02 09 05 3508 W, 1 I - + 125 - 152


My first dog truck - 1997 Ford F250 4x4 Powerstroke with Ainley Chassis Mount Dog Box.

Although my wife is fairly understanding about my obsessions - mountain biking, snowboarding, and now field trials, every now and then she says: ďHoney, does that THING have to sit in our driveway.Ē She is, of course, referring to my dog truck.

So how did a Ford F-250 Powerstroke diesel with Ainley 6 hole dog box come to be parked in my wifeís suburban driveway? And what advice can I offer those of you who are considering similarly burdening your wifeís driveway?

Four years ago, I decided I wanted to give field trials a try. I had a promising young male - Zowie - and drove to local field trials in my F-150 with matching topper. I built a wood shelf for the bed of my truck and lashed my plastic crate to it. Below the shelf, I had a number of Rubbermaid containers, each of which held different equipment. As the bug bit, I traveled longer distances to trials outside of my home state of Colorado. Those travels convinced me that I needed to improve my storage.

Whenever I wanted to get something from beneath my shelf, I would search through my Rubbermaid containers only to learn that the one I needed was out of reach. The containers I had for water did not hold enough water, slid around, and sometimes tipped over. On long drives, lack of ventilation made the truck bed too hot for the dogs.

So, I decided to re-organize my pickup bed. The first thing I did was to buy a truck platform from Ainley Kennels in Dubuque, Iowa. The platform had two long sliding drawers and a 20 gallon storage tank. I placed two fans in the sliding door between the cab and the bed. Those fans sucked the A/C from the cab into the bed. I built compartments for the sliding drawers to keep my stuff organized, and bought three stainless steel kennels, which I fastened to the platform. After months of tinkering, the set up was pretty slick, and people often asked me exactly what I had.

Although the platform was an improvement over my wooden shelf, it still wasnít what I wanted.

To begin with, as my truck became more functional as a dog truck, it became less functional as a pickup truck. With the platform and dog crates in my truck, I had no ability to carry things in the bed of my truck. If I wanted to put anything in the cab of my truck, I had to remove all of my clothing and gear. Invariably, when I went to return my stuff to the cab, I forgot something along the way. So, leads, whips, boots, and the like went missing at the most inopportune times.

Moreover, the dogs still got too hot when I was driving to the trials. Even though the fans helped cool my truck as I added dogs - first, Ace - a littermate to Zowie, then, Wendy, the fans just didnít do the job.

Finally, I was concerned about the security of my dogs. At field trials, I would always open up both sides of my topper to let the air flow through my truck at night. I canít tell you how many times I was awakened by my dogs barking - always around 2 in the morning after I had settled into deep sleep - because some hairball in the motel parking lot, who had far too much to drink decided he wanted to pet the dogs.

I decided it was time for a dog box and began researching different style boxes.

I looked online at sites sponsored by Ainley Kennels, www.ainleykennels.com; CPH Sales, www.cphsales.com; Crow River, www.customdogtrailers.com; and Deerskin Manufacturing, www.deerskinmfg.com. I wrote to Bush Manufacturing and Jones Trailer in Texas. I spoke with Kirk Burns of Burns Machine in Virginia and with Ron and Jane Ainley. At field trials, I looked at every dog truck and spoke with the owners about what they liked and didnít like about their trucks.Then I set down to design my dog box.

Design questions and my answers

1. Topper or dog box?

One way to get additional storage without spending the money associated with a dog box is to buy a dog topper that sits on the rails of your truck. New dog toppers can be bought for $8-10k new, while dog boxes typically cost $12-18k new. I didnít want a dog topper because I didnít want my dogs to have to jump the height from the box to the ground and I really didnít like the ladder contraptions that people used as a means of avoiding that long drop for the dogs. More to the point, the dog topper did not offer the closet storage that I wanted. So, pretty early in the game, I focused my attention on dog boxes.

2. What material do you want to use in your dog box?

Most companies use aluminum and/or stainless steel in their dog box construction. Speaking very broadly, stainless is more durable, heavy, and expensive than aluminum. Most people I spoke with thought that an aluminum frame would suffice for an amateur, but that a pro would probably want a stainless steel frame. As for the skin, or surface of the truck, most people thought that it was a matter of taste. I thought I could live with an aluminum frame, but preferred the look of stainless steel for the skin of my truck.

3. How many dog holes do you want in your dog box?

Kirk Burns recommended that I get an 8-hole box. He said that 8-hole boxes had the greatest demand among amateurs and, as a consequence, kept their value over time better than 4 or 6 hole dog boxes. However, I doubted that I would ever own more than four dogs. Moreover, I prefer traveling alone - some people would say no one would travel with me - and I doubted that I would ever transport more than six dogs at one time. Burns told me that many people were like me and simply used empty holes to store their cooler, birds, etc. However, I wanted more sealed storage space and by eliminating one hole on each side, I could add a closet on each side. So I decided upon a 6 hole box.

4. Where do you want the holes?

My ideas on hole placement all came from Mitch Patterson, who I called about a used dog box he had for sale (more on used boxes later). Mitchís previous truck had (from front to back), a closet, three dog holes, and a closet to a side. Mitch decided that for his next box, he wanted three dog holes, then two closets. Mitch said that the hole over the wheel was standard size. By moving the front closet to the rear, the front two holes could be lower to the ground. As these two holes would share the same top line with the third over the wheel hole, they would allow 2-3" more height for larger males, and would also reduce the distance that the dogs would have to jump up or down from the holes. Mitch sold me.

I had also thought of widening my holes to give my two males - Ace and Zowie - more room.

However, Bill Schrader - a longtime competitor and respected veterinarian - recommended against it. Bill said that a standard width hole was wide enough for the dogs to turn around in, but narrow enough for the dogs to brace themselves in rough terrain. Bill thought that a wider hole might make it difficult for the dogs to properly brace themselves. So I stayed with the standard width.

5. What do you want to do for a breeze-way?

Because I only wanted six holes, I could have my dog box designed with a lower profile than a dog box with 8 or more holes, which must have at least one box on top of another. But, I wanted a breezeway of sufficient space to allow my dogs plenty of ventilation.

I also wanted to maximize airflow through my breezeway. There were three ways I thought I could accomplish this: 1) I could plan my storage so that nothing sat on the decking of the breezeway and that airflow to the dogs would be unimpeded. This meant that overhead storage would need to be created for my holding blinds, umbrellas, blind stakes, whips, cleaning supplies, etc. 2) I could use stainless steel rods rather than diamond decking for the breezeway floor and thereby increase airflow to the dogs. I was willing to pay the higher price for the stainless steel to increase ventilation for the dogs. 3) I could install a roof fan for ventilation (to pull air out of the truck, rather than blowing it in).

Another consideration in breezeway design is what mechanism you prefer for holding the doors up. I like pneumatic shocks and chose them. A friend of mine, chose coil springs, which are less convenient than the shocks, but also less expensive and less susceptible to failure in cold weather.

6. What about storage?

I wanted enough storage to allow me to carry whatever I wanted in my dog truck. Accordingly, I designed my truck to have two rear closets on each side, a bumper storage unit, and a rear closet.

This is where dog truck desigbn gets really personal - and fun.

Closet design is partially dictated by water tank location. Again, I need to express my thanks to Mitch Patterson. Mitch recommended that I place the water tank between the inboard rear closet, rather the end closet. Why? Because the 30 gallon water tank (when filled) is very heavy, and it rides better over the axle than behind it.

I followed Mitchís advice. This meant that the inboard closets would not be as deep as the rear closets. To use this space efficiently, I wanted two sliding shelves placed in each closet with an open storage area above to place duffel bags or other loose items.

In the rear closet, I wanted to store all of my hanging clothes - shirts, jackets, rain gear, etc.
I wanted sliding racks so that I would not have to crawl into the back of the closet. I wanted hooks on the sides of the closet to hang leashes, belts, whistles, etc. And I wanted a towel rack so that I could wipe my hands off before or after changing clothes.

Now another idea that came from Mitch. Most dog boxes have a lower storage area at the end of the box in which people typically place bumpers. The problem is that area gets dusty and muddy very easily. Mitch suggested sealing that area and making it part of the closet. Then you could place your muddy boots in that area without dirtying your other clothes. I thought it was a great idea! However, to simplify cleaning, I thought that a removable pan could be placed in the bottom of the storage area - after training, you pull out the pan and wash it, rather than having to root around in the bottom of the storage area.

Ron Ainley told me that his customers really loved the bumper storage and urged me to consider adding it to any box I designed. Ron said that people placed their holding blinds, tie out chains, shovels, etc. in the bumper storage area and that by using an overlapping lip design, very little water would enter the area. It made sense to me and entered my plans.

I also wanted a rear storage area on the back of my truck in which to place my collars, training pistols, blanks, etc.

What was left? Well, there were two lower storage areas to be filled in the front of the truck.

When I was looking at used boxes (more on that later), I spoke with Larry Wharton, who had a four hole Burns box for sale. Larry, like everyone I spoke to in my search for the perfect dog box, was very generous with his time and ideas. One thing that Larry had - that I thought was fabulous - was a tip out bumper bin in the lower front storage. The bin - designed like an old flour bin - tipped out and stayed out - when opened. When closed, it was sealed and allowed little of the grit that typical bumper storage has. By placing dividers in the bin, I could separate my bumpers into colors - white, orange, black/grey.

7. Miscellaneous additions

A number of people - mostly pros - suggested that I get a water pump for my box. They thought having a pressure washer was great for cleaning dirty kennels, washing dogs, and the like. As this option was about $400, and my dog box was pricing in the $14,000 range, I passed.

What a mistake! I soon found out that Ace had a sensitive digestive tract and about 100 miles down the road, would invariably get a severe case of the runs. This, in turn, led me to find a carwash, where I would clean the offending mess. I would then drive down the road another 100 miles to discover that Ace had done it again. It didnít take long before I decided it was time to add a water pump. Of course, because a number of things now needed to be removed before it could be installed, I spent more than the $400 I would have initially spent. Oh well.

One thing that I added when I added the water pump was hooks on the breezeway door. These hooks are great for hanging leads, collars, choke chains, and the like when you are switching from one dog to the next.

Another little thing that I like a lot is a sliding roof rack bar. The bar which runs the width of the roof slides back and forth, so that you can pinch bird crates and the like between the sliding bar and the stationary bars on the roof.

At a field trial in Evanston, Wyoming, Kirk Naisbitt suggested I change my locks so that all the handles pointed downward. Kirk said this would minimize the possibility a dog might get its paw stuck as it entered or exited the truck. Out came the screwdriver, and soon all handles were pointed downward.

8. Making it happen.

As I mentioned earlier, I looked at boxes made by several different manufacturers, who had good reputations in the dog community. Ultimately, I decided to go with Ainley - in part, because they were closer to me than anyone else. In part, because I liked the quality of the dog platform and kennels I had purchased from them earlier. In part, because they had been so helpful to me in my dog box research.

Many of my friends have had similar experience with different manufacturers. For example, Danny Farmer swears by Kirk Burns and Mike Loggins highly recommends Deerskin. What cannot be overemphasized is that you must have great communication with your manufacturer.

I told Jane Ainley what I wanted. Jane told me what made sense, what didnít, what could be changed, and what couldnít. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to have this kind of communication with your manufacturer. At one point, I thought about removing the roof trim - to lower price, roof line, and wind resistance. Jane said that the roof trim served to break the square lines of the truck and that without the trim, my dog box would look like an ice cream wagon. Well, that did it for me - back came the roof trim.

Over the next three months, Jane and I would talk weekly to discuss different things that would arise in her mind or mine. To help Ron and Jane design the storage area as efficiently as possible, I sent them the things I wanted to have a specific place in the truck - Hi Lift Jack, jumper cables, umbrella stand, blind stakes, whips, chairs, holding blind. If it was big and needed a special place, I sent it to Ainley. Ultimately, this was one of the best things I did, because it helped them organize the space in a manner that worked.

9. Getting your truck.

A dog box is a heavy proposition. So, you need to make sure you have a truck that can handle the load. That is probably the proper topic for another article.

I decided I wanted a Ford Powerstroke Diesel and began shopping for a used one while I waited for Ainley to build my box (depending on order status this can take as little as 90 days or as much as a year depending on manufacturer). I had plenty of time to scour the lots, the internet, and the papers - but, in short order, found a used F250 XLT Powerstroke SuperCab with only 12,000 miles - SOLD!

10. Installation.

Once Ainley informed me that my box was ready, I jumped in my new used truck and drove to Dubuque, Iowa. It took Ainley about two days to remove my pickup bed, mount the box on the truck, add leaf springs to carry the increased load, and fine tune the little things I wanted added to the box. By taking my time and not rushing out the door, I pretty much got everything the way I wanted it.

11. One Final Touch

Before the Field Trial Bug bit, I was an avid snow-boarder. Among snow-boarders, those persons who snow-board everywhere on the mountain with fearless disregard to the difficulty of the terrain are called Freeriders. So, I decided my kennel name would be Freeridiní. To inaugurate my dog box, I had Preston Skitt, an art teacher in my training group, paint a picture of dog on a skateboard - that I had found in Hawaii - on a plaque which I mounted on the rear of my truck. I wanted the plaque to remind me not to take this Field Trial Business too seriously.

12. The Process Never Ends

No matter how well you plan, there will always be some little thing that you will want to add. For example, I added air shocks to my truck to allow me to adjust ride height depending upon the load the truck carries. I especially like the fact that an in cab device allows me to adjust the height as I am driving down the road. In addition, I found that the items I placed on hooks - leads, whistles, etc. - often bounced off the hooks in rough terrain - so I am looking to have the hooks bent into more of a circle than a ďCĒ shape, so that those items remain on the hooks. Finally, as I have gotten a better sense of what I will carry in my truck, I would like to add some customized shelving to my truck.


One great thing about a new box is that you get to make it exactly the way you want.

One great thing about a used box is that it will cost less than a new box.

Dog boxes are always coming up for sale. You can find them advertised in the Retriever Field Trial News (as Larry Whartonís was); Working Retriever Central, www.working-retriever.com (as Mitch Pattersonís was); Retriever Guide, www.retrieverguide.com. A well cared for box can last indefinitely. Newer boxes tend to hold their value. As a result, with a newer used box, you may only save a couple thousand dollars from the price of a brand new box.

Better deals are to be found in older boxes - particularly if you are interested in picking up a proís used box with ten or more holes. However, with older boxes it is especially important to have someone who knows about dog box construction carefully examine the box for you. Hidden structural problems can cost a fortune to repair.

When you are considering the price for a used box, donít forget to factor in the price of having someone install it on your truck - between $500-$1,000 - and that not all boxes fit on all trucks. In other words, do your homework.

Finally, when you find a good used box at a decent price, donít hesitate too long. They tend to leave the market in a hurry. I found two or three boxes that sounded interesting, but were sold before I even called.

Whether you are in the market for a new or used dog box, I wish you the best of luck. I also hope you have as much fun finding your box as I did and that your wife is as understanding as mine is.

Ted Shih

Very well written and helpful article.

Thanks Ted!
Jeff Telander (Email) - 10 02 05 - 07:55

Great article!!!!!!!!!

Henry Ragle
Henry Ragle (Email) - 10 02 05 - 08:18

Good article, you answered some basic questions I had.

Lainee, Flash and Bullet
Lainee (Email) - 21 06 05 - 00:08

Your pictures are great.
prudence (Email) (URL) - 30 04 06 - 06:47

hi I have a burns box that has been wrecked and I need some parts for it and I have not been able to find an email address or a phone number for burns. I would appreciate any informatiom that you could give me. Thanks Dennis
DENNIS JOHNSON (Email) - 05 09 07 - 15:24

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