Which GPS tracker to buy for my 55lb dog
May 12, 2016 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in feedback from people who have purchased GPS tracking devices for their cat or dogs. Did it work? What is the best feature of your product? What is the worst feature? What other trackers have you tried? I am looking for the best tracker for finding my dog if he disappears on a walk or hike.
posted by Coffee Bean to Pets & Animals (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Whistle GPS (formerly Tagg). I like it quite a bit. You can define a "home zone" where it'll notify you if they leave it, or you can start tracking any time from your cell phone.

It uses Verizon cell towers for updates, so wherever you're hiking would need to have at least basic cell coverage to be able to get updates. That said, Verizon has pretty much blanketed the US with at least basic cell coverage.

When I bought it, they were saying that future upgrades would get 30-second updates, but at the moment it's more like 3 minutes. I still like it because my dogs tend to stop and smell the roses (or squirrel tracks or dog poop, etc).

The Whistle also uses a base station in your house to be able to go into power-save mode and uses the cell network once the dog leaves that area. The collar tag notifies me when it's time to charge and when it's done charging, and you can set up a variety of alerts to go to potentially different people. Their cell phone app is pretty useful and is well done.

An unexpected bonus came from its activity tracking. One of my dogs was consistently a lot less active than my other dog. When she went to the vet, they found she had a tick-borne illness whose main symptom was lethargy, so the activity data found an actual health problem.

My biggest con is that activity data only updates once per day. This is a problem for me because I have a dog with separation anxiety and when she starts trying to break out of the house it would be useful to know that she was suddenly very active. It updated at the right time once while I was on vacation and I was able to tell my husband to expect that she had Done Something while he was gone. Turns out she she had dug/tore her way out of the potty pen fence because he'd left the door to it open while he was at work. I work from home now so her separation anxiety is less of a concern, but it would be really nice to get notices of "Hey, your dog has been unusually active for the last hour, might want to check on her." They also have a temperature sensor they haven't added to their monitoring yet.

Overall, I love them especially because they give me peace of mind that I'll be able to find my dogs anywhere, anytime, unless they lose their collar. I've successfully used the collar tags to find both of my dogs when they've bolted in town after rabbits or Smells.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:10 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My two dogs (about your dog's size) have been equipped with Tagg trackers for 3 years or so, since an ill fated family vacation when we all spent many hours searching for our moron dogs in Santa Barbara after they figured out how to open the front door of our vacation rental. Tagg has since been acquired by Whistle.

The good: The trackers have indeed helped us discover our dogs were out, and helped us find them, multiple times. They have earned their keep in peace of mind, definitely. We currently have a dog walker come to take them out most days, and it's nice to get the alert that they're out with her.

The less good: I hate the new Whistle app; Tagg's was more focused on location whereas Whistle has a bunch of irrelevant crap about my dogs' activity levels. I feel the Whistle location pinpointing is less accurate, and at one point Whistle pushed a notification to my phone at 3am to let me know my dog had less activity than usual for the last few days. I saw a notification from my dog tracking app in the middle of the night, assumed it was something urgent, and freaked out that the dogs had somehow gotten out of the house. As far as I can tell there's no way to say "I only want to see notifications from Whistle that I actually need to act on right this minute," which really sucks. (I see on preview that bookdragoness wants the exact opposite feature - ha! - in short, Whistle needs to make their app much more configurable.)

Also a couple houses ago we were in a place that was geologically very tricky for GPS for some reason, and got a handful of false alarms, which sucked; we left work to look for the dogs only to discover that in fact they were sleeping in the yard. This hasn't happened in a long time, though.

Finally, these things ultimately are only as good as the technical limitations of location tracking. My dog got out a couple months ago and was goofing around in the neighbors' yard and I found out the old-fashioned way, by going out and calling her and discovering she was no longer in the yard and there was a hole under the fence. She didn't go far enough for Whistle to register it. She is obsessed with our next-door neighbors' swimming pool, so many of her outings feature limited-range travel. A tracker won't help with this, so you just have to stand in your yard yelling the dog's name and hope she listens, like the old days.

In short, I have a lot of minor complaints, but we've found our dogs multiple times thanks to their Taggs, which ultimately is worth all the annoyance and more.
posted by town of cats at 11:23 AM on May 12, 2016

town of cats, I'm definitely with you in annoyance on getting 3am notifications (on both my husband's and my phones simultaneously). I don't think that's happened in more recent app updates, though. I'd like more-often activity updates (though not notifications) and a 'quiet hours' option for notifications by type.

For information, my two dogs are 50 and 65 lbs.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:14 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, given my circumstances, I went with the heavy hitter. I bought a Garmin Astro for Maeby the Found Hound. Here's why:
  • I found her on a hiking trail; she was a lost bear-hunting dog that I was unable to return to her owner. She had already lost one pack when I found her, I have no intention of letting her lose me too.
  • Cellular coverage in my area is terrible. Seriously, mobile phones don't work at my house, let alone when I head into the backcountry. This fact makes all the other solutions unworkable for me.
  • I take my dogs into remote backcountry areas; the road I live on dead-ends into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My Found Hound is 99.9% of the time on-leash, but I wanted a backup in case she slipped her collar or I dropped the leash or something. If that happened, she could go anywhere in a several-hundred-square-mile area before she hit a road. I needed advanced GPS functions to follow her, if that situation ever arose.
Some things about the Astro are great; they're fully-functioning handheld GPSes from Garmin's Outdoor line. That means you can download detailed topo maps, create waypoints and tracks and all that other fun stuff. The downside of that is that's from Garmin's Outdoor line, which has a prior-generation (non-touchscreen) UI and is a PITA to learn to use (my first GPS was a 60CSX, so I used to intentionally set Man Overboard points on my motorcycle rides for fun.)

This may have changed since I bought my couple-years-old Astro, but it doesn't do perimeter alerts, or indeed any kind of alerts. I have to put the collar on the dog and carry the handheld GPS myself to gain any kind of data. It's the cat's ass for running around in the backcountry, but it's not what you want for a suburban fence backup system.

Also, the wearable collar part isn't small. Your dog is 50lb, so they should be fine. Here's my 38-pound Maeby wearing the collar. It's hard to see it there, but it's not small or light. I daydream about putting the collar on my 24-pound Border Collie mutt who doesn't need to be leashed, just to see how many miles she runs for each mile I hike... but the thing is so big I can't hang it on her neck and expect her to have fun.
posted by workerant at 10:55 PM on May 12, 2016

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