When Can Puppies Leave the Whelping Box? (The Right Age)

when can puppies leave the whelping box

Is your dog expecting her first litter of pups and you’re wondering about getting a whelping box and how it all works? You’ve heard it’s a good idea to have one but how long should puppies be in the whelping box. Also, if they’re going to use it for a long time, you may be thinking you need to get something really big.

A whelping box is an important item to have when puppies are about to be born. You can construct something yourself or buy a specifically designed boxes from pet stores. They come in all shapes and sizes which again will get you wondering exactly how long puppies stay in whelping boxes once they start growing – here’s the short answer.

When can puppies leave the whelping box? Puppies can often leave the whelping box at 3 weeks old. At this age, puppies can move out of the whelping box as they become more mobile. Puppies can stand up and even climb out of the whelping box nest.

At this age, puppies start to explore outside of their nest, to find out more about the wide and exciting world around them.

More about puppies leaving the whelping box 

If puppies are only going to stay in their whelping box for such a short time, you could be thinking, ‘What’s the point of having one?”. Well, I can tell you that a whelping box will help you and the mother cope better with a horde of tiny puppies in their first few weeks.

Read on and discover more about whelping boxes, when is the best time for the puppy to leave “home”, and why you want to have a whelping box in the first place.

What is a whelping box?

Also known as a nest or whelping pen, the whelping box is a container designed to keep the newborn litter in one safe and cozy place. The mother also likes to have a place where she can give birth to her puppies in comfort while having a sense of security.

Whelping means to give birth (hence the name of the box). It should be placed in a quiet part of the house and set up a couple of weeks before your dog gives birth. This gives her time to get familiar with the box.

puppies leave come out of whelping box
It won’t be long until the puppies get more active and want to leave the whelping box themselves . (Image via Pixabay).

What can I use as a whelping box?

Deciding what to use as a whelping box depends on the size of your dog and how many puppies she’s likely to have. If your dog is a little girl, you could convert a large, sturdy cardboard box into a nesting box.

Another great idea is your kid’s plastic swimming pool or even the bottom half of a dog’s crate. You can make your own if carpentry is your hobby or you could go to the local pet store and buy a whelping box.

What to look out for when picking a whelping box

You need to make sure you pick a whelping box that takes into consideration the following factors:

  • The sides are high enough to keep the puppies safely contained in their first 3 weeks but low enough for the mother to move in and out freely.
  • There’s enough space for the mother to move comfortably while feeding her babies or laying with them.
  • The size is big enough to accommodate all the puppies being born. While you may not know the exact size of the litter beforehand, you can estimate what is the normal size for your dog’s breed.
  • The bottom of the box may come with whelping pads or you can simply line it with newspapers and a soft blanket. Some breeders will use wood shavings to cover the floor of the box.
  • Some whelping boxes come with an extension which is great for more active puppies who are still too young to leave the pen but are moving around quite a bit.

Picking the right whelping box goes a long way to keeping mum and pups comfortable and secure.

When is the right age for puppies to leave the whelping box?

Puppies develop and mature very quickly in their first few weeks. By the time they reach 2 to 3 weeks old, they’re learning to stand up and even able to pull themselves over the sides of the box. But, before they reach this milestone, it’s important they stay in the nesting box.

A whelping box is designed to keep the newborn puppies safe, warm, and comfortable. In their first few weeks, newborn pups can’t control their own body temperature. Keeping the puppies in one place and even using a heat lamp will help keep them warm.

Keeping small puppies contained in a whelping box also means they don’t go crawling off somewhere and getting lost. And, when the mother needs time out, she can leave the box and get some space knowing her pups are all safe in one spot.

A whelping box gives you peace of mind your puppies are well-protected, staying warm, and not disappearing once they start crawling. But be ready for the exodus once they reach 3 weeks old and might start walking!

How do I keep the whelping box clean?

If your dog gave birth to the puppies in the whelping box, you would need to change the bedding once all the puppies are safely delivered. Thereafter, you’ll only need to clean the box once a day in the first week or so. Newborn pups don’t make a lot of mess and mum does most of the cleaning anyway by licking her pups.

While you’re cleaning, you can gently place the puppies into another temporary container such as a plastic tub or cardboard box. Keep them warm with a blanket.

Use a non-chemical cleaning detergent and warm water to wash out the box. Remove any dirty bedding and replace with clean blankets, newspapers or wood shavings.

From two to three weeks, you’ll need to clean the box 2 to 3 times a day. This ensures the puppies and mother aren’t lying in waste and minimizes bacterial infections. Some breeders do put in a litter box for puppies once they start crawling. This could be the first step to house training your pups.

Do regular inspections throughout the day to make sure the whelping box is always dry and clean.

Can I move the whelping box to other areas?

Once your puppies have passed their first week, you could consider moving them to different areas in the house. This is similar to offering a “change of scenery” and keeps the puppies stimulated with new smells, sounds, and sights.

But remember, you need to keep them warm so make sure there are no draughts and the puppies are not too intimidated by the new environment. Be careful also with handling newborn puppies when moving them. They’re still delicate little creatures and you don’t want to be dropping them.

It’s also advisable to not move them to an area where there are too many children, adults, or other pets moving around. For the first 3 weeks, the puppies are small, developing, and can be easily disturbed by too much activity around them.

Do I need to put food and water in the whelping box?

The puppies will be drinking milk from their mother for the first 3 to 4 weeks, before moving onto water. They’re normally weaned completely between 6 to 8 weeks.

For the first 3 weeks, you could keep a bowl of water in the box for the mother. She will be very thirsty while nurturing her puppies.

If the mother doesn’t want to leave the box in the first couple of weeks except for going to the toilet, you could also put her food in the box.

However, once the puppies start becoming mobile keep both the water and food outside the box.


Get ready for a whole lot of fun, but also stress. When your dog has puppies, you won’t be able to sleep due to the worry. She will take them no doubt but being able to help just a little with whelping boxes, nesting, and more will make it so much easier for you.

It won’t be long before you can take the puppies from the whelping box, and have all that amazing time with them at this age.

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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/newborn-puppies-cute-baby-child-5066150/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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