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Does your dog suffer from wanderlust? Or during those long summertime hikes, do you worry that she might follow her nose just a little too far and turn up missing? Or would you like additional peace of mind while exploring the backcountry with your dog? A Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device could help allay those concerns. There are now at least five products on the market that can help you track down your pooch. Three require monthly service charges beyond the initial purchase (Globalpetfinder , Pocketfinder and Zoombak ), while two employ handheld tracking devices and have no monthly charges (RoamEO  and Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System ).
All of the units, with the exception of the Astro, work by having you set a virtual fence by either walking around the desired perimeter or, in the case of Zoombak and Globalpetfinder, logging the zone size into their system; you are then alerted if your dog, who is wearing the GPS unit on her collar, breaches those limits. (Note: these units do not function as electronic or “invisible” fences.) The units vary as to how the alert is sent and received as well as how the live action of your departing dog can be followed and charted.
Pocketfinder’s PetFinder, the newest ($130, $15/month), uses the nifty Microsoft Virtual Earth platform for its mapping interface. When your dog moves beyond the allowable zone, you receive an alert via a text message or e-mail—meaning you have to have your cell phone or be near a computer to receive it. A prototype was recently tested by a Los Angeles Times writer, who noted that the alert came minutes after his dog had left the zone, and that the map had a slow refresh rate (five minutes).
Zoombak ($200, $15/month) works in a similar manner, but you set the boundary by logging it into their system on a computer. Its mapping interface might not be as refined as Pocketfinder’s, but the device can be refreshed manually, so the wanderer’s location can be established in a matter of seconds. Globalpetfinder ($290, up to $19.98/month) also uses cell phones, PDAs and computers for the alert. You can create a virtual fence of any size through their online command center, and up to five fence locations can be stored. The easiest way to use this device is in its “Basic Mode,” which does not entail setting up a zone; all you do is dial F-O-U-N-D from an account-activated cell phone, and you will be told your dog’s location.
Two cautionary notes: Since many areas have unreliable, or nonexistent, cell phone coverage or less-than-ideal Internet connectivity, be sure your area can be serviced by these systems. Also, almost all of these devices are for medium to large dogs, as the size and weight of the units are likely to overwhelm the small guys.
The two products that use hand-held receiver devices and do not rely on cell phone coverage to track the dog should be more popular with outdoors enthusiasts. The Astro (about $642) by Garmin, one of the first manufacturers of GPS devices, has a range of five miles, and claims to even be able to tell whether a dog is on point (or perhaps sniffing a gopher hole!) or running. The wireless receiving transponder is worn either on a collar or on a harness that holds the antenna upright. The dog’s location is radioed to a handheld unit, which has a compass showing the precise distance and direction your dog is moving.
For those who are less than adept at compass reading, it also has a map page showing nearby roads and other landmarks; the location alerts update every five seconds. With the RoamEO GPS Pet Location System ($400), the radio unit is mounted on its own rechargeable collar and your dog can be detected at a distance of up to one mile; plus, it allows you to set up a virtual fence (making it adaptable to home use). Like the Astro, you can also clock the speed of your dog; up to three dogs can be monitored by one unit.
One of the most attractive features of any of these systems (except for the Astro, which mainly functions as a tracking device) is the alert you receive if your dog strays out of her allowable space. Nothing is better than having a well-trained dog with spot-on recall skills. But for some, knowing that those “eyes in the sky” are watching their wandering pup could provide that extra bit of comfort.
A. Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System
D. Pocketfinder PetFinder (Location Based Technologies)
RoamEO GPS Pet Location System
C. Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator