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GPS Dog Tracker Recommendations

So, you’re in the market for a GPS dog tracker and are researching which ones are the best.  Congratulations on taking such an important step to keep your dog safe!  Every dog out there should have one!  This article covers several brands I have personally tried and spent my own money on (and I’ve spent a TON of money on them!).  I will cover what is good about them, what isn’t so great, and a few things I’ve learned through my journey with them, so let’s jump in.

First off, I am not sponsored by any brand, so everything I mention is my own opinion based on my experiences with the ones I have personally tried.  I have not tried every GPS device out there, so I am only covering the ones I have purchased and used with my own dog.   

My journey with GPS dog tracker units began several years back right after I adopted an adult husky who had been a reservation dog her entire life.  We went camping and she was on a long-line leash with her collar.  Unfortunately, she slipped out of her collar, her sniffing and chasing instincts kicked in, and what followed was the most euphoric (for her) 45-minute game of chase.  It was the best day of her life, but the worst day of mine!  She disappeared from view several times and we wore ourselves out trying to catch her in the middle of the forest.  From that point on, I vowed she was going to have some sort of tracker on her at all times (and a harness, not a collar).  That’s what began my journey of learning about these units, how they work, and which ones are best based on what area you live in and will need to use them in.

Tractive

The very first GPS I bought was a Tractive brand device.  It was small and had a really good attachment for an existing collar.  It worked really well, had great tracking capabilities and I really liked it while we were in a large city.  Unfortunately, when we went camping, all of those positives went out the window.  It wouldn’t connect any longer because of a lack of signal in the forest, which rendered it useless for the exact thing I bought it for. 

Also, the customer service experience I had was horrendous.  They are based out of country, so there were long wait times and the particular unit I had at that time ran off of 2G network towers.  When those towers got shut down, the device stopped working, but I was unaware of it because I didn’t know how the technology worked.  I happened to notice the battery life of the device was getting worse and not even lasting one day, so I reached out to them only to have them sell me another device with the same towers and they weren’t upfront with me about what was actually taking place, which was as fewer 2G towers were around, it was searching harder for a signal, running the battery down.  After I tried the second device and found it didn’t work any better, I reached out to them again and they finally came clean about their device running on old networks and there was nothing they could do to fix it.  At the time, they did not have a newer device that ran on newer technology. 

Fast forward to 2021 and I was in the market to replace the GPS I was currently using.  I decided to go back to Tractive and I was pleased to find out they had rebounded, updated their technology and had a new device that ran on several networks, and the pricing was much more reasonable than the competitors.  I went ahead and purchased the newest one and that is the one I currently use for city living. 

Tractive does have activity monitoring features, but I don’t use them, so I cannot comment on those other than I don’t believe they are very accurate. 

Summary:

Good price point with affordable GPS monthly plans and quick tracking.

PROS:
  • Updates every 2-3 seconds.  Quickest updating GPS dog tracker I have found, which is the deal maker/breaker for me.
  • Tracking/Mapping Options are designed well and most accurate (although not perfect).
  • Works with Bluetooth to save battery when we are at home.
CONS:
  • Doesn’t work well in rural areas, like forests, camping areas without a great signal
  • Customer Service
  • Not based in the United States

I would, and do, recommend this device to my clients who are based in a city.  It’s the most affordable and rivals its competitors nicely for the price. 

https://amzn.to/3uSctKu

Whistle

After I had to move on from Tractive the first time, I went to the Whistle brand GPS dog tracker.  It worked on 3G towers and, like the Tractive, it had decent updating time when tracking.  I liked this device with the exception of the initial connection to live track.  It seemed to take a while to get into live tracking mode.  Once it was there, it worked fine.  I especially like that it had addresses to help you find the dog when it was tracking. 

Unfortunately, the unit I had a few years back didn’t hold up well.  It attached to an existing collar, but it seemed to wear out very quickly with normal wear and tear.  I used this brand for about a year and had to replace it 4 times.  Customer Service was decent, but very hard to get a hold of with my schedule.  They didn’t have great hours for people who worked during the day and like everything, there were long hold times.

I ultimately decided it wasn’t the brand for me back then, but I did give them another shot in late 2021, just like I did with the Tractive.  I bought their latest unit (Whistle Go) and tested it out again.  It updates every 15 seconds, which isn’t ideal, but is better than some. When you have a lost dog and you are actively tracking them, 15 seconds is a long time.  The map function is not super accurate because of this longer updating time, so while it gets the job done, I would expect more for the price point.  Like the Whistle before, it still takes a bit to connect to live tracking, so after trying it again, I still don’t use this brand currently. 

I do like that you can set multiple safe zones for your pet so if she is staying at a family member’s house, it still marks her as safe.  This is a nice feature, but not one that is a deal maker/breaker. 

Whistle also has activity monitoring features, but I don’t use them, so I cannot comment on those.  From what I have monitored, I don’t believe they are very accurate.  Also, there are health monitoring features like scratching, drinking, sleeping, etc. but as a consumer, I feel like they should stick with the GPS function and improve that first.  It feels like there are too many mediocre features that aren’t helpful for what I need as a consumer and it could be a better product if they spent more money on the main facet of the device.  Other consumers will have different needs.

Summary:

Gets the job done, but be prepared to pay more for about the same as the Tractive. 

PROS:
  • Able to notate multiple safe zones for your pet
  • Works with Bluetooth to save battery when we are at home.
  • Gives addresses when live tracking
CONS:
  • Doesn’t work well in rural areas, like forests, camping areas without a great signal
  • Longer lag time in connecting to live tracking
  • Only updates every 15 seconds

https://amzn.to/3qZpil4

AKC Link

The AKC Link was my third GPS dog tracker device.  I had it for the longest amount of time, but I didn’t really like it.  It did give me the sense of security I was looking for and it did have live tracking, but it never seemed to work quite right.  It took a long time connecting to that mode and many times wouldn’t connect at all, so I had a fair amount of trouble with it.  Once it connected, it seemed to work okay.  It has a cute interface with paws on a map, but no addresses and it could update quicker.  I also thought the unit was quite large for even my big dog (they have since updated the shape, so this isn’t a problem any longer). 

The best thing about this unit was the customer service I received from them.  They monitored it on the backend and reached out to me several times when it didn’t seem to be retaining battery level or working correctly.  The company was very straightforward with me when their towers were shutting down and gave me several months notice to get a new GPS to replace mine.  They offered me a discount on a new AKC GPS dog tracker, but I didn’t take them up on that since I wanted one that tracked a little bit faster and was more consistent.  Customer service also replaced my unit for free twice during the 3-4 years I had it.  I give them a full five stars for that aspect. 

I have not tried their newest GPS unit, so I cannot comment of how it works, so my review is on the old version and on the brand as a whole.

Summary:

Amazing customer service, but slow updating on the GPS.  Price point is higher.

PROS:
  • Customer Service
  • App is nicely designed
  • Ability to record adventures
  • Has Bluetooth
CONS:
  • Size was large and awkward
  • Slow on getting into live tracking
  • Slow on updating when in live tracking
  • Doesn’t work well in rural areas, like forests, camping areas without a great signal

https://amzn.to/36IV8vP

FI Collar

The FI collar dog tracker came into the picture a few years back and when I first saw them, I was very intrigued.  They originally set it up where you would purchase the collar at a higher price, but you wouldn’t have a monthly subscription fee like all the other devices.  At the time, I was using the AKC Link, so I didn’t purchase it, but I kept my eye on the company and in late 2021, they had a sale, so I went ahead and bought it to try.  Unfortunately I found out they no longer had the model without a monthly subscription fee, so they had updated their business model since I saw them originally.  This wasn’t too much of an issue because it was what I was used to anyway, but as I used the unit, there were several things that I did not like. 

First of all, there is no freestanding unit to attach to an existing collar so you have to use their collar.  Many people may not have an issue with that, but if you use a special collar like a martingale, it doesn’t work well.  Secondly, and the overall deal breaker for me with this unit is that it only updates once per minute.  The reason they do that is because their selling point is battery life.  To save battery life, they reduce how much the tracker tracks.  Not a good compromise.  I ran a test where I sent the collar with a family member while I tracked it and it didn’t even connect to live tracking mode until my family member was at his destination 3 miles away. It took a solid 10 minutes before it connected (on a fiber optic internet connection).  Then, it only updated once per minute, so I was really unable to track where my family member (and ultimately my dog) was. 

I tried a few more tracking experiments and got similar results, so I wouldn’t recommend this device.

Summary:

Good external design, but just doesn’t fit the bill.

PROS:
  • Overall exterior design
  • Social features are better than others if you are interested in those
  • Has Bluetooth
CONS:
  • Update connection
  • Update speed
  • Doesn’t attach to an existing collar
  • Doesn’t work well in rural areas, like forests, camping areas without a great signal

https://tryfi.com/

Marco Polo

Up to this point we’ve only covered city-living GPS tracker units.  But, if you remember, my original goal was to find something that worked while we were camping.  I needed something that didn’t rely on cell towers because where we camp is remote and the cell service isn’t great, so, after extensive research, the first option I tried, was a radio frequency dog tracker called the Marco Polo.

This little unit has great potential.  There is a learning curve, and it isn’t as easy to track as the others because it works like a radar.  Your dog has a chip on their collar and you hold a separate handheld device.  It scans the area (up to 2 mile range according to them, but based on my experience camping, it’s more like 100 yards) every 45 seconds and when it picks up the chip on the dog, it switches to every 5 seconds.  There are arrows you follow on the unit, so you walk left, right, straight ahead, etc. and it guides you to the dog. 

It has a long battery life and I still use it at times when we camp.  I have tested it by sending my dog on a walk with a family member (and one time in a real lost dog situation), and it does work, so I do recommend this product for those who camp and can’t afford the much more expensive Garmin dog tracker unit below.  It isn’t for everybody because of the learning curve, but if you practice with it, it is pretty easy to get the hang of.  This is one you will want to make sure you practice with BEFORE you need it. 

Summary:

Good radio frequency tracker with a bit of a learning curve.

PROS:
  • Works in rural areas and areas with little to no cell service
  • No monthly subscription
CONS:
  • A bit of a learning curve
  • Range isn’t as large as I’d like

https://amzn.to/3qUsvST

Garmin Alpha & Astro

Lastly on our list of trackers is the Garmin Alpha & Astro dog tracker products.  These two units are essentially the same thing, but one (Alpha) has the ability to be used as a shock collar (thumbs down) and the other does not.  There is one other small difference and that is the range is a bit larger on the Alpha than the Astro.

That being said, this is the first negative for the Alpha.  I don’t like, nor do I use, shock collars.  In fact, I hate them, so that is a big negative for me.  It doesn’t matter to some other people, but for me, this fact almost caused me to not buy the product at all, and if there had been a better dog tracker option without shock, I wouldn’t have bought it.  I ended up purchasing the Alpha unit because of the longer range, so as soon as I got it, I filled the shock collar holes (where the prongs go) with silicone, put the cover over them and glued it on.  It’s been that way since.  I never even charged the unit until the shock part was covered up and disabled.  The prongs went in the garbage.  It is important to note that both of these units look like shock collars, which I personally hate.  Again, that matters to some and not to others. 

As far as tracking goes, this is the most expensive unit of all of them.  You have to purchase both a collar and the hand-held, so this is an investment, but it is worth it to have that tracking capability.  The Astro has a range of up to 5 miles, the Alpha has a range of up to 9 miles, and the update speed is about 2 seconds, so in line with the Tractive unit. These are collars designed for hunting dogs, and the tracking capability is much like a regular handheld GPS dog tracker unit if you have used one of those.  They have several different screens, from a map, to a compass, and more and it shows where your dog is on the map so you know exactly where to go to find them. The battery life is good, but it is a collar in and of itself, so your dog will have to wear two collars unless you choose to have them just wear this one. 

This unit is not meant for everyday wear.  It is only meant to be worn for shorter times.  When I am camping, I rely on her city-GPS until we get to a point where the service is gone and then I will have her wear this unit while she is outdoors when we are camping.  When she is in the trailer, it comes off for her comfort.  These dog tracker units are big and somewhat heavy, so they won’t work for a smaller dog.  If you have a smaller dog, I would recommend you stick with the Marco Polo unit. 

Summary:

The grand poobah of them all with the best, most consistent tracking capabilities, but the most expensive price tag.

PROS:
  • It works in rural areas like camping and hiking
  • It’s reliable and consistent
  • Good range
  • Good update speed at about 2 seconds
  • No monthly subscription
CONS:
  • Looks like a shock collar (and has the shock capability for the Alpha)
  • Larger and heavier
  • Supports a company that makes shock devices

Collar – https://amzn.to/3qXejJ3

Handheld – https://amzn.to/38dpPJG

So, there you have it.  Those are all the GPS dog tracker units I have purchased and used over the years. I’ve spend thousands of dollars trying these and I’ve helped many people learn what will work for their pups based on that money spent, so I hope this article helps give you a firsthand look at which ones fit better for you.

A few things to keep in mind as you are researching…

  • You do not need a buy a GPS based on what cell phone carrier you currently have.  The websites that list specific carriers are just telling you those are the cell towers that their product uses.  So, if you have an ATT cell phone and you by a GPS that used Verizon cell towers, it will still work.  Your phone carriers plays no part in what towers the GPS unit talks to. 
  • Most of the GPS-based units require a purchase of the unit, then a monthly subscription fee.  Some subscription fees make you pay a full year at a time and others allow for a monthly pay option. 
  • You will eventually have to replace the units that rely on cell towers because as technology grows, better networks are out there and the old networks shut down.  Just like what took place with me when the 2G towers shut down and then the 3G towers shut down.  It will happen with every cell-tower based GPS out there.

Like I said in the beginning, every dog owner should consider getting their dog a GPS.  There are so many lost dog posts everyday on social media.  Some come home, others don’t.  Give yourself peace of mind, give them a lifeline, and get them a dog tracker!

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