Not everyone has a trained bloodhound available to find their pet when their favorite furball decides to go on their own adventure. Luckily, some tech-savvy, dog-loving people have come up with a solution: The dog tracker, aka, a small device that attaches to your dog and gives you their location at any given time.
We’re looking at two options for tracking your pup: the more classical version, designed specifically for tracking dogs, the Fi Series 2, and the Apple AirTag, which can be slightly repurposed from its original intention of being a key or item tracker.
OK, but why do you need a tracker for your dog?
Some dogs have a high prey drive and are apt to chase after a squirrel at the slightest provocation. Others are escape artists. Maybe it’s not the dog itself, but you have a child or even an adult family member who just cannot remember to close the gate. Maybe you’re worried about what happens if a leash breaks while you’re out. It happens.
Having backup is a great idea.
Let’s have a look at each tracker and see what they offer for you and your wayward woof.
The Crunchy Bit…
The numbers can be really important, and sometimes they can lend insight you might not otherwise have, so here it is.
How do these things work?
The Fi Series 2 relies on AT&T’s signal, which is contained in the annual subscription cost of the device ($99 annually per device).
Your WiFi, the charging bases the device comes with (for at home), and connecting via your phone’s Bluetooth (while you’re out) all function as support for the Fi module’s location tracking. This does mean that when you’re out and about, your phone’s battery will be taking a hit. The module’s slow refresh rate helps conserve the tracker’s battery.
Comparatively, AirTags “crowd source” the signal, leveraging the signal of other Apple users in the area and registering the location where your AirTag pinged someone else’s Apple device. The location data is shared with you as your dog’s last known locale. This can get problematic when trying to find your pet, which can move of its own accord, unlike your keys.
How do trackers find your lost pet?
Fi offers a lost dog mode that increases the tracker’s refresh rate to every minute. This allows you to track the direction your dog has come from and shows you exactly where they are as a point on a map. If you need to drive (because, let’s say, your dog is running full pace after a deer), you can find him just like you would your destination on Google Maps. Well, except for the fact that the destination is likely a moving target when it’s your dog.
Credit: screengrab: fi series 2
Credit: screengrab: apple
Apple hasn’t said what the radius is on the AirTag, but it’s estimated to be about 800 feet if it’s based on Bluetooth 5.0, like the latest iPhones are. In terms of coverage, that doesn’t narrow down the area too well when you’re searching for your dog.
Apple also gives you an arrow that moves on your screen pointing to the last known location of your dog. A panicking dog in a less populated area could theoretically get lost and keep moving faster than you could keep up.
In comparison, because Fi uses the AT&T Signal, you can track them from Texas to Minnesota — just so long as there’s a signal and the tracker’s battery is alive.
What do the trackers look like?
None of us wants their dog looking silly in the dog park. The AirTag is a small silver disc — about the size of a quarter and weighing 11 grams — with a white glossy back. Apple (being Apple) doesn’t offer a collar. You can go for a bespoke collar or something as simple as a silicon “brace,” which fixes to a collar, to attach the tracker to. There’s also the keyring option that can also hold the rest of your dog’s tags.
Fi offers a series of harnesses and collars that work with their tracker (which weighs 39 grams) and its specific clips. They offer a really wide selection of accessories and materials. Third-party retailers also sell small pouches designed to hold the Fi device that can attach to pre-existing collars and harnesses.
How’s the battery life?
The Apple AirTags last much longer, without a doubt — up to a year. It’s also the easier battery, replaceable with a standard shop-bought battery to last you another year.
With the Fi Series 2, the battery is rechargeable. It lasted us about 4 weeks on average before needing to be reconnected to the base for a charge. All the charging equipment does come with it, which is nice.
How robust are they?
My dogs have given their Fi collars a real workout by being their adventurous selves, and the Fi device is still kicking. Would the Apple AirTag be quite as robust? It’s already gotten quite scratched up, but it still works so far.
Are they waterproof?
Got a dog who likes a swim? Then you’re going to have to look at how deep they go, because the Apple AirTag is water resistant to 3 feet and the Fi module is water resistant to 6 feet. (Fi IP68 vs. Apple IP67, if you want to get technical).
How much do they cost?
There’s no real argument here. The Fi Tracker costs more at $129 and requires a subscription to get the most out of it. The annual subscription per device is $99, and there is no multi-dog discount.
The Apple AirTag is so simple and functional at the cost of $30 that if a tracker is all you need in a populated area, this might well be the best choice.
Can another person use them?
Got more than one responsible adult in your house? Have a dog walker? You can all track your dog and its progress in the Fi app.
For Apple, only one person can access the information and track or locate your dog, unless you give someone access to your iCloud log-in details and access to “Find My” with your credentials on their phone. If not, if you’re out of town or you’re at work and your dog walker can’t find your dog, you’re back without a tracker, effectively. With Fi, where it’s map-based, even if you haven’t given access to someone and aren’t present, you can direct someone else to where your dog is so long as your the Fi module is sufficiently charged and attached and you have the ability to communicate with your dogs’ care-giver.
What else can they do?
Only one of these devices has extra capacities and other features, and that’s the Fi Series 2 Collar, which also offers an activity tracker, geofencing, and a sleep monitor.
The Fi activity tracker allows you to set daily step goals for your dog and see how far they’ve walked. You also get an hour-by-hour breakdown of the number of steps your dog has taken; you can go back through their history to see if there’s anything amiss or awry. I love data whenever I can get it, and this can give you insights into sudden dips in health, or alert you if your woof is getting too much exercise and not enough of either mental stimulation or sleep!
Credit: screengrab: fi series 2
Credit: screengrab: fi series 2
If I’m honest, this is the feature I wish everyone had. Dogs are crepuscular by nature, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. A full-grown dog should be getting 14 to 16 hours of sleep per day (more than you thought, huh?).
This tracker can very quickly tell you not only how much sleep your pup is getting but also whether they’re having interruptions in their sleep. This can be a phenomenal insight into behavioral issues, which often occur due to an imbalance in your dogs’ lifestyle.
You can set a number of secure areas where your dog is allowed to be. When the refresh rate of the Fi series 2 module triggers outside of that zone, you instantly get an alert to your phone telling you your dog is out. This is the feature that gives me the most peace of mind.
Which tracker should I get?
This wholly depends on where you live and what you like to do with your dog.
If you’ve got a city mouse sort of family where you walk on busy streets or frequent city parks, you’re probably going to be A-OK with an AirTag. They’re affordable, they take very little tending to, and they can be a great backup.
But if you’re going to be hiking, or you live somewhere more remote (my country mouse friends!) you need something that has better tracking capabilities. If your dog is shy or not keen on people, you want something that doesn’t rely on the presence of others.
And, if you want additional functionality to keep track of your dogs’ health, exercise, sleep and to get insights into behavior? Then you, my friend, need Fi.
Ali Smith is a positive puppy expert helping new puppy parents get things right, right from the start.