harbor germs
and parasite spores from one litter to the next. If you choose to make the box
out of wood, then line it with vinyl flooring for quick cleaning.
However, if you are not handy, there are a variety of solutions to choose
How to Make a Whelping Box out of a Plastic Swimming Pool
The plastic swimming pool is a favorite for those with limited funds, and it’s
my personal option. They are easy to clean and have raised areas—often shaped
like little fish—that help the puppies get a grip as they motor around the
whelping pool. Plastic swimming pools four feet in diameter can be found at
Lowes or Walmart in the summer for less than five dollars.
The problem I have with the swimming pool is puppies climbing up on the
mother’s side and then escaping over the edge of the pool by accident. I
therefore need an exercise pen to keep them from ending up somewhere where I
can’t reach them.
The Dura-Whelp Whelping Box vs. the Plaza MagnaBox
If you are looking at a high-end, professional solution and are planning on
future litters, you may want to consider a professionally made whelping box.
They offer several advantages that the swimming pool lacks.
- The Dura-Whelp is made from corrugated plastic, which is somewhat flexible and not as durable as the solid plastic of the MagnaBox. When Dura-Whelp was initially marketing their whelping boxes, they estimated that they would be good for whelping up to 3 litters, but I know many breeders who have used them on 15+ litters, so Dura-Whelp is now marketing them as “durable.” Prices for the Dura-whelp range from $149 for the small to $229.00 for the extra-large size. However, Dura-Whelp has many little add-ons you will need, such as the half-height door to let mom out and keep puppies in. These add-ons and shipping costs increase the price by approximately an additional $100, depending on the size box you order.
- The Plaza MagnaBox is built to last, and will stand up to puppy teeth better that the Dura-Whelp. However it has no bottom, so you will need to put in whelping pads or use the Home Depot rubber-backed, carpeted garage mats to protect your floors. These garage mats are about $19.00 for a 3×6′ mat and are easy to hose off. Prices for the MagnaBox range from $399 for the small to $599 for the large, with free shipping.
- Both whelping boxes are equipped with “pig rails” to prevent the mother from crushing or suffocating her puppies against the side of the box wall. Swimming pools cannot be equipped with this feature.
- Additionally, each manufacturer offers expansion boxes as additions to the whelping box. My friends who have added on the expansion units tell me that it speeds puppy potty training. The puppies sleep and play in one box, and eliminate in the other box, often puppies have the hang of potty training by 5 weeks, using this configuration.
- Both are tool-free assembly and easily breakdown for storage.
Swimming Pool Whelping Box
Puppy Whelping Supplies
Here is the checklist of items you will need for whelping your litter. We will
discuss the uses of each of them in-depth throughout this article.
- A quiet area away from other dogs and family activities
- Whelping Box
- Digital Thermometer
- Sterile stainless steel scissors
- Styptic powder
- Lots of old towels
- Yogurt or vanilla ice cream in the fridge
- Small Kitchen scale that can weigh up to 10 pounds
- Heat lamp
- Oxytocin syringes
- KY Jelly and a syringe
- Bulb Syringe Aspirator
The items listed under optional, such as KY Jelly and the aspirator bulb, are
frequently recommended for whelping. I have them on hand, but I have never
found a use for them. We will discuss the benefits and dangers of oxytocin in-
depth in the section on whelping problems below.
Scroll to Continue
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Setting Up the Whelping Area
Choose a quiet room that can be closed off from the rest of the household.
Typically the mother will be very protective of her puppies for the first 2–3
weeks. She will not want strangers to visit the puppies, and usually will not
want other animals from the household to peek in on her pups. In fact with
some overprotective mothers, visits from rival females can provoke fights.
Better safe than sorry, you don’t want the mother to be injured, and unable to
care for her pups.
- Protecting the carpet: As I mentioned above, if the room is carpeted, you can purchase inexpensive, carpeted rubber-backed garage mats at Home Depot to protect the carpet. Frequently, mothers will not have their first puppy in the whelping box. First-time mothers may feel panicky and try to hide under furniture or may even begin labor in their lap.
- Establishing the whelping area: Once she has had her first puppy, and you place it in the whelping box, she will have the rest of her puppies in the designated whelping area.
- Acclimating your dog to the space: Bring your girl with you as you set up her room. She will be curious about your activities and the new items, and it will help her to bond with her special space.
Puppy contemplating escape from his whelping box swimming pool
The Early Signs of Labor: Timing the Delivery
A week before your dog is ready to give birth, you should have an X-ray done
to get an accurate count of the puppies she is expecting. This will let you
know if there is trouble, should she stop labor when there are puppies still
to be born.
This is a good time to discuss with your vet your options should you need an
emergency C-section after hours. Your vet may be willing to come in or may
suggest that you go to an emergency clinic. You will need to shop around for
pricing at various emergency clinics in your area. In my area, a scheduled
C-section runs about $900.00, while an emergency after-hours C-section can run
up to $3000.00.
If you are expecting a small litter, and the puppies are already quite large,
you may opt to schedule a C-section to avoid a difficult labor.
By day 57, you will want to start taking her temperature in the mornings and
evenings to get a baseline for her normal temperatures at different times of
the day. Her temperature should range between 101 and 103 degrees. Anything
higher than 103 degrees could indicate an infection, and merits a call to the
First Signs Your Dog Is Going Into Labor
- The earliest sign begins twelve to twenty-four hours before labor actually begins. As labor approaches, her temperature should begin to drop from 101 gradually down to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. With some girls, it will drop and rise for a day before delivery. Some never experience a temperature drop, so keep an eye on her behavior. Once her temperature drops and stays down around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, it is time to keep her in her whelping area.
- 12 to 18 hours prior to labor, the expecting mother will stop eating.
- Nesting behavior begins with her wanting to find soft materials to keep her puppies warm and dry. She could pull the stuffing out of a chair, or if she is outside, she may start gathering leaves. A whelping box well stocked with soft hand towels, will give her an appropriate outlet for her nesting instincts. Expect her to paw at the towels and rearrange them every 20 minutes.
- Panting and restlessness will signal that she is preparing for next phase, hard labor. She may pant heavily and then breath normally for several hours prior to the next stage of delivery. This restless cycle of revving up and calming down can go on for up to 24-30 hours.
Puppy count by X-ray one week prior to the due date. The puppy spines look
like little feathers.
Second Stage: Hard Labor
The second stage is marked by the mother’s water breaking and active
The Mother’s Water Breaks
When the water breaks depending on the size of your dog, you can expect about
1/2-1 cup of pale tea colored liquid in the whelping box. (With double coated
dogs, this first sign is easily missed, especially if there are many towels in
the whelping area to absorb the liquid. Check the towels occasionally for
excess dampness). Check the time when you see her water break or first
contractions begin. If she has not delivered after 1.5-2 hours, you will want
to begin making arrangements to see your vet.
Signs of Contractions
You will see her sides heaving as she clamps down on contractions and then
releases. Some girls will also grunt with each contraction, often they will
stiffen and extend their hind legs. Typically within 30-40 minutes, she will
produce the first puppy. Puppies will tend to come in pairs 20-30 minutes
apart. Then she will rest for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours while the next pair
lines up the the birth canal from each horn of the uterus. During the rest
time she will clean her puppies and let them nurse. Nursing stimulates the
contractions for the next pair of puppies.
The First Puppy’s Delivery
As the puppy is being delivered, the mother will frequently lick her vulva.
Normally the puppy will arrive with the amniotic sac intact followed by the
placenta attached via the umbilical cord. The sac is a thin semi-transparent
film covering the puppy.
My girls begin by consuming the placenta and umbilical cord, then they work on
the puppy. Often, they have already removed the sac as the puppy was coming
out of the birth canal. You can sit back, and see if she can do it all on her
own. I tend to be very hands-on. I prefer to cut the umbilical cord myself,
and if the sac is intact, I will want to get the puppy breathing as soon as
possible. I prefer to leave the umbilical cord intact, while I clear the
puppies airway and then remove the sac. The umbilical cord will continue to
supply oxygen and nutrients for several minutes after birth.
Not all mothers know instinctively what to do when delivering their first
litter. Luna hid in fright under an end table after she delivered her first
puppy, leaving it up to us to remove the sac and umbilical cord. As the litter
continued to arrive, she caught on, and was able to handle the last couple of
Assisting Delivery: Removing the Amniotic Sac and Umbilical Cord
You may need to be prepared to assist the mother with the delivery.
Can You Touch a Newborn Puppy?
Yes, if you are one of the primary caregivers of the mother, then she should
have no problems with you touching her puppy. There is no fear of a mother
rejecting her puppies because they smell of human touch. Taking the puppy from
the whelping area, however will give her cause for concern.
Some first time mothers are frightened by their new arrival. As I mentioned, I
have had one leave the whelping box and hide under an end table. In this
instance, you will need to handle all of the mother’s duties: removing the
amniotic sac, jump starting the puppies breathing and cutting the umbilical
She will not like having strangers or other dogs entering her whelping room,
so to keep her calm, and prevent fights, keep her and her puppies to
themselves for the first 4 weeks.
Opening the Amniotic Sac
If the puppy has delivered normally, and the mother is munching on the
placenta, but has not begun tending to the puppy, begin by opening the
amniotic sac at the head and clearing any mucus away from the puppy’s nostrils
and mouth. Some people use the bulb aspirator to try to suck mucus out of the
airways. I find it clumsy, and that my finger and a soft towel work well to
clear them. If the puppy is not breathing yet, use your finger to gently clear
the back of the throat.
The puppy will gasp when he takes his first breath. Don’t panic about them not
breathing immediately, if the umbilical cord is still attached he will be
continuing to receive nutrients and oxygen through it for another minute or
If the puppy still does not breath, rub him gently but vigorously with a hand
towel. You are trying to simulate a mother’s vigorous licking, which normally
starts the puppy breathing. If the puppy still does not breath, then you will
need to remove the umbilical cord, and begin more aggressive measures, such as
gently slinging the puppy clear the lungs. We discuss that a little further
down in this article.
Do You Have to Cut the Umbilical Cord?
Typically, mothers will gnaw off the umbilical cord themselves. Sometimes it
happens while the puppy is being born, before you can even get your hands on
the puppy. I prefer to cut it myself to avoid either of the following
umbilical cord problems.
- Some mothers are overly aggressive or chew too close to the puppies stomach. Overly aggressive mothers can toss the puppy around the whelping box while trying to gnaw through the tough cord. This can result in an umbilical hernia, which presents as a dime sized bulge where the umbilical cord attaches. This can be corrected when the puppy is old enough for surgery with two stitches. Often this is done at the time of spay or neutering.
- Chewing too close to the stomach will cause blood to spurt out several feet from the puppy. It is very alarming when it happens, but don’t panic, press a dry towel to the wound for 2 minutes to stop the bleeding. Styptic powder can then be used to prevent further bleeding.
To cut the umbilical cord, take the hemostats and clamp them 3/4 of an inch
from the stomach of the puppy. The hemostats simulate the action of the
mother’s gnawing teeth, and will prevent the umbilical cord from bleeding
after you cut the cord. Cut the cord next to the hemostats on the side
opposite of the puppy. You can apply styptic powder to the cut end, but it is
not necessary. Remove the hemostats.
Do You Need to Tie Off the Umbilical Cord?
No, it is not necessary. Some people recommend tying it off with dental floss
or thread, but I have never had any negative consequences from not tying it
off. If it was necessary to tie a string to a puppy’s umbilical cord, dogs
would not have survived as a species.
The remaining 3/4 inch long umbilical cord will dry up quickly, and fall off
sometime the following day.
Mother and newborn pups.
Your Job as Delivery Progresses
You can dry the puppy with a towel, however mom will want to make sure her
puppy is properly cleaned and dry with seemingly endless licking. Let her do
Ensure That Each Puppy Nurses
Once mom is satisfied that her puppy is clean, you want to be sure it nurses
shortly after arrival. The colostrum in the mother’s first milk will provide
many of the antibodies your puppy will need to stay healthy in its new
Place the puppy near a teat, holding its head gently between your thumb and
index finger. Then gently but firmly press the puppy’s mouth against the teat,
supporting the head with your hand. Some puppies take to it immediately, other
struggle to get away. I am somewhat aggressive, and if they don’t take to it,
I will try to express some milk to encourage them to have their first meal.
Nursing will stimulate contractions for the next puppy’s delivery.
Give the Mother a Calcium-Rich Treat
This is also a good time to give the mother some yogurt or ice cream. The
calcium in these dairy products will help stimulate milk production.
Keep the Puppies Warm and Dry
As she goes into hard labor on subsequent deliveries, you will want to keep
the puppies warm and dry. You can remove the puppies to a corner of the
whelping box and place them under a heat lamp or just cover them loosely with
a dry towel. A broken placenta can make the whelping box a very wet and bloody
Monitor the Delivery
Deliveries of litters can be accomplished in as short as 90 minutes, more
typically it takes 3-6 hours, depending on the size of the litter. I have had
one girl wait 7 hours between births, before delivering her last puppy.
While she is in labor, she will continue panting and breathing heavily. Once
she has completed delivery, breathing will return to normal.
Clean Dry Puppies 3 hours after whelping.
Following the Litter’s Delivery
Once all of the puppies are born, clean up the whelping box and add fresh
towels to it. You want to keep the room warm, to prevent chilled puppies.
Puppies cannot regulate their temperatures at this age, and rely on warmth
from each other and their mother as well as the ambient temperature. I try to
keep the room temperature between 82 and 85 degrees with a space heater. Some
people use heat lamps over one area of the whelping box, so that puppies can
warm under the lamp as they require.
How to Know If a Puppy Is in Danger of Failing
Once all of the puppies have enjoyed their first meal, you should weigh each
puppy and keep a log of their weights. You want to weigh them once a day at
least to be sure they are gaining weight. A puppy who does not gain weight
everyday is in trouble. This is your best way to get an early clue to a
Healthy puppies have activated sleep, meaning they twitch every five to
fifteen seconds. This is normal and a good sign. Puppies who are still and
tucked up with their with their chins close to the chest, are not in good
health. Contact your vet if you have some puppies that are breathing slower
than the others or are not twitching like the others.
Oxytocin to Clean Out the Uterus
If you have oxytocin on hand (which your vet can supply to you in preloaded
syringes), a shot given after the last puppies arrival will help stimulate
additional contractions to clear the uterus of any retained placentas. Once
the puppies have all eaten, take her for a walk to potty and expel any
remaining fluids or placentas. If your girl has fluffy pants, you may want to
wash them off and towel dry her before returning her to the whelping box.
Walk her again 3 hours later, as the richness of placentas can give them upset
stomachs. You can expect discharge for the next 2-3 weeks. This is normal.
However if it is accompanied by a foul odor, its time to make a trip to the
vet, as this indicates an infection. See a vet as soon as possible to get it
under control quickly. A sick mother will mean a lot of work for you.
Now you can sit back and watch your puppies grow! Be sure the mother has
plenty of fresh clean water, as this is essential to her milk supply. She will
do most of the work for the next 3 weeks, you will just need to change bedding
and handle the puppies to socialize them.
Puppy at 3 weeks – now your work begins!
Problems With Whelping the Puppies
There are two common problems when whelping a litter of puppies: puppies
sometimes get stuck in the birth canal or they refuse to start breathing. We
will address each of these issues.
Puppy Stuck in the Birth Canal
Sometimes a puppy gets stuck; the mother may be straining hard with her
contractions, but no puppy presents or the puppy might be hanging part way out
of the vulva, but is large and stuck. The first recourse is to get the mother
up and walking around. This allows an internally stuck puppy to readjust and
represent itself. I have seen a puppy that was stuck halfway out get pulled
back into the birth canal, and then delivery normally 2 minutes later.
For a puppy stuck halfway out, you can try to assist by gently pulling the
puppy in a downward arc from the vulva. KY jelly can also be used to help
break any suction that is holding the puppy in place. Be sure your hands are
sterile first (with Betadine) smear a liberal amount of KY jelly around the
pup, and gentle slide some in between the wall of the birth canal and the
puppy. Do not break the amniotic sac before the puppy is delivered.
Oxytocin can be used to help stimulate contractions in the event of uterine
fatigue. However, oxytocin is not without considerable risk. It can cause the
placentas to detach prematurely, killing those puppies which have not lined up
yet in the birth canal. It is to be used sparingly, and only after the first
two puppies are born.
If two hours have passed since the last puppy was delivered and she has been
straining for 40 minutes, contact your vet; a c-section may be in order.
Puppy Not Breathing After Vigorous Rubbing and Clearing of the Airway
Sometimes a puppy will be slow to start breathing, especially if it had
difficulty in the birth canal. If after a minute of rubbing there has been no
gasp, you will need to gently sling the puppy to try to get any mucus up out
of its lungs. Be sure to cut the umbilical cord before doing this.
Cradle the puppy in both hands, supporting the head and back in your hands,
head pointed towards your finger tips. Bend over and hold the puppy up about 2
feet above your knees then sling down towards your knees, taking care not to
lose or drop him. You can also put your mouth over his nose and gently blow
air in to open up the lungs. Once he starts to breath, continue to rub him
gently but firmly until breathing becomes regular.
Signs You Have Lost a Puppy
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for one or more puppies to not survive the
delivery process. Dogs and cats have litters for this reason. If you are
struggling to resuscitate a puppy for over 5 minutes, and it has not begun
regular breathing, then it is not likely to make it. Puppies that are born
with limp necks and extremely low muscle tone are not likely to be able to be
resuscitated. Healthy puppies will be firm when born, puppies who are not
going to make it will feel lax and floppy in your hands. They may gasp once or
twice, but if you have spent five minutes working on the puppy with no regular
breathing, it is time to let it go.
Unhealthy puppies will have compromised immune systems that can bring danger
of an infection to the entire litter.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
Questions & Answers
Question: How can one keep the mom from laying on her pups?
Answer: Some mothers do tend to be less conscious of their puppies, and
have been known to lie on and in some cases kill their puppies. Most often
this is a danger when the puppy is caught between the mother and the sides of
the whelping box. Puppies caught directly under the mother tend to cause her
to shift and release the puppy.
While the swimming pool used as a whelping box has no mechanism to prevent
mothers from lying on their pups or suffocating them against the sides, the
premanufactured whelping boxes do have guard rails, sometimes called pig
rails, that keep the mother three inches away from the sides of the box. These
rails allow the puppies a safe clearance space from their mother on all four
sides. So while these manufactured boxes seem expensive, they are relatively
inexpensive, if they save the life of even one puppy.
Another concern in the whelping box is puppies getting caught up in the sheets
or towels in the nest, that are intended to help keep the area sanitary.
Puppies can become tangled up in long sheets or heavy towels, preventing them
from eating when necessary (every two hours) and possibly allowing them to
chill, as they are not able to gather warmth from their mother or littermates.
A chilled pup is not likely to survive long without intervention.
Many breeders use un-printed on “newsprint” to line the whelping box, or
whelping mats that are not easy lifted from the bottom, to prevent puppies
from tunneling under the mat.
© 2014 Barbara Fitzgerald
Robin on March 27, 2020:
Just found out my labrador is having pups so reading up on everything to know
A.madhavi on May 21, 2019:
I want one female puppy.
Ladi on October 30, 2018:
Just changes the helping box to a plastic helping container that mom can get
out of, but not puppies
.Bernie on August 17, 2018:
Very well written, for someone who has never had a litter, you sure have
covered this subject so well
solaras on October 17, 2017:
So happy to be of help Lidia. Please let us know if you have any other
Lidia smith on October 17, 2017:
Thank you so much for all the thougfullness your put into this article it was
very appreciate by all the members of my family ( now five boys thanks, to
your help) we need more people like you to help us care for our extended love
Lisa on November 04, 2016:
What an excellent help for owners who may have a pregnant girl,thank you so
much for all the explanations of before during and after 🙂
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 24, 2016:
Thanks for visiting and reading Ian. Sorry if puppy whelping was not good
dinner viewing! Please come back after you have had some time between meals!
Ian on October 24, 2016:
what a very in depth and descriptive page for whelping and breeding dogs…. i
am impressed at the level of detail you have gone into – although i did start
to watch 1 of the vides just after i ate 🙁
Great starting point for anyone wanting to breed there dogs
peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 29, 2015:
very good hub for those pet owners with female dog. Pups aren’t easy to calm
down. Your tips help.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 13, 2014:
Hi Writer Fox: Thanks for visiting! I don’t know that I could handle the
stress of being a puppy midwife. It is exhausting sitting up with them all
night. Mine always want to start having babies at 4-5 in the morning.
Hi Colorfulone – Send your daughter on down next time we have a litter due! I
could use a hand while I am napping. lol
Susie Lehto from Minnesota on October 13, 2014:
This is a very good article. My daughter would love to read this, as she does
love her pets and helping the mamas deliver their babies .
Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on September 21, 2014:
What a thorough article this is! Years ago I had a dog that delivered 10
puppies! I didn’t know half of the things you describe here, but, fortunately,
all of the puppies survived and thrived.
If there is such a thing as a midwife for dogs, you would be in high demand.
Enjoyed and voted up and awesome.