Consumer Relations, Pets and Livestock

Semper Fi! Dog Tracker Extraordinaire

In a recent post, I expressed my dissatisfaction with the “Whistle” GPS pet trackers I’ve had on the collars of my Great Pyrenees dogs now for about a decade.

When Whistle and I started out on our journey together, it was a wonderful product.  It did exactly what I wanted it to do: That is to say, it located my dogs and showed me–in the app–where they were.  Even when they were on my 30-acre property, and therefore in the “virtual safe zone” I’d drawn on the satellite map in the Whistle app, I could still get an idea of whether they were in the field, in the woods, to the East, West, North, or South of me, and if I needed to worry about their safety.  On days when someone accidentally left the farm gate open, and one or the other dogs trotted down or up the road, I’d quickly get a text message to the effect that “Levi is 800 feet from [YourFarmName Safe Zone],” and bringing up the app would instantaneously show me where he was.

Fortunately for me, Great Pyrenees dogs are not, as a rule, boundary-breakers, especially when they’ve had a bit of training.  So I didn’t have to utilize the feature all that often.  But–boy howdy–it was useful when I did.

Along the way, though, Whistle got with the times.  And–it seems to me–it began to deprecate the GPS functionality of the application in favor of what–I guess–the company thought its new generation of dog owners wanted more of–Health and Activity Monitoring!  And so it became loaded down with features that I really could not have cared less about:  How much was my dog drinking?  Too much or not enough? Was he scratching too much or not scratching enough?  More, or less, than yesterday? Spending too much time sleeping?  Too wakeful? Was he overactive?  Underactive?  Overweight?  Underweight? Exercising more than was good for him?  Turning into a couch potato? Eating enough?  Eating too much? Where did he fit in the “community?”  How did he compare to the neighbors’ dogs?  Were others watching his progress?  Would I like to walk him in a group of like-minded friends?

Glory be.  Go away, please.

All I ever want such a product to tell me, is: WTH is my dog?  NOW??!!

A few weeks ago, Odo escaped the Whistle home zone.  Although I’m pretty sure I have the app configured correctly, I got no notification, either via text or email (both of which were set up, and which have worked for several years previous).

Eventually, I realized he was gone and went searching for him.  I found him trotting down the road back towards home, followed by his new little mini-me, and (thanks to the efforts of a fortuitously-passing neighbor and friend) got them both into my car and drove them home.  It’s a good thing that happened fairly quickly, because–in the interim–Whistle was telling me how very long–upwards of an hour–it would take to activate the GPS to give me Odo’s exact location.  So it never did go looking for him, or tell me where he was.

When I complained to Whistle that I’d not received any notification that Odo had strayed, and how counterproductive and dangerous I thought it might be to take upwards of an hour to find him on the Whistle GPS app, 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 am too stupid to tell my dogs apart.  Good move, Whistle customer support!  Hanging by a thread, here.

A subsequent test (now that I was alerted to the potential pitfalls) in which I let the dogs out and waited, with a keen eye on the phone app, for Whistle to tell me that the dogs had breached the boundary, resulted in absolutely no notifications until a very audible one in which my downhill neighbor–returning home–pulled into my driveway, honked his horn several times loudly, and informed me that both dogs were about 1/4 mile up the road, in the vacant farmhouse’s garden.

And while I could see that that was the case, if I–ex-post-facto–explored the app, I’d once again received no notification that the dogs had debunked.  So how might I have known, absent my neighbor’s helpful intervention?

I would not.

That’s the point at which I drew the line.  And I decided to Try Fi.

The Fi collar and module arrived a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing I noticed is that it installed (from the software perspective) far more easily than Whistle which–often–seems to involve phone calls and waiting around, sometimes for hours, before things get sorted.  So that was nice.

A bump or two on the attachment option (support was pretty good, and solved the problem fairly quickly).

And so, for a couple of weeks, I’ve been diligently walking Odo around with his Fi collar on, to see what transpires.

First thing I’ve noticed is that Fi seems to be able to track Odo within the safe zone (something that Whistle hasn’t done for years).  So that when I’ve walked the farm perimeter with him on a leash, keeping within, and going slightly outside, the safe zone, it tells me where he’s been (note also Fi’s greater flexibility, WRT “points,” when it comes to defining the ‘safe zone’ versus Whistle, whose option seems to be only either a circle or a parallelogram:

All of that is great.

About a week ago, I decided to let Odo’s freedom flag fly.  So I let both him and Xuxa out, off their leashes, and went back into the house myself.  I expected them to escape.

And, after about an hour of hanging around in the vicinity of the house, they did.

My current thinking on that is that Xuxa is the problematic one, and that she probably sneaks under the wire, and Odo goes with her because he thinks he should.  I recollect that I’d never had a problem with Odo, but that Xuxa was a bit of a mess when I picked her up because she and her mother and the rest of the litter had escaped the farm the night before and spent a riotous night among the ticks and the fleas….  I think she’s less well-trained than he was.  Which is fine.  We’ll get it sorted before too long.  Not worried.  I love her.  And love–as anyone with any sense knows–covers a multitude of sins and exceeds all else.

So, after I’d set them free, at some point, they toddled off.  I didn’t get a text alert (think that was my fault and I didn’t have notifications set properly), but I was watching the app pretty closely.

I have to say that “Fi” does a much better job of live-tracking the dog than “Whistle.”  There’s none of this “the GPS will activate in 47 minutes” nonsense  that Whistle currently employs.  Fi  just tells you where the dog is, and updates every minute until you tell it to stop.  Alongside the satellite image, the dogs were easy to find.  (To be clear, Fi does a lot of the other “health and wellness” shit too.  I don’t care about any of that.  Fi can “Whistle Dixie” (see what I did there) for all I’m concerned.  The only thing I want to know is: Where the hell is my dog?  Tell me that, in a timely way, and–as with much else in life–I can forgive the rest of it.

So I’m going to switch brands. There are still a few things I need to figure out, but the main driver for the GPS is that I can quickly locate and find the dogs if they escape.  And I think “Fi” is the much better option.  So, I’ve cancelled Odo’s Whistle subscription (it doesn’t actually expire till April, so I can switch back if I need to).  Unfortunately, I only started Xuxa’s annual Whistle subscription late in October, so I’ll lose most of that if I switch her to Fi (which is slightly more expensive).  But the cost isn’t  really all that important, because if I can’t find the dog in a timely way on Whistle, it’s useless–no matter what it costs–anyway.

Right now, I’m shouting–Semper Fi!

Outstanding!  And, oorah!

PS: As a 30-year career IT manager, prior to my retirement more than a decade ago, I have some sympathy with Whistle.  It’s hard to be the trailblazer (which Whistle was), and then find yourself competing with folks who’ve started out generations of technology newer than you, and who therefore  don’t have to waste time fixing some of the legacy issues involved with your own product.  But still, if your first impulse is not to listen to what your customers are saying, and to cast asparagus upon what they tell you, you bloody well deserve what you get.


2 thoughts on “Semper Fi! Dog Tracker Extraordinaire”

  1. Today (February 11, 2023) I ordered a second “Fi” collar for Xuxa, my five-month old Great Pyrenees.

    I’m not over the moon with “Fi” support, which doesn’t offer telephone suport as Whistle did. Sometimes it takes a day or three for them to get back to you, as it did in the most recent case, when I was struggling to find out how one might set up multiple dogs in their app. (The Whistle app is much easier, and more intuitive, for multiple dog/collar owners.)

    Still, after about 48 hours, someone at Fi did respond in a helpful way. So we’ll see how that goes.

    In the meantime, I’m still finding the switch useful, just because the Fi app does a so-much-better job of telling me where my dog is!

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