Image via iStock.com/SeventyFour
By Paula Fitzsimmons
Getting your pup off the sofa and moving on a regular basis is essential to her health and well-being. If you need a tool to support this goal, consider using a dog activity tracker—a type of dog tracking collar that not only complements a dog weight loss program, but also provides you with important health data.
Activity trackers for dogs vary in functionality, features and price points. Understanding the differences can help you choose a device that will best serve you and your pup’s specific needs.
Your veterinarian will be the best person to ask about establishing a dog exercise regimen as well as a source of product recommendations.
Dog Tracking Collars 101
The term “dog tracking collar” is a catchall for different categories of trackers. Dog GPS trackers are dog tracking collars that solely work in real time to help you locate your pup. Canine activity trackers—some of which include GPS tracking for dogs—can aid in dog weight loss by providing you with details about your best pal’s health and activity levels.
Dog Activity Trackers
Most dog activity trackers work like the ones we use for ourselves, although experts say they’re not as sophisticated quite yet.
“They provide data on how active dogs are. This includes having a starting point—a baseline—so it's possible to know where the exercise or activity program starts so progress can be monitored. It is also fun to see improvement and encourages people to increase their activity level right along with their dogs,” says Laura Hills, KA-CTP, CPDT-KSA, CCFT, CTDI, CGC, CLASS, VSPDT, owner of The Dogs’ Spot, a dog training center based in North Kansas, Missouri.
Bonus Feature: If you hire a dog walker, you can know for sure if your pup was walked as promised.
The FitBark 2 water-resistant dog activity and sleep monitor is an example of a dog activity tracker without GPS technology. Its focus is on providing details on a dog’s health, movement, rest patterns and behavior, which can help with weight loss in dogs.
“In addition to providing information specific to my dog, it is providing a daily health index, calories burned, miles traveled and an activity index. I am also receiving information on how my dog, Fiona, compares to other dogs her age and relative activity level,” says Hills.
Activity trackers with a GPS for dogs component can do these things as well—to varying degrees, depending on the individual product—plus give you the actual location of your pup. If your dog leaves a designated area, for example, trackers like the Whistle 3 dog and cat GPS tracker and activity monitor and Link AKC GPS and activity monitor smart collar can send you a text alert on your smartphone so you can respond immediately.
The Benefits of Using a Dog Activity Tracker
While there are definite advantages to using a dog activity tracker, experts warn that they’re not a cure-all.
“Similar to humans, we think we can strap on a device and we’re automatically going to lose weight. That is not the case. You still have to provide a source to exercise,” says Tricia Montgomery, founder of Chicago-based K9 Fit Club.
It’s helpful to think of a dog activity tracker as a complementary tool. For example, “Your vet says your dog has to lose 20 pounds, and six months later, you’ve forgotten about it. But if you’re using your phone daily or being prompted to do some activity or do something with your dog, then that could be very beneficial,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.
A key benefit of activity trackers is being able to collect and share health data with others, like a behaviorist, dog trainer or veterinarian who, for example, “may want information on how the dog is doing after surgery or to see the results of a particular therapy,” says Hills.
Which Dog Activity Tracker Should You Buy?
Start by asking what you’d like to accomplish, suggests Dr. Ward, who founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
“Do you want to secretly monitor your pet while you’re away to see if he’s active or not?” Dr. Ward asks. “Are you trying to initiate a dog weight loss program and monitor activity as closely as possible, like calories burned? Or are you using it as a locator, so if you lose your pet, you have a GPS that could send a signal and perhaps locate him?”
Don’t spend a lot of money on your first device, he advises. “Buy one that meets your basic needs, and what you’ll find is you keep needing and demanding additional features, so you buy up. I have a Garmin Fenix 5 because it does everything I need it to do, but if I was just doing a 5K that would be a terrible waste of money.”
Some key things you might want to ask include how you’ll extract data, the level of customer support you can expect, and whether a product is waterproof or water-resistant, advises Tanya Doman. Her doctorate is in physical therapy, and she is also certified in canine rehabilitation. She owns AnimalRehabilitation.com in Orange County, California.
She suggests asking if the dog activity tracker requires a cell plan. You’ll need one for trackers with GPS, but not for those like the FitBark. “It doesn't have extra monitoring or cell service fees but instead uses an app on your phone,” says Doman.
How to Get the Most From Your Dog Activity Tracker
Dog activity trackers have to be used regularly to be beneficial, says Doman.
“When used consistently, you will also be able to notice when changes in the pattern of activity or significant differences in the amount of activity happen, which may pinpoint a problem needing veterinary attention.”
You can use your device with just about any activity your dog enjoys.
“Certainly taking walks, hiking and even running, when appropriate, are all great activities,” Hill says. “If the tracker is waterproof, going swimming is another great activity because it's easy on joints. Playing fetch in the backyard and even inside the house, especially in inclement weather, can go a long way to keeping dogs healthy.”
“One of my favorite things to do to increase activity is to do tricks. A few extra minutes a day of tricks training and practice is a great way to increase fitness while increasing your relationship with your dog,” says Hills.
No gadget will work without effort on your part.
“The real benefit of any activity tracker is for the motivated pet parent trying to accomplish goals as safely and effectively as possible,” says Dr. Ward. If used with this in mind, it can be an effective tool you can use to ultimately help your dog lose weight.
Whichever activity you pursue, experts recommend starting slowly. Consult with your veterinarian about an exercise and dog weight loss program tailored to your pup’s needs and limitations.