Because I work from home, and because my dogs are the best dogs, we are in contact all day, every day. We're a three-headed, ten-legged Hydra, rotating around each other as we move from my office to the living room to the kitchen. Whatever I do, they're usually there too—whether that's sleeping at night, pacing around my living room, or feeding my kids.
And unfortunately, whatever happens to me, usually happens to them too. Last night, a friend saw my dogs after a long absence. “Hey you!” he said, scratching one of my dog's ears as she wagged her tail and sat at his feet. “Um…you look like you put on a little weight.”
I winced. Was he talking to me or my dog? Having two kids has made getting exercise just a little harder for all of us. At least I'm not scarfing peanut butter sandwich scraps from under my son's high chair.
So I put a fitness tracker on my dog. It’s harder to take long, rambling walks through the woods now, but it’s still important to make sure that my dogs are getting the exercise they need. And as someone who spends most of every day sitting at a desk, I like, and need, frequent reminders to move.
The Whistle 3 is a small GPS tracker and motion sensor that your dog wears on its collar. It’s small, easy to wear and use, and has a long battery life. Whether you’re home with your pets or hire a dog-walker, the Whistle 3 is an easy, comparatively affordable way to help make sure your dogs are both safe and getting the exercise they need.
The Price is Right
At $80, the Whistle 3 is more affordable than the spendy Link by AKC. It’s also smaller, less obtrusive, and less luxurious-looking. Rather than a rich leather collar with a click-in unit, the Whistle 3 is a small plastic box that comes in three different colors. It is 1.82 inches long and 1.45 inches high. It comes with a plastic holder that uses a rubber loop to attach to my dog's collar. On my 70-pound heeler mix, it’s barely noticeable.
The Whistle 3 uses a combination of cellular service, GPS, and Wi-Fi to pinpoint your pet at all times. As with the Link collar, you need to subscribe to a monthly or yearly service to access AT&T’s cellular network. The subscription service is $10 per month, but gets more affordable with a one- or two-year agreement.
To use the Whistle 3, you have to download the simple app. To designate a safe zone on your home’s Wi-Fi network, look up your address on their location map and draw a perimeter around your property. We're not the Beckhams or anything, but my single-family house is on a perfectly respectable 0.15 acres. The Whistle app warned me that my safe zone was a little smaller than they prefer, in order to avoid false breach notifications.
Nevertheless, it begrudgingly let me set my minute patch of dirt as the safe zone. So far, it works. In a week of testing, I haven’t gotten any false breach alerts. Still, this may be an issue if you live in an apartment, or on an even smaller property.
The unit took two hours to charge. One charge lasted me five days, but it probably would’ve lasted longer if we hadn’t been traveling. If you’re connected to your home’s Wi-Fi network, the Whistle 3 turns on Power Save mode and stops GPS tracking to reserve battery life.
For four of those five days, my dog and I were traveling away from home. When we have access to my home’s Wi-Fi network, the power usage is much lower. As of today, we’ve been home for three days with at least one long walk each day, and the battery is still at 79 percent.
I can check the battery life on the app, as well as add multiple owners to each Whistle, or add multiple Whistles to each account. You can set your pet’s age, weight, and breed, and set a daily activity goal. If you don't know how many minutes your pet should be exercising, the app will predict one for you based on the information you provide in your pet's profile. It suggested thirty minutes of activity a day for my ten-year-old dog, a low bar that I ended up raising.
The app also estimates how many calories your dog has burned based on the metabolic rate predicted by their weight. You can also keep track of the distance they've traveled, and how many hours of rest they got per day (a cool 18 hours, on average. Good work, dogs). The Whistle app will then reward your pet with a series of badges for different achievements, like traveling 50 miles or meeting your pet’s exercise goals for a full week.
Once you’re home, the Whistle 3 downloads your pet's activity to the app. While it only retains a location map for 24 hours in the app, you can check your pet's travels, as well as stat aggregates like miles traveled, in your weekly Whistle email. I like seeing my dog travel all over the state, but it's a little depressing to see how much time she spends in our house.
And finally, the Whistle 3 stayed put when I went hiking with my dog, who plunged into rivers and brush and dug holes in the sand. The device is rated IPX7 to withstand full immersion, and was unaffected. I didn’t even need to brush sand out of the holder.
Bare (Dog) Bones
The Whistle 3 is a pretty no-frills device. For example, you can’t store pictures in the app, or log medication reminders. It doesn’t have a light, or temperature alerts.
I also wish I could compare routes from day to day. And unlike the previous iteration of the Whistle, you can’t compare your dog’s activity levels to other dogs of her age and breed, which I was weirdly eager to see.
But those are sacrifices that I’m more than willing to make in favor of the Whistle 3’s great utility. Drawing a safe place within the app and using home Wi-Fi was much more effective as a boundary marker than using the charger as a Bluetooth base station, the way the Link does it. I never got false breach notifications with this method.
The battery life is much, much longer than competing products, which makes it a more effective tool for dogs that like to escape. Once your dog leaves your home Wi-Fi network, GPS pings her location every six minutes. Even when my dog was riding next to me in my car, I usually got an alert on my phone that she had left the house before I even got to the end of the street—it's that precise.
You can also opt for email or text notifications. And it's sturdy, too. There's no place for dirt or sand to gunk up things, and the holder is compatible with any collar that is under an inch wide.
Being a dog is tough. I’ve often felt guilty that the reward for my dogs’ devotion was to be replaced by young nano-humans that shout, poke them in the eyes, and grab their tails. A steady supply of dropped Cheerios is the least I can do to make up for the fact that their daily quota of walks and scratches have been replaced by caring for my young kids.
Having a Whistle 3 would be most helpful if I employed a dog walker or if my dogs were escape artists. But the Whistle 3 can still help me interrupt their 18 hours of snoozes per day for a brisk run around the park. It may be harder for me to meet my own exercise goals, but at least I've gotten a badge for working them out for the past seven days. The three-headed, ten-legged Hydra will take what we can get.