The basic premise for pet locators is that the dog wears a transmitter, and when he gets loose from the area you have set as "safe", you get an alert.
All are based on assisted global positioning satellite systems.
The major difference between the types of pet GPS systems is in how you get the alert and how you can track the lost dog. For instance, the high-end systems have a hand-held device where the transmitter shows up as a blip on the screen, similar to how an airplane looks on an air traffic controller's radar screen.
The more affordable GPS tracking for dogs sends you the alert via cell phone or e-mail, then allows you to track the dog using either the website or a call to their customer service representative. With these GPS dog collars, the customer service representative has the radar screen, and will guide you to the lost dog's location.
Most of them will also alert you when the transmitter has about 24 hours of battery life left. These systems cost less up-front, but require an ongoing monthly service contract.
Each of the five GPS dog collars we compared has different bells and whistles, which we'll tell you about below. At the end of the article is a table, allowing you to compare the features of each of the GPS pet locators. One caveat: these units aren't terribly heavy, but they are too big for small dogs. Manufacturers recommend that your dog be at least 30 pounds to wear one.
First up: the PetSafe® GPS Locator. The up-front cost for this pet locator is $199, but the website is currently (September, 2008) running a limited time offer for $149.99. Monthly service runs $19.99 per month, with a discount for paying for a year up-front. They also offer a 30-day risk-free trial, allowing you to test drive the system with your own pets. This pet GPS unit weighs just 4.2 ounces and measures 3.75" x 2.5" x 1.25".
PetSafe's pet locator offers three different modes. The monitor mode is where it resides when your dog is at home. In walk mode, you can take your dog out of the "safe" zone for up to 45 minutes without setting off any alarms. Walk mode can be extended for another 45 minutes if your walk takes longer than expected. If the dog leaves the home zone or if your walk exceeds 45 minutes, the system automatically switches to locate mode, sending you an alert via phone, e-mail and / or text message.
If you have a portable wi-fi device, you can log onto the company's website and see where your dog is and which way he is heading. You can also utilize the website tracker by having your spouse or child stay on the computer at home and guide you on your cell phone while you go after the dog. If neither of these options is possible, you can simply call the customer service number, which is staffed 24/7, and they will guide you to your dog.
The PetSafe pet GPS system provides two sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger so you don't have to take the collar off of your dog while you recharge. After charging, each set should last 4 - 5 days. Also included with your GPS pet locator purchase is a collar strap and lifetime limited warranty. Before you buy this product, make sure you are within their coverage area, as it is not specified on their website.
A similar system is offered by Zoombak in a product it calls the Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator. The up-front cost is $199.99, with monthly service of $14.99. Discounts are available for purchasing monthly service in bulk. You must sign up for at least a year's contract when you purchase the unit, making you subject to an early termination fee. The 2.5 ounce transmitter of this GPS dog collar measures 2.87" x 1.69" x 0.82".
Zoombak will locate your dog on request and / or send you an alert when the dog wanders off. You initiate an on-demand request by logging onto their website and clicking "Find Now", which brings up a map showing your dog's location. Or you can send a text message and receive a text showing you where your dog is. Finally, you can also call their 24-hour customer service center for help.
Automatic alerts are based on your choosing up to 10 safety zones. If your dog frequently goes to Grandma's or to daycare, you don't have to receive an alert every time he goes. You can also designate time frames when each location is safe. So, if your dog wanders off to his playmate's house in the middle of the night, you will receive an alert, even though you wouldn't during the day. This customizable pet locator system gives you a bit more flexibility than PetSafe®.
When your dog enters or leaves one of the safety zones, you receive a text message and / or an e-mail telling you to log on to Zoombak.com to see the dog's location, which is updated every five minutes. You can see up to seven days of history online, allowing you to find your dog's favorite hiding spot or special friend. They also offer the option of calling a customer service number for assistance in tracking your lost dog.
Optional alerts include those for low battery and power off. The battery lasts up to five days on standby or through up to 150 location requests. You will get an alert when the battery reaches 25% and another when the unit loses power altogether, showing the location of your dog at that time. Zoombak's coverage area is based on T-mobile's wireless service, so if your dog remains in a T-mobile area, you will be able to find him.
The last of the moderately-priced units is the PocketFinder®, which is not yet available in the United States, but soon will be, according to CEO Dave Morse. His response to doggies.com's e-mail about the product was this:
"We have actually concluded our testing and are waiting for a product run in the next few weeks. Product will be immediately available in Europe but we have a few more certifications to secure in the USofA. We hope to conclude those soon but much will be up to the speed and availability of testing labs. Needless to say, we are very anxious to start sales in our own country!
I would advise you to go to our website www.pocketfinder.com and sign up to be notified when product comes in the country. Those signed up will be contacted and if still interested, will be the first to receive product."
The PocketFinder® transmitter is about the size of an Oreo™ cookie, and allows you to set up both safe zones and danger zones. When your dog leaves a safe zone or enters a danger zone, you will receive an alert by phone call, text message, or e-mail. The unit attaches easily to your dog's existing collar and is a bit cheaper than the others at $129.99. Monthly service fees are not disclosed on the website.
A unique feature of the PocketFinder® is that it can send you an alert when your dog goes over a certain speed limit, so you can tell if he is on foot or has been picked up in a car. In addition, you can set up limited accounts, to allow friends and family to receive alerts about your dog. Whoever's closest can then go pick up the lost dog.
This device is the only one of the low-end GPD pet locators that offers turn-by-turn directions to your dog, rather than just telling you the lost dog's location. This can be helpful if you are new in town or if your dog wanders far away. PocketFinder's coverage area is a bit sparse in the Western United States, so be sure to check the map on their website before you purchase.
One final caveat for the pet locators that require a monthly service fee: make sure you are comfortable with the company you choose; GlobalPetFinder sold hundreds of units, and recently went out of business.
Moving on to the high-end units: RoamEO and Garmin's Astro. These two pet locator services work just a bit differently than the others. Your dog still wears a transmitter which shows his location via GPS tracking. However, rather than contacting the company to find your lost dog's location, you have a handheld receiver which shows the location, direction, and speed of your dog. There is no monthly service fee, as you won't be needing customer service to find the dog. In addition, you need not buy these directly from the company because you are not buying an ongoing service. You can purchase online or at several brick and mortar stores.
With RoamEO, you can track up to three dogs on the same handheld unit, with readings updated every few seconds. The receiver and one collar cost $419 online, with additional collars available in three sizes at $159 each.
To begin, you simply put the collar on the dog and turn on the receiver. The system begins tracking your dog immediately. If you want to establish a safe zone to enable automatic alerts, just walk the boundary of the zone carrying the handheld receiver. The zone can be erased and re-established in a different area whenever you want to, allowing you to establish a zone at the campground, Grandma's house, the beach, or the daycare.
Both the receiver and the transmitter run on rechargeable batteries included with the GPS dog collar. The handheld unit measures 4.4" x 5.6" x 1.3", holding a 2.2" x 2.9" LDC display. The case which holds the collar transmitter is 2.3" x 1" x 1.6". The receiver weighs a bit over a ˝ - pound, while the transmitter case and collar weight 3.7 ounces.
The receiver can find your dog as long as it is within 1 mile of the transmitter, although buildings, trees, and hills can cause a reduction of this range. When your dog gets more than a mile away from you, the screen displays his last known location. When you catch up to within a mile, his current location shows again.
Battery life is 8 - 10 hours on the receiver and 10 - 12 hours on the collar. Therefore, the units must be recharged frequently and cannot be replaced. Ideally, you would have your dog inside at night and can afford to have the system down during this time.
Garmin's Astro GPS dog collar is designed primarily for use by hunters and does not offer "safe zones" or alerts. It does, however, allow you to track up to 10 dogs' locations, up to seven miles away, using similar technology to the RoamEO. Online cost is approximately $600.
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