How Do GPS Dog Trackers Work?

Published: 8/31/2021

If you have a dog that likes to roam, you might have considered getting a GPS dog tracker. GPS dog trackers are an excellent tool for keeping tabs on your dog when they’re out and about. GPS dog trackers will relay your pet's location in real time and help you find your fur-baby should you get separated.

But how do these trackers work, and are they effective? We'll answer all your questions about these devices and help you pick the best type of GPS dog tracker for your canine.


What are the types of GPS dog trackers?

There are a few different types of GPS dog trackers, which all work in unique ways. Here are the most common: 

  • Cellular trackers: These have a sim card inside and rely on cellular towers to transmit data about your pet's location to your phone.

  • Radio trackers: These are an older and bulkier type of GPS tracker that relies on a radio transmitter to track your pet's movements.

  • Bluetooth trackers: This is a short-range tracker that pairs with your phone.

  • Mixed trackers: Mixed trackers have 2 different methods for tracking, usually cellular and radio technology.


How do GPS dog trackers work?

How GPS dog trackers work depends on the type of tracker you have. For example, cellular trackers and Bluetooth trackers work completely differently. Let's explore how these different types of trackers work. 

Cellular trackers

The transmitter in cellular trackers has a built-in GPS chip that determines your pet's location by transmitting information from GPS satellites in space, measuring the distance between the GPS chip and the nearest GPS satellite. The signal then pings cellular towers, sending your pet's GPS coordinates directly to your smartphone. The smartphone app interprets your pet's GPS coordinates and then displays your pet's position on a map. 

Radio trackers

Radio trackers depend on a handheld transceiver rather than an app to receive the pet's GPS coordinates. The transceiver sends requests to the transmitter on the pet's collar regarding the pet's location.

The information is then relayed back to the transceiver in one of two ways. Modules with GPS technology will transmit the pet's position in the form of coordinates to the transceiver. The transceiver then translates the coordinates into the pet's position on a map.

If the module doesn't have a GPS chip, the transmitter will relay the pet's position in terms of distance and direction from the transceiver. This type of GPS dog tracker is a good choice for areas with poor cellular reception. 

Bluetooth trackers

As the name suggests, Bluetooth trackers connect to your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. These trackers work through an app that will pinpoint your pet's location in relation to your smart device.

Bluetooth trackers are a good choice for small pets since they are lightweight, though they do have a downside. Bluetooth trackers have the shortest range of all the trackers on this list.

Mixed trackers

Mixed trackers are some of the newest GPS dog tracking technology on the market. This type of GPS dog tracker uses 2 methods for relaying your pet's location to you.

Like most GPS trackers on this list, mixed trackers rely on a module with a GPS chip that connects to your pet's collar. The collar module connects to another module carried by the pet parents and transmits the location information via radio waves.

The pet parent's module then sends information from the pet's module to an app on the pet parent's phone. Many pet parents like this type of transmitter since it connects to their cell phone but doesn't require a separate SIM card or line of cellular service to work.


What to look for in a GPS tracker

There are a few things you should look for in a quality GPS dog tracker.

First and foremost, the GPS dog tracker should be the appropriate size and weight for your dog — a GPS tracker is pointless if your dog can't wear it.

Secondly, it should be durable and water-resistant. Battery life is another thing to consider when choosing a GPS tracker since you'll want something that will last a couple of days between charges at least. 

The most important thing you should look into when choosing a GPS collar is positional accuracy and the frequency of positional updates. Frequent and accurate positional updates mean you'll be able to know where your dog is at all times.

Lastly, you'll want to pick a GPS dog tracker that's free to use or has affordable monthly fees. Cellular trackers require a separate line of service, which incurs a monthly fee. Likewise, some other trackers charge fees to use the corresponding app.


Do GPS dog trackers work?

The short answer is yes, GPS dog trackers work, but they do have their shortcomings. Cellular trackers, for instance, only work where there is service, so if your dog enters an area where there is no reception, your dog's location could be temporarily lost.

Bluetooth trackers also have their flaws — these typically only have a range of a mile or less and aren't the best option for pets. Because of the limited range, these are rarely recommended for pets but rather for keys or accessories. Radio trackers can be inconvenient to use due to the need for a transceiver, though these work quite well.

GPS dog trackers are an excellent tool for pet loss prevention. While some work better than others, it's safe to say that having a tracker on your dog is better than not having one at all. Sure, GPS dog trackers can be costly, but think of them as an investment for the safety of your pup. 

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