On at least two occasions our dog, Crockett, has gotten loose and scared us. A few months back, I’d done some yard work during the day but failed to completely latch the gate to the back yard. My wife, Julia, decided that afternoon to take our dogs outside to play in the backyard. At one point, a squirrel scampered up the fence near the house, ran along the fence and then jumped onto a tree branch that hangs down near the fence at the back of our property. Naturally, the dogs were terribly excited at the prospect of a close encounter of the rodent kind and began sprinting along the fence leaping with all their might at the fence. Nearing the end of the fence, Crockett flung himself at the gate like it was a tackling dummy and to everyone’s surprise, the gate opened!
Julia frantically yelled for help and we gave chase, but by the time we turned the corner they were a good block away from us. They’d run behind the house, exited our street’s alley and were now running away from our house along the street behind our house. I shouted the dogs’ names and Zoe stopped on a dime and sprinted to me, nearly taking me out as she crashed into my legs. Apparently, the taste of freedom was not to her liking; she looked bewildered and terrified. Crockett on the other hand was happier than a pig in slop, sprinting and sniffing whatever he could. That day it took us almost two hours to catch Crockett. I took the approach of jogging and stalking Crockett waiting for him to get bored. But after a good 20-30 or so minutes of this approach, I ran out of endurance and he got out of my line of sight. Thankfully, Crockett has undying love for Julia and at some point after getting away from me, he ran to her when she was a block or two away in paralleling of my pursuit.
As I jogged, huffed and puffed through our neighborhood and nearby park, I wondered to myself, “Why don’t they have anything like my Tile tracking device for pets?” Later that night, Julia and I discussed the possibility of buying a Tile to track each of the dogs. But I felt it’s not quite the right tool for the job. Tile uses Bluetooth on your phone (or anyone’s phone with the Tile app on it) to communicate with the Tile tracker, but Bluetooth’s max theoretical range is roughly 330 feet. In order for the Tile to be useful in tracking your pet, you’d have to be within 330 feet and most likely much closer than that. As I was catching up on social media that night, a review of an interesting pet tracking device caught my attention.
The Tagg Pet Tracker from Whistle is a bit similar to the Tile, but it uses GPS and cellular data capabilities instead of Blueooth, which allows for tracking without having to be in close proximity to your smartphone. Considering Crockett’s previous escapades, I wanted to be able to be proactive in finding him for when he got loose again. I immediately went to Amazon and looked for the Tagg Pet Tracker to buy it right away. At the time, they were not quite ready for sale, and we wound up pre-ordering trackers for both of our dogs.
Towards the end of May we received updates that our Tagg Pet Trackers would be shipping and they showed up the first week of June. When they showed up, they immediately got my attention–it is an interesting product that touched on at least two passions of mine: geeky gadgets and dogs.
Unboxing and Initial Impressions
The Tagg Pet Tracker comprises of two pieces: a base station and the tracker. The base station does double duty as both a charger for the pet tracker and then also as a communications device. I assume that as long as the base station remains in contact with the pet trackers, it handles the tracking of the pets. The cellular data and GPS on the tracker are used in the event that the base station loses connectivity with the tracker. At that point, the tracker begins to communicate directly with the Tagg servers. When using multiple Tagg trackers like we do, they all communicate with the same base station. I assume that the primary reason behind this configuration is that while near your base station, battery usage is diminished since it’s not having to use the cellular data. Similarly, it probably helps Whistle save some money on their cellular bills, which they’re passing along to Tagg subscribers starting at $6.95 per month for monitoring.
Using the Tagg Pet Tracking website you’re able to create a profile for your pet, associating the tracker with that pet and defining where their home base is located. If the tracker shows up outside of that home base, notifications can be sent via e-mail, text message, or push notifications to your phones/tablets via the Tagg Android app or Tagg iOS App. In addition of location tracking, the Tagg Pettracker also can provide temperature-based alerts and also functions as an activity monitor much like fitness trackers like the Fitbit Flex or other fitness trackers.
The first weekend after they arrived, I took out all the trackers, created an account on the Tagg website and created profiles for both Crockett and Zoe. After that, I attempted to associate each of the trackers with the dogs’ profiles by activating them. The activation itself seemed simple enough; using their website you pick which pet the tracker is being associated to and provide an ID code from the back of the pet tracker before placing the tracker on the base station. After sitting on the base station for a little while, the tracker is then activated and ready to be put on a dog. This went very smoothly for the first tracker.
However, the second tracker was more problematic. It was failing after punching in the ID. I checked numerous times and tried to re-enter it, but nothing I tried would help and the error message I got back was very non-specific. Much to my chagrin, I wound up having to call in and speak to their customer service team. After waiting on hold for nearly 25 minutes, a helpful team member worked through a few things with me. Based on our conversation, I made an assumption that for some reason the ID of this device wasn’t in their system. The case was escalated to their technical team and I was told I’d get a call back in up to 48 business hours.
Roughly a week later without hearing anything back, I just tried to register Crockett’s tracker again out of curiosity. Thankfully, it didn’t give me any problems whatsoever and it activated. I was tempted to call back into their support line to let them know it fixed itself on its own, but I thought it would wind up being a hassle so I didn’t bother. Someone eventually emailed me almost two weeks later to let me know that they were happy the second tracker was activated.
My experience with their customer support was pretty disappointing; hopefully that’s just a byproduct of how new the product is and they’ll improve over time.
Tagg on Dogs
When we were pre-ordering the Tagg Pet Tracker, my initial concern was the size of the device. Based on a few Google Images searches, I was a bit concerned the device would be as big as 90’s-style pager strapped to the dogs’ necks. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were quite a bit smaller, about the size of a smart watch with a little extra material to make it more rugged and waterproof. The tracker slides and clips into a bracket that is wrapped around your dog’s collar. At one point as a puppy, Zoe had decided to entertain herself by chewing on and licking her dog tags, which completely rendered them indecipherable. Even though she’s older and hasn’t chewed her newest tags up, I was still worried that she’d start chewing on her Tagg tracker, but so far after a few weeks, both Zoe and Crockett haven’t paid them any mind.
Tagg Website and Apps
The Tagg Pet Tracker website, Android app and iOS app all worked very well. I didn’t find any features that were present in the iOS app that weren’t in the Android app (or vice versa), and the only feature that I found on the website that wasn’t available on the mobile apps was the ability to perform the initial activation. When I first set up my notifications, I had signed up for both the text and email alerts. By the time I installed the smartphone and tablet apps, I was getting the same notification in different forms in about 6 different places, which seemed a bit excessive. Depending on your preference, I’d suggest using a single notification method, although I would suggest to Whistle that they consider allowing you to manage what kind(s) of alerts you get of each type. For example, if Crockett wanders outside of his home base I wouldn’t mind getting a text message, email, and push notification on all of my devices.
One thing to note is that there doesn’t appear to be a tablet version of the iOS app. I found that using the phone app on my iPad Air to be a bit clunky and didn’t work too well. I had a very hard time with the username/password entry using the on-screen keyboard. Thankfully some copying/pasting allowed me to work around that issue. Once I was logged into the app, I didn’t encounter any additional issues. Hopefully in the future versions of the iOS app will support the phone and tablet layouts equally.
We “Lost” Zoe
The day after getting the Tagg Pet Tracker, Zoe cut her paw running around outside. It looked like a big, nasty paper cut, which after some doggy first-aid and a couple hours’ worth of time hadn’t stopped bleeding. We decided to take Zoe to our vet and within 5 minutes of leaving the house both Julia and I received this notification simultaneously on our smartphones:
From within the application, it gave us last known approximate locations and the option to track the location as well as options to give you directions to that location. We were in the car at the time, so it was pretty apparent that the GPS data wasn’t quite in real-time, but it was recent. By the time we’d gotten to the vet’s office and into an examination room, her location had updated to the vet’s office. It was informative to see the Tagg Pet Tracker in action without having to actually lose one of our dogs.
Among the things I wanted to include in this review was my thoughts on the battery life. Based on my initial research on the product, I was expecting to charge the unit on a weekly basis. However, what I’ve found instead is that as long as the pet spends most of its time near the base station, the battery life is excellent. I’ve had the Tagg Pet Tracker now for over 3 weeks and both batteries seem to be near half full. Initially, I wanted to run the batteries all the way down to empty and include how long that took as part of this review, but considering how long they’ve lasted so far, I was a little worried I’d not get to publish this review for a few more weeks!
Naturally with battery life, your actual mileage is probably going to vary a bit. The components on the Tagg Pet Tracker which eat the most battery are going to be the GPS and mobile data hardware within the tracker. If you spend a lot of time away from your home with your dog or if your dog escapes, I expect that the battery would drain much quicker. Despite the long battery life, my suggestion would be to not let the Tagg Pet Tracker’s battery get too low because you can’t predict when a dog might get loose. My plan moving forward is to charge them when I see that they’re around half full.
It’s been nearly a month and I think that the Tagg Pet Tracker is a nifty little product. Despite mobile data and GPS hardware within it, it is still small enough that it doesn’t bother the dogs to the point they try and get it off. Zoe and Crockett have been wearing their trackers for a combined total of 40-50 days so far without any issues. We’ve had unusually rainy weather which has kept us confined more than usual, so we’ve been nice and close to the base station, which is part of the reason why we’ve had so little battery use. But we’ve made trips to the vet, the pet store, agility lessons and our group obedience classes too. We’ve spent more than a few hours away from the base station and it didn’t result in a dramatic drain on the battery.
The activity-tracking component of the Tagg Pet Tracker is interesting. It’s fun to see which dog is more hyper than the other (Zoe, by far) and I can see how the activity tracker would be helpful in helping maintain a healthy amount of activity if your vet has recommended that Fido be a bit more active.
Most importantly, I feel a bit better equipped to handle the next escapade that the dogs might lead us on. If either dog gets out of our sight, I feel a bit better that with the help of friends, family, and neighbors we’d be able to corral the little bugger much faster.