GPS Trackers for Dogs: What’s Out There and How to Choose

Does your dog have a habit of disappearing? A GPS Tracker might be a good idea.

GPS trackers have been around for several years, but were initially used just by hunting dogs and weren’t always accurate. Systems have improved significantly over the last few years—and while they may not get you to the exact location of your pet, they’ll get you close enough. “You may just have to knock on a few people’s doors in the area to track down your dog,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for Doglab.

The most exact GPS trackers available today come with a subscription plan. “This helps you to be able to track in real times and at a more precise location,” says Ochoa. “Some have a trial that will give you a generalized idea of the location of the pet but not as detailed as the plan will provide.”

What’s Available and How to Choose

There are three main types of dog trackers currently available: some that work like mini cell-phones, true GPS systems, and telemetry collars. Each has its own pros and cons—from different prices to range to accuracy.

Regardless what you choose, it will probably change the way your dog’s collar feels to him. To help show him that it’s a good thing, slowly introduce the GPS collar and shower him with treats.

Cell Service GPS Collars (Example: Whistle)

These types of collars are in the $100 to $200 range and are the lowest priced tracking system for dogs, explains Jaimee Alsing, an animal nutritionist and consultant for PurringPal. “These collars work just like a cell phone with GPS, which means they require a monthly subscription and cell service to work,” Alsing says. “If you plan on tracking your dog where there isn’t at least 3G cell service, this type of collar won’t work for you.”

The trackers can be connected directly to your dog’s collar and then to your phone. In addition to providing location, they also collect health information about your dog. “Many people think of these collars a doggy Fitbit,” says Alsing.

True GPS Systems (Example: Garmin Astro)

If you don’t like paying a monthly subscription or plan to track your dog where there is poor cell service, you have other options, according to Alsing.

True GPS systems don’t require a subscription, so you pay just once—but it will cost up to $500 for the system. They are a good option for places without cell service.

On the negative side, they’re bulkier and would be uncomfortable for a tiny dog. They can also only track for up to 9 miles away from you. “These systems have a handheld map screen which communicates to your dog’s collar, which gives a real-time location of your dog,” says Alsing. “If they go out of range, the map will show the last place it got a signal from.”

Telemetry Collars (Example: Marco Polo System)

These systems use radio signals to tell you the direction and approximate distance of your pet. This means they will not show you where your dog is on a map, just give you a general idea.

While this might not be the best choice for wandering dogs, they can be enough to keep track of your dog during a hike. These systems are also much less bulky than true GPS, so they’re the best choice for smaller dogs. “They also will work anywhere and do not require cell service or GPS,” according to Alsing. “Signal range depends on the brand, but can be anywhere from 2 to 12 miles from you.” They run between $200 and $350, and don’t require a subscription—making them possibly the cheapest solution in the long run, so long as your dog doesn’t disappear for days on end.

GPS dog collar

©istockphoto/Ksenia Raykova

What GPS Collar is right for you?

If you need to be able to track your dog wherever he goes, so long as he’s still within the boundaries of cell service, then a Cell Service GPS Collar is the way to go. It will require a subscription, which pushes the $100 price up to about $350 for 2 years of service, but it works.

If your dog is larger and you will be outside of cell service, then a True GPS is your best bet. It’s going to be a big up-front cost, but with a decent tracking radius, the ability to find where your dog was before you lost his signal, and it working anywhere, a good ol’ GPS is what you want.

If you’re more concerned about your smaller dog running off on a literal rabbit trail while hiking, then a Telemetry Collar is what you want. They don’t require cell service or GPS, but rather it pings between the collar and your handheld locator. If you start with eyes on your dog, you should be able to catch up with him before he runs out of the device’s signal range.

Meet the Author: Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com

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