About 15 years ago, I spent the better part of 2 hours testing the emotional limits of pet parenthood.
I was moving some new furniture into my apartment, when I noticed that my chocolate lab – who never ventured far from my side – was nowhere to be found.
Absolutely terrified, I hit the streets. I called her name, looked under cars and talked to passersby – all without success.
I couldn’t bear the thought of my beloved pup roaming the streets alone, but there was nothing I could do. I just had to wait and hope she came back.
That is a profoundly powerless feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
As it turns out, she never left in the first place – she was inadvertently shut inside a closet while I was wrestling with a couch or something. I was so relieved, I didn’t even care that I felt like an imbecile for not checking the apartment thoroughly.
She was quite curious why I’d decided to shutter her inside a dark room, but otherwise fine; so, the story has a happy ending. But it could have easily turned out much, much worse. Fortunately, modern technology has given us the tools to prevent this kind of problem from ever happening in the first place.
In this article, we're detailing everything you need to know about dog GPS trackers, plus reviews and ratings for the most popular units. See our quick guide below, or continue reading to get the full low down!
Pod 2 GPS + WiFi Pet Tracker
LINK AKC Smart Dog Collar
Find My Pet GPS Tracker
Whistle GPS Pet Tracker
Tractive GPS Pet Tracker
GPS dog trackers (or tracking collars) allow you to find your dog when she’s lost. If I’d have had a GPS tracking device on my dog, I’d have seen that she was in my apartment, and avoided an ulcer and half as many grey hairs as I have.
There are a few different types of tracking systems available, many of which rely on things other than GPS to find your lost pup; but we’ll get to the techno-talk in a minute. Your average dog-owner will find a GPS tracking system to be the best option.
Usually, tracking systems consist of a small device that attaches to your dog’s collar and sends out the tracking signal. Most popular units (and each of the units we recommend below) allow you to locate and find your dog by either using a cell phone, tablet or computer. However, some models work with a hand-held receiver.
Most GPS trackers also include a battery charger for the tracker, as well as one for the hand-held reader, if applicable Some units also incorporate a base station that helps to define your dog’s safe zone; often, the base station doubles as the charger.
Often, it is necessary to download an application to operate the device from your phone, but these are usually free and easy to install. It is, however, important to ensure that the device and app will work with your phone before making a decision – some popular tracking devices are only compatible with one of the major phone operating systems.
Most GPS tracking services require that you enroll in a monthly service plan (just like for a cell phone). But these costs are usually quite reasonable (less than $10 a month in most cases).
Not all tracking units – even those relying on similar technology – are created equally. It really pays to take your time and determine the best tracking unit for your needs. It can be difficult to judge the quality of comparable units, but it is relatively simple to compare the features they each possess.
Consider some of the following features when selecting a GPS tracking device:
GPS trackers aren’t the only show in town; several other technologies are available to keep track of your pup, and it makes sense to look at all of the options available.
The problem is, the alphabet-soup of jargon that pops up in discussions of tracking collars could choke a hippopotamus. This causes many would-be customers to throw up their hands in exhaustion.
But don’t worry – it isn’t that complicated.
There are basically three different types of tracking collars in widespread use:
GPS tracking collars tend to be the best choice for the vast majority of dog owners.
If you aren’t interested in learning about these alternative systems, just skip down to GPS Tracking Collars.
Radio tracking collars are fairly old technology, and although they do excel in some applications, they rarely make sense for the run-of-the-mill dog owner.
If you think a radio collar is the best solution for your pup, consider the Marco Polo Pet Monitoring/Tracking and Locating System. It is a high-quality unit, available at a very reasonable cost.
These types of collars send a signal from your pet’s collar to your smartphone or a dedicated tracking device.
These units typically rely on either RFID (the same technology that allows you to tap your credit card at checkout instead of sliding it through the little slot) or Bluetooth technology to communicate with your phone.
Ideal for users who: Have very small dogs (or cats) and can’t carry a larger tracker comfortably, or those living inside large indoor facilities.
GPS tracking collars are a newer solution in the dog-tracking industry, and they rely on the network of global positioning satellites to locate and track your dog.
Many such units also use cell-phone networks to complement their coverage capabilities.
Ideal for users who: Are average pet-owners that do not live in the Canadian tundra nor intend to use the tracker very often.
If you think a GPS tracking collar is the best solution for your needs, consider any of the five models below.
There are a number of high-quality GPS tracking units available to modern dog owners, but the following five represent the cream of the crop.
About: The Pod 2 GPS + WiFi Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor is one of the most feature-packed GPS trackers on the market.
In addition to giving you’re the ability to quickly locate a lost pet, the Pod 2 GPS Tracker enables you to monitor your pet’s activity level and determine how much of their time is devoted to sleep vs. play, for example.
The Pod 2 is waterproof, and weighs about 1 ounce. Battery is reported to last for approximately 6 days at a time (exact time varies depending on usage).
As with all GPS dog tracking collars, the Pod requires a yearly subscription. The first year is free with your purchase, and then $50 annually for following years.
PROS: The Pod GPS Tracker is one of the finest GPS tracking collars on the market, and is the ideal product for dog owners that are interested in performance and not afraid to pay for it.
Additionally, the tracker’s global capabilities make it a great choice for owners who travel or live overseas.
CONS: High-quality trackers demand high prices, and it's true that this unit isn't cheap.
Some owners also report data transmission to be frustratingly slow. Others have issue with the device's somewhat frustrating design for attaching the unit to your dog's collar. Once the unit is attached to the collar, it's a permanent fixture and can't be removed.
About: The LINK AKC Smart Dog Collar contains a fully functional, internal GPS tracking device that helps protect its delicate circuits from the elements.
While not completely waterproof, the manufacturer claims the unit is water resistant in as much as 3-feet of water. The entire collar weighs only 4.8 ounces, including the tracking device.
LINK requires a service plan for connectivity - plans can be as low as $6.95/month (pricing varies).
PROS: This has been reported to be one of the most effective and user-friendly tracking devices on the market, and the fact that it is designed as a self-contained unit likely helps improve its durability. This unit is also much more stylish than most, with a slick design and attractive collar.
CONS: This product has yet to be released, but it is available for pre-purchase now. But as there is no guarantee that the manufacturer’s initial production run will be large enough to meet demand, it is wise to place your order today.
About: The Find My Pet GPS Tracker is a real-time GPS tracking collar that works in conjunction with your Apple or Android-based system.
The Find My Pet GPS Tracker weighs only 3 ounces and, according to the manufacturer, works well for not only small dogs, but most other pets as well (even farm animals).
The first month of connection service is free, then it's $4.99/month or $99.00 for a 3 year service plan.
PROS: The Find My Pet GPS Tracker provides a wealth of features and an intuitive interface that appeals to most users. There are few other products available at this price point that offer a truly comparable tracking system.
CONS: The battery life is rather short, and most users report a battery life of between 3 and 5 days. But as long as you find your lost pet quickly and charge the battery daily, this shouldn’t be an issue. It does not appear to be water proof, as the manufacturer makes no mention of this possibility.
As with many units, users have different experience with the effectiveness of the GPS tracking - for some it works wonders, while others run into issues with the tracker's accuracy.
About: The Whistle GPS Pet Tracker is a feature-packed and reasonably priced GPS tracking device, that attaches directly to your dog’s collar.
The 1.3-ounce Whistle GPS tracker is fully waterproof, so it will hold up when exposed to the elements.
Whistle's dog tracking GPS collar is reported to have a battery life of up to 10 days, which is considerably more than other competing units. This is partly due to the unit's power saving mode that switches on when your dog is near your home.
The Whistle service plan costs approximately $7/month, although exact pricing may vary.
PROS: The Whistle GPS Pet Tracker features an intuitive interface and easy-to-use system that most users have rated highly. It also provides information about your dog’s activity level, which may provide useful (or at least interesting) insights into his behavior and health.
CONS: The Whistle GPS Tracker isn’t intended for small pets, who weigh less than 15 pounds.
Whistle was formerly operating under the name Tagg, and with the transition to a new name and system, some users have found the new service to be lackluster, reporting that the GPS units were more accurate under Tagg.
Service reps promise that the quality hardware is still the same, but that they are still in the process of working out some of the bugs in the new app.
Despite the issues with the new app, we still feel Whistle is one of the higher quality units available and trust that users' favorite functionality from Tagg will operate more effectively in the future.
About: The Tractive GPS Pet Tracker is a sleek-looking waterproof GPS tracking system that works in conjunction with you iPhone, Windows or Android phone.
Weighing 1.2 ounces, the Tractive GPS Tracker is one of the lightest GPS tracking devices available, making it an excellent choice for smaller dogs.
As with other units, Tractive requires a monthly connection fee of less than $10/month (exact fees vary).
PROS: The Tractive GPS Pet Tracker is the smallest GPS tracking device available with an integrated SIM card, making it the ideal choice for your small breed dog.
Additionally, this tracker works on most major phone systems and networks, making it one of the most flexible units on the market.
CONS: Tractive requires a monthly service plan, like most other GPS tracking units, but they do not require long-term commitments, and you can start and stop coverage whenever you like.
It’s important to realize that no GPS tracking system is perfect, so you should always use common sense to keep your dog safe. Don’t think that you can just let your dog roam about unsupervised or that it isn’t a big deal that he escapes all the time, because you have a GPS tracking collar for him.
Alternatively, if you're just looking to track your dog's exercise, a dog FitBit might be a better (and more affordable) option. If you want to keep your dog in an enclosed space, invisible dog fences are a nice solution, although most of those systems won't be able to track your dog if he or she does manage to escape.
We’d love to hear about the tracking systems you have used. Let us know which ones were great and which ones didn’t live up to expectations. We’d also love to hear your happy reunion stories, so hit us up on Twitter or Facebook, or just scroll down to the comment section below!
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.