Think your dog is smart? Its collar may be even smarter

Collars with GPS units, motion sensors or other additions help owners keep track of their pets the high-tech way.The New York Times

Many dogs wear collars with ID tags. Now some collars also have Global Positioning System units, motion sensors or other additions to help owners keep track of their pets the high-tech way.

Garmin, a manufacturer of GPS equipment, makes a tracking system that keeps tabs on dogs during walks in the countryside or in the dense ground cover of a hunting trip. It has two parts: a handheld GPS unit for the owner and another device that is mounted on the dog's collar or harness.

If the dog bolts after a deer, the owner's device will show where the dog is headed so the owner can follow and find it, even if miles away.

Garmin is one of many companies that have adapted an existing product line, in this case a handheld GPS unit, with the hope of tapping into the pet market, said Michael Dillon, a pet industry consultant in Berkeley, Calif. That market is vast: nearly 45 percent of United States households own dogs, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, an industry group in Greenwich, Conn.

The Garmin dog tracker system, called Astro, costs $599, but the price may not be too steep for people who already have a deep emotional and financial investment in their dogs. Businesses that sell the Astro include Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, and Gun Dog Supply.

"Many people have already spent $3,000 to $5,000 buying and training their dog," said Steven R. Smith, editor of The Pointing Dog Journal. "But it's not just what the dog costs. These days, dogs are members of the family."

The Astro, which weighs 6 ounces, is meant for large and medium-size dogs, which can carry it easily. "It's not going to work that well on a Chihuahua," said Ted Gartner, a spokesman at Garmin's main United States subsidiary, in Olathe, Kan.

The unit on the dog's collar computes the animal's location from GPS satellites and radios the information to the owner's handheld unit. The dog units also have tiny motion-sensing chips that detect when the dog is running, sitting or on point.

The system will keep track of dogs up to five miles away in the countryside, Gartner said. If the dog goes over a mountain, the radio signal between dog and owner will probably be lost because the radio needs a line of sight to communicate. "But the handheld GPS unit will tell you the last known location, so you can hike and regain the signal on the other side of the mountain," he said.

Several GPS systems on the market track dogs by sending location alerts to a cell phone, but Garmin had a reason for not going that route. "Dogs are not always in areas that have cell coverage," Gartner said.

For dogs that are at home alone while their owners are at work, a start-up company, SNIF Labs of Boston, is developing a lightweight tag that logs, among other details, how much exercise the animal is getting. Small enough even for Chihuahuas, the tags are in preliminary testing and are scheduled for limited release in November at a price of $199.95.

The tags contain computer chips to detect a dog's motion inside and outside the house. "When the dog is out," said Noah Paessel, chief executive, "the computer on the tag is running and collecting information on walking and trotting, and storing it in memory on the dog's tag."

When the dog returns home, the data stored on its collar is beamed by radio to a nearby receiver connected to a home computer and then to the company Web site for analysis and display.

The tags can also be used for networking. (The company's name, by the way, stands for Social Networking in Fur.) If dogs wearing the tags meet, the chips on their collars exchange identifying signals, Paessel said, and a record of the meeting can be kept on the server. If they wish, the owners can then contact one another too.

PupLight uses a different technology for its dog tags: light-emitting diodes, fashioned into shining medallions that resemble smaller versions of the LED headlamps worn by hikers and cave explorers, at $19.95. The bright beams of the LEDs are intended to make dogs more visible--especially those that are small and dark in color, and may be hard to see at night, said Jacquelyn Simoni, president of the company, which is based in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Consumers can expect many more technology-based pet products, according to a recent report from Packaged Facts, a research firm in Rockville, Md. Those may include dog monitoring and retrieval systems that work with video cell phones.

Many of the products will result from companies adapting their goods for dog lovers. "It is a very attractive way to expand sales and profit margins," said Dillon, the pet market consultant.


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