I’ve spent the last few weeks testing a connected dog collar called Fi, and have found it more fun than necessary for my senior dog, but I could easily imagine paying for the collar and the $99 annual subscription fee back when she was young and prone to escape. The collar costs $149 and tracks steps, sleep, and location. The location tracking relies on the $99 annual subscription if you want to track your dog outside of range from your home’s Wi-Fi network. According to Jonathan Bensamoun, CEO of Fi, 93% of people who buy the collar also buy a subscription.
Basically the step tracking is a fun feature to keep consumers engaged. But the reason someone would spend this much on a dog collar is because they love their dog and want to make sure it never gets lost. As someone who has long had an escape-prone dog and now lives in a rural area full of coyotes, it’s a device I can see people wanting. And when it comes to location tracking, it works very well.
The collar arrived as part of a set that also included a base station, which acts as both a Wi-Fi bridge and the collar’s charging station. Right now, in the middle of winter, we get about six days of battery life on a charge. The collar is thicker than a typical dog collar and is heavier; the small version weighs 92 grams while my dog’s “dumb” collar is a scant 31 grams (and that’s with her name tag and rabies tags on).
Setting up the collar should be easy for most people. Simply plug in the base station and download the Fi app on your phone. From there, add the Fi collar using Bluetooth and then connect the base station to your Wi-Fi network. From start to finish, it should take all of a minute. I had challenges, though. It may have been an Android thing with my new Pixel 6, but something about my home’s Bluetooth environment and the phone made it impossible for me to add the collar to my Wi-Fi network. Once I swapped out the Pixel 6 with a different Android device, however, I was able to add the collar in 30 seconds.
With the collar connected, I added information about my dog. Fi wanted her breed (mutt/sheltie), age (10.5), name (Sophie), and photo. This information is used for one of my guilty pleasures, a ranking of how she compares with other dogs of her breed. Today, Sophie is in the top 86% out of all of the dogs on the app when it comes to the number of steps she takes. The app also shows sleep tracking, which is another fun metric that lets me see when my dog is actually asleep and when she roams around the house at night.
I think anyone who is invested enough in their dog to buy this collar will also enjoy checking out their pup’s stats. You can even link your pet’s social media accounts and interact with other dogs through the Fi app if that’s your jam. But for most of us, we’re interested in the tracking feature, so let’s discuss how that works.
When you add the collar and your dog’s information, you are also encouraged to draw a geofence around your home to indicate where your property stops. Fi uses this information to send alerts when your pet moves outside of the geofence without your phone also being present. The alerts arrive fairly quickly, with me getting them about two minutes after my dog had left the geofenced area. The collar isn’t always using GPS location tracking because that would deplete the battery, so if you want to use GPS to track your pet you need to go to the Live section of the app to engage it. Fi says the collar updates location every two minutes, when outside the home, but if you mark your dog as lost it will up that location tracking to sending coordinates every minute. This can feel like a long time if your dog is on the move, but it will give you a good sense of where to look.
Tracking my dog was easy because we live in a fairly suburban/rural area without a lot of tall buildings and densely packed homes. I’d like to see how well it performs in a city, which can be a tougher environment for GPS, but I couldn’t bring myself to force my dog into Seattle for the test, and my friends who have a city dog were stuck in quarantine while I was testing. (Note, my child asked me after reading this why I didn’t just take the collar into Seattle to test it, and I am now embarrassed.) I will note that if your dog likes to hide under porches the GPS data will not be as exact, but you should be able to find the general area they’re in. Fi says it tracks within a 7-foot radius.
And because using GPS sucks battery power, know that the window to find your dog on a full battery will be about two days, according to a company spokesperson. Where I live we might have even less time given the dark roads and coyotes. But I see so many lost dog posters near me, and like many pet owners, I’d probably pay anything to avoid my dog disappearing if she were still as escape-prone as she was in her youth. This collar would definitely help, although my success would be dependent on her location having GPS signal access and a strong enough battery life to give me time to find her.
As a final word on the collar, the device itself is big enough that it might overwhelm a tiny dog. My pup is a fluffy 21 pounds, and she tolerates the collar but doesn’t love it. Plus, when I snap it around her neck it makes a louder noise than her existing collar, so she flinches. We tend to take her collar off at night so she doesn’t wake us up by jingling her tags, which means we don’t often get the benefit of the overnight sleep tracking, but we do manage to ensure a full charge for the collar by plopping it on the base each night.
The collar also has an LED on it that we like to use when walking her in the afternoons when it’s getting dark (currently the sun sets here around 4:20 p.m.). You can also turn the light on remotely, so if your dog escapes you can turn it on to help others see him or her after dark. I really like the visibility angle and use that feature the most given the time of year. At $149 plus $99 a year for tracking, the collar isn’t cheap, but many of us spend silly amounts of money on dog-related paraphernalia so you might as well spend for something that helps ensure your dog’s safe return if it gets lost.