72 Hours With the Link AKC Smart Collar

We track our own footsteps, our sleep, and how many calories we burn on a daily basis. Our watches and TVs are smart, and even our grills can practically think for themselves. So why not track our four-footed best friend’s activity, too?

The American Kennel Club just came out with a smart collar, the Link AKC, which records the location of your dog, your dog’s activity levels, and the dog's ambient temperature. We tried the Link collar out on two different pups over the course of three days to see what worked, what didn’t, and just how lazy our dogs are when we aren’t home.

Day 1

The Link kit comes with a base station, a tracking unit, and a leather collar in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes. We tested the large-sized collar on two different dogs: Remy, a three-year-old Chow/German Shepard/mutt mix, and Skippy, a nine-year-old black lab/mutt mix. Two very different dogs that coexist (often happily) in the same house.

Right out of the box, the leather collar is a bit stiff, but nicely designed with a sleek look and a smooth feel. The tracking unit can slip onto the leather collar, or you can slide it onto your dog’s own collar if the leather one isn’t their style. Remy wore the new leather collar, while Skippy preferred his own.

The tracking unit needs to be charged on the base station before you can pair it with the Link app on your phone. A few hours of charging provides about two to three days of normal usage (such as not being in Lost mode, but more on that later). We downloaded the app to our Android phone (available for iPhone, too) and were prompted to log in and then register our plan, which starts at $9.95 a month. The plan is necessary because the tracking unit uses connections to cellular and WiFi networks to pinpoint your pet.

It took a little time to get the collars connected via Bluetooth to our phones, but once they were connected, we created separate profiles for each dog. Each profile includes a picture, the dog's age, gender, breed, and weight, and a few questions about their activity, like when does the dog usually rest on a normal walk, and how long before the dog gets tired playing in the park.

Skippy, being the old man, gets 48 minutes of activity a day, while Remy's supposed to get around 60. As soon as the trackers were on the collars, the app began recording their activity with a graph that shows moderate versus high activity, with a timeline of when the dogs were active.

Clicking the tracking unit into the collar (and taking it off) was extremely easy, and secure enough that we didn't worry about losing it while running around. We also had to decide where to place each base in the house and label accordingly, so that the tracking radius would cover part of the yard as well. Once those were set up, updates would pop up on my phone’s screen, letting me know that “Remy is now away” (like on a walk outside of the parameters created by the bases), “Skippy is with you,” or, “Skippy has returned to the kitchen base.” Once one of them reached their daily activity goal, we’d get an update congratulating them.

Day 2

We decided that both Remy and Skippy could benefit from upping their daily exercise, so a hike was in order. With my phone’s bluetooth and GPS on, I was able to see on the app’s screen where we were hiking or where Remy was when she decided to befriend a squirrel. When you're outside of your house and away from the base stations, the app does have a Temporary Safe Zone setting, which you can set for a certain amount of time, as well as extend the safe zone to outside of your phone’s bluetooth range. The safe zone doesn’t move with you or the dog, however, and would be more ideal if you were at a park or a friend’s house. When hiking, we were able to see where each dog was on the map, but once they moved out of the safe zone, we had to move it around on the app as well.

One problem: The map screen didn’t update as quickly as we would have liked. We had to wait a few minutes each time we went to the map page to get an accurate signal of where we were located — not ideal if your dog's in a full sprint. And unless you're in Lost mode, the GPS signal to your phone will cut out every time you leave the map screen or app. If you're in Lost mode, the GPS on the collar will be activated (and use more battery that normal) and will continually update where your dog is.

The app also has an Our Adventure page, where we can track the date, time, and miles of where we hiked, with the option to snap pictures along the way and then share the path — however, it seemed easier to just do our own social media updates versus going through the program.

Day 3

On our last night, we went camping where the dogs could be off leash. Ideally, we would've used the collar and app to keep track of the dogs if they ran off, but we didn't have cell service. From our phone, we were still able to activate the light on the collar, as well as training sounds, to keep track of the dogs in the dark.

Currently, users have to share login information to have the app on more than one phone. But as new updates come to the Link, multiple users will be able to log in separately to their own app and track accordingly, which is great if you hire a dog-walker while you're at work.

Overall, the Link collar is ideal for helping you keep track of how much activity your dog is getting on a day-to-day basis, and tracking them down if they ever make a run for it. [$199; linkakc.com]