High-quality leather collar. Intuitive app. LED night light in tracker. Stores maps and images of tracked activity.
Pricey. Bulky. Bigger houses may require additional base stations. Ineffective temperature warnings in testing.
- Bottom Line
The Link AKC Smart Collar thoroughly tracks your dog's activity and location, but it's a bit big and pricey compared with other options.
The Link AKC is a stylish device that mounts on your pet's collar to track its fitness, location, and even ambient temperature. It's endorsed by the American Kennel Club, comes with its own attractive leather collar, and offers some useful features you won't find in our Editors' Choice, the Whistle 3. But it also has some drawbacks, including a bulky design and a steep $179 price.
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Pricing, Design, and Features
The Link AKC starts with a high initial price of $179. That should probably earn you a free year of tracking, but it doesn't: You have to activate the service plan immediately to get the full benefit of the GPS option. The plan also comes with a three-year replacement warranty, access to the Pet Poison Hotline from within the app, and a free collar upgrade if your pet outgrows the first one. It costs $9.95 per month, $95.40 for one year, or $166.80 for two years. That's the same price as service plans for the Whistle 3, however, the Whistle sells for much less initially. (The lowest two-year total cost for the Link AKC is $345.80 compared with $246.75 for the Whistle 3.)
The Link AKC shows up in some very nice packaging: a fat cardboard cylinder with a plastic top. Inside is a high-quality leather collar, a shock/water-resistant (IP67) tracking unit, a collar carrier to attach the tracker, a base station (with convenient USB pass-through to charge other devices), and a power cord.
The collar is available in four sizes: small for necks 9 to 14 inches, medium for 14 to 17.5 inches, large for 17 to 21 inches, and XL for 20.5 to 25 inches. No matter what size you choose, the tracker hardware remains the same: 1.5 by 3.9 by 0.5 inches (HWD). It's curved to fit your dog's neck, so it won't work on a harness that well, depending on placement. It weighs 2.55 ounces with the carrier, making it quite a big bigger and heavier than the Whistle 3 (1.5 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches, 1.25 ounces). You can use the tracker and carrier on any collar, not just the included one—but the included one is really nice.
The company recommends the device for dogs 15 pounds and up. On a small pup—like my testing assistant, Madison, who weighs in at a svelte 32 pounds of brindle-colored energy—it looks bulky. The smaller the dog, the weirder it's going to appear. My wife saw it and proclaimed it "a little ridiculous and macho" for her precious little girl. It's not sized or designed to work with cats, like the Whistle 3 can.
The tracker clips into the tracker carrier. A spring-release button on the carrier pops it off, so you can set the tracker in the base station (which is just a little bigger than the tracker itself) to recharge. In my tests, Madison wasn't able to accidentally pop the tracker off.
Set the tracker on the base station and four LED lights indicate the charge level. The base station is also part of the tracking system. When you remove the tracker from the charger, you must physically activate it with a push of the button on the back; a light on the front will blink green. It's also one of the few pet trackers you can turn on and off. Link AKC recommends charging it nightly, despite an estimated battery life of two to three days. I typically got about 2.5 days before it died, which is far short of the Whistle 3's nearly weeklong battery.
Tracking position for the Link AKC comes via AT&T's cellular network. If you don't have AT&T 3G near you, it's not going to work. There's a 30-day money back guarantee if it doesn't function in your area.
App and Performance
Setup requires an account, created via the Link AKC app for either Android or iOS. You can also use a Facebook login if desired. There is no web option.
Start by activating Bluetooth on your smartphone and turning on the collar; in the app, go into Nearby Collars and it should find the tracking unit for you to register. You can then add your dog's name, age, weight, gender, and breed—unlike the Whistle 3, you can select multiple dog types if you have a mix.
You also need to set up the base station. The app supports multiple base stations, so you can have them in every room if you so desire (the company isn't selling base stations separately yet, but says it will soon, though pricing isn't available). Each base uses Bluetooth to create a safe zone—if the dog wanders out of the range of the zone, the app will send you an alert. If you stick with one base station, it's best if it is as centralized in your home as possible. Leaving the base unplugged can lead to false "away" alerts. For comparison, the Whistle 3 uses your home Wi-Fi, which provides a much wider range than Bluetooth, and you don't need to worry about setting up base stations.
If you have a very large house, you may need multiple base stations. If the dog is not near the base, nor with you, the app will send an alert. It also activates GPS in the tracker, which can take a couple of minutes to get a location. After that, it checks every 30 seconds until the unit is back in the safe zone or turned off.
The mobile app has buttons along the bottom for Home, Location, Activity, Adventures, and More. It also has a battery life indicator. Home gives you quick access to the other sections. It also lets you activate the white LED light on the tracker, which is convenient for finding your dog out in the dark. There is a button to activate an audible chime on the tracker, ostensibly for training, but it's not going to replace a clicker. (All three of these only work if the tracker is connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone—not to the base station.)
Location displays a map (via TomTom) with an overlay depicting the safe zone created by your base station and smartphone. Click the target to jump to the current whereabouts of the tracker. Notifications typically hit your phone after about 30 seconds according to my tests, which is much faster than the Whistle, which takes a few minutes.
You need to answer some questions to set up an Activity profile for your dog. For Madison, who could run free all day if allowed, the Link AKC recommended 48 minutes of daily active time, based on her age, size, and gender. She's a little old though, so I set that down to 40 minutes. While it tells you how many minutes your pet has moved (like most trackers do), it also splits that information up to show moderate vs. intense activity; the company claims it has a patent-pending algorithm that "learns what constitutes intense activity." It seemed relatively accurate in testing, but it's hard to say what it sees in a hike that's moderate as opposted to intense. Playing catch with a Frisbee seemed accurately labeled as intense.
Adventures is for tracking special location-based hikes or trips to the park. Click the red button and it'll start tracking the time and place—but only if you're within Bluetooth range of your dog, and out of range of the base station. Starting an Adventure from my front porch was an exercise in frustration…once far enough away, I had to also ensure my iPhone was connected to the tracker. You can't track an Adventure if someone else takes the dog out (like a dog walker).
Pictures taken in the app while tracking get stored with the location data, providing a little snapshot of the Adventure. You can rename, share, or delete Adventures, unlike the Whistle 3, which automatically removes them after 24 hours. My initial experiences tracking Adventures had some oddly inaccurate GPS maps, but eventually the hikes seemed to record fine.
Ambient temperature alerts are not on by default, and that's a good thing. I've seen body temperature readings tried in some other products, like the PetPace, and the false positives—say on a cold day when the dog lays near the fireplace—are off the charts. The company goes out of its way to note this feature is about the surrounding air, not your dog's body temperature, which means it could be a handy way to avoid something we all fear in the summer: animals trapped in hot cars.
I set it for 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit—the highest low and the lowest high temperatures the app will track—and the false positives came rolling in (Madison sleeps in a window in the sun). I changed the high to 95 degrees and still got alerts, even on cool days. I eventually deactivated the temperature warnings altogether. Unfortunately, after the tracker's battery dies and is recharged, the warnings turn back on without permission.
Lastly, there is an option to store your dog's health records and other paperwork. This is nothing fancy, just a simple use of your smartphone camera to take pictures of paperwork to store in the app. You can do the same thing in OneNote, Evernote, etc., but it's nevertheless handy to have for reference when you visit a veterinarian.
The Link AKC comes so close to being a dream tracker in many ways—it does a few things better than the Whistle 3, including more advanced activity tracking and a way to store Adventures (not to mention a snazzy leather collar). But it's held back by the need for cumbersome base stations, the bulky size of the unit itself, and a price more than double some of the competition. I'm looking forward to the next generation of Link AKC, which absolutely has the potential to be a winner. For now, the Whistle 3 remains just ahead, and our Editors' Choice.
Eric narrowly averted a career in food service when he began in tech publishing at Ziff-Davis over 20 years ago. He was on the founding staff of Windows Sources, FamilyPC, and Access Internet Magazine (all defunct, and it's not his fault). He's the author of two novels, BETA TEST ("an unusually lighthearted apocalyptic tale"–Publishers' Weekly) and KALI: THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY. He works from his home in Ithaca, NY. More »
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