Have you ever struggled to get bags of groceries through the front door only to have your little canine friend absolutely ROCKET out the door between your legs? You throw everything down to chase little Rocketman and he thinks you’re playing tag. Hopefully, a neighbor gives you a hand and you can get him cornered or lure him with a doggie treat.
But what if you couldn’t catch him . . . and he didn’t come back? There are an estimated 80 million dogs in the United States, but every year 5 percent of them, or 4 million dogs, are lost or stolen. That’s a scary statistic and a great sales point for GPS dog trackers. Imagine a device that relays your lost baby dog’s location in real-time so you can track him down and bring him home. Some can even tell you information about your dog’s health and behavior: what is its heart rate, is it scratching itself, etc. Despite all the obvious plusses, though, there are some pretty good reasons you may not want to invest in a GPS tracker for your dog. You’ll want to consider these before making your decision.
1. Limited Range
You have several options for tracking your dog, some more useful than others.
- Bluetooth trackers pair directly with your phone but the range is only 40 feet or so. Unless your dog is lost inside your house, this won’t be of much use. However, some of them provide additional health information on your dog, which can be helpful in monitoring their activity level.
- Radio trackers require you to have a hand-held transceiver rather than tracking your dog on your phone. They can have a 12-mile range but unless you’re in the middle of a big empty field, the actual range will be much lower as the signal gets blocked by terrain, houses, trees, and cars.
- Cellular trackers communicate with your phone via cell phone towers. These are good choices if you’re tracking your dog in an urban area. If you’re out of range of a tower and have poor reception, you’re out of luck.
- GPS trackers use the Global Positioning Satellite system. A chip in your dog’s collar picks up satellite signals to triangulate the animal’s position and relay it to you. Depending on the model you buy, a GPS collar can be trackable worldwide. However, GPS signals can be blocked by objects or if the animal moves inside a building.
GPS trackers can cost in the range of $20-$220 and you get what you pay for. The more middle-to-expensive brands will give you more data on your pet, have longer battery life, weigh less, and have other desirable features. On top of this up-front cost, many GPS trackers require a monthly subscription fee to use their proprietary app for tracking your animal. Without it, you may have no functionality or very limited functionality. Fees can range from $5-$20 a month. That’s $60-$240 a year. Every year. Forever. For one dog. Do you have more than one?
3. Battery Life
Battery life differs according to the product you buy. Some last only about 8 hours; others up to a year. Advertised battery life is drastically shorter depending on the settings of your device and whether it is continuously tracking your dog in real time. Tests on some devices, for example, showed a 6% decline in battery life in just 10 minutes when continuous tracking capabilities were engaged. Battery life may not matter to you if you’re going to use the device only on short walks. But if you plan to leave the collar on the dog all the time for continuous tracking, this is an issue you should consider.
Older technology and larger batteries make the collar heavy on your dog’s neck, especially for smaller breeds. Before buying, compare the item’s weight with your dog’s weight. For a small animal, even a relatively light tracker can be the equivalent of someone putting a necklace on you with a laptop computer attached to it. Imagine what that does to your dog’s neck over time. For cats and small dogs, it’s recommended the device weigh no more than 2% of the animal’s body weight.
Many GPS trackers can be safely submerged up to 3 feet deep in water, but not of them are completely waterproof. Some are advertised as “water-resistant” or “rainproof.” If your dog jumps into a pool, wades through a creek, or rolls thoroughly in a mud puddle, the tech may fail.
6. Glitchy Connections
In the real world, some GPS devices do not connect immediately and easily to your WiFi network. They may also disconnect during use and don’t always inform you that this has happened.
7. International Connectivity
Not all GPS devices work internationally. Some work only in the U.S. and Canada, for example.
8. Accuracy and Data Refreshing
Devices differ in how accurately they can pinpoint your animal’s exact location and how often the data is refreshed. Obviously, this will be extremely important to you as you’re searching for a lost pet. Imagine only knowing your dog is in a general area, yards in any direction, but by the time you get there and start searching he’s had 5 minutes to run at top speed after a squirrel out of the old location still shown on your phone. Now that’s really a game of tag you have on your hands.
9. Collars Can Be Lost or Removed
If we learned anything from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp it’s that all a lost dog needs to do to remove a muzzle or collar is find a helpful beaver to snap it off in one bite. But even if your dog is not a cartoon, collars can still snag on things and get pulled off, or they can be removed by a person who wants to steal the dog. Microchipping is a more permanent way to identify your dog, as the chip is placed inside the body. However, microchips are only useful if the dog turns up at a shelter and is scanned for a chip. They cannot provide real-time tracking the way a GPS device can.
The Bottom Line
Whether a GPS tracker is right for your fuzzy friend depends on a lot of factors. How big is the dog? Does it spend most of its time indoors or outdoors? Do you live in an urban or rural area? Will the dog wear the collar all the time or only on outdoor walks? Will you travel outside the country with your dog? Does your doggie gravitate toward water or shy away from it? And does it have any animated friends with sharp teeth? There are a lot of different products on the market with a variety of features and price points. Use the issues we’ve pointed out here as a starting point to research which, if any, GPS device meets your needs.