No matter how good “Rover” may be at climbing over or burrowing under fences, he should never be lost again…if you can afford to buy him the right collar.
What’s the statistical probability that a collar that can report where your dog has gone might reunite you with your pet? In 2012, the ASPCA surveyed over a thousand pet owners. About 15%, 150+ households, had lost a pet during the previous five years. Most of those pets had been found again, mostly by searching the neighborhood or waiting for the animals to find their own way home. (Almost 70% of lost cats found their own way home.) About 15% of lost dogs were traced through tags or microchips. Only 6% were found by checking local animal shelters.
So, when a dog gets lost, its human family’s best hope of finding it is searching the neighborhood. Now, technology offers a way to reduce the wasted time and frustration that process normally involves. A GPS collar automatically reports to your cell phone which block on which street Rover has reached. Even if you know the chances are that Rover is either barking at squirrels in the riverfront park or trying to cadge a meal from the grillmeister at the top of the hill, the GPS collar tells you which it is…or whether something worse has happened.
So why doesn’t every pet have a GPS collar? Our world is not perfect, and, so far, neither are GPS dog collars. Things can go wrong with GPS technology. All the usual things that interfere with cell phone transmission–weather conditions, environment, competing companies, worn-out batteries, failure to pay monthly service charges–could interfere with the process of tracking a lost dog, although, if the device is working properly, enough messages should get through to give you a good idea which way the dog went.
Many GPS dog collars can be programmed to conserve battery power by not sending any signals as long as the dog stays inside a “virtual fence.” Changing the location of the “virtual fence” to include, say, your car, or the veterinary clinic, apparently isn’t as easy as just leaving the collar at home. Yet visits to unfamiliar places are just the kind of stressor that might cause an animal to bolt.
Batteries may last several weeks if the pet stays close to home, but last only a day or two in actual use. (How long would your cell phone battery last if you were calling somebody every ten minutes?) Some locator collar manufacturers specify upfront that the batteries need to be changed and charged daily in order to work.
Another important thing to consider is that many large dogs who like to explore their neighborhoods like to swim. Not all GPS dog collars are waterproof. If you’re looking for a waterproof dog colllar, then here’s a site dedicated to that exact thing: http://waterproofdogcollars.com.
Worst of all for some pet owners, GPS collars are not yet available for cats. The transmitters are too big, and the batteries are too heavy, for small dogs (under ten pounds). For the time being, it looks as if cats and small dogs will have to continue to rely on ordinary identification tags, which work only if a neighbor gets close enough to your lost pet to read the tag.
Finally, GPS collars are not yet cheap; most devices cost $100 or more, and many operate on a monthly service plan.
Still, if you live in a neighborhood that has strict leash laws and your dog just doesn’t understand, that $100 to $250 could buy you a lot of peace of mind…and it just might save your pet’s life.
Meanwhile, people who love cats and small dogs are hoping that the next generation of GPS collars will be light and durable enough to work for small pets too. The idea of receiving cell phone messages that show where a straying pet has gone, and thus how much danger it’s in, tantalizes small pet owners.