Pet Trackers: For Roadtrips and at Home


FIDO Blog | Apr 03, 2019

Dr. Sip: A few years back, Melissa and I reviewed some GPS pet trackers, which can be used in case your pet goes AWOL on that cross country roadtrip or just takes a walkabout from your home base. While there was some promising technology back then, options were limited.

Melissa: Things have taken off since then. There are so many ways to track your pet now, even OUR heads were spinning.

Dr. Sip: We are going to break it down into categories that will help you decide what’s best for you. Number 1:  The technology. Does it operate using Bluetooth/WiFi, cell towers, GPS satellites, radio frequencies, or a combination? Overwhelmed yet?

Melissa: If so, we hear you! But understanding the technology can determine what's best for your situation for you and your lost pet. Each technology has strengths and weaknesses.

Dr. Sip: Number 2: Cost. Cost can actually be tricky to calculate because some charge for the device, while others charge an additional monthly service.

Melissa: Tile, TrackR and Nuzzle involve one time payment for services. Whistle and Link have ongoing service plans.

Dr. Sip: Number 3:  Battery life.  It’s great if you find your pet before the battery runs out in an hour, but if your pet is missing for several weeks, battery life can really be a concern. 

Melissa: And Number 4: Little vs big.  Which is an issue if you have a cat or very small dog. Let’s start with size. 

Dr. Sip: The bigger, bulkier devices tend to use GPS that you can use to find your dog almost no matter how far Rover has roved.  

Melissa: That’s the idea, right? If he’s gone on a full-on walkabout, you can track him down on your iPhone screen!

Dr. Sip: But if Rover is actually PeeWee the Wonder Chihuahua or an 8-pound cat, the GPS is going to have them dragging their head across the pavement.

Melissa: Which would certainly solve the problem because they wouldn’t be able to move anywhere.  So mission accomplished!

Dr. Sip: But maybe you want Fluffy the Feline to be able to walk to the water bowl, so you need something dainty.

Melissa: That’s where the smaller Bluetooth devices do the trick. They are so small, they can slip on the jump-ring of a cat collar. If your cat tends not to stray too far from your homebase, this is your tool.

Dr. Sip: AKC Link uses a combination of GPS, Bluetooth, WIFI and cellular technologies and this is  a really great device overall. However, it’s a bit pricey ($179.00, last we checked, for the leather collar and GPS device) and though it’s a beautiful design, it’s rather large for smaller dogs.

Melissa: It's a great collar, but at $179.00 plus $10 a month at the high end, it might not be worth it for a dog who only does a lap around the city block. This might be a great option for a true hiking dog, in the woods, or modeling for LL Bean next to a sexy flannel-clad lumberjack

Dr: Sip: You'd hate to pay that much for a collar, unless it was a really sexy collar.

Editor's note: This collar is not for pets.

Melissa: Turns out, there are so many options, so many permutations, variables, and technologies, we put together a handy chart that you can reference. It's at the bottom of this page.

Dr. Sip: We found that we just can’t individually review all of the options, or even tell you that we know which one you personally should get, but here are some reviews from friends of ours who have had enough experience with these devices to weigh in.

Melissa: Among my friends, the people who live on real farms and whose dogs do off-leash work seem to be split between Garmin and Whistle. It seemed to come down to environment. For those who live in a more open area, Garmin GPS is the popular choice.  For my friends in areas with lots of trees and hills but good cellular coverage, then Whistle, despite the monthly fee, is the preferred option with Nuzzle a close second. (I also learned that this is apparently a HUGE topic of conversation in livestock guarding dog online groups and discussion boards. It’s quite a fascinating rabbit hole if you have more time to kill today.)

Dr. Sip: My veterinarian friend Dr. Vo got TILE for her escape-prone cats. She says she did her research, liked the cost, and while it can be glitchy sometimes, the weight and size work. TILE is popular enough that her urban lifestyle puts her close to other TILE users whose devices would likely pick up her “I snuck out of the house” naughty kitties. Downside? You have to get a new Tile annually (due to limited battery life), but when you exchange TILE, the cost is discounted.

Dr. Vo with “Pea”. "The Tile is small and light enough for a kitty. Can track with a phone, with a lot of caveats. The device will also beep when activated by the phone, allowing the owner to listen for the beeps--great if the cat likes to hide under things." (Photo courtesy Dr. Vo)

Melissa: Using apps like this, while better than nothing, does require a digital village to get your pet home if he or she runs away. This is a pro/con situation for what I think is a great device that still has a bit of room for improvement.

Dr. Sip: In summary, if your travel or daily life takes you to flat, rural, areas, look for devices that rely on actual GPS (like Garmin or Link AKC) or cellular service if you are in a rural area that is more wooded and there are cell towers near by. These tools don’t require WiFi (as TILE does) and unless the device is in an area that loses “sight” of the satellite, your pet will be successfully tracked.

Melissa: So, while these are great "peace of mind" tools, they are not to be used as a replacement for keeping an eye on your pets and good training. These are also not to be used in place of a microchip (or vice versa.) Microchips will not track your pet, and trackers can’t identify your pet, so you should use both with proper ID tags.

Dr. Sip: Yeah. Even if you use a tracking device, you still have to collect your pet yourself. Recall practice (“here boy”!) is still mandatory, and preventing a situation is always the best option.

Melissa: I would get a tracking device in a heartbeat. The Tile, Trackr and other devices would be totally fine in a pinch, but I think I’ll probably end up using this info to find an option with cell service - better in a city- and no monthly fee. This sort of thing would work best for our family’s lifestyle since we live in an urban environment andmy 6-year-old is generally good about closing doors but there is still room for improvement.

Dr. Sip:  Based on my situation, I’d consider Tile since I live in the city and there are lots of Tile subscribers in my neighborhood, so if Lefty the Three-Legged Kitty does slip out, I’ll know which neighbor’s yard to check. And if my fuzzy muppet hound, Frieda, takes up livestock guarding or sea-kayaking, I’ll get her a Garmin.

Dr. Sip with unlikely sheepdog Frieda.

More about Dr. Sip (who is a practicing veterinarian in Berkeley, CA) and Trainer Melissa (who wrote “Considerations for the City Dog”) and can be found here. 
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