Helping You Keep Track: Activity Trackers for Dogs


I’ve been a FitBit person since 2013. When my canine is off-leash, I’ve typically questioned concerning the general distance of his adventures, since after we hike, he typically runs forward and doubles again, continuously checking in with me. If my FitBit says I hiked six miles, how far did Saber go if he spent a lot of the time operating backwards and forwards? I don’t really want to know, however I’ve all the time been curious.

So, for this and different causes, I jumped on the likelihood to analysis and check a few consumer-grade pet well being and exercise trackers: Whistle Go Explore and FitBark GPS. 

FITNESS NOT ABSENCE

While many canine homeowners are drawn to those merchandise for his or her potential to assist find a canine who could have escaped, this isn’t their greatest use (see “Technology Is No Substitute for Training and/or Management,” web page 19). The merchandise are higher at (and arguably extra useful for) monitoring and monitoring a canine’s general exercise. This has many potential makes use of:

* Setting and serving to meet each day train objectives for a pet – particularly helpful when you’re making an attempt to assist your canine shed a couple of kilos or enhance her general situation. 

* Better understanding when your canine is most energetic when you’re away from residence. In some circumstances, exercise patterns could be tied to well being or conduct points which are in any other case tough to watch once you aren’t residence.

* Knowing when the canine walker arrives and the way lengthy your canine was walked.

* Knowing how typically your canine is up at night time. Potential well being points or inadequate train and psychological stimulation through the day could cause restlessness at night time, which could be missed when you’re a heavy sleeper.

Technology Is No Substitute for Training and Management

Some of the product critiques – and even among the advertising supplies – counsel that location trackers can be utilized to seek out escape-artist canines. Sure, a GPS tracker may make it easier to discover your canine if he escapes, however maybe not earlier than he’s been hit by a automobile making an attempt to cross a busy road.

If your principal motivation for purchasing a GPS tracker on your canine is as a result of he tends to leap or dig out from below your fence, we’d suggest that you simply spend your cash on fortifying the fence, as a substitute. Or, set up an escape-proof canine run, maybe with a high for the intense jumpers or environment friendly climbers. (And when you have cash left over, spend some on making the yard slightly extra enriching; see “Five Ways to Make Your Dog’s Yard Safe & Fun,” WDJ September 2020.) 

What about canines who dart out the entrance door once you open it? Teach your canine a go-to-mat conduct and, if wanted, use a child gate within the doorway or an x-pen exterior the entrance door as an airlock. (See “Put a Stop to Door-Darting,” WDJ September 2017.)

If homeowners of escape-artist canines are using good coaching and cautious environmental administration, and select so as to add a GPS tracker as an added layer of safety, nice! Because, after all, accidents occur, even among the many most cautious pet homeowners. 

Be conscious, although, that whereas the GPS exercise trackers we examined might assist find a canine inside a day or two of an escape, missing a connection to your WiFi, the batteries on these merchandise don’t preserve a cost lengthy sufficient that can assist you discover him after that. They received’t make it easier to find a livestock guardian canine who sometimes takes off for days at a time or a looking canine liable to following a scent too far.

THE CONTENDERS

We selected to overview the 2 best-selling merchandise on this class. The alternative was additionally partially primarily based on the period of time their makers had invested within the ongoing improvement of the merchandise (which have been each launched to the market in 2013). The merchandise are: 

* Whistle Go Explore. This is the most recent machine in Whistle’s three-product lineup. It succeeds the Whistle Go, providing longer battery life (as much as 20 days vs. Whistle Go’s estimated 10 days) and options the addition of a lightweight (managed by the app). 

* FitBark GPS. This is certainly one of FitBark’s three well being and monitoring gadgets, and the one product that gives GPS monitoring. 

Both gadgets require an preliminary buy value (the Go Explore prices $115 to $130, the FitBark GPS prices $70 to $100; each value much less when bought from Amazon.com than from their makers) and a subscription price. Whistle’s plans vary from $10 per thirty days (paid month-to-month, however with a one-year contract) to $7 a month (with a two-year contract, paid prematurely). FitBark plans vary from $10 per thirty days (with no contract) to $6 per thirty days (with a three-year contract, paid prematurely). 

HOW THEY WORK

Our check canine has been carrying each the Whistle Go Explore and the FitBark GPS for the previous few months. These are the alerts which are despatched to his proprietor’s cell phone when he leaves residence together with her.

Both Whistle Go Explore and FitBark GPS are GPS-enabled accelerometers that monitor the wearer’s motion a number of occasions per second and use algorithms to determine motion as particular behaviors. Whistle Go Explore identifies motion as resting, energetic, strolling, operating, or taking part in, and may determine licking and scratching. FitBark identifies motion as resting, energetic, or taking part in.

For location monitoring functions, each merchandise are assisted-GPS gadgets, which means they use info from mobile towers (Whistle makes use of ATT’s community; FitBark makes use of Verizon) and satellites to triangulate place and transmit knowledge to the person through proprietary cell machine apps. This means the trackers solely work in areas with mobile reception, and they’re topic to varied situations that may intervene with mobile wavelength transmission – from inclement climate to tall buildings or competing frequencies.

Both merchandise operate basically the identical means: When the wearer is in a predetermined “safe zone,” the machine connects to a chosen WiFi community and syncs within the background. In our check, I related every machine to each my residence WiFi and the WiFi at work, since my canine Saber is continuously with me on the workplace. 

When the machine is taken from or returned to a WiFi-enabled “safe zone,” it sends an alert notification. If the machine is inside Bluetooth vary of a licensed particular person, the alert will specify who the canine is with. 

The gadgets could be linked to a number of approved folks’s cell gadgets, which lends itself to customized notifications. For instance, if the canine frequently leaves the “safe zone” with a canine walker, linking the machine to the canine walker’s cellphone will let you obtain a notification saying the canine has left with that particular particular person. 

While out on a licensed journey, the GPS operate will report location at fastened intervals, as long as the machine is ready to get an correct location. Whistle Go Explore’s reporting interval could be adjusted to each 3, 6, 10, 15, or 30 minutes. FitBark stories location each minute. Activity and site are tracked on the set interval and visual in real-time through the app. When the person returns to the designated WiFi community, the info is synced for file preserving, together with a map graphic depicting the realm traveled. 

When neither WiFi nor a acknowledged Bluetooth connection is on the market, and the machine is exterior of a “safe zone,” it sends a generic alert (“Heads Up! Saber has left Home Sweet Home”) and the monitoring characteristic turns into obtainable. If you’re conscious that the canine just isn’t with a licensed particular person, the notification would immediate you to begin the monitoring mode and go search for your canine.

When Whistle Go Explore is in monitoring mode, it updates location info each 15 seconds. FitBark continues to replace at one-minute intervals, however location knowledge gathered in monitoring mode is claimed to be extra exact than knowledge gathered when the tracker is paired through Bluetooth to an proprietor’s cell machine. 

COMPARING THE PRODUCTS

While the 2 merchandise we examined are related, they each had particular strengths and weaknesses:

* Setup. Both merchandise arrived with minimal packaging, and setup was fast and straightforward. The Whistle Go Explore efficiently paired with the corresponding app on my cellphone through the preliminary charging session, permitting me to arrange all the pieces in a single sitting. The FitBark required an preliminary cost earlier than turning into “visible” to the app on my cellphone. 

Both apps ask for primary info: proprietor’s title, cellphone quantity, and electronic mail; and canine’s title, breed, age, birthday, reproductive standing, and weight. Whistle Go Explore additionally works by means of particulars associated to the canine’s weight, physique rating, and weight loss program, and makes use of exercise monitoring to suggest each day feeding quantities utilizing a powerful checklist of economic diets. There aren’t choices for canines who’re fed a home-prepared weight loss program. 

* Charging. The Whistle Go Explore makes use of a typical micro USB cable. The FitBark makes use of a USB-powered, spring-loaded clip that, when connected, aligns pins within the cable with the charging factors on the FitBark. This is difficult to get good – and when you don’t, the machine received’t cost. 

It’s additionally value noting that to entry the charging pins on the FitBark, one should first take away a really tight-fitting cowl. This is not any straightforward job and never prone to be completed solely by hand. In truth, FitBark even recommends utilizing the deal with of a pair of nail clippers to assist pry the duvet off the unit. I’m certain this tight match has to do with sustaining the integrity of the machine’s water resistant score, however the longer I had the machine, the much less excited I used to be about needing to pry the duvet off.

* Design. The Whistle Go Explore is almost sq. at 1.four inches broad, 1.eight inches tall, and .07 inches thick. The FitBark GPS bone-shaped design has a sleeker take a look at 1.86 inches broad, 1.18 inches tall, and .61 inches thick. The Go Explore weighs 0.96 ounces; the FitBark weighs 0.60 ounces. 

Neither machine appeared to trouble Saber whereas they have been on his collar. In truth, he wore them each all through our eight-week comparability with out incident. But the dimensions of the gadgets may very well be a difficulty on toy-breed canines. Whistle recommends the Go Explore for canines weighing eight kilos or extra; FitBark is really helpful for canines 5 kilos and up. 

The Whistle encompasses a built-in night time mild, which could be activated through the app and set at all the time on, or at a gradual or quick flash. This could be helpful throughout nighttime walks in darkish areas (although it’ll shorten battery life), however I can see it being particularly helpful when monitoring a misplaced pet and shutting in on their location.

* Collar Attachment. We strongly most popular the attachment choices supplied by Whistle Go Explore, which embrace a semi-permanent snap and a hook-and-loop detachable possibility. Both choices characteristic a plastic plate mount to which the unit attaches and twists to lock into place. This permits for straightforward elimination when it’s time to cost the tracker. 

In distinction, the FitBark attaches to the collar utilizing skinny little zip ties. Granted, this makes it just about inconceivable for the tracker to ever fall off the collar, but it surely additionally means it’s a must to both lower it off and re-attach with recent zip ties (10 extra ties are included within the preliminary package deal) or take away your entire collar throughout time wanted to periodically cost the tracker. 

* Water Resistance. Both gadgets are stated to be waterproof, however FitBark recommends eradicating the duvet after pool or seashore play to dry the charging pins. Bring on the nail clippers to assist take away the duvet! 

In distinction, Whistle tech help assured me the machine would face up to enthusiastic leaping into the pool and enjoyable ocean play, cautioning solely towards repeated periods of pummeling the machine with large waves. 

Both gadgets have been repeatedly out and in of a pool and the ocean, and are nonetheless going robust.

* Application Reporting. Both gadgets counsel really helpful exercise objectives primarily based on particular owner-provided particulars akin to age, weight, breed, and way of life. 

Within the app, the Whistle Go Explore’s dashboard shows exercise chronologically, categorizing movement into actions akin to resting, low exercise (which appears to be casually strolling round the home), strolling, taking part in, and operating, and features a map snapshot of the place the person traveled whereas away from residence. 

FitBark’s exercise dashboard categorizes motion as relaxation, energetic, and play, and reveals whole factors earned towards the objective, with whole time spent engaged in every of the three actions. 

Between the 2 gadgets, I discovered Whistle’s presentation of knowledge usually simpler to comply with. I additionally observed FitBark typically registered time spent strolling as “play” vs. “active.” I might assume going for a stroll, which presents a constant tempo, would register in another way than taking part in, which is usually fairly assorted in motion. 

Both dashboards show estimated energy burned and whole distance traveled. Initially, whereas they by no means matched up precisely between the 2 gadgets, they have been shut sufficient for me to really feel they have been moderately correct within the knowledge reporting. 

This reporting glitch was amusing, since I might observe my canine, safely sleeping behind me in my workplace at work. But what if I acquired the same alert when he was residence and I used to be at work?

* Accuracy/Reliability. While the 2 merchandise reported related exercise and caloric expenditure for the primary month, this step by step modified over time. Near the top of the two-month trial, after an particularly energetic day, I used to be shocked to see the FitBark register Saber’s exercise as burning 1,838 energy over the course of seven.72 miles in comparison with Whistle’s report of simply 1,176 energy over 5 miles.

We skilled different questionable readings, too. There have been positively days the place exercise reported didn’t appear to align with my observations. This was most noticeable throughout a record-breaking warmth wave when, whereas we did make it to the park for 20 minutes of off-leash play early within the morning, the remainder of the day was spent quietly lounging in entrance of followers. Whistle Go Explore recorded sufficient hours of “low activity” (vs. “resting”), and FitBark recorded sufficient “active” hours to fulfill the exercise objective for the day, which I used to be skeptical about. 

Granted, no accelerometer is ideal. My human FitBit typically data gesturing as steps taken; passive exercise provides up. It’s attainable Saber was casually strolling across the condominium greater than I spotted. 

Each product additionally delivered an occasional false alert. FitBark as soon as despatched a notification saying Saber had left my workplace when, in reality, he was napping on the ground instantly behind me. When I questioned FitBark’s tech help about this, they stated it was doubtless attributable to a weak WiFi connection, inflicting the machine to assume Saber had left the property when he hadn’t. This reporting misfire was good for a chuckle as I watched Saber safely doze close by, but when he had been residence and I used to be at work, this similar blip would have thrown me right into a panic. 

Similarly, the Whistle as soon as despatched a notification of Saber arriving at my workplace (certainly one of our two “safe zones”) when he was with me within the automobile and we have been an excellent 15 miles away.

* Tech Support. At one level, the Whistle app reported “not enough data available” to proceed displaying sure well being insights. According to help articles on Whistle’s web site, this usually occurs when the machine hasn’t been worn for at the least 4 days (it had been worn each day) or if the machine fails to speak with the WiFi community. 

Whistle’s buyer help is on the market Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST and 10 a.m. to six:30 p.m. EST on weekends. When I related with tech help, the agent helped me clear up the issue, which was, in reality, associated to a WiFi communication subject. 

FitBark’s technical help is on the market 24/7 through its web-based chat characteristic. That’s spectacular! FitBark’s consultant answered a number of questions for me in any respect hours of the day and night time through the check interval. 

HEALTH INSIGHTS

At the beginning of our check interval, the Whistle Go Explore reported that Saber engaged in “elevated” ranges of scratching and licking. This knowledge appeared correct, as Saber’s anal glands have been in want of consideration on the time. Since he involves work with me most days, I do know when Saber licks or scratches, but when he was residence alone and I couldn’t monitor it myself, I’d discover this reporting particularly helpful. 

About six weeks into our check interval, Whistle added “sleeping” and “drinking” to its reporting, score ingesting as beneath common, common, or above common, and score sleep as restful, barely disrupted, or disrupted. Historical stories of this info may very well be very useful. 

Eight veterinarians present telemedicine help for Whistle. Late on a Sunday afternoon, I emailed a query about Saber’s licking and anal glands. I acquired a response early Monday morning and was pleasantly shocked to be requested inquiries to encourage extra dialogue; it wasn’t a canned response suggesting I contact my vet to handle my considerations. 

The telemedicine help characteristic actually received’t exchange in-person veterinary care, but it surely’s a pleasant perk that might provide supportive steerage.

USING THE ACTIVE GPS TRACKING FEATURE

Whistle’s machine pinpointed my canine’s location in my mates’ yard.

To simulate a lost-dog situation, I had mates acquire my canine and take him on an journey. The Whistle Go Explore was the primary to ship me a notification that Saber had breeched the “safe zone,” permitting me to set off the monitoring mode inside a minute of when he was taken from my home. 

In distinction, FitBark’s preliminary notification took a few minutes to reach, and it took a further a number of minutes earlier than the monitoring characteristic turned obtainable. I couldn’t assist however consider how each second counts in a lost-dog situation and was pissed off ready for FitBark’s monitoring characteristic to kick in.

As my mates drove round with Saber of their automobile, I tracked their location utilizing the apps and confirmed the accuracy of the stories by texting my mates. Data from each gadgets was disrupted as Saber traveled previous a close-by radio tower. FitBark stalled a couple of extra occasions through the check drive. 

When my mates and Saber arrived at their vacation spot, Whistle’s location was so correct, it offered the precise road tackle and pinpointed Saber’s location as within the yard. In distinction, FitBark gave a latitude and longitude and related with Google Maps to launch driving instructions, which led me to my mates’ neighbor’s home. 

My mates additionally took a stroll so we might conduct one other check with Saber on foot. I used to be simply in a position to see the place they have been and decide their route of journey with each apps. The Whistle Go Explore stories location each 15 seconds in monitoring mode, giving it a definite benefit in figuring out an estimated path of journey in comparison with FitBark’s 60-second reporting.

ON THE ROAD

While testing each gadgets, I took a street journey, driving a pair hundred miles from residence. Both gadgets have been totally charged after we left residence on Thursday morning. By late Saturday afternoon, the FitBark battery was right down to lower than 10% remaining cost, and the Whistle’s battery was fully depleted, inflicting it to close down. What?!

Both gadgets rely closely on WiFi connectivity to ensure that the battery life to carry out properly. Under regular circumstances, each the FitBark and Whistle would spend the vast majority of the day related to an proprietor’s residence or work WiFi; they’re solely disconnected when the canine is out strolling. For most of us, that’s solely a handful of hours, even on a brilliant energetic day of mountain climbing. A Bluetooth connection to your cellphone helps the battery last more than being fully unconnected. 

If you have been relying on certainly one of these gadgets to make sure your canine doesn’t get misplaced if separated from you when you’re touring, be ready to frequently cost the machine – even perhaps each day. 

FINAL APPRAISAL

After spending two months concurrently utilizing each the Whistle Go Explore and the FitBark GPS, our general opinion is that consumer-grade well being and exercise trackers are enjoyable devices for monitoring and monitoring assorted well being metrics and each day bodily exercise, and as a possible added layer of safety when working with a canine who might need escape-artist tendencies. 

They are greatest employed for canines who spend the overwhelming majority of their time at residence or, when not residence, are almost certainly to be leash-walking with a chosen “safe person,” with the intention to maintain the gadgets related to WiFi or a chosen Bluetooth sign. In circumstances the place the canine and proprietor journey (thus, away from designated WiFi) or the canine is safely given the chance to be off-leash and is out of Bluetooth  vary of a handler’s cell phone, we discovered the battery life to be frustratingly quick. 

Stephanie Colman is a author and canine coach in Southern California. She works for Guide Dogs of America within the pet division, the place she helps recruit and handle volunteer pet raisers.





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