Animals, Farming, Rural Living

A Review of the Whistle Pet Tracker–Short Answer for Rural Dwellers: Look Elsewhere

I’ve had Whistle pet trackers on my Great Pyrenees dogs for at least a decade.  I haven’t really kept track (see what I did there) of the technology, what it was, how it’s changed, where it is now. (As a 30-year IT professional myself, I have a deep aversion to wasting time looking at how other applications use technology.  All I care about is whether it works.)

Whistle used to work.

It was a great app.  In the good old days of 3G cellular connection, the Whistle app told me, pretty much in real time, exactly where my dog was.  I’d draw a boundary around my “home zone,” and when the dog left it, I’d get a text and an email.  When that happened, and I asked it to “track” my pet, the response was pretty immediate, and I could find my dog, or at least spot my dog, right away.  This had a couple of benefits, one of which was discovery, and the other of which had to do with puppy training.  When I could immediately admonish the dog for escaping the fenced boundary in some manner, it reinforced the idea that he or she should stay at home.

But, several years ago, 3G became obsolete, and–roughly at the same time–Whistle took upon itself delusions of grandeur.  It began to worry about how old my dog was, how much my dog weighed, how much it was eating, how much it was scratching, how many miles it had traveled in a day, if it was drinking enough, how many hours a day it spent resting, when its activity occurred (and if the activity was high, medium, or low), whether or not it was going on a trip with me and my iPhone (hello, Bluetooth!), and where my dog fit (and if its profile needed to be elevated) in the “Whistle community.”

Earth to Whistle:  I don’t give a damn about any of that.

The only thing I want to know is WHERE IS MY DOG?

A couple of weeks ago, Odo escaped.  Although–as best I can tell–I have Whistle configured to text and email me if he escapes the “home zone,” I got no notification at all.  Eventually, I realized he was gone and went searching for him.  I found him trotting down the road back towards home, and (thanks to the efforts of a fortuitously-passing neighbor) got him into my car and drove him home.

When I complained to Whistle that I’d not received any notification that he’d strayed, the responder said that he saw no evidence that Odo had escaped the home zone or the WiFi network (both of which Odo had done) and, he asked me–was I sure that the dog I’d lost was, actually, Odo?

Ummm.  Yeah.  Let’s imply that I can’t tell my dogs apart.  Good move, Whistle customer support!

Today, I let Odo and Xuxa out, and held my phone close, with the Whistle app running, so that I could see if they were close by.

And it told me they were.  At home.  On WiFi.  All along.

Until at about 3:30PM, when another neighbor pulled into my driveway, honked the horn, and told me that my dogs were up the road at “M—–‘s.”  Thanks S—-.  Perhaps I should send you the $8 per month, per pet, subscription fee I currently send to Whistle, because it seems that your perception of where they are is more reliable than Whistle’s.

I’d received no text or email to that point that either of my dogs was out of my home zone, or beyond WiFi range.

So I started to track them.  Fortunately–today–I didn’t get the usual “tracking begins in 60 minutes” response I’ve seen before.  That would probably have sent me postal.

But what I did see is their “track.”  I’ve clipped the road name, but perhaps you can get the idea:

To be clear, both dogs were out of the home zone, far into the woods, and well-beyond WiFi range.  And I’d had no notification that this was the case, for either of them, before my neighbor showed up and told me they’d gone off the grid, and I started to track them manually.

Eventually, I did find them, but not before Bluetooth had given me annoyingly helpful advice that I should walk around until the Bluetooth circles line up:

Are you fucking kidding me?  (In case you can’t quite see it–I’m the “You” in the green encirclement, slightly to the left of “Odo and Xuxa”  in this picture which encompasses several hundred feet of distance.  The instruction given me, at the time, was: “In Bluetooth range.  Signal is Weak.  Try moving to a different location.”)

Right.  Totally unhelpful, out here in the country.  I’m not in a postage stamp city or suburban backyard where fifty or a hundred feet this way or that makes any difference.  I could wander around for hours, or perhaps even days, while my dog is caught in a trap, or perhaps shot, or any other number of calamities, trying to get into “Bluetooth Range.”


Today, I signed up for a Fi trial.  I don’t know if it’ll be any better.  But it’s hard to see that it could be any more useless.

Please stay tuned.  Because this is a matter of importance. And I promise I’ll update you.

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