Diclaimer: some of the names and details of this story have been changed, as to protect the identity and privacy of those involved.
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Some time ago, a friend’s dog got out while he was left with the dog-sitter. On a tense winter afternoon, I put my day on pause, and a group of us spent the greater part of a day trudging through snow, leaves, and deer poop while following scattered dog tracks through melting snow and inconsistent terrain.
After a several hours of calling out the dog’s name and climbing through the woods and asking strangers if they’d happened to see him (seemingly to no avail), the dog luckily came right back to the front door of his home, entirely of his own accord.
While the ending to this story is happy, it was a terrifying and eye-opening event for all parties involved, including myself.
It left us all thinking the same question: what if this happened again, and the dog wasn’t so lucky next time?
My friend took that question and chose to act.
About a week later, she brought her dog by my home and showed off a small device attached to his collar. It was a GPS and health tracker for dogs, small enough that I wouldn’t have noticed it if she hadn’t pointed it out to me.
She showed me the app that corresponded to it, and I was instantly drawn in by the different daily stats, sleep scores, and calorie need measurements. It was really something.
The most intriguing feature about this tiny box on the dog’s collar, though, was the GPS tracking that displayed her dog’s location with a shockingly-accurate photo pin on a map in the app. She opened the app and showed me his exact location, my home address. For ten dollars per month, she essentially had a helicopter view of her escape artist dog, even when she couldn’t see him.
I was instantly fascinated, and looked to my own two personal dogs.
Now, let me preface with: I’m fairly confident in my dogs. I’ve spent a good deal of time making sure they are well-trained and generally have solid recall and reliability even in public spaces. I know that reliable behavior can easily be the difference between life and death, and I fully believe that a GPS tracker is no replacement for good training.
But I also know the reality that all animals, even the ones I trained myself, have the capacity for unpredictable behavior. One phrase I really like is, “Just when you say ‘my dog would never, here they come never-ing like they’ve never never-ed before.'”
If this unassuming device could act as an extra safety measure that also happened to provide all the added benefits of a fitness tracker, it certainly couldn’t hurt to give them a shot.
I purchased two Fitbark GPS systems during a sale for roughly $60 each, and one pink cover to differentiate them more easily between my two personal dogs. Between the two trackers and the extra cover, my order total was $123.51
Getting Fitbark for Small Dogs
In all honesty, I’d looked into fitness trackers and GPS devices for dogs many times throughout the years during my career (and through my time being a dog owner). The same problem always came up: that’s going to be absolutely huge on my little dogs.
But when my Fitbark GPS trackers arrived, I was surprised at how small they were, even after having already seen one on another dog.
Opening the box, you are met with the Fitbark GPS unit, a USB charging cable for it, two black covers for the unit, and a set of zip ties to attach the unit to your dog’s existing collar. My initial impression of the hardware quality is that it felt similar to Fitbit brand fitness-tracker-for-humans devices I’ve owned in the past; plastic, but sturdy, and benefiting from a really simple design.
The setup instructions indicated needing to charge the unit completely before use, so I set them up on their respective chargers, which clip on to the outside of the unit and plug in to any USB port. I did notice that the chargers seemed a little funky, and it was a little clumsy getting the clip placement just right on the Fitbark GPS units. That said, there may be a small learning curve to it, and I wouldn’t know quite yet because the unit requires charging so rarely that I have only done so once or twice.
With the Fitbark units set up and charging, I used that time to set up the Fitbark app and start making profiles for my two dogs. I own a Samsung Galaxy phone that runs android, so I can only speak to the android app experience. That being said, the user interface for the Fitbark app is attractive, easy to explore, and simple enough to understand right from the get-go.
When the Fitbark units were finished charging, I removed each of my dogs’ primary collars and attached the fitbark units with the included zip-ties. I was a little worried that the spiked design of my dogs’ collars would prevent me from properly attaching the Fitbarks, but I got lucky that there was an area of just flat collar that fit the devices perfectly without impeding taking off and putting on the collars.
The whole process of attaching the Fitbark GPS units to the collars is incredibly easy, and the app plays a short and simple tutorial to show you how to attach it to a collar of any size.
When both of the GPS units were attached to my dog’s collars, I attached the covers to each one. I personally really appreciated being able to order different colored covers for my tracker units, because it helps differentiate the units (which are linked to one dog at a time).
Matching the color of the cover to your dog’s collar also helps make the device less conspicuous. The “Romantic Snuggler Pink” colored Fitbark cover actually blends in so well to my Pomeranian’s pink collar that, if I didn’t know better, I’d assume they were sold as a set.
After putting the collars back on my dogs with the Fitbark GPS units attached, it really struck me how lightweight, small, and unnoticeable they really are.
My dogs are 18lbs and 12lbs, and both of them have small necks (about 9-inch circumference).
Grimm, an Italian Greyhound-Chihuahua-mix, momentarily seemed to notice the slight difference in weight, but quickly moved on. Neither of them fussed about the Fitbarks at all, neither of them seemed bothered by them, and neither of them scratched or fidgeted with their collars at all.
Fitbark’s website says their trackers are good for dogs as small as 3lbs, and I believe them. The tracker fits on to an existing collar and is extremely small and lightweight. Both of my dogs seem to not notice them at all, and they’re not particularly noticeable to the eye.
In fact, you really have to look to find it buried in all my Pomeranian’s fluff.
At the end of the day, Fitbark GPS is phenomenal for small dogs.
Fitbark Health Tracking
The health tracking has been helpful to me in a number of ways. It’s really nice to see the activity goal counter alongside other helpful stats like miles walked, sleep score, calories burned, and general health index.
The Fitbark system works on a measurement called “BarkPoints,” which you earn based on your dog’s activity levels throughout the day. The goal for your dog is set by selecting from three tiers: Average, with a goal of 8,600 BarkPoints; Active, with a goal of 11,700 BarkPoints; and Olympian, with a goal of 15,400 BarkPoints. You can also custom-select your goals with a slider function, and see daily charts showing your dog’s actual activity on a scale of “couch potato” (less than the 50th percentile of dogs, relative to size) to “Olympian” (higher than the 90th percentile of dogs, relative to size).
These points are earned at a different rate based on size. For roughly the same type of activity in a day, my 18lb Italian Greyhound-Chihuahua-mix receives only about 78% the BarkPoints that my 12lb Pomeranian receives.
This means that people with larger dogs are going to have to hustle to meet their dogs’ realistic exercise needs, which I really appreciate about Fitbark. I’m of the belief that our dogs are severely under-active, so I’m glad to have some visual measurements of their activity that help me improve their physical activity.
Fitbark also measures their sleep score, which indicates how restful your dog is during sleep. If your dog wakes up and moves around, Fitbark will report that so you know how much sleep your dog really got. Both of my dogs are fairly still sleepers and get scores of 80%-90% very consistently. Interestingly, though, a friend with a younger dog mentioned that their Fitbark showed some pretty normal puppy restlessness, so I do think it’s safe to trust the Fitbark measurements when it comes to sleep patterns.
Exercise Accountability and Motivation
Having my dogs’ daily stats really does keep me accountable for making sure they get enough physical activity in a day.
In fact, I would say that having my dog’s exercise needs in an app on my phone has been an even bigger motivator for me than my own fitness trackers and stats.
For BarkPoints, I selected the middle tier for physical activity goals for my personal dogs, and found it to be a reasonable challenge to reach. We come close most days, but we don’t always reach them, especially by heavier dog who doesn’t reap the same number of points that my smaller dog gets.
I have not skipped a daily walk since putting the Fitbark trackers on my dogs. Where once I was more willing to let my dogs be lazy for “just one day,” when I was particularly busy, we now consistently walk for a minimum of an hour every day, and often go for a second walk later in the evening when most of my work for the day is done.
I used to think my dogs were very active for their size, but when I joined Fitbark I realized that while Wicca was considered fairly active for her size, Grimm barely qualified as “moderately active.” This really fired up my competitive side, and my dogs have been getting more and more exercise every week since we started using Fitbark.
I honestly want to say that Fitbark has been way more motivating for me to stay active than my own for-people fitness trackers. Maybe it’s the part of me that wants to give my dogs the absolute best life, but seeing their activity being less than I’d initially thought it was has really lit a fire under me to move not only my dogs, but to push myself a little more to make sure they’re getting the best care.
Calorie Needs and Homemade Dog Food
Another awesome way the health tracking has helped me is understanding my dogs’ caloric needs, and making more fine-tuned adjustments when making and portioning their homemade dog food.
You can read all about how I make my dogs’ food from home in my article: How I Easily Make Healthy Homemade Dog Food.
Fitbark gives you daily reports on your dog’s calorie needs, which helps you get an idea of how much your dog should be eating. While I don’t know the exact caloric content of each batch of dog food, I know that if my dog’s energy requirements suddenly shoot up based on an increase in activity during a day or over a week or two, I can respond by giving them a little extra food to help fuel that activity.
This must be even easier for people who feed a high-quality kibble, because commercial food can be very easy to measure and portion, and usually even has calorie information on the label that can help you pivot when your dog needs a little more or a little less.
For more information on how to read dog food labels to make informed choices regarding your pet’s health, check out Khayl’s article, Elongating Your Pet’s Life – Exposing Label Secrets and Lies
I really love getting both a daily and an over-time report of my dog’s activity, so I can pivot proactively to make sure my dogs are getting the best for their health.
Fitbark GPS Location Tracking
I love the GPS tracking feature way more than I’d thought I would.
Initially, I only got the GPS version for the very unlikely event that one of my dogs got lost, or the slightly-more-likely event that one of them (really, most likely my Pomeranian) was stolen. I was fully-prepared to just test the tracking, see if I liked it, and cancel the GPS plan if I just wasn’t getting value out of it.
But after having the Fitbark GPS for a few weeks, I can see that there are a few ways that Fitbark has used the feature to not just prepare for emergency, but to improve quality of life on the day-to-day.
One of these is alerts based on designated safe spaces. Through the Fitbark app, you can connect to the WiFi at various places (like your home, your dog’s daycare, your mom’s or friend’s house, etc.) When your dog enters a safe space, the Fitbark app will notify you. If they leave the safe space, it will also notify you, and let you know if they are with one of the designated caregivers assigned through the app.
To me, this means peace of mind.
You know if your dog is with the dog walker, if they’re safe at daycare or dad’s house, and what time they arrive and leave different safe locations.
Plus, if your dog escapes or leaves with someone that isn’t in your circle, Fitbark will tell you immediately.
Fitbark’s real-time tracking is nice to have, even for dogs that aren’t notorious escape artists. It’s just nice to be able to open the app and instantly get a status update on your dog’s location.
You can see where they are on a walk with your dog walker, if your friend has taken them to the pet store, and yes, hunt them down should they run off.
I love being able to pull up my dog’s information at any time, and so far I’ve found the tracking to be really accurate and reliable. I used Fitbark to check in on Grimm while he was at the groomer’s, and the app tracked him right down to the building.
To be clear, GPS tracking is a paid feature only available in the United States. I pay on a monthly basis for roughly $10 per dog, per month, but you can elect to purchase yearly plans or even more for a reduced cost.
The GPS tracking Fitbark uses is provided through Verizon. For context, I am based out of western Washington State, and the service has so far been very reliable.
However, you can buy the GPS version of the Fitbark tracker and simply decline activating the paid GPS tracking until you feel so inclined. There is also a non-GPS version for people who are less interested in the location tracking and more on-board for health monitoring, called the Fitbark 2.
Social Features and Human Fitness Trackers
I really appreciate how social Fitbark has made their app. I can follow my friends’ dogs and see their daily stats, leave and see journal notes on my dogs’ profiles, share to various social media platforms, and see where my dogs are in the Fitbark leader boards.
I’ve only really begun to explore the social features of Fitbark somewhat recently, but I really love that it makes you feel connected with your friends and adds a bit of social support and healthy competition to the mix.
FitBark even syncs to your own health and fitness trackers if you choose to allow it, which adds an extra layer of connectivity that I think is really great for involving your pet in an active lifestyle.
They even have really cute watch faces for Fitbit that shows your dog’s Fitbark daily stats at a glance. I’m a Garmin girl through-and-through, but I do kind of envy that I can’t get the fun Fitbark watch faces on my Garmin watches.
That said, I’ve found that Fitbark is compatible with many health trackers in terms of data-sharing. Fitbit links to Fitbit, Apple Healthkit, and Google Fit.
If you have a Garmin watch, you should still be able to connect to Fitbark with Google Fit as a middle-man. You’ll need to sync your Garmin Connect app to Google Fit, and then connect Google Fit to Fitbark. It takes a little doing, but if you’re determined, it can be done.
So, Does Fitbark Actually Work?
I approached the idea of reliable location tracking and helpful health data with a good amount of skepticism. I wasn’t sure how consistent the connectivity would be, what kind of reliability and accuracy I could expect from the GPS, and how well the activity monitor would actually help me and my dogs.
But Fitbark really delivered.
The GPS tracking is reliable and affordable. I know when they arrive and leave designated safe spaces, and can pull up their location at any moment. It can track that location to a very small area, which can be incredibly helpful in an emergency.
The health and activity data actually added accountability, and resulted in my dogs being more active and in turn healthier. It helps me make better choices on their behalf, and even contributes to the decisions I make about their homemade dog food portions. I feel really well-equipped having this information to give them the best life possible and make adjustments where needed.
If you’re considering whether or not your dog is getting enough physical activity, are in doubt that you could get your back in an emergency, or even just want to have the extra safety net with a few added features, I would definitely recommend adding Fitbark GPS to your personal recipe of training, health, and security.