The Best Pet GPS Tracker
How We Found the Best Pet GPS Tracker
32 trackers considered
13 devices tested
2 top picks
The Best Pet GPS Tracker
The best pet GPS tracker gives you a better shot at wrangling furry escape artists before they've gotten too far from home. We researched 32 pet trackers, tested 13 for function and convenience, and found two that will help you keep your pet safe.
How We Chose the Best Pet GPS Trackers
GPS tracking from reputable manufacturers
We started our search with a list of every GPS pet tracker we could find. Turns out, some "GPS trackers" actually rely on other methods of tracking. We take a look at other technologies later in this review, but GPS is generally the most practical for pet owners. We also focused on products that were clearly geared for pet tracking. You can get GPS devices that aren't pet-specific, but these aren’t built to attach securely or comfortably to collars. So we didn't include “anything finders” like Tile.
We also wanted pet trackers that came from reputable manufacturers, meaning they had to have their own websites. Several models on Amazon had manufacturers we were unable to track down, so there’s no one to hold accountable if the device breaks a month after you buy it.
Whether your dog loves exploring dense underbrush or digging under the fence, the best pet tracker should be secure enough to stay on in any environment. So, we attached each GPS tracker to a collar, then checked how easy it was to dislodge.
The trackers took a variety of approaches. Some secure themselves via thick rubber bands that stretch around the collar, others twist to lock and unlock from a base mounted to the collar. Two companies, AKC and Nuzzle, integrate their trackers into the collars themselves. These all felt solid.
The only tracker we eliminated here was the GoFindR. It's a heavy, blocky tracker that slides onto a flimsy plastic mount attached to your dog's collar — and then slides right back off again with little pressure. In this case, more bulk meant worse performance.
Customizable safe zones
A safe zone (or geofence) is an area where you allow your pet to spend time unsupervised, like your yard. When your dog enters or leaves this area, the pet tracker sends a signal to the mobile app, which sends an alert to your phone.
From there, you can activate live tracking via the app, follow your pet's location in real time, and intercept their route. Some pet trackers come with pre-sized safe zones, and some let you create your own. But if a safe zone can’t be customized, it’s likely to be too big, too small, or simply the wrong shape: Maybe your yard is shaped like Nevada to the safe zone's Colorado.
A mismatch like this means your device can end up sending alerts when your dog is still safely in the yard — or well after they've escaped. We preferred trackers that offered as much safe-zone customization as possible.
If your pet leaves its safe zone, three things should happen:
- Get a phone notification.
- Open the map on your app and wait for your pet's current location to load.
- Keep tabs on your pet's location by either manually refreshing the map or by toggling into "live-tracking" mode, which provides constant positioning updates.
To be effective, we expected our pet trackers to complete all of these steps quickly and accurately. We traced inconsistent performance back to two factors: The quality of your tracker's cellular connection, and how often your tracker refreshes its GPS position.
Cell signal is totally out of your control: If you live in an area that has decent service, it's not likely to be a problem. (More on that in our guide below.) However, your tracker's refresh rate — how often it updates its GPS positioning — is something that the manufacturer gets to choose.
It might seem like the best GPS tracker would update your pet’s location as often as possible, but Alan Antin, Research Director at Gartner (where he focuses on wearable devices), warned us that if a tracker refreshes frequently, “the biggest concern is going to be battery life.”
For this reason, we liked products that let us control how often the GPS updated. If you know your pet is going to be at home and inside all day, you can set the device to update less often. But as soon as they’re roaming around outside, you can temporarily set higher-frequency updates.
Even the most accurate GPS is useless if it dies while your pet is still on the run. But if you read through user reviews of most pet trackers, a short battery life is one of the most common complaints. To compare the trackers’ batteries objectively, we fully charged them all, turned off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on the phone they were connected to (so they couldn’t conserve battery) and left them stationary for a day, checking in every 6, 12, and 24 hours.
The 2 Best Pet GPS Trackers
Why we chose it
The quality that most sets the Whistle 3 apart is its battery life. When we took the devices out of their safe zones for five hours to test live tracking, the Whistle 3 returned home boasting a comfortable 93% charge. If your pet runs away, this ensures that you've got more than a few hours to find him. And when we ran our more controlled, stationary battery life test, Whistle 3 came out on top again, with a remarkable 86% battery after 24 hours.
Accurate notifications and tracking
The Whistle 3 doesn't make a trade-off for its battery longevity, either. When we left safe zones or re-entered them, it always sent notifications within two minutes, and usually sooner. Notifications from others (like Pod 3) lagged behind substantially, sometimes never showing up at all. Plus, Whistle 3’s notifications aren’t just prompt, they’re specific and informative.
Tracking the device when your pet is on the run is similarly practical: Touch the “Track” button, and it loads the tracker’s current location quickly and updates continuously until you tell it to stop.
Customizable safe zones
We loved how the Whistle 3's safe zones are entirely in your control: Just type in an address, then adjust the four corner points into whatever arrangement works best; oddly shaped yards or specific off-limits areas are accommodated with ease. You can also add as many zones as you like, perfect for pets who stay somewhere else while their owners are out of town.
In addition to effortless activity tracking, Whistle includes a few extras, offering insight into your pet’s activity, and letting you set daily goals based on measurements for a healthy pet of the same breed — helpful if you're watching your pet's weight. We appreciated these extras on top of the Whistle 3's already stellar performance.
Points to consider
Aside from the Nuzzle, every pet tracker we tested requires a subscription. The app is free, but you’ll have to pay $80 for the device itself, then choose a service plan. Whistle gives you three options: $10 for monthly payments (with a year’s commitment), $95 upfront for a year of service; or $167 upfront for two years of service. That’s slightly higher than average, with several devices going as low as $80 for the device and one year of service.
Why we chose it
Lots of trackers, including the Whistle 3, require a smartphone to operate. Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us, given that a recent survey from Pew Research Center found that 77 percent of Americans own smartphones. But if you're one of the remaining 23 percent, Trax Play GPS Tracker is one of the only pet trackers we saw that can be accessed through a web application in addition to a smartphone app.
Customizable safe zones
The Trax doesn't offer a ton of extras like activity tracking, but the features it does offer (geofencing and outdoor tracking) are thoughtfully customizable. In fact, Trax Play’s geofences are even more customizable than Whistle 3’s “places” — you can make them any polygon you please or draw them freehand and set them up to be active only on certain days of the week. Say your workplace allows pets in-office on Fridays or you drop your pet off at doggie daycare every day before work — you can activate pre-set safe zones for each scenario.
The Trax also has a “sleep mode” to help preserve battery life: The devices goes to sleep after five minutes of inactivity, reactivating as soon as it senses motion. This meant that, even when we requested 15-second location updates, the battery lasted over a day (although it still didn’t come close the Whistle 3). If you don't need quite such frequent location updates, you can also select from a range between 10 and 60 seconds.
If you go with Trax Play, you’ll have a similar pricing scheme to Whistle 3. The device costs $99, and a plan costs $54 for six months of service, $72 for a year, or $96 for two years. That’s $4 less than the Whistle 3 for a one-year commitment.
Points to consider
T-Mobile 2G coverage
One key difference between the Trax Play and the Whistle 3 is its cellular service provider. Rather than AT&T — the carrier Whistle 3 uses — Trax Play uses T-Mobile 2G. Generally, T-Mobile offers less comprehensive coverage than AT&T. But its coverage is better in some urban areas (a discovery we made when we reviewed cell phone plans).
If you live in an area that has spotty cell reception, we'd suggest comparing T-Mobile and AT&T to see which is the best option. And we'd suggest using RootMetric's mobile coverage map to do this. This third-party survey operation provides an unbiased report of coverage at the neighborhood and even the backyard level.
One of the Trax Play’s greatest drawbacks is that it’s only water-resistant, rather than waterproof. That means it won’t be protected if it gets completely submerged underwater. If your dog’s running down to the local watering hole for a swim every chance they get, you’re better off opting for a totally waterproof pet tracker like the Whistle 3.
The Trax Play attaches to a pet’s collar via a flexible silicon case. You thread the collar through that case, then stretch the case over the device — there’s nothing directly connecting it to your pet’s collar. We’re confident it’ll stay on through everyday wear, but if a branch were to catch it at precisely the right angle, it would be less likely to stay put than the Whistle 3.
How to find the right pet tracker for you
Be familiar with local signal strength before you buy a pet tracker
Tall buildings can interfere with a GPS signal (although we didn’t have any issues testing in downtown Seattle); weak cell service can also impact reliability. We suggest testing any tracker you order in your own neighborhood before trusting it to keep your pet safe, and making sure your tracker uses a cell carrier with good coverage in your area. Our top picks use AT&T (Whistle 3) and T-Mobile (Trax Play).
Consider alternatives for poor reception areas
If you live in a GPS or cellular dead zone, GPS may not be the tech you’re looking for. Other options, like Radio Frequency or Bluetooth trackers, can bypass the need for your phone to connect with a cell tower or satellite.
Trackers that use Radio Frequency (RF) are often advertised as being more light-weight than GPS trackers — but they also have a shorter range. Scott Amyx, Managing Partner of Amyx Ventures and wearable tech pioneer, told us that RF trackers can pick up a signal within a 25- to 50-mile radius, depending on the vendor.
If you're interested in going this route, the MARCOPOLO was one model we ran into quite a bit. Bluetooth trackers are another option but have the shortest range of all (one, Pawscout, advertises 300 feet as its limit). Depending on your location, one of these options may be more practical than GPS, but for everyone else, it's hard to beat a GPS tracker’s theoretically unlimited range.
Decode waterproof ratings
If your dog is a frequent swimmer, a waterproof rating can (literally) make or break a pet tracker. Trax Play’s rating is IP65 (protected from water shooting out of a “nozzle”); Whistle 3’s is IPX7 (protected from immersion in water up to three feet).
Set up your pet tracker
Setting up your pet GPS tracker typically involves five steps:
- Download your device’s accompanying app
- Set up your profile and cellular service plan (if needed)
- Activate the device, usually by typing in a serial number or via Bluetooth connection.
- Establish a GPS connection, usually by standing outside “in an open area for 15 minutes.
- Customize your settings, like safe zones and refresh rates.
Pet GPS Tracker FAQ
Our Pet GPS Tracker Review: Summed-Up
More Pet-Related Reviews
There’s a lot more to keeping your pet happy and healthy than tracking their whereabouts. Check out some of our other reviews for pet owners: