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For those of us with pets, the animal is nearly as much a part of the family as any human. Losing that pet—whether it runs away, becomes lost, or is stolen—can be as tragic as losing any other member of the family.
Implanting a microchip in your pet might help you recover it, but only if the animal shows up at a facility—such as the pound or the Humane Society—that’s equipped with a scanner. Snaptracs, a division of the mobile-technology behemoth Qualcomm—promises a much better solution: A $100 GPS device that attaches to the pet’s collar, so you can instantly locate your pet anywhere on the planet (there’s also a $8 per-month subscription fee after the first month). You can add up to nine additional pets to the subscription plan for $1 per month, plus the cost of each Tagg tracker.
Tagg: The Pet Tracker consists of battery-powered GPS tracker that attaches to your pet's collar, and an AC-powered base station.
Tagg: The Pet Tracker represents a number of impressive technology achievements; unfortunately, it also has a few limitations that can render it practically useless. We’ll explain how the device works, and then we’ll discuss our real-world experience with it.
The Tagg hardware is, for all intents and purposes, a cell phone stripped of a mic, speaker, and keyboard. The Tagg tracker is incredibly small and lightweight (just 1.5 ounces, including the collar clip), and it’s relatively rugged (as it must be to fit on a dog or cat’s collar and survive the abuse that an animal and the elements will dish out). The Tagg tracker is rated water resistant in up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The antennas are hidden in pair of curved, flexible wings that follow the contour of the pet’s neck.
Once you’ve charged the Tagg tracker’s battery on its AC-powered base station, you clip the tracker to your pet’s collar. The Tagg tracker or the base station will then push status reports over Verizon’s cellular network via SMS and/or email. Once you log into your Tagg account on the Web from a PC or your smartphone, you can also ping the tracker and it will report the pet’s approximate location with an icon superimposed on a satellite map.
Tagg will send you an alert when your pet moves outside the 75-yard radius of its home zone (the area in blue).
In order to preserve the Tagg’s battery life, the device goes into an extreme low-power state whenever it’s within wireless range of the base station, and the bulk of the cellular-network communications occur on the base station during this time. As soon as the Tagg tracker can no longer detect the base-station’s signal beacon—when the animal moves outside a 75-yard radius of the base station—the Tagg’s cellular chip switches to full-power mode, establishes a direct link to the network, and sends an alert that the pet has moved outside the designated Home Tagg zone. You can increase the size of the Home Tagg zone, but not decrease it. In order to reduce false alarms when you take your dog on a walk, you can push a button on the Tagg tracker and put it into “trip” mode. This enables you to move the pet any distance outside the Home Tagg zone without producing an alert. The Tagg tracker’s LED flashes blue in this state, and it will reset itself as soon as it comes back within range of the base station.
The system is capable of sending a number of other messages, too. It will report when the animal is within range of the base station, when the Tagg’s battery is low, when it’s fully recharged, and even when the Tagg becomes detached from your pet’s collar. You can also activate a tracking mode from the website that will automatically locate your pet every three minutes for up to 30 minutes. Like we said, the technology is very impressive. How it works in the real world is a whole other matter, which we’ll tackle now.
Okay, I’ll drop the royal “we” here, because the rest of this review is based on my personal experience with my dog (a full-grown, 80-pound mutt named Dixie) and my daughter’s family’s dog (a nine-month-old, 50-pound Catahoula). Both dogs live on the same 10-acre parcel of land in northern California. Dixie is an outside-only dog; my daughter spoils Sally by letting her sleep inside the house at night. The two dogs are fast friends who love to play together, but Dixie has a bad habit of jumping our barbed-wire fence to roam the neighborhood.
As you can see from the screenshots on this page, the Home Tagg zone covers a lot of territory; a circle roughly two acres in diameter. Dave Vigil, Snaptracs’ president, tells me they could make the Home Tagg zone smaller, but they won’t because they want the Tagg to remain connected to the base station as much as possible. This preserves battery life, and it reduces the number of alerts you receive. As Vigil explains it, “My neighbors know my dog, so I’m not too concerned if he gets into their yard.” I’m not so sanguine about Dixie wandering off my property; because if she gets into my neighbor’s yard, she might eat his chickens. That’s a life-threatening menu for Dixie, and it’s not because she’s allergic to chicken.
The other problem I encounter is that Dixie spends most of her time with Sally at my daughter’s home, which is on the opposite side of our property (Snaptracs’ satellite maps are old, because my four-year-old home doesn’t show up on them). That means she’s nearly always outside her Home Tagg zone, and I’m barraged with alerts. It also kills the Tagg’s battery life. Where Snaptracs claims the battery should last as long as 30 days, I’m lucky if Dixie’s lasts seven days. I partially solved this issue by moving the base station to my daughter’s house, but now I get alerts whenever Dixie is home.
But the biggest problem I have with Tagg: The Pet Tracker is that the Tagg has repeatedly fallen off Dixie’s collar. Snaptracs sent a second Tagg because the company thought the original might have a manufacturing defect, so I took the liberty of putting it on Sally’s collar so I could track both dogs. I’ve had the same problem with this second unit. I’ve never seen them fall off, but because I usually find them in stiff brush, under low tree branches, or by the fence, I suspect those wing-like antennas are getting snagged and yanked off the dogs’ collars. The last time it fell off Dixie’s collar, I’m pretty sure it was because Dixie and Sally were roughhousing, because I found the partially chewed tag buried in the dirt (see photo below).
Sally mistook Dixie's Tagg tracker for a chew toy.
I’m away from home a lot, and my dog’s escape antics are a real problem, so I really hoped this product would work. But as impressed as I am by what Snaptracs has achieved, I just can’t recommend buying the company’s device and service. Your mileage may vary—especially if you have a more sedate pet—but in my experience, Tagg the Pet Tracker would be more aptly named Tagg: The Tagg Tracker, because I used it far more often to locate the detached GPS device than I ever did my wayward mutt.
$100, plus $8 per month subscription service, www.tagg.com
Locates your pet anywhere in the world.
Rough activity causes tracker to detach.