Pet trackers are small devices that attach to your dog’s collar and, typically, use a combination of GPS and cellular signals to keep you apprised of your pet’s whereabouts in real time. If your dog goes missing—or if you just want to know where it is, whether it’s roaming your yard or in the company of another caregiver—you can use the tracker’s smartphone app to locate it on a map. (Trackers that don’t use both GPS and cellular may be enticing because they don’t impose a recurring cellular service fee, but they have far more limited tracking abilities, which I’ll address below.)
Skip Trackers That Don’t Use Both GPS and Cellular Service
As their ratings indicate, all five of the trackers that use a combination of GPS and cellular service—Cube GPS Real Time, Fi Series 2, Link Smart Pet Wearable, Tractive GPS Dog LTE, and Whistle Go Explore—do a very good job (if not perfect, as noted below) at their core function: locating and tracking your pet from afar.
Two of the seven models we tested, however, lack GPS or cellular capability or both, and we can’t recommend either as a result, even though they can cost less than other models.
The PetFon Tracker II costs a relatively hefty $240 but could save you money over time because it does not use cellular service for tracking, so there’s no ongoing subscription or service fee. That potential cost savings, however, doesn’t make up for the relatively limited range of its GPS-based tracking: two-thirds of a mile in areas dense with buildings, homes, or trees, according to the PetFon website, and up to 3.5 miles in more open spaces.
The Pawscout Smarter, meanwhile, lacks both cellular and GPS technologies, relying instead on close-range Bluetooth connections to other Pawscout owners to find lost dogs. That means if your dog goes missing, you could track its location only when it happens to be within 300 feet of someone else who happens to be using the Pawscout app. Not even the sizable cost savings—the Pawscout costs $15 plus $15 per year for optional extended service—compensates for that limitation. In addition, we found it to be unreliable and hard to use even within the scope of its capabilities.
A Bluetooth-based tracker like the Apple AirTag may be a better low-cost choice than the Pawscout, even though it has similar limitations and isn’t designed specifically for tracking pets. We didn’t test it as a pet tracker, but the AirTag can help you find your pet if it’s in the vicinity of someone who uses that tracker, and the user network—everyone with an Apple smartphone or tablet—is far larger than Pawscout’s.
Understand Pet Tracker Limitations
Despite the generally solid tracking performance, none of these devices flawlessly delivered up-to-the-moment info on my dog’s whereabouts. That’s partly by design: In order to preserve battery power, the trackers typically geolocate only once every few minutes—and, of course, a dog can go a long way in that amount of time.
Most of them do have a special “lost” or “live” or “find my dog” mode that you can activate if you realize your dog has gone missing, in which case you’ll get more frequent location updates as you try to catch up with your pet. That’s an important and useful feature. But the time lag on the default mode means you may not immediately realize your dog is AWOL. And even in lost mode we found that all the devices were sometimes imprecise, sending slightly wrong addresses or locating the dog in a slightly incorrect location on the map.
What’s more, none of these devices consistently alerted me as soon as Luna left our home “safe zone” or escaped the “geofence” I’d set up. And they often mistakenly sent me alerts that she had left even when she was safely at home. These particular shortcomings seem related to the fact that the safe zone and geofencing features rely partly on your home WiFi network, which (as we all know) can be spotty and inconsistent.
The bottom line is that these devices are not electronic caregivers, so you still need to keep track of your pets and train them not to wander too far. The tracking features are best used as a tool of last resort in the event your dog bolts despite your ordinary precautions.
Practice Tracking Before Your Dog Gets Lost
No matter which tracker you choose, make sure to get comfortable with the device and app before using it in a potential escape scenario, and practice tracking your pet while someone else takes it for a walk. Even on the best trackers, some important features aren’t perfectly intuitive, and you don’t want to be figuring out how to use the app—or recognizing the tracker’s limitations—while frantically searching for your missing pet.
Best Overall and CR Best Buy: Tractive GPS Dog LTE
Service: $84 per year
First-year cost: $134
The Tractive GPS Dog LTE is the top-scoring model in our testing even before considering price. When you factor in that it costs significantly less than the two runners-up—the price for the unit plus a one-year cellular subscription cost is $134, vs. $249 for the Fi and $203 for Whistle—it’s the clear favorite.
The Tractive was especially easy to set up and use. Light and compact yet sturdy, the slender unit easily attaches to any dog collar and would fit comfortably on most small dogs and even cats. The app is among the best of the bunch, with a clean and intuitive interface.
In the “live” mode, which you activate if your pet goes AWOL, it geolocates every 2 to 3 seconds, which is more frequent than the other tested models. (Fi does it once a minute; Whistle, every 15 seconds.) This makes for more precise tracking, showing you locations almost in real time, though it may also mean a shorter battery life as a result.
It has a couple of minor weaknesses. Most of these devices allow you to activate a light on the tracker, or have it emit a sound, to help you find your dog when it’s relatively close. This can be especially helpful in the dark or in, say, a densely wooded area where a dog could be nearby but hard to spot. But both the light and the sound emitted by the Tractive tracker are too weak to see or hear from more than a short distance.
It’s also worth noting that the Tractive’s claimed battery life is seven days. That’s a fairly long time, and recharging is easy, but other models are claimed to work up to three times as long without recharging.
Runner-Up: Whistle Go Explore
Service: $99 per year
First-year cost: $203
The Whistle Go Explore is lightweight yet solidly constructed. The claimed battery life of “up to 20 days” beats the Tractive by a sizable margin. The Whistle has a strong light for spotting your dog at night, but (despite the name) does not emit any sound. In lost pet mode, it geolocates every 15 seconds, which is more frequently than all but the Tractive.
One small knock: It can’t be charged without removing it from the collar, an extra step that might lead you to accidentally head out for a walk without your tracker.
The Whistle app stands out for the level of activity and health data available: It graphs activity levels throughout the day, creates a daily timeline of activities, and breaks out time spent on various behaviors, including negative ones like scratching and licking that, if excessive, might signal a problem. The clear, intuitive daily timelines also include expandable maps showing location history, which is especially useful if, say, you’re away at work and want to be sure that someone, whether your teenager or a dog walker, got Fido out for a walk.
Runner-Up: Fi Series 2
Service: $99 per year
First-year cost: $249
The Fi, the most expensive tracker that we tested, stands out for its solid, handsome construction. It comes attached to a sturdy, metal-reinforced collar (available in several colors and sizes) and is relatively heavy as a result. The tracker’s light is bright enough to spot from afar at night, but it does not emit any sound. The claimed battery life is an ample two weeks to three months, depending on your dog’s activity (the more your dog moves, the more it geolocates, which drains battery).
One potential problem is that in lost dog mode, the Fi tracker updates its location only once per minute. Your dog could get pretty far in that time, making it harder to pinpoint its location.
That said, the app is nicely intuitive. Detailed location histories are mapped out and arranged on daily timelines. Steps and naps are tracked and charted.
Although it performs its core function competently, the plasticky Link feels less sturdy than other trackers, and the app does not record or map its location history—something that all the other recommended trackers do. It also can’t be recharged without removing it from the dog collar.
On the other hand, it has a very bright light (for spotting your dog in the dark) and, unlike the others models, the activity tracking features of the app differentiate between minutes spent walking and running. That can be a useful feature if, like me, you want to make sure that your dog gets some high-intensity exercise each day, which doesn’t necessarily happen during an ordinary walk.
Another unique feature: It can monitor the ambient temperature of your pet’s environment and alert you if the environment is too hot or too cold. (The Cube will alert you to excessive heat but not cold.)
Cube GPS Real Time
Service: $198 per year
First-year cost: $228
The Cube is not specifically intended for pet tracking but to help people keep track of a range of possessions, including cars, luggage, and kids backpacks, as well as pets. That puts the Cube at a disadvantage as a pet tracker, despite its competent core tracking abilities. The device is relatively large and heavy, but most dog collars won’t fit through its thin slots, so you need to purchase an add-on collar clip for $25. More significantly, the app lacks pet-specific features like fitness and activity tracking and a light beacon for spotting your dog at night.
On the other hand, it does let you set a home “safe zone” and virtual fence, and does emit a fairly loud sound alert. It’s also very solidly constructed, creates detailed and easy-to-read location histories, and, like the Link, is capable of delivering high-temperature alerts.