Recommended GPS dog trackers?
December 5, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Tesla, our brindle plott hound mix is very clever and has separation anxiety. I'd like a dog tracking gizmo so I can stop worrying that I'll get dog-has-escaped messages from my awesome neighbors. Recommend me a dog tracker?

Tesla is too clever at devising new ways to get out of the house. Previous examples include busting window screens and jumping off the porch roof (soft-tissue shoulder injury), shattering a plastic crate, and biting the front door open (we reinstalled the door handle/lock). We've bailed her out of the pound once already after she was picked up by (small-town, friendly) Animal Control while our neighbors were looking for her as notified by our mail-person who saw Tesla running around.

We've had her for just over two years now; she's estimated at about four years old and is fixed. Her vet has checked her out physically. I work a little over an hour away, so while work has been reasonably understanding, running home for personal dog reasons isn't a regular option.

We have been troubleshooting recent behavior and think we may have found a cause - she loves to stare out windows (and bark at pedestrians on HER sidewalk) and our past attempted solutions have been progressively blocking or covering windows and doors. Cue increased anxiety spiral.

Recently, we have unblocked the windows, promoted access to easy lounging spots with good views, and upped her physical and mental exercise. These have helped curb her efforts to get out of the house.

I want a second line of defense so I don't worry about her, which is ideally something besides having her run up to our neighbors or mail-person wanting to play and having them recognize her and contact us.

I've done some basic research on dog GPS trackers - enough for name familiarity and feature lists but not much more. Activity tracking, temperature tracking, etc. are all cool features that could be really useful, but what I really want is a device to tell me where super-dog has gone. It looks like WhistleGPS has gotten delayed until "late 2015". Tagg has a new version coming out in February 2015. Is Gibi better than its 5 Amazon reviews would predict?

I am NOT interested in an electronic fence.

Does anyone have experience with or recommendations for dog-tracking solutions to notify me (a) if she gets out and (b) her current location?
posted by bookdragoness to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My in-laws use Tagg for their escape-happy brindle mutt. I've never seen them use the health-tracker - just the alarm and GPS capabilities.

As far as I'm aware, they're very happy with Tagg (which has a fixed cost + a monthly service fee), as long as they are diligent about keeping it charged (it does notify when it's ready to be charged).

They've used it a couple times to track their dog down when he's escaped, although I've never been there when this occurred. They have successfully recovered him several times.

However, if your dog just tends to escape the house and sit in your front yard or your neighbor's yard, the "home zone" on the Tagg unit may not be small or accurate enough to catch that your dog has escaped. I think the smallest distance from the docking base that will trigger a notification is something like 75 yards.
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2014

I should also mention that as their pup has aged, he's settled down quite a bit and become much less of an escape artist. They still rely on Tagg, though.
posted by muddgirl at 12:59 PM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: I have the Tagg trackers for my dogs. They seem to work pretty well. I've never had an escape situation (and hope I never will). I went with this one because it was the only one I could find that uses the Verizon network. Where I live, right at my house and where I walk and run in my neighborhood, this is the only cellular network that actually gets any signal.

I'm fairly happy with it, but I would not say it is completely accurate. My home zone on their map is around my house but gives an address that does not exist in real life (I'm sure some lot here has that number, but it's nobody's address) as the address for that area, rather than my own address. This makes me wonder about how it would work in a situation where I am trying to find a dog. When I visit my parents, it often gives the intersection 3 blocks away as the location of my dogs.

It's not perfect, but it's often very close to the actual location.

I have to recharge the trackers about twice a week.

If you have multiple people you want to be able to access the tracking app on a phone or the web site, everyone has to use the same password and username. They do not have multiple users per account.

I did discover by accident that if you give someone the username and password and they login, then as long as they do not logout they can stay logged in (if they tick the "remember me" box) even if you change the password via the site. Not sure if that was a fluke or what.

If you get this kind, I recommend getting the little cover thingie to zip up around the tracker that encloses the tracker and its buckle/snap thing. This slides over the collar and then you can remove the tracker to charge it. It's another way to ensure the tracker stays attached to the collar, for me.

Other options I looked at included the Roameo, which you do not need to pay anything once you buy the unit and the other things. You have the base unit thing and the thing on the dog, and it should tell you where your dog is within 2 miles or something. I did not get that one because reviews indicated a hill would block the signals. Lots of hills where I live.

There are a few others out there worth looking at that are very similar to the Tagg, but they are on networks other than Verizon so I did not bother researching them; they would not work here.

There are some things with RFID that do this, and I saw them recommended for cats, since cats are so often close to home whether indoor-escaped or indoor-outdoor and you want them in for the night. I think one or more of them will pinpoint a closer location than what you get with the Tagg home zone. I'm not sure and don't remember all the details but I seem to recall something like that. Like someone used a thing meant for finding keys in your house or something.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 2:12 PM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: Oh, and if you get notifications for escaped dog and current location with the Tagg, it can be as much as 20 minutes behind reality, since it is not checking real-time. It is checking in every so often. There is at least one thing that will do it real time but I forget which one (again, not the Verizon network so I did not bother reading any further).
posted by AllieTessKipp at 2:13 PM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: I live in an area that has terrible-to-nonexistent cellular coverage so none of the smartphone solutions would work for me. I ended up buying a Garmin Astro and it works just like I hoped it would, but it has several disadvantages you should know about.

1. Holy cats, it's expensive. List is $599 for the handheld device and one collar and Garmin enforces their MAP (minimum advertised price) policy so it's rare to see them discounted. I bought mine used off a friend who gave up bear hunting.
2. The large collar antenna might be problematic in a house. You can see the antenna hanging over my dog's left ear in this photo.
3. I don't think there's a perimeter alert function so the Astro wouldn't let you know when the dog busts loose. It will, however, pinpoint your dog's location within a few feet, regardless of cellular connection or difficult terrain.

I am unaware of a product that does exactly what you're looking for, but I was shopping with different criteria than you so it's possible I just missed it.
posted by workerant at 2:37 PM on December 5, 2014

Response by poster: To state my worry more accurately, it's that she'll get out and I'll never find her again.

When she has gotten out, she's mostly stayed within a block or two of the house - we're in the city but on a reasonably large lot. However, when Animal Control picked her up, she was 2-3 miles away, where her scent-hound brain most likely chased Interesting Smells. Her recall is mostly good and after extensive retraining she's no longer shy about walking up to people, so a "general area" location is sufficient.

If she gets out just to lie in the grass near the house I'm not as concerned. I really don't want her going gallivanting about (across major roadways) without having a good chance of knowing roughly where to find her and/or start looking.

Thanks for the tips on cell networks - Verizon is the best near me as well.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:05 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You probably have this covered, but if you haven't yet please microchip your dog. It's cheap (the shelters around here do it for $10) and if your dog got loose and somebody found her that's the first thing they'd check. You should also make sure her ID tag is up-to-date.

I speak from experience. The hound in my picture above was a lost bear-hunting dog I found in the backcountry of the Smoky Mountains. Her tracking collar was dead and her ID tag had a disconnected mobile number on it. A microchip would have changed her story completely. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I love her and she enjoys her new life of leisure and working as a therapy dog (I took this today) but I do feel badly for her first owner.
posted by workerant at 7:13 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Definitely! She's microchipped with updated contact info; even our indoor-only cats are microchipped in case they get out. Her collar has reflective stitching and a bright purple tag with address and phone numbers. Whatever tracker she ends up with will be a failsafe in the whole system.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:05 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

They won't exist until next month, but I'm hoping the TrackR Bravo tags are going to be good for this sort of thing. Bonus: they're nice looking!
posted by bink at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2014

Response by poster: I preordered a Tagg Plus tracker, which will ship in March.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:13 AM on January 6, 2015

Response by poster: My Tagg Plus tracker arrived mid-June and I've been using it for about a month now.

Its core competencies are:
1. Notifying you (email or phone app) when your pet leaves the "home" area (configurable)
2. GPS locating

The "extra" features are kind of meh - for example, activity only updates once per day, and the temperature detection won't be activated until "autumn 2015" - but its core competency is exactly what I needed. It also notifies you when the battery is low and when it has fully charged. The mount and actual tracker physical design are also very good.

I was a little on the fence when I first got it, but I've decided to keep it because I no longer worry that Tesla is roaming the streets. Last week, she gallivanted off the porch and ducked around the side of the house. I activated 'locating' mode just to be told that "Tesla is in the Home Tagg Zone." Just as I started getting upset with the tracker, I walked back and there was Tesla, sitting on the porch waiting for me to let her back inside. She'd done a loop around the house while I thought she'd gone around the street corner, but the tracker was right the whole time.

I figure this is a 80% solution and an iterative step towards what I really want; I'm happy with its basic functionality, and Verizon has terrific coverage around me.

Thanks again for the recommendations!
posted by bookdragoness at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2015

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