Losing your dog or cat is a very common and scary experience. For anyone that has had their pet escape from the backyard or accidentally sneak out the front door, your initial fear is that your furry friend is going to get hit by a car or won’t be able to find his way home. Fear can quickly turn to frustration as you try to hunt down your pet through the neighborhood, calling out his name and offering treats in exchange for a safe return. I’ve been there all too many times.
GPS devices for tracking animals have long been available, but are not suited for the common pet owner. Most devices are geared towards professionally training hunting dogs. They are expensive and better suited for tracking a lion through the Sahara, then for tracking your domesticated buddy. Over the past several years, with the advances in smartphone technologies, there are many new products on the market designed specifically to find your four-legged friend via smartphone apps.
Three Types of Trackers
Over the last two years there has been a surge in the number of devices that fill the need for the suburban pet owners to find their pets when they are missing via a device and companion smartphone app. With many options on the marketing, and even more launching soon, it can be a difficult to understand which is right for you and your pet. To best understand which may be best for you, we’ve broken the best devices by the technology that they use.
Bluetooth systems have a very limited range- typically less than 200 ft- but a long-lasting battery. So if you’re trying to find your pet hiding in your house or around your yard, this is great for you. However, if your furry friend likes to go roaming out on their own, you’ll have a tough time locating them. If Fido goes outside of your 200 ft range, you must rely on the ‘mesh network’ of other users who have the same device to come within close range of your pet and tracking device. Even in a heavy user area like San Francisco, this can still take hours or even days- not a good option when your pet’s safety is at stake.
Beacon systems have a decent range of about 150 yards from your home base station in a suburban setting and a battery that can last up to 6 weeks. They typically also offer advanced metrics of your pet’s health and activity. The key here is that you can only find your friend within the radius of your own home. So, if you take your dog on walks or out to the dog park, you won’t be able to track them if they get lost too far away from home.
GPS devices are effective over long ranges, so they are the best security blanket if you’re concerned your pet may wander off. Depending on the device, they either work via cellular networks (so tracking is limited to areas with cell service) or satellite (which is virtually limitless if your pet is outdoors). The downside is that most current devices need to be charged every 3-5 days which can be a real hassle and render them useless if your pet is lost for an extended period of time.
Range: 200 ft
Max Battery Life: Years
Tile is the most popular tracking device on the market. Although it was originally designed for finding your keys and other personal items, they do advertise it for use on dogs and cats. It’s small design is made to attach to a key ring making it a nice fit on to pet collars.
Like all bluetooth devices, it provides the most barebones features allowing you to only track the current location of your pet. There are no options to create a virtual fence or receive alerts if the device goes out of range. With a mere 200ft tracking radius, you’ll be hard pressed to find your pet if they leave the confines of your home.
Battery Life: Up to 1 year
Range: 250 ft
Price: $29.95 + no service fee
PawScout is a bluetooth-based system that is very similar to Tile, but it is designed specifically for pets. It attaches nicely to all pet collars just like a traditional dog tag does. PawScout also comes with an option to engrave the nameplate for $14.95, which is great for anyone who may find your pet and want to contact you.
If your pet does get lost, you’ll only be able to proactively find them if they are within 250 ft of your cellphone. Pets that wander off further then that will be tough to find. Through the app, you can alert the network of PawScout users that your pet is lost and if they come within 250 ft of them you’ll get a notification.
The one year battery life is a bit short for a bluetooth device, but it uses an easy to replace watch battery.
Battery Life: Up to 6 months
Range: 350 ft
Price: $30 + no service fee
DOTT is nearly identical to PawScout. However they do mention connectivity to iBeacons, which will increase the range of the device around a home base, however it is very vague and unclear how this will exactly work. I assume this is something that is in development.
The battery life is marginal at best for a bluetooth device, but it does use a standard, easily replaceable Lithium battery. The design isn’t quite as sleek as PawScout, however personable engraving is a bit cheaper at $6 per tag.
Paw Scout is the best designed bluetooth device for your pet, but it’s really only good if you’re looking to track a pet that only hides in your home or yard. Tracking outside of your immediate surroundings will be very difficult with any bluetooth device.
Price: $149.95 + $14.95 monthly service fee
Range: 150 yds
Max Battery Life: 6 weeks
Pet Pace is much more than just a tracking device- it monitors several aspects of your pet's health including temperature, pulse, respiration, activity, and calories. The system consists of a collar (comes in 4 different sizes) and an internet connected hub. Once connected with a monthly service plan, you can monitor your pet’s activity in real time via a cellphone app.
With a range of 150 yds, Pet Pace is more of a monitoring system then a tracking system. If your pet leaves the 150 yd range, you won’t be able to find your furry friend.
Whistle Pet Tracker
Price: $79.95 + $96-120 annual service fee
Range: GPS via Cellular Network in USA
Max Battery Life: 10 days
The Whistle Pet Tracker, formerly named Tagg, is the most popular pet-specific tracking device on the market, but it has its shortcomings. It currently only works anywhere you get cell service and the battery only lasts 3-5 days with normal use. The actual device proves to be a bit too large for small dogs and cats, and will only attach to a limited number of traditional dog collars.
The Whistle has the added ability to track health trends with your pet and see how much exercise they are getting over time, which is great if you have a pet with health issues. The companion app also lets you connect with multiple users, so your entire family can track your pet when they get lost.
Update: Unfortunately, they also have had some technical problems since they were bought out.
Price: $199 + $49/yr service fee
Range: GPS via Cellular Network in 178 countries
Max Battery Life: 6 days
Pod is very similar to the Whistle Pet Tracker- you can track and monitor your pet’s activity through a cellular network- but is a bit slimmer for the comfort of your furry friend. However, the reduced size of the device is at the expense of battery life. The lack of battery life compensated by including two batteries so you can always have one charging while the other is in use.
Like most devices, the Pod includes the option for creating a virtual fence and alerts when the battery needs to be re-charged. Based on the size and weight, the Pod is much better suited for your cat or small dog then the Whistle Pet Tracker. The ability to work in multiple countries is also make it a great fit for anyone outside of the US.
Tethr: GPS DOG Tag
Price: $99.95 + $29.95 annual fee
Range: GPS Satellite Worldwide
Max Battery Life: 3 Years
The Tethr GPS Dog Tag is raising the bar for long-range tracking devices. Expected to be available for pre-order the first of next year, this sleek device will rarely need to be charged- boasting up to a 3 year life on a single charge. How do they do it? They’ve stripped out extraneous features, like temperature and speed monitoring to solely focus on tracking and virtual fencing. Combined with patent-pending battery technologies, the device claims to last 30x longer than similar devices.
Unlike other devices that are collars or have special connectors, Tethr attaches just like a traditional dog tag. This is a nice bonus if you already have a favorite collar (or multiple collars) that you use on your pet. For an extra charge you can also have your pet’s name and contact info engraved on the device to replace your current ID tag.
Price: $199 + no annual service fee
Range: GPS Satellite in USA
Max Battery Life: 5 days
The Nuzzle is a new stylish, waterproof GPS collar that does not require any monthly fees. According to their website, they plan on offsetting monthly cellular fees by offering optional pet insurance. Like most GPS devices it includes the option to create a virtual fence and sends alerts to your phone. It also includes a monitoring feature to track your pet’s speed and activity throughout the day.
Just like the Pod, they battle the problem of short battery life by including two rechargeable batteries, so you can always have one charging while the other is in use. Nuzzle just completed a successful crowdfunding campaign and should be shipping product in March 2016.
With almost unlimited range, GPS devices are the best option for finding your dog when they are lost. Currently the Pod is your most reliable option, but Tethr is poised to be the best product on the market if you don’t need the frills of monitoring your pet’s temperature or speed. The low-profile design, excellent tracking range, and amazing battery life will ensure you complete peace of mind that your four-legged friend will never be lost again.