I don’t have a “Dog Mom” bumper sticker on my car, but I sure do love my pups. My two dogs have been my constant companions for almost a decade. They have top-of-the-line dog beds, toothbrushes, and even health insurance.
The LINK AKC smart dog collar is ideal for a dog owner like me. It’s a handsome leather collar that is by far the most luxurious accessory my dog has ever donned. While it functions as a location tracker, the collar and its companion app are meant to function as a one-stop resource for All Things Dog.
You can turn a light on your dog’s collar, track their activity, take pictures of fun adventures, and keep track of their vet and medical records. The one problem? The collar is the most effective if your dogs, like mine, rarely leave your side.
Big Dog, Big Heart
When you open the package, the collar has three separate components. There’s the gorgeous, tawny leather collar; the tracker, which clicks into the collar; and a home base, which is charged via a USB cable.
You can select the collar in sizes ranging from nine inches for an extra-small, to 25 inches for a extra-large. However, the tracker itself is pretty big. It curves to fit your dog’s neck and measures five inches long, and you can’t select a smaller tracker size. My 70-pound cattle dog mix doesn’t notice it, but it would be huge on a smaller pooch.
To get the full use of the collar, you need to sign up for a subscription plan on the app, which works on both Android and iOS phones. It’s $10 per month, and cheaper if you sign up for one or two years. With the app, you can activate the (incredibly bright) built-in LED light, train your dog to come, or lay off smaller dogs by activating an annoying beeping sound.
You can check your pet’s location in relation to the plugged-in home base or track their activity and set goals for each day. Based on my dog’s breed and size, the AKC suggested 48 minutes of activity per day. If you’re going out for a walk or to the park, you can push the red “Start Adventure” button, which will keep a GPS log of your journey and let you take pictures with your phone's camera so you can remember your fun times together with geolocation included.
In the app, you'll also find a Records tab, which is really just a note-taking function that lets you store info about immunizations and check-ups, and a temperature alert. You can set both low and high air temperature thresholds, and the tracker will alert you if the collar detects extremes in either direction.
In testing the collar, I had some problems with this feature, however. The Pacific Northwest in the winter boasts mild winter weather. Even with the alerts set to the highest low setting and the lowest high setting, I was unable to get the alert to trigger unless I put the tracker in the fridge. But it would be a useful thing to have if there was an emergency and I needed to leave the dogs in the car (which I would never do! Don’t do that!)
The tracking unit uses Bluetooth to track if your dog is home or away. If your dog ventures out of a pre-programmed zone away from the tracker's included charging cradle, the app sends you an alert. Naturally, the cradle needs to be plugged in to keep a Bluetooth connection with the collar.
This would be great if it weren't for one tiny problem: Bluetooth range is shockingly poor. Whenever my dog moved more than fifteen feet away from the charger, the app alerted me that she was away. Since we have a dog door and she can go freely in and out, this started to get pretty dang annoying. Sometimes, the tracker alerted me that she was away, when she was actually napping in the next room.
Battery life is also a bummer. I asked the LINK team about this, since I found it suspicious that it only took a half-hour for the LEDs to indicate a full charge. They told me that it normally takes 60-90 minutes to completely fill the battery. Even when my tracker reported a full charge at 2 PM, by 9 that night the tracker warned me that it already had a low battery.
The constant "away" notifications might have contributed to draining the battery. When the dog goes out of Bluetooth range, the tracker searches for Wi-Fi; if the dog leaves both the Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi zone, it prepares to start GPS tracking over AT&T's cellular network. There's no way to tell the tracker to calm the heck down, my dog was just answering nature's call. That is, unless you decide to buy another base to cover the opposite side of your house.
Speaking of the activity tracker: The collar features a 9-axis accelerometer, similar to those used in human wearables. It tracks the dog's activity and calibrates it according to moderate and intense activity levels, depending on the dog's breed and age.
However, there seemed to be a discrepancy with the activity tracking. Even when I logged adventures that lasted an hour, the activity tracker only counted 44 minutes of activity. Presumably the accelerometer is still calibrating itself to my dog's preferences, but I'm pretty sure those preferences don't include falling asleep halfway through her walk.
Finally, if you’re an adventurous person with an adventurous dog, I recommend buying the compatible sports sleeve. The tracker and collar are water-resistant and functioned even after short swimming sessions at a nearby beach. But cleaning sand out of the tracker’s spring-release clips was super annoying.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Since the battery life is so limited and the away alerts so frequent, I got into the habit of taking the collar off while we were at home and only putting it on when we went out. I wouldn't buy this tracker if my primary concern was an escape-artist dog. LINK recommends charging the tracker unit every evening, but that's still a pretty big window of time in which your pup could be digging a tunnel under the fence.
But even with limited usage, I appreciated the collar’s features. I’m not particularly worried about my dogs leaving the yard, but they’re not always within my line of sight while we’re out hiking. The GPS tracker gave me real-time info on where they were, which was accurate on our trips through well-known parks.
The collar is expensive, but having an integrated, remote controlled light means that I wouldn’t have to buy a separate lighted collar—a necessity for black dog owners, at a latitude where the sun sets at 4 pm in the winter. Using the app to ring a bell and call your dog to come might not be particularly convenient, but so is remembering to carry treats and a clicker.
Many people don’t respond well to gamifying fitness, but I do, and by extension so do my dogs. I tend to rush our outings on busy days, so even if the activity tracker was inaccurate, it was a push to help get us outside and stay there for longer.
And finally, remembering to log adventures and take pictures of my dog was a nice reminder to do something that I might otherwise never do. It’s second nature to take as many pictures of your kids as possible, but I don’t always remember to do so with my dogs. As my spouse reminds me, they won’t be with us forever (sob!).
If I was looking for a tracker to solve a problem, like finding a dog who takes itself walkabout or keep tabs on my dog walker, I would probably pick a product with more reliable tracking and a longer battery life, like the Whistle 3. I also wouldn’t pick up the Link AKC if my dog were smaller than thirty pounds since it seems bulky for a small canine.
But as an all-around fun and useful tool, the Link AKC collar would be a great addition to an indulgent dog owner’s arsenal of dog equipment. For what it's worth, my dog has never looked handsomer.
Read more here: http://www.wired.com/