By now, most consumers understand the basics of GPS (or the Global Positioning System). You likely already have GPS on your phone, smartwatch, or built into your car’s dashboard. But did you know that a GPS dog fence is another option in today’s tech-centric world?
GPS uses satellites to create a map of the entire globe. This system can pinpoint near-exact locations of objects connected to it digitally.
In the case of GPS dog fences, that “object” is your dog.
What Is a GPS Dog Fence?
For a GPS dog fence, you need two main parts. First, a GPS-enabled dog collar. Second, a receiver. The receiver can be stationary or handheld and keeps track of the collar’s (and, therefore, your dog’s) location.
Depending on the receiver, you can set up your GPS dog fence for a specific area (like your backyard) or to measure the distance between the receiver and the collar.
If your dog steps outside of this designated area or moves too far from the receiver, the system issues an alert.
This alert could be a sound, buzz, or shock coming from the collar, like with an in-ground fence. Or an alert sent to the owner as a smartphone notification or through the receiver itself.
How is a GPS dog fence different from other invisible fences?
When we talk about invisible dog fences, we typically mean in-ground fencing. These systems feature a physical wire buried in the ground, which emits an electrical signal.
Your dog’s collar is programmed to respond to this signal if it comes too close, deterring your dog with an audible or physical correction.
With a GPS system, nothing is buried in the ground. Instead, satellite positioning is the only thing determining where your dog is in relation to the boundary or receiver.
GPS fences vs. trackers
The consumer tech market for pet owners is booming, especially when it comes to GPS-enabled devices for your dog.
But not all of these devices are the same.
A GPS dog tracker is a small device that typically attaches directly to your pup’s collar. As long as this device holds a charge, you can access your dog’s exact location using your phone, tablet, or computer.
Think of it like the “Find My iPhone” feature, just for your best friend.
To an extent, almost all GPS fences are also trackers. However, not all trackers offer wireless fencing capabilities.
The Invisible Drawbacks of GPS Fence Systems
You may be wondering why GPS dog fences aren’t more popular. One of the most common issues with GPS dog fences is really a matter of effective training.
Teaching a dog the location of an in-ground fence can involve days of training using physical markers like flags. Over time, the dog learns the fence exists even without these visual reminders.
If the in-ground fence were to move, however, you would need to start training entirely from scratch.
In other words, one of the biggest selling points of a GPS dog fence — portability — is also its largest drawback. Every time you move the fence or use it in a new location, your dog must relearn everything.
Even if you never move your GPS dog fence boundaries, there are limitations to this technology. GPS might work great for large distances, but it’s less-than-perfect when it comes to precise measurements.
This means that your fence boundary could “move” several feet depending on the strength of the GPS signal, cloud cover, and other interference.
In some cases, the difference of just a few feet could give your dog access to a busy street or another hazardous area.
For those with large properties, this inconsistency will still confuse your beloved pup and interfere with your training efforts.
So When Should You Use a GPS Dog Fence?
While not as secure as a long lead or in-ground fence, you shouldn’t write off this technology entirely.
Many avid campers use a GPS dog fence to create an invisible boundary around their RV or campsite. This allows your dog a bit more freedom on camping trips while still offering safety and peace-of-mind.
Of course, constant supervision is still a must.
While GPS technology can easily create a stationary boundary, it can also serve as a tether to a single point. Often, that point is a handheld receiver.
You’ll even find some search-and-rescue dog teams that rely on GPS collars to keep track of everyone.
5 GPS Dog Fence and Tracking Systems Worth Trying
Finding the right fencing solution for your dog isn’t easy. Every system comes with a list of pros and cons, and some are considerably more expensive than others.
Here are the top GPS dog fences and trackers currently available and why you should (or shouldn’t) invest in one for your own pup.
1. Garmin Alpha 100
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The Garmin Alpha 100 is a handheld, ultra-portable GPS system that connects with up to 20 compatible tracking devices.
Though the average sporting dog owner has no need to track 20 dogs at once, the system can also be used to follow the movements of fellow hunters, hikers, and campers.
To use this device to track your dog, you’ll need to invest in a compatible collar. Garmin recommends pairing this receiver with the TT15 or TT15 Mini. The TT15 works within nine miles of the receiver, and the TT15 mini works within four miles.
Both electronic collars are water-resistant and produce a diverse range of physical and audible stimulation for correcting your dogs directly from the Alpha 100 device.
The handheld receiver alerts you when your dog leaves a set area or exceeds a certain distance from you. You can also activate built-in LED lights using the GPS receiver to help locate your dog in the dark.
This GPS dog fence might be a big investment, but it really is the best solution for any outdoors enthusiast who adventures with one or more off-leash dogs.
The Garmin Alpha 100 uses MUR (multi-use radio) technology along with GPS. Unfortunately, MUR technology is currently banned in Canada, and the device will not work outside of the United States.
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2. Dogtra Pathfinder
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In many ways, the Dogtra Pathfinder is a stripped-down version of Garmin sporting dog trackers.
This GPS dog fence system tracks compatible e-collars within nine miles of the handheld device. Despite being more affordable and having fewer features than the Garmin device, the Dogtra Pathfinder can actually track one more dog or person at a time.
Unlike Garmin, though, the Dogtra Pathfinder does not have any kind of screen. Instead, the device works with Google Maps on your smartphone.
If you’re worried about using the map feature out in the wilderness or eating up cellular data, there’s no need. You can use the Dogtra Pathfinder app without an internet or cellular connection, but Bluetooth is required.
The included e-collar is entirely waterproof and offers numerous physical and audible stimulation levels. For smaller dogs, we recommend the Dogtra Pathfinder Mini.
The Dogtra Pathfinder excels as a tracker and training device for sporting dogs. But it also includes a dedicated geofencing feature for use as a portable GPS dog fence.
The app does have some bugs, and some users felt the handheld device-plus-smartphone combo was too bulky for their needs. Still, this is a great option for a GPS dog fence that works anywhere.
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3. PetSafe Wireless Pet Containment System
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Rather than GPS satellites, the PetSafe receiver uses radio waves to communicate with compatible collars. These waves let the receiver know how far away each dog is.
The receiver creates a circular boundary — you can customize this circle to be anywhere from 10 to 180 feet across. One receiver can communicate with an unlimited number of collars.
If your dog is quick-to-learn and you take the time to train them, you can transport and set up this system almost anywhere. It even comes with marker flags to aid in training.
While the PetSafe Pet Containment System works great at home, it’s a great tool for frequent long-stay campers. As long as you’re consistent, you can also take the receiver with you to visit family or head up for a weekend at the cabin.
Unfortunately, this fence falls victim to the same problems as actual GPS dog fence systems. Over time, the fence boundary can become extremely inconsistent.
Users also complain about the number of batteries each collar goes through. Plus, perhaps most concerning for many dog owners, the collar’s lowest correction setting is quite strong.
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4. Whistle Go Explore
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With where the technology is right now, GPS dog fences certainly aren’t for everyone. But you should definitely consider investing in a wearable tracker for your four-legged friends.
The Whistle Go Explore won’t keep your dog confined to a specific area. What it can do, though, is let you know your dog has left a designated zone immediately.
Whether your pup is at home or on the run, you can see their current location using the Whistle smartphone app. Keep in mind that cellular service is required to use the app and its features.
Again, the Whistle Go Explore can’t and shouldn’t replace a GPS dog fence (or a fence of any kind). If your dog ever slips out of your yard or escapes from the dog walker, the device could still be invaluable.
Since the Whistle Go Explore uses GPS and cellular data, you can track your dog’s location anywhere in the United States.
The device includes a light easily activated from the smartphone app, making night-time searching a bit easier.
Unrelated to its GPS tracking capabilities, this device also monitors your dog’s activity level and health habits. Yes, like a Fitbit for Fido.
The collar-mounted device does rely on a battery for power. The app does feature low-battery alerts, but forgetting to charge the device in time will render it completely useless.
Some users also report false alerts and delayed GPS data from their dog’s device, which can be both nerve-wracking and frustrating.
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5. Tractive LTE GPS Dog Tracker
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The Tractive LTE GPS Dog Tracker is another GPS-enabled tracker worth considering.
At first glance, the Tractive LTE GPS Dog Tracker looks like a better value than the Whistle Go Explore. Whether that’s the case for you depends on a few factors.
Of course, you can set up custom geofence boundaries with the Tractive LTE GPS Dog Tracker. If your dog leaves the designated area, an alert is sent straight to your smart device.
The minimum radius for the geofence is 164 feet, which might be too large for some situations.
Unlike Whistle’s devices, the tracker works anywhere in the world. It also offers live-tracking via your smartphone, with location updates every two-to-three seconds.
This GPS tracker also monitors your dog’s travel speed and altitude, which could be extremely useful for hiking or camping.
The Tractive LTE GPS Dog Tracker features a disappointing battery life, averaging just five days on a full charge. It also lacks health- and activity-tracking, which some dog owners consider a dealbreaker.
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Is a GPS Dog Fence Right for Your Pup?
It’s true. GPS dog fences are an exciting development in the world of consumer tech for pet owners.
If GPS systems aim to one day replace physical or in-ground fencing, then the technology still has a very long way to go.
But as long as you understand the limitations of a GPS dog fence, there’s no reason it can’t become a powerful tool in your dog training arsenal.
Just the ability to receive a notification when your dog leaves the safety of home could be potentially life-saving. And for most dog owners, that’s the biggest selling point of all.
What kind of containment systems do you use on the go? Have you ever used technology to reunite with a runaway pup? Share your story in the comments below!