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The Problem with Fi Collars

At Paws ‘n’ Rec, we see hundreds of dogs with Fi collars. They create problems for us as Daycare owners, but as a self-proclaimed fitness tracking junkie, I see their appeal. After countless calls from frustrated parents with conflicting reports from us and the Fi Collar, I bought one for my dog, and I’m here to report…your Fi is a waste of money and it’s likely lying to you. 

 

Fi Collars at Paws ‘n’ Rec 

A few times a week, we receive a call from a frantic parent saying their Fi collar shows their dog has escaped Paws ‘n’ Rec. The first time this happened, we freaked out. We understand that people trust us with their babies, and we’ve fortified our facilities to ensure that dogs cannot get out without being on a leash with their parents.

 

Every time, the “escaped” Fi-wearing pup is playing in the yards with his “Furiends”. The GPS on the Fi malfunctioned, causing a parent, and us, unnecessary anxiety. 

 

We’ve had other instances where parents have called us annoyed with the data reported by Fi: “My Fi collar says my dog sat around all day. You must have kept him in a kennel the entire time he was at daycare, and I want my money back.” 

 

We don’t force dogs to play. Barring inclement weather, dogs spend between 5-7 hours in playgroups…and sometimes they’re outside taking naps! The Fi collar doesn’t show that. Fis also track steps…not wrestling and playing. Additionally, Fi collars are notoriously bad when they’re under covered areas and off of WiFi. We let parents add their collars to our WiFi for better reporting, but our yards are heavily shaded, causing GPS issues. 

 

Why I Bought A Fi Collar

When Mike and I welcomed two pups of our own shortly after taking over PNR, as a self-proscribed fitness tracking junking, my first thought was to start tracking the workouts of my new four-legged family member, Bessie. I was planning on raising a champion after all – and champions need insight into their performance to understand whether or not they’re wagging their tails enough to stay really fit.

 

We work with a lot of really smart pet business folks – people who have dedicated their careers to various aspects of the animal business, and many of whom have technology backgrounds like myself. I started asking them about dog fitness trackers. Fi’s marketing is everywhere and resembles companies I love for myself like Whoop and Garmin. The feedback was resounding: “these dog products suck. They have nowhere near the functionality or accuracy of their human counterparts, and they’re a total waste of money.” 

 

They also have 2 star reviews on Chewy. But they’re REALLy good at instagram advertising… 

 

So I choose to just let Bessie roam around naked, forging any insight into her step count in the hopes that daycare a few times a week would turn her into the champion Dalmatian I’d always dreamed of.

 

As we kept experiencing issues with parents and Fi Collars, I figured it was high time for me to just try a Fi for Bessie and figure out what all the hype was about.

 

My Experience with Fitness Trackers 

Just to give you a bit of context, here’s my personal fitness setup: I wear a Whoop Strap and a Garmin Forerunner 945. The Whoop auto-tracks all my activity and sleep, and I log every workout with the Garmin. The Garmin syncs to three different fitness mobile apps: Strava, Training Peaks, and Garmin Connect. Between those apps and Whoop, I have multiple companies and algorithms analyzing how I move around. This isn’t to brag about my own obsessions, but just to share that I’m no stranger to looking at step counts for myself and trying to decipher what they actually mean.

 

The Full Fi Collar Experience

Fi Collar Unboxing:

The Fi comes in a nice box. It feels like an iPhone for your dog. The product is solid, with a bright blue, yellow, pink, or gray strap. The actual device is hefty but not obtrusive. It feels like a slimmed down e-collar, and overall, I was pretty impressed with the hardware. It comes with a charging station that also acts as a WiFi station to save battery when you’re at home. Instead of using GPS for location tracking at home, it utilizes the WiFi base.

Fi Collar Setup:

Setup is straightforward and simple. You enter some simple information about your dog, like breed, age, size, etc. This later sets up a profile for your pup, but sadly doesn’t provide much insight into whether or not the step count it’s providing is based on any data associated with your dog’s specific situation. With human fitness trackers, they’re constantly showing you ways that you’re benchmarked against other similar humans and your own overall health. 

 

I expected something similar from Fi. I assume since I’m lucky enough to own a daycare where my dog can roam most days, that I have a more well exercised dog than most, simply because dropping her at daycare is as simple as going to work for me. Sadly, Fi gives me no real insight into whether Bessie is any healthier or not at any given time period. 

They do show Your Dogs “rank” compared to all dogs wearing a Fi Collar – all dogs of their breed, state, and city. Bessie typically ranks pretty high, but they don’t provide any actionable suggestions on what to do here. My Whoop and my Garmin both tell me when I’m over or undertraining, when I need more sleep, etc. Fi doesn’t. 

The Activity of a Daycare Dog.

When I’m at home, Bessie usually gets about 20k+ steps, which is what Fi Suggests on a daily basis. That’s if we do two short walks, and then her running around the house. At daycare, she can get between 20k – 80k steps, with her average being about 40k steps – (which is the equivalent of about 1.5 marathons). She’s also a 1.5yr old Dalmatian, and they’re capable of running some 25+ miles a day if they really want to. 

 

I’ll admit, seeing that data has been really fun and interesting. We know anecdotally that dogs really benefit from the exercise that group play provides, and when your pup has a good day at Paws ‘n’ Rec, they usually come home pretty exhausted and ready for snuggles on the couch. Fi usually confirms that they’re getting a lot more exercise when they’re playing with other dogs all day then they can even heading to the dog park for an hour.

 

I have noticed plenty of days, both at home and at Paws ‘n’ Rec, where her step count is low but I know she’s been super active, and she’s exhausted. When I check with our staff to see if her play routine was the same…it always is. The Fi is the variable, not her daycare experience. 

 

Steps don’t equal activity 

If I go for a 50 mile bike ride, or I do a crossfit workout in a 40ft x 40ft box, and spend the rest of the day on the couch, my step count will be really low. Human fitness trackers account for this with heart rate monitors and algorithms, so my Whoop and my Garmin will show me how active I’ve been and how many calories I’ve burned regardless of whether or not I’ve walked. 

 

The Fi Collar doesn’t do that. While Paws ‘n’ Rec yards are plenty big, they’re not so big that your dog is running around a track for hours. Our pups wrestle…a lot. And that wrestling is getting their heart rates up, it’s building their fitness, and it’s making them the tired pup you want to snuggle when you get home. But according to Fi, a day of wrestling at Paws ‘n’ Rec is worse than a day spent walking in circles at home alone. 

 

The Problem with GPS tracking.

This is really where the Fi Breaks down. During setup, you select “Safe Zones” areas where your dog frequents like your home and Paws ‘n’ Rec. I setup safe zones for my house and both of our facilities. When a dog enters or leaves a safe zone, the Fi app will send you an alert if it can’t connect to your mobile device. If you’re with your dog, Fi knows and doesn’t bother letting you know.

 

When your pup isn’t near your home/the Fi Base station or your phone, it will use GPS to track location and then send the location through AT&T’s cell network to you. Fi mentions how inaccurate this can be in settings without a clear line of sight to the open sky.

 

“A minimum of 4 satellites is required for any positioning, but often to get an accurate position a GPS receiver will need to see as many as 20 satellites. GPS signals also do not travel through structures (walls, buildings, trees, etc.) and will often rebound on hard surfaces, meaning indoor positioning is much more difficult to report.

 

If your GPS test fails, ensure you are outdoors with a clear line of sight to the sky and try testing a few different spots in your neighborhood.”

 

At Lemon, we have indoor/outdoor yards, so dogs are constantly moving between an open-aired outdoor yard and a covered indoor yard, meaning the Fi collar is constantly losing location. When a pup goes inside, they’re also in a concrete building which doesn’t help for positioning.

 

At Pearl, our yards are shaded by both sun sails and large, beautiful oak trees, creating a similar problem.

I have Bessie’s safe zones setup to encompass the entire block around our facilities. On average, I receive at least one alert per day when she is at daycare that she has left the facility. It usually takes about 10 minutes for the app to recognize that she’s still there and to notify me she’s back. The first time this happened, I naturally freaked out – and I own the place! 

 

Needless to say, Bessie was safe and sound, playing in the yards.

 

Should we ban Fi Collars? 

We’ve gone back and forth on this one. We have a similar issue with Apple Airtags…and the problem with them is depending on how they are secured to a collar, they can come off and become a choking/eating hazard for other dogs. 

 

We don’t want to ban Fi Collars – they’re a fun way to get a glimpse into how much your dog is moving, but we do want our parents to understand that they are not as accurate as they claim to be. 

 

As someone who has tracked his fitness and movement for years, the best indicator of whether or not I’m exercising enough isn’t what my Garmin, or the 9 other apps I’m using is telling me – it’s how my body is feeling. If your pup comes home from daycare tired, or if she pulls you into the door of Paws ‘n’ Rec, she’s probably having a blast and playing as much as she wants while she’s there. Maybe she’s not running enough distance, but I can promise you she’s getting far more exercise than she would at home. When Fi can track that, they’ll have our endorsement.