BUYER'S GUIDE: GPS Dog Location Systems vs. Traditional Telemetry Tracking Collars and Beeper Collars
WHY USE A TRACKING COLLAR?
Dog tracking collars are used by all types of folks: upland bird hunters, houndsmen, beaglers, coon hunters, field trialers, and for coon hunting, bear hunting, lion hunting, and pig/hog hunting.
When you can't see your dogs due to terrain, cover or distance, dog tracking collars provide an effective means of keeping "track" of multiple dogs
Tracking collars are useful where you can't use beeper collars or dog bells.
Dog tracking collars let you quickly determine the location of your dog.
Certain dog tracking systems also let you know what your dog is doing by using certain behavior systems that are part of the collar. You can tell if a dog is moving or has stopped, if a dog is barking, or if he has treed an animal.
Dog Tracking Systems are also effective in locating dogs that are lost.
HOW THEY WORK: TELEMETRY VS. GPS
Radio telemetry collars send a directional radio signal that allows you to pinpoint the direction of your dog and it gives limited information on distance.
GPS tracking collars send a radio signal to your Handheld GPS unit with the exact location of your dog. The Handheld GPS unit plots that information on your MAP SCREEN so you can see your location, your dog's location, direction, and whether or not your dog is moving.
MAXIMUM EFFECTIVE RANGE
The biggest advantage that radio telemetry tracking collars have over GPS tracking systems is range.
Radio tracking collars have about 30% more range in perfect conditions (12 miles line of sight).
The Garmin Astro and Garmin Alpha have a listed range of 9 miles (line of sight).
NOTE: I have never been in a situation where I could get the maximum distance with a tracking collar. How many places do we hunt that actually have 12 miles line of sight with nothing between you and the unit? In heavy wooded areas and places with rolling terrain, your maximum effective range is going to be drastically different from the line of sight range.
DIRECTION AND DISTANCE
One problem with a radio telemetry tracking collar is that it never tells you exact distance, so you have to do some guesswork and test your system. Telemetry collars give very limited information on distance -- it's more about direction. You can estimate the distance based on the amount of gain (signal strength) that is required to get the signal from the tracking collar, but this can change based on the terrain that is between you and the dog.
For example, if your dog is in the bottom of a ravine and there is dirt between you and him, you would need a lot of power to pick up a signal. Once the dog comes out of the ravine you would get a much better signal without the same power. So depending on what's between you and the dog, you will have a hard time telling the exact distance.
GPS dog tracking systems show you exactly where your dog is. These systems have the same range limitations as tracking collars because radio signals will only go so far. As long as you can pick up the signal, you know the exact distance between you and your dog and what he is doing (pointing or running).
WHEN YOUR DOG RUNS OUT OF RANGE, WHAT THEN?
The biggest difference when using a GPS tracking system is that you will be able to see the exact point that the signal drops off. You will also have the advantage of knowing the last spot you were able to get a signal.
With a tracking collar, once you lose the signal, you no longer have any information. You are either getting a signal or you don't. When you lose your signal you have to start hunting your dog by trying to get close enough to actually pick up the signal. This can be a major problem if you have no idea where to start looking.
With a GPS dog tracking system, you will know the exact location that you got the last signal. This allows you to immediately go to the last known location and pick up a current location.
WHAT ABOUT BEEPER COLLARS?
Beeper collars can really confuse some dogs. You have to condition them to the sound and you have to time your commands in the field since your dog can't hear anything while the beeper is going off.
While I have never had proof of a dog suffering any significant hearing loss from long term use of a beeper collar, I can't see that any dog would enjoy wearing one.
The hunter's hearing plays a major role in how well you can hear a beeper, too. It's one of the hardest things to determine when picking the beeper for a customer. Until you have used one in the field, you really will not know if a beeper is going to work with your hearing. GPS tracking eliminates hearing-related issues.
I have always been amazed at how terrain and wind can make beepers useless. Sometimes you can tell exactly where your dog is with a beeper and sometimes you can't.
THE ADVANTAGES OF GPS DOG TRACKING
You Know Your Dog's Exact Location -- The most frustrating thing about running radio tracking collars and beeper collars is that you never know exactly how far out your dog is from you.
GPS tracking systems like the Garmin Astro and Garmin Alpha give you an exact location, distance from you, direction traveling (if moving), and status or what the dog is doing: running, pointing, sitting, or treed. This is more information than we have ever had before from a dog location system.
GPS Offers Silent Running -- GPS is silent. Unlike beeper collars, GPS does not make a sound. This is better for you and your dog. GPS dog tracking totally eliminates the disadvantages of running a beeper collar.
The beauty of a GPS tracking system is that it will also not bother the birds. While many upland birds are not bothered by the sound of a beeper collar, some birds (especially pheasants) learn very quickly that a beeper means hunters and dogs and they high-tail it out of the country.
Point Alarm Tells You Running or "On Point" -- GPS Trackers like the Garmin Astro and Garmin Alpha Dog GPS have a "Point Alarm" that will tell you when your dog goes on point. This way you don't have to constantly check. The system tells you when you need to go find your dog.
Modern bird dog telemetry tracking collars can tell you if your dog is running or if he is on point, but you have to actually track the dog to get this information. For example, when my bird dogs are running close (50 to 400 yards) I can turn on my tracking collar and hear them without opening the antennas. By listening to the beeps, I can tell if they are moving or on point. If they are running and close enough that I get a signal with the antennas closed, I don't even bother tracking them. It's their job to range out and find birds. The downside of this is that if my dog goes on point the second I cut my system off, I will not know about it until I check again, say 5 to 10 minutes later.
USING A GARMIN ASTRO DOG GPS SYSTEM IN FIELD TRIALS OR POINTING DOG HUNT TESTS
The Garmin T5 and Garmin T5 MINI collars are AKC Competition Approved. The AKC Performance Events Department has approved both collars for use in pointing breed field trials and hunting tests.