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. All trackers on the market right now are somewhat bulky, making them more suited to medium and large dog breeds than to toy breeds, or cats. GPS trackers contain a GPS chip and SIM card and communicate your pet’s position to your phone via cellular network, alerting you if they’ve left safety, letting you track your pet’s routes, and sometimes even tracking physical activity levels. All those features come in handy for owners, but the tech has limitations: They’re only useful if you’re in an area with good GPS and cellular coverage, and you’ll usually pay a monthly fee for cell service (to the tracker company, not your go-to cellular provider).

We found the Whistle 3 Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor to be far-and-away the best option on the market: It reliably sends timely alerts when it leaves a safe zone, operates via an intuitive app, and its battery holds a charge much longer than its competitors. It keeps track of your pet’s activity, too — a useful extra if you want to hold yourself accountable for giving your pet the exercise they need. Plus, the hardware is low-profile, waterproof, and easy to secure on the collar of any pet who weighs eight pounds or more. The device costs $80, and you'll pay about $10 per month for cell service.

If you live in an area that gets better coverage from T-Mobile than AT&T (the Whistle’s cell provider), if you want a tracker than can be accessed via desktop and not just a mobile app, or if you don't care about activity tracking, we also liked the Trax Play GPS Tracker. It has fewer features than the Whistle does, but it tracks accurately and its app is incredibly easy to use. It’s not quite as durable as other trackers though, so we can’t recommend it if your pet’s a swimmer or is especially determined to get accessories off her collar. The Trax retails for $99, and cell service is about $9 per month. (You'll need to pay for at least six months upfront.)

Our Picks for the Best Pet GPS Tracker

Best
Overall
Whistle 3 Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor
Whistle 3
The perfect balance between long battery life, prompt updates, and well-designed app.

The pet tracker market is full devices that over-promise and under-deliver. The Whistle 3 Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor is the stark exception. It was a top performer across every category, consistently sending helpful, accurate notifications, with tech that's best-in-class.

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 LINK AKC was dead long before the end of our test, and most of the others were severely depleted. The Whistle 3 returned home boasting a comfortable 93-percent charge. If your pet runs away, this ensures that you've got more than a few hours to find him.

Extend battery life further by adding WiFi locations.If you set up your Whistle’s places (the sitter’s house, your workplace) with WiFi, you’ll conserve battery life when your pet’s in these areas.

In our more controlled, stationary battery life test, Whistle 3 came out on top again. There were just two devices with battery life that competed with the Whistle 3 — the Pod 3 and The Paw Tracker — but we found them to be less accurate at actually tracking. (Plus, we’re not sure we trust the Pod 3’s displayed battery percentage, which increased between 12 and 24 hours.) The Whistle doesn't make a trade-off for its battery longevity. When we left safe zones or re-entered them, Whistle 3 always sent notifications within two minutes, and usually sooner. Notifications from others (like Pod 3) lagged behind substantially, sometimes never showing up at all.

The Nuzzle was the Whistle 3’s closest competition in terms of prompt notifications, but its safe zones were less customizable and its battery drains more quickly. By contrast, the Whistle 3's safe zones (Whistle calls them “places”) are entirely in your control: Type in an address, then adjust four corner points into whatever arrangement works best; oddly shaped yards or specific off-limits areas are accommodated with ease. Plus, Whistle 3’s notifications aren’t just prompt, they’re specific and informative.

Alert-comparison-for-Pet-GPS-Tracker

“Heads up, Tony is 300 feet from Home” with an approximate address was more useful than the generic messages we got from nearly every other tracker.

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.

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.

Whistle-collage-for-Pet-GPS-Tracker

The Whistle 3 opens up to a map showing the current location of the device (and you) — a swipe up reveals a list of notifications, and a separate page stores activity data.

The app is free, but buying the Whistle 3 is like buying a cheap cell phone: You’ll 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.

Another pet GPS tracker to consider

Runner-Up
Trax Play GPS Tracker
Trax Play
Not quite as impressive as the Whistle 3, but a solid runner-up that doesn't require a smartphone and uses T-Mobile rather than AT&T.

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 can be accessed through a web application in addition to a smartphone app. It also gives the Whistle 3 a solid run for its money, with an easy-to-use design plus responsive live tracking.

The Trax doesn't offer extras like activity tracking, which means its apps is minimalist, 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 dog off at Grandma’s every day before work — you can activate pre-set safe zones for each scenario.

Trax-Play-collage-for-Pet-GPS-Tracker

The Trax Play app is simple: The homepage is a map showing where you and the tracker are located, a geofencing tab allows for customization of safe zones, and another tap lets you search for your dog using Augmented Reality.

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.

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.

Decode waterproof ratings.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). You can learn more about waterproof rating systems here.

Trax Play has a couple of potential drawbacks, depending on your pet. The device itself is water-resistant, rather than waterproof, so it’s not the right pick if your dog’s a swimmer. And the tracker 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.

Trax-Play-attachment-for-Pet-GPS-Tracker

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.

Pet Tracker Buying Guide

If you live in an area with poor reception, consider GPS alternatives.

If you live in a GPS or cellular deadzone, 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 practical than GPS, but for everyone else, it's hard to beat a GPS tracker’s theoretically unlimited range.

Don’t see anything you like? Keep an eye on the market.

The pet tracker market is new, and expanding quickly. If you're looking for additional options, we found a few products that haven't been released yet but which we're keeping our eye on:

  • For style & features: The Scollar is available for pre-order in four sizes. It advertises RF and cellular tech in a brushed-metal accented collar. It promises the ability to open RF-enabled pet doors and send you feeding reminders. Two others also caught our eye: the Wüftracker says it’ll track location and activities and help train your dog through features like “gamified” training and two-way communication; and the Kyon collar would be the subtlest tracker we’ve seen yet (and looks straight out of the movie Up, to boot).
  • For cats: A couple companies are trying to corner the as-of-yet untapped marked for cat GPS trackers. Pawtrack is slated for release in late May 2018 and claims to be “designed for cats and cats only”, is “splashproof” instead of waterproof, and unclasps if it gets caught on something. Similar features are planned for the cat-specific tracker Tractive is releasing “later this year."

No matter what tracker you get, you should also microchip your pet.

Getting your pet microchipped allows a shelter or vet to scan the chip in an emergency and find identifying and contact information. A GPS tracker may seem like it’ll cover you in any scenario, but it should be viewed as a complement to microchipping, not a replacement.

"When you microchip a pet, you're able to capture other vital information about their pet, such as medical conditions or whether they were spayed or neutered. You record the owners' contact information, as well as the veterinarian's. That information is always available, and no battery is required!"

A GPS tracker can alert you before your pet gets too far away to find, but a microchip services a vital purpose if someone else finds your pet first, or if your GPS tracker dies before you can locate him. In Dr. Trimble’s words, “if the pet has a tendency to run away,” a GPS tracker “can be a helpful tool.” But you should still get your pet microchipped.

Our Pet GPS Tracker Review: Summed-Up

Pet Tracker
Best...
Whistle 3 Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor
Overall
Trax Play GPS Tracker
Runner-Up

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