Dog collars with GPS tracking have given owners a new tool for finding lost dogs. I tested the Fi Smart Dog Collar on my German shorthair pointer for the last 2 months for this review.
A few months ago, my wife and I welcomed a new dog into our family, a German shorthair pointer puppy we named Leika. We built some new fencing around our property to give her some secure room to roam in our backyard.
Then we invested in a couple of dog bowls, training classes, and visits to the vet. Our pup grew and grew — suddenly, she looks a lot more like a young dog.
But with her young dog tendencies, I realized her intense prey drive and powerful running and jumping abilities could land her in danger if she got loose. Seeing ads for a GPS-tracking dog collar piqued my interest.
And after a week and a modest investment, I had a Fi Smart Dog Collar ($150) and a one-year subscription ($100).
Fi Smart Dog Collar Review
After ordering, the Fi Smart Dog Collar arrived in just a couple days. I downloaded the app and decided to purchase a one-year contract.
Given that my puppy still hasn’t shown her true adult colors, I figure her potential for becoming an escape artist might become apparent through this first year. After the one-year mark, I’ll re-evaluate.
Setting up the app was simple. I worked through the basic setup and familiarization in about 20 minutes. I charged the collar on its base. After it charged after a couple of hours, I strapped the new bling on Leika and went for a walk.
Using the Fi Smart Dog Collar
The Fi collar does a few things that are valuable to dog owners. First (and for me, foremost), it allows you to set up a “safe zone” around your home or office. This zone can be as large or as small as you’d like.
I set up a proximity alert around my house, where the device Base lives. This Base is a charging unit that also connects to Wi-Fi in your home or office. It connects to the collar via Bluetooth, saving electricity by limiting the use of GPS and cell service while you’re in the house.
You could also set it up around a campsite, something campers would love if they have dogs that hang around camp off-leash. I know of at least two incidents in Colorado this year in which dogs took off from campsites and required long searches to recover.
It obviously won’t replace a leash. But for those with well-behaved dogs that might get a wild hair, it’s a consideration.
When Leika leaves the house while wearing the collar, I get an alert within a minute on my phone: “Leika just left home.” Similarly, I also get notifications when she leaves the GearJunkie office or the GearJunkie video studio.
These notifications are very consistent and work well. I get a notification every time she leaves home, whether with me, my wife, someone else — or, God forbid, alone. These notifications can get a little overwhelming. More on this later.
I can then open the app and see where she’s going. The collar generally updates about every 20 minutes.
However, if I’m concerned the dog might be lost or alone, switching the app to “lost dog” mode makes the collar active to near-constant location updates. This mode also turns on a blinking light to help you find the dog easier at night.
For me, keeping track of my dog and getting a notification if she escapes are my primary reasons for using the collar. But it does a few other things as well:
- Counts the dog’s steps
- Compiles the dog’s steps into daily, weekly, and monthly statistics
- Has a built-in app-controlled light to increase your dog’s visibility at night
Does the Fi Dog Collar Work?
My first impressions of the collar are good. First and foremost, it’s a collar — it has to hold my dog when she pulls on her leash. Having used it for 2 months, it’s still in good condition.
However, it’s worth noting that the yellow webbing got dirty quickly. Leika has also scratched up the main electronic portion of the collar pretty well even though it seems very robust and durable.
It’s worth noting that Fi sells replacement webbing ($29) for the collar. You can remove the electronic module from the collar and transfer it to the new webbing.
Fi warranties the electronic portion of the collar for one year. The electronics are waterproof (IP68 rating) and can sustain more than 30 minutes of complete immersion in fresh or salt water without damage. I haven’t tested it that hard yet, but it’s gone through several good soakings with no problem.
The brand calls the collar “generally dog-proof,” and, so far, it’s held up to a rowdy puppy with no problems.
For me, the collar has lasted about 3 weeks on a charge. This seems really good given how little time my dog spends at home. Let me expand on that.
I’ve had the collar for 2 months, and Leika wears it every day. And so far, I’ve charged the collar only three times: once when I got it and then about once every 3 weeks after that.
The Fi collar uses the LTE-M network optimized for battery life. If the collar never leaves home and remains connected to its home base Wi-Fi, Fi claims it will go a full 3 months between charges.
This, for me, is totally unrealistic. Fi realizes this and gives some more accurate stats for those whose dogs leave home from time to time.
For dogs that get a daily walk or two outside the house, the GPS reports every 2-5 minutes. Given that use, the brand expects up to 2 months between charges. For active dogs using GPS only and no Wi-Fi for long periods of time (this is my scenario), it claims a 3-week battery life between charges. That claim is right on the money so far.
As the collar discharges, it warns me on my phone. “Leika’s Fi Collar is at 20% battery. You have plenty to go but we thought we’d let you know,” the app told me in an alert. It did the same at 5 percent battery. Recharging only takes a couple of hours on the base, and it’s ready to roll again.
Cell Service Required
This, to some users, will be the biggest downside of this system. The collar uses AT&T cell signal to communicate with the app and share the dog’s GPS location. If you’re away from the base, this service is critical for the collar to work well.
So depending on where you live, travel, and work, the collar can function perfectly or sometimes not at all. Anyone who has a cellphone knows that service can be finicky away from towns and cities, so it’s tough to know if it will work on your trip to the mountains or Great Plains.
On a recent trip, I was shocked to get an alert about the collar and pull up our exact location while a full 10 miles from the nearest trailhead. However, I was in a location that oddly had good cell service, even deep in the woods.
Some users have reported no service even in their hometowns. So it’s worth checking into this before investing if you live in a small town where AT&T service may be limited.
Company representatives noted that even where service is spotty, the collar could help you find a lost dog if it wanders to the edge of service and you get a ping. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
So far, I’ve had service in Colorado in the vast majority of places I’ve taken Leika.
Step Tracking: A Gimmick or More?
This brings me to a feature that some may find exciting but I feel is a little pointless: step tracking.
The Fi collar counts your dog’s steps just like fitness trackers worn by us humans. It also gives some daily goals for a few kinds of dogs (small, agile, or active). It’s kind of neat, and you can track the steps over time. But ultimately, there isn’t much research around activity counters and dogs yet.
Personally, I take it with a grain of salt but enjoy the insights, as they tend to line up with my own big adventures. If I went for a hike, chances are the dog did too, and it’ll be logged on the app.
It does give you the ability to monitor your dog’s activity over time. So if you’re ignoring Fido’s exercise need, it’ll show up here.
Lots of Notifications
So I noted that you get notifications when the dog is alone away from safe zones. But I’ve found that I get them, well, a lot — even when I’m with the dog.
It seems that, while my phone is paired with the collar, the Bluetooth range is limited. If I’m at an off-leash dog park and she goes on a sprint, I’ll get a notification that she’s alone. If I leave her in the office and get lunch, another notification.
While not a big deal, I do worry that getting quite a lot of notifications in nonemergency situations could lead to a “boy who cried wolf” scenario. I find myself not reacting to them very much because they are so constant.
I hope that if she actually does get into a dangerous situation, I won’t chalk it up to “just another notification.”
Fi GPS Dog Collar: Peace of Mind
In my couple months of use, the collar has lowered my stress when friends or family have watched Leika. I can always check in on her location and feel comfortable that she isn’t running around the city.
On a lighter, somewhat comic note, consider that you’re basically low-jacking your dog. And with that, you’re also low-jacking anyone who is with your dog!
So if you have serious privacy concerns, you may want to evaluate whether this is a wise idea. It’s probably not great for running laps on a military base, for example.
But if you’re not worried about your spouse, friends, or family knowing the location of your dog (and by proxy, yourself), the Fi dog collar is a pretty effective tool. And for me, knowing I will get a notification if my pup gets out of my yard is worth the investment alone.