As the creators of the Fi Smart Collar, we wanted to break down and share a bit about how dog GPS trackers work and other brands that may be out there. Not every type of dog tracker may be the right fit for your dog, lifestyle or price budget. It is important to know what is out there and how they work to track your dog if they get lost.
Why Do You Need a GPS Dog Collar?
When you are walking your dog on a leash, you may be wondering "Why do I need a pet tracker if I can walk them on a leash?". With a GPS pet tracker, your pet can run and play freely without fear of getting lost. Or maybe you have a dog that will use any excuse to go on their own solo adventure. Unfortunately, not all dogs who wander off may return on their own. This is where a dog GPS tracker would come in very handy if they get lost.
There is no doubt that as a dog owner, your pet's safety is of the utmost importance. Using a GPS tracker, owners can receive live information about their pet's location when they are hiking, hunting or even on simple walks with their pets. This technology can also be helpful if you are traveling and miles away from your home and fear your pet or dogs may get lost.
A GPS collar can ensure you know your pet’s whereabouts at any time. In addition to ordinary dog owners, dog trackers are also commonly used by professionals, hunters, and even scientists.
What is GPS?
For thousands of years, humans have looked to the skies to find their way. Traditionally, sailors used constellations to determine their location and direction in the night sky.
All we need these days is a GPS device to help keep track of our location anywhere in the world. GPS (Global Positioning System) is a satellite-based navigation system that involves at least 30 satellites circling the Earth. The GPS satellites operate 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world, in any weather condition and are constantly sending out signals.
A receiver, such as the one in your phone or a dog GPS tracker, is constantly listening for signals from these satellites. In order to determine the distance between them, the phone or GPS device calculates how far away they are from the satellites. After it calculates its distance from four or more satellites, the device is able to determine its location.
Plain and simple, the GPS tracker in the collar communicates with satellites and transmits information to the smartphone application, which is displayed on the smartphone.
Understanding the Different Types of Tracking Devices
While GPS devices may all work similar, it is important to know the differences when it comes to a tracking device for your pet and your lifestyle. There are certain dog collars that provide location tracking to the intended receiver by combining GPS with radio signals.
In most cases, GPS and a cellular network are used in tandem to transfer information from your pet's collar to your mobile phone. As a result, your dog or pet must be in the network's coverage area for the collar to successfully update its whereabouts.
Are Apple AirTags the same as GPS Trackers?
These types of GPS tracking devices are much different than something like the Apple AirTag. If you would like to know more about the Apple AirTag vs GPS dog trackers, you can read our Apple Airtags For Dogs guide.
Apple AirTags use Bluetooth technology to determine their location. Because they are Bluetooth trackers, they are dependent on the range of an iOS mobile phone using Bluetooth to connect and do not work independently.
GPS Pet Trackers
In order to get the most out of all of these dog GPS trackers, it should be noted that they work best outside and under clear skies. It is important to understand that whenever a tracking device is indoors, it can create a problem when it comes to showing your pet's location accurately.
Having tested how each of these devices work and what technology is offered, we have compiled the following findings for your consideration to help determine what brand offers the best dog or best pet trackers on the market.
The Garmin Alpha 100
The Garmin Alpha 100 was mainly designed for hunting dogs, dog and pet trainers, and trainers who could need a special product for monitoring and training their dogs.
How It Works
A major difference between Garmin GPS trackers and others is that Garmin requires a separate handheld unit to be used along with the collar. As opposed to other collars which send the locations to a mobile phone via cell service, this collar only displays the location information on the handheld unit itself. The Garmin is not available on mobile devices.
The Garmin brand does not offer a typical map that you would see on your mobile phone. It uses a topographic map service. This may be a bit tricker to navigate for the more urban citizen.
As with all Garmin products, this unit is equipped with GLONASS positioning service; by utilizing this advanced technology, it is possible to locate and track pups across terrains and climates that are extremely challenging to locate and track in the past.
One of the other reasons the Garmin can track in these harder areas is because the collar comes with an external antenna. This antenna sits off to the side of the collar and can extend several inches up in the air to help send and receive signals.
As often as every 2.5 seconds, location pings can be sent to determine a pet's location. Using this location update rate, you will be able to determine a dog's exact or near-real-time location within a 9-mile radius within a very short period of time.
As stated above, the Garmin GPS dog collar can only track within a ~9 mile range. In the event that your dog or pet is able to travel more than 9 miles, the tracking system will be unable to locate them. It is required that they return within that 9 mile radius in order for their location to be updated.
There is also a mini version of the Garmin Alpha that has an even smaller 4 mile radius. Using the distance between the handheld tracking unit and the collar, the radius of this circle can be calculated. 4-9 miles may seem like a far distance, but pets can travel multiple miles in a day. This range can also be a problem if you are looking for something to help monitor your dogs or pets while you are out of town and away from your home.
Battery life for the Garmin can last up to 10-20 hours with a single charge. There is also a Rescue Mode feature that allows you to extend the battery life by 25% when it is enabled. A location ping rate of 2.5 seconds will be automatically slowed down to a rate of 2 minutes when this mode is enabled.
The Garmin brand includes a training service built into the collar for your dog or pet. The training system uses different modes of stimulation/vibration and offers a range of intensity to train the dog or pet. Not many pet collars offer these types of features.
A collar with stimulation can help correct unwanted behavior, such as chasing deer or other animals. This feature can also be used if your dog or pet is away from your home. It can act as alerts to them that it is time to return home if they have traveled past a fence line on your property.
The Garmin Alpha 100 has a waterproof rating of IPX7. The IPX7 rating means that it can be submersed in water at a depth of one meter, for only 30 minutes. This could not be a good fit if you have an active dog or pet that loves to swim and dive for longer periods of time.
Garmin tracking bundles can come with a steep price tag. For one handheld device and a GPS dog collar, the price is around $900-1000. One handheld system can monitor up to 20 dogs so if you have more than one dog, the price will increase because you will need to buy multiple collars. The Garmin does not need a cellular subscription which is something other trackers require. This price of the Garmin units is on the higher side of GPS dog trackers.
The Whistle Go Explore
By combining AT&T LTE-M cellular network with GPS tracking, Whistle Go Explore monitors your dog's location and communicates that to your smartphone's Whistle app. Using the AT&T cellular network requires a subscription, so you will have to pay a fee to track the location.
It is estimated that the Go Explore GPS trackers battery will last between 10 and 15 days on a full battery charge. Depending on the connection the Whistle is using most often, this can differ significantly.
You can save battery life by connecting the collar to the Wifi at locations where your dog spends time frequently. With the collar connected via Wifi, GPS is turned off, and location information is gathered from the Wifi network.
If you use a fast charger, it only takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. The battery charges using a micro USB Charging Cable.
The Whistle gives you the option to pick between a 3, 6, 10, 15, or 30 minutes GPS refresh rate when away from the Wi-Fi network. The less frequent location update would provide you less accuracy but can help provide a much longer battery life.
You can speed up the refresh rate by pressing the "track" button on the main map page. As soon as you hit track, the locations will be marked and the direction your dog could be traveling will be shown. You should use these 15 second updates sparingly as they are very draining on battery life.
On the "Activity" tab of the app, you can see the progress of your dog's daily goals. The app can also attempt to recognize when your dog was walking, playing, or even running. If it mislabels any of these activities, it can be corrected in the app by the user.
The accelerometer in the tracker is used to help calculate these activities. By combining this data with GPS information, they can generate these insights. Although Whistle has created ways to show distance, rest time and calories burned, these are still just estimates.
The device is waterproof. It has a waterproof rating of IPX8, which means that it can be submerged in the water up to six feet and for about 30 mins. This is much better than the Garmin and is similar to other GPS pet trackers available.
Using the Whistle GPS pet trackers, you can also monitor your dog's health. It can record if your pet is scratching, licking, and sleeping habits to ensure that they stay healthy. Of course, these numbers are all still estimates but they can be helpful features when owning a dog. It is a valuable tool to be able to monitor your dog's health if you want to be the best dog owner you can be.
You can create a section on the map that indicates your pet's designated zone. This zone is a geo fence and acts as a way that alerts you if your dog is too far from home. You can create multiple areas in the app for your pet.
If your pet exits this designated zone and is disconnected from WiFi, you will get alerts to your cell device. If your dog is still connected to your home Wi-Fi, you will not get an alert. Your pet's whereabouts must be far enough away from the home for this to be tested and send out alerts.
The Whistle Go Explore GPS pet tracker costs around $129.95. There is also a slightly different tracker called the Whistle Switch that has a price tag of $199.95. The Whistle Switch comes with an included collar band and an extra battery that you could swap out. It has the same features as the Whistle Go Explore pet tracker since they are the same brand.
The two-year cell subscription costs $192 billed bi-annually (breaks down to $8.00 per month), while a one-year cell subscription billed annually and upfront costs $99.00 ($8.25 per month). Alternatively, you can pay $12.95 monthly if you would like to not have an annual subscription. Remember that a subscription is needed for the tracking to work.
Like the Whistle, the Tractive needs a GPS and a connection to a cellular network to update the location In the app. One of the biggest features that separates the Tractive from other collars is its internal Sim Card, this allows it to be compatible with multiple cellular networks in the countries where Tractive can service. If you are an avid worldly traveler, this may be the best choice for you, due to that you can use it internationally.
One of the biggest downsides of the this GPS Pet Tracker is its battery life. Tractive GPS Trackers have a battery that lasts up to five days, depending on how you use them. The five days does not sound to be a common occurrence and majority of other reviews state that it lasted about 1 or 2 days. The battery in the unit can be charged with a USB cord and takes only about 2-3 hours to fully charge.
A dog's location will be updated every 2 to 60 minutes when the unit is in default mode. By selecting the LIVE button, you will be able to see your pet's real-time location. In this mode, your dog's whereabouts will be updated every two to three seconds, and its path since you started using it will be displayed.
The tracker records your dog's movement continuously and sends the information to your phone whether your dog or pet are running, walking, or sleeping. Bluetooth synchronizes Activity Monitoring data collected by your pet's tracker to your mobile cell device. The collar will need to be in range of your mobile cell device for it to be able to send the updated activity.
The activity that it collects is the number of minutes your pets are active vs not active. They then created an algorithm that can estimate the calories burned. Like with Whistle, this is just an estimate.
You can set up Activity Goals for your pet that they met each day. You can then collect badges for keeping certain goals in the app. You can compare your activity goals to other breeds or dogs of similar size and age.
Tractive does offer virtual fences that are similar to that other collars offer. It is the designated area that you set up and give the okay for your dogs or pets to be in. They call the areas outside of the safe zones the no-go zones. These locations are shown in red on the map in the app so you can keep track of them. You can set these features up to be areas that may be busy roads or other potentially dangerous areas. You can also set alerts to notify you when your pets are in these areas.
The Tractive is rated IPX7. Which is a similar rating to that of the Garmin. This means the apparatus cannot be submerged for more than 30 minutes up to one meter. With this rating, it will sustain regular water splashing and should hold up to rain.
The price of the Tractive unit is priced low at $49.99. Like the other GPS Pet Trackers that require cellular, there is a subscription that is needed. The price of the subscription has a few tiers. There are two selections that you can choose.
There is a basic plan and a premium plan. The basic plan can go as low as $12 monthly or you can do the annual subscription for $84 annually. The premium plan does not offer a monthly option and instead starts at $96 annually. The difference between the two plans is very noticeable.
The basic plan only covers the GPS tracking at refresh rates of 2-60 minutes and you also get the LIVE tracking option. With the basic plan, you cannot get many of the other options that they offer.
The premium plan includes the tracking options of the basic plan as well as worldwide coverage, public & family sharing, “PREMIUM” Customer Service, 365 days Location History and few other features.
The Fi Smart Collar (Series 2)
One of the biggest differences between the Fi and the others is that it comes attached to a collar band. The other GPS collars do not come with a band. You would attach those devices to your dog's collar that they are currently wearing.
Collar Band Choices
The collar band comes in a four colors - Pink, Blue, Gray and Yellow. You can also choose from one of their many third party collar band creators known as Fi Makers. They offer many colors and styles including martingales and waterproof biothane dog collars. This means you can get really creative with your dog's collar. The bands range In price.
The Fi Smart Collar normally updates every 5 minutes when away from home. If the Fi is connected to home Wi-Fi, mobile device (via Bluetooth) or the home charging base, it will update every minute.
The Fi offers a LOST mode that you can turn on from the app. When the Fi is in this mode, it will update every minute while on GPS. This can be helpful for lost dog situations, as it makes the position refresh more quickly than the regular mode.
The Fi offers a few different activity tracking features. The device will record and store the walks you go on with your pup. You can then scroll through the app and look at your previous walk routes. This can be helpful for knowing the mileage you went on your walks.
The Fi will keep track of your dog’s steps throughout the day. It will account for steps that happen while at home as well as out on walks. You can set up daily step goals based on recommendations of other dogs size and breed. You can also be a lone wolf and set your own step goal for your dog or pet.
With the steps that you gain, you can compete in city and state ranking competitions. If your dog has the most steps in your area, you can become Top Dog! You can also check out the rankings in other areas as well if you are curious.
The Fi will also monitor your dog’s sleep. It will store the data from all previous nights. It can also differentiate between sleep and rest. This is a good way to make sure your dog or pet are getting enough sleep.
Because the device can monitor your activities, steps and sleep, it can create a Strain Score. This scores lets you know if your dog is getting a good combination of activity as well as sleep. This feature is a great way to know if your dog has a balanced day of sleep and steps.
As like the other trackers, you can create geofences. The collar will alert you when your dog exits this designated area. You can set it up as a push notification or an SMS text to your mobile device. Your dog will need to disconnect from the home Wi-Fi and exit the designated area for it to trigger the notification.
The Fi Series 2 offers something that none of the other trackers offer. There is a social aspect of the app. This allows you to post pictures of your dog and create a profile. You can also like other dog’s pictures and follow them. You can scroll through dog related articles and other user’s photos in the Discovery tab. Of course, if being social with your dog is not your thing, this part of the app can be disabled.
The Fi offers the longest battery life out of all the options. You can achieve up to 3 months of battery life with the Fi. It comes with a home base that you can set up and connect to Wi-Fi. This helps give it coverage when in your home. The collar connects to the base via Bluetooth and uses the designated location that you set in the app. This allows the collar to go into low battery mode and helps extend it.
The Fi has a waterproof rating of IP68, meaning that it can withstand up to 1.5m underwater for 30 minutes. This is great for dogs who love to swim! It can also be used in salt water. It is recommended that you rinse the GPS dog tracker after being in the salt water with regular water to avoid any issue.
The cost of the device is normally $149.99. Sales do happen often so make sure to keep your eye out on the site for the newest discount codes. Included in this price is the GPS dog tracker, collar band and charging base.
The collar requires a subscription to use the GPS tracking. Currently, they are only offering annual subscriptions for $99 a year. You can of course get a two year or three year subscription at a cheaper rate and it is billed upfront.
What is Right for Your Dog
The four major factors that you should think about is your home location, battery life, price and the features that you would want. You should certainly consider what is the best GPS system for your needs as each one offers different options and they all have a different price point.
If you live in a very rural area, the Garmin tracker may be a better option for you as it does not rely on a cellular network. If you live in a city and find yourself going for hikes, many of the other GPS dog trackers may work for you as many trails have cellular networks in the area.
The activity options range on all the devices so it is up to you and your pup on what is the most important for you. They all offer such different options so make sure you think about what you need or find would be the most helpful when selecting a GPS dog tracker.
If battery life is the most important for you, the Fi stands well above the other trackers that are currently available. If you include the activity and social options that the Fi offers as well as the price, the Fi stands out as the best dog GPS system.
For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
Want to know more about TryFi.com? The Fi Dog Collar is a GPS tracking collar that not only keeps track of your dog’s location, activity levels, and sleep patterns, but it also alerts you if your dog escapes your backyard. This is the fastest way to find your dog after an escape. Try the Fi Dog Collar today!