Tractive GPS Dog Tracker and Home Assistant
Do you have an urge to be over-protective of your furry friends and need to know where they are at all times? Do you also have an addiction to home automation and insist on every product you purchase to be integrated into your smart home? Yes? You’re in the right place then because today I’m going to talk about the Tractive GPS tracker.
This is the Tractive GPS tracker for dogs (click here to view on Amazon). It attaches very easily to your dog’s collar and provides its realtime location to an app on your smartphone, tablet or any web browser. It’s basically like one of those trackers that the spies use in movies and stick inside the wheel arches of cars, but it’s for your dog.
I’ve had this one for over a year now and as you can see it’s been through a lot. It’s scratched and muddy, but importantly it’s still working perfectly. Biscuit the cockapoo has put this thing through its paces and it’s dealt with regular beatings from sea water at the beach, sand at the dunes, and muddy clay puddles at the old quarry.
The battery is rechargeable and lasts about a week – I just have to make sure that I put it on charge every Saturday evening normally, and the supplied charger is a USB cable with a proprietary clip on the end that snap onto the tracker.
Moving on to the features then, well – its main purpose is to show you where your pet is, assuming that the aforementioned pet has the tracker on their collar still!
In the app you can easily see where you pet is right now, you can see a history of where they’ve been – I’m not sure how long that history is kept, but it appears to be for at least a year! You can set a virtual fence around an area on the map too and get an alert if your pet leaves that area. I’ve never actually used that feature, but I guess if you have a dog that likes to explore and escape then it could be quite handy.
The app also gives you activity data in the form of how many active minutes your pet has had, how many extra calories they’ve burned, and even how much sleep they’ve had. It’s basically like a Fitbit for your dog. There’s a leaderboard section too that lets you compare your pet’s activities with others of the same breed, in the local area, or even with all Tractive users globally.
My favourite part though is the live tracking. By default the tracker only reports its location every couple of minutes. This helps it conserve battery power so you’re not charging it every day and it’s quite important that the battery lasts a few days. But, if you enable live tracking mode then you get instant live location details, if your dog has suddenly bolted, then turning on live tracking mode will tell you exactly where they are right now, rather than just their last known location.
There are a couple of other useful little features of this tracker -there’s a little LED light on it that can be useful when walking during the twilight hours, and a speaker that emits a beep which is really good for recalling your dog. It takes a bit of training but being able to call your dog back using a beep on the collar could be really handy if they’re out of shouting or whistling range.
Home Assistant Integration
Right then – onto the Home Assistant integration, and it’s really very simple because support for Tractive is built-in. You just go to Settings, Devices & Services, click on the blue Add Integration button and search for Tractive. You’ll be asked to sign in to your Tractive account, but once you have then it’ll create one device and a number of entities. You get switches to control live tracking, the LED and the buzzer, and what I think is the most useful one the device tracker entity. This can basically be used in exactly the same way as any other device tracker entity in Home Assistant. You can add a person in Settings > People for your pet, and you can assign the device tracker entity as the location information for that ‘person’.
Getting this far is easy, but actually finding a practical use for this that isn’t just a gimmick is something I’m struggling with. Please, if you have any ideas for automations that you can use this for, let me know! The only idea I’ve had so far is perhaps an automation that detects if your pet has left a specific location, so a virtual fence has been breached, and then setting off the buzzer in the hope that it gets her attention and sends her running back home. But, there are practical issues with that one, such as knowing if she’s actually been taken for a walk so as the buzzer doesn’t go off with a false alert.
As it is, I’ve just got Biscuit’s face sitting on my dashboard with her current location against it. Not very useful, but it makes the dashboard look a bit prettier.
Costs and Subscription
Now I need to address the elephant in the room – this is a subscription-based product. So you have to buy the product itself which at full price is about £45 (as of November 2022), and then on-top of that you need a subscription or else it’s a pointless lump of plastic. That subscription is basically paying to connect it to the mobile networks so as it can communicate its location back wirelessly wherever you are in the world. There are a number of plans and they range from £12/month at the most expensive end down to £4/month, but… and this is likely to cause a bit of confusion, that cheapest package is actually the top package in terms of features! That’s because to get the cheapest price you have to pay for 5 years up front.
I paid for 2 years up front on the premium package which works out at £5 per month. At the time I figured my dog would probably destroy this tracker quite quickly I was very wrong.
I did say that this costs £45 at full price, but I have frequently seen it on sale for £25 which is what I paid, and even free when you buy the subscription, although I’ve only seen it free once. Basically, if you’re going to buy one then keep your eyes on the sales.
Overall, this has given us peace of mind for not a massive amount of money really, and it has the added bonus of Home Assistant integration. Given that this gadget has taken an absolute battering over the last year and is still working perfectly has got to be a glowing report of how well built it is.