Oh, my, where is Fido? Most of us have felt that fear. A GPS, or global positioning system, can now help with this.

The GPS on our cell phones or in our cars helps us figure out how to get somewhere or even to figure out where we are. Why can’t we have a GPS placed in our dog so we won’t have to worry as much when they run far ahead of us on the trail, escape out of the yard, or when we just cannot find them at home when they are digging a hole under a bush in our back yard?

The current GPS trackers are way too big to be implanted under a dog’s skin. This technology is not on the horizon yet.

So a great idea is to get a GPS tracker that comes as either a full collar or as a device that attaches to your dog’s collar or harness. The dog GPS units are small, lightweight, waterproof, dust proof and dog excursion proof. They do not have a monthly fee.

You can use your smart phone or computer to see how far your trusted companion has run and pinpoint their location. You can set up a designated “safe space” for your dog and the GPS will send an alert when your dog leaves the area.

A dog GPS will enable you to set up a virtual fence that lets you know when they come to close to a road, lake, neighbor’s yard or other dangerous areas.

Most of the devices also serve as a fitness tracker for your dog, letting you know how many steps or miles your dog is getting in each day.

Dog trackers that use only Bluetooth technology only have a minimal range, but GPS technology allows you to find your dog from almost anywhere is the world.

The GPS trackers let you see your dog’s location in real time with about 23 feet of accuracy.  Many GPS trackers’ batteries last for months.

Microchips — a permanent pet ID — differ from GPS devices. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It is implanted by your veterinarian under the skin between a dog’s shoulders. Neither you nor you dog will notice it.

The microchip itself has no internal energy source. It will last up to 25 years, so it will last the lifetime of your pet. After you have the microchip implanted, you register the dog or cat with the microchip companies’ database, providing all of the pet’s information and your contact information.

The microchip is read by passing a microchip scanner over the pet’s shoulder blades. The scanner emits a low radio frequency that provides the power necessary to locate where the chip is and reads the unique ID code for your dog or cat. This ID code positively identifies your pet.

If your pet gets lost and is taken to an animal shelter or veterinarian, they will scan the microchip. With the contact information listed in the code, they can reunite you with your pet. Veterinarians, humane societies, animal control and many rescue groups have microchip scanners. 

The microchip identifies the dog’s owner like the tag on your dogs’ collar. It cannot track your dog’s location or tell you where it is at any given moment.

Some microchip companies send an alert when you notify them that your dog or cat is lost or stolen. This alert is sent within a 25-mile radius of where your pet was last seen and goes to shelters, veterinarians and pet stores.

The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that “microchips aren’t a substitute for proper external identification of animals. Microchipped pets should also wear collars with proper identification. License tags, rabies tags and personal visual identification are all components of a comprehensive pet identification program.”

This makes sense because individuals who may find your dog always first check the tags in an attempt to locate the owners. So be sure you put  a personalized tag on your dog with your pet’s name and your phone number.

Microchips definitely help find lost dogs.

According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a study of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed that microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time while dogs without microchips were returned just 21.9% of the time.

Cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8% of the time, whereas microchipped cats went back home 38.5% of the time.

For microchipped animals that weren’t returned to their owners, most of the time it was due to incorrect owner information (or no owner information) in the microchip registry database — so don’t forget to register and keep your contact information updated in the microchip database.

Old-fashioned common sense and county dog tags, rabies tags and personalized tags can help you find your lost dog, but GPS trackers and microchips are an enormous help.

Bonnie Franklin

Bonnie Franklin DVM

Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a relief veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. The opinions expressed are her own.