Dog Tracking Devices: do you need one?
At Buddy we all understand that there is no joy greater than a dog running free off-leash. However, we also understand that the freedom to run and roam requires a huge investment in training your dog to come back to you when called. We also understand that no training is 100% reliable in every situation and there is always the risk of a dog getting lost. All of us who own a pet can imagine the stress of losing our beloved family member and not knowing where or how to begin to find them. Here, we offer a few suggestions to consider because any one of us could find ourselves in the situation of searching for a beloved pet.
Familiarize your dog with as many local trails around your home as possible. The more frequently your dog gets out and about, the better their sense of orientation will be and the better their chances of navigating their way back to you are if they get separated.
Recall training. Practice recall over and over with your dog. Practice and test their recall in low and high distraction situations using a long lead. Know what might trigger your dog to ignore your call to come back to you for rewards (e.g. wildlife chasing or scent sniffing or new human or dog friends). This is part of the value of Buddy outings. Your dog gets lots of practice with being off leash, encountering distractions and learning to leave them and return to the human for praise and rewards.
Consider putting a bell on your dog so you can hear where they might be running and alert wildlife. For walks close to sunrise and sunset, or in the dark, consider an LED glowing collar for better visibility.
Plan ahead. Know what steps to take if your dog does get lost.
Tracking devices. Even with all the preparation and training, things can still happen that we can't prevent. A house door can be accidentally left open for a dog to escape, a nearby deer or coyote could prove just a little too tempting to chase, a car accident could leave a normally calm dog running scared from the scene. In any of these cases, a tracking device is like an insurance policy. Most of the time you may not use it or feel like you need it, but that one time when you do need it, it can feel like a lifesaver.
We live in the age of technology and there are many different pet wellness tracking devices on the market. Here we focus on just a few specific types and models that are cost effective
We refer to a tracking device as a bluetooth enabled collar or tag that is attached to your dog. You (and others) can use your phone and a device specific app to see your dog's real time location on a map and be able to track their movements to get them back as quickly as possible.
A tracking device is a very different tool from a microchip that is implanted under your dog's skin. In the event that someone finds your dog and takes them to a vet's office or animal shelter they can scan the microchip to determine the owner and contact you to let you know they have your dog. These are helpful for getting your dog back to you so long as someone else finds them and takes them to a location with a microchip scanner. They are of no help in finding your dog running loose in the neighborhood or woods.
There are a few tracking collars that consistently rise to the top in product testing and reviews. We have Buddy team members and clients who have used these devices and can speak to their strengths and weaknesses in the Truckee area where mountains and forests and thickly vegetated streams can put even the best dog tracking devices to the test.
Here are the top 3 devices from product reviews and local, real world testing:
Cost: $50 for a device to attach to an existing collar. Subscription is $8/month if you prepay for 1 year for basic plan ($96 per year) or $9/ month prepaid for a year for premium plan (which allows multiple people to track the dog on the app).
Size: Device weighs 35 g (1.23 oz) and is okay for dogs 8+ lbs
Durability: waterproof and adventure proof. Device attaches to your dogs existing collar
Battery life: Recharge every few days
Coverage: uses LTE 4G cell towers and GPS. Live tracking has real time updates every 2-3 seconds (default tracking updates less frequently to save battery) and gives information on the direction, altitude and speed of dog
Sharing: Share tracking with multiple people
Wellness: can monitor your dog's daily activity and sleep
Cost: collar kit (includes tracking collar, charging cable, base station) with activation fee ($20) and 6 month subscription (necessary for the tracking we use) for $122.
Subscription is $16/month if prepay for 1 year ($192 per year) or $19/month if pay monthly
Size: Can get in XS-XL size collar to fit almost any breed
Battery life: Recharge every few weeks or months. Longest battery life available. Need base stations in house to set up safe zones for escape detection. Large houses may require multiple base stations for coverage.
Durability: waterproof and adventure proof. Tracking device is built into collar purchased from Fi. Stainless steel case rather than plastic. Smallest and lightest GPS tracking option.
Coverage: Series 3 has 40% more GPS satellite coverage and 2x LTE network coverage. Fi uses LTE-M so offers 30% more coverage than any cellular system alone
Sharing: Share tracking with multiple people. Can turn privacy on/ off for dog walkers, pet sitters, etc.
Wellness: can monitor your dog's daily activity and sleep and compare to other Fi dogs
Whistle (Need to get Health & GPS model to have tracking)
Cost: $129-149 for device and $99/year for subscription plan
Size: Fits dogs 25+ lb and attaches to their existing collar
Durability: waterproof up to 6 feet
Battery life: Recharge every two weeks. No base station required.
Coverage: Only works with AT&T LTE 4G cell coverage even for GPS tracking
Sharing: Can share with multiple people
Wellness: Designed first as a pet wellness tracker, less suitable for lost dog tracking especially in the Truckee area where At&T coverage is limited
Air Tag (Apple) or Tile (Android)
While these are both small, inexpensive tracking devices that can be attached to your dog, it is very important to understand the limitations of their use when trying to find a lost dog. Neither is designed to be extremely durable or waterproof so can be rendered nonfunctional if your dog gets it wet, rough houses too much with other dogs, etc.
Most importantly, in order for either of these devices to relay your pet's location information to you, another Apple or Tile user must be in close proximity (30-75 feet away) to your lost dog and have bluetooth on and cell reception to send a location update to you. None of this is likely to work well if your dog is running anywhere in the woods, mountains or valleys around Truckee. While they seem convenient and cheap, they may not be able to provide the assistance you need if your dog ever does get lost.
Is a tracking collar needed for your dog?
Before you purchase a tracking device, app and yearly subscription for your dog ask yourself a few questions to help determine if it is a worthwhile investment for you.
Does your dog have strong prey drive and like to chase after birds or wildlife? If yes, a tracking collar may be a good idea. Solid recall training is also essential for your dog's safety.
Does your dog regularly escape your house or yard and roam? If yes, a tracking collar may be a good idea. Consider whether your dog may also need more exercise or social time with other dogs/ people to help reduce their desire to escape.
Does your dog frequently travel with you to new locations or have pet sitters stay with them? If yes, a tracking collar may be a good idea since your dog is frequently in new areas or with unfamiliar people.
Is your dog very shy or nervous around strange people or dogs? If yes, a tracking collar may be a good idea since they are unlikely to approach or allow any stranger to get near them if they are lost.
If you are out on a hike/bike/run/ski and your dog takes off STAY where you are. Most dogs will eventually tire of the chase and begin to backtrack to you. Dogs are amazingly good at retracing their route back to where they left you. It may feel like a long time, but stay still for at least 5-10 minutes. Listen for sounds from your pet and call their name from time to time along with your recall cues for them.
If after 10 minutes they have not returned mark a pin of your location where you last saw your dog on your phone. If they are wearing a tracking device, turn it into lost dog mode and start to search. If they are not wearing a tracking device, go back to your car or starting point. Wait there, again calling for your dog from time to time, as they may be retracing all the way back to where they started with you. If after 30 minutes - 1 hour your dog has not returned, head home and reach out to others for help.
Post on social media (photo and description of dog, when and where it was lost, contact info). Ask people to take a picture and send it to you ASAP if they think they see your dog rather than try to catch them. Truckee has several local community groups as well as lost dog specific groups on Facebook. Nextdoor is another great way to get lots of neighbors looking. Contact Truckee Animal Services and the Humane Society to see if anyone has turned your dog in to them.
Return to the trailhead with items that smell like home and a food dish with a little food. Sit and wait for a while, call your dog's name occaisionally, shake their food in their dish. Spend an hour or more around sunset and see if your dog returns to where you started.
Stay calm and stay hopeful. Work with the community and local agencies to get your dog back home as soon as you can.
We all want to give our dogs the freedom to explore this wonderful world we live in. But with freedom, comes responsibility. As pet owners, that responsibility is on us to ensure that we take all the necessary steps to keep our dogs safe and be ready if an unforeseen event occurs.