October 01, 2010
Keeping Tabs on Our Hunting and Contest Dogs
Ted Gartner, Garmin's director of communications.
While hunting quail last winter, Ted Gartner and I were talking about how reassuring it was knowing where the dogs are and the peace of mind that comes along with it.
Ted really digs this line of conversation, as he's the guy who a few years back began promoting the concept of live GPS tracking of hunting dogs to Engineering and Management at Garmin International, where he is director of communications. The good news for us is that the idea took hold, resulting in the introduction of the Astro GPS Dog Tracking System.
To bring us up-to-date on the concept and recent advancements in GPS tracking, I asked Ted to answer a few questions for Gun Dog readers.
Bob West: Ted, my read is the Astro has been a big hit. What's the reaction been like among hunters, dog trainers and trialers in general?
Ted Gartner: It's been pretty amazing, to be honest with you. Several years ago, we got a number of e-mails from hunters requesting a device that would track their dogs, so as you know, we decided to give it a try, and we developed the original Astro GPS Dog Tracking System.
Now we're on the third generation of the Astro, and it keeps getting better. Hunters and trainers have really gravitated to the system, and I think that's mainly because it's reliable, easy to use and helps dog owners get more out of their time afield.
BW: For those folks out there who still may not be familiar with the Astro, give us a basic overview of how it works.
TG: In a nutshell, it tells you where your dog is in relation to you. The handheld unit has a compass with an arrow that points to the direction of your dog, giving you the precise distance, and it'll even alert you when your dog is on point.
The Astro also has a map page to illustrate where a dog is and where it has been--in relation to the hunter--and allows hunters to determine if they have covered nearby ground. You can track up to 10 dogs up to seven miles away. In the off-season, it's a fully functional GPS unit for hiking or camping, too.
BW: How has the gun dog world accepted your products?
TG: As with any new technology, we had a few skeptics and naysayers at first, but almost all of them were believers after they had a chance to use the device firsthand. I've had a ton of pro trainers and amateurs alike tell me that using the Astro fundamentally changes the way that they relate to their dog.
You can see how your dog is performing, even if you can't physically see him. For me, a day in the field is more relaxing and enjoyable when I don't have to worry about where my dog may be or what he's up to. But beyond the basic stuff, the kind of information that the Astro provides is invaluable to trainers.
Since they always know what the dog is doing, the Astro allows them to make more informed and instantaneous corrections, and it helps eliminate unnecessary corrections. I've even had a few field trial kennels tell me how they use the Astro to keep detailed statistics about the progress of young dogs over the course of a training season. You can't get a much more precise digital diary of your dog's performance.
BW: I enjoy looking back on hunts I've tracked and saved as well as reviewing training or exercise sessions on my computer.
TG: You bet. You can store hunts or training sessions on Garmin Connect, a free online service that displays your dog's tracks, as well as distance traveled, speed, time and elevation. You can even overlay your tracks to Google Earth, so you can analyze how your dog relates to terrain and cover.
We've also got some highly detailed topo maps that Astro users can purchase that'll display the terrain directly on their Astro 220 handheld unit.
BW: Just recently, you introduced a newly designed tracking collar. What's different about it?
TG: That's right, this summer we introduced the new DC 40 tracking collar, and it's on the market now. While our customers loved the DC 30, we listened to their feedback and made a few refinements that are reflected in the new DC 40.
Probably the most noticeable change is that the nylon web collar has been replaced by a heavy-duty polyurethane-coated collar, similar to what you'd find on most e-collars. Gone also is the small black GPS puck that used to ride on the top of the collar. That lets users thread most e-collar modules directly onto the strap--eliminating the need to put on and take off an additional collar when hunting or training.
Our engineers completely redesigned the charging system as well. The new design clamps around the housing for a more secure and solid fit, and the charging terminals are now completely flush with the body of the unit. In the DC 40, the LED light flashes while charging, and glows steadily when the unit is fully charged--just another little refinement that we made based on feedback from the field.
BW: Ted, acceptance by the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America, the AKC and other contest organizations are wonderful votes of confidences beyond what you may have wished for at startup€¦and we understand you've even added some new features for field trial competitions?
TG: Yes, we have. At first, I think there was some reluctance within field trial organizations to allow the Astro as a dog recovery system. Initially, it was because some weren't sure the Astro was accurate, durable or long-range enough to meet the demands of field trials. Those fears were allayed pretty quickly once the Astro hit the market.
The second concern to field trial organizations was that dishonest folks might use the unit in trials to locate their dogs and gain an unfair advantage over a bracemate. We worked with those organizations to address their concerns, and most field trial organizations now sanction the Astro as a permitted recovery device.
Now, with the DC 40, we have addressed that issue up front. You can choose to assign a four-digit PIN number to each collar, so that others are unable to track your dog.
BW: What about someone who purchased an earlier version of the Astro and wants to upgrade to the DC 40 collar?
TG: No problem. They can purchase a DC 40 collar separate
ly, and it'll work with their existing handheld. You can also operate the DC 40 along with previous versions of our collars simultaneously if you have more than one dog.
BW: What else is Garmin working on that might interest dog owners?
TG: [Laughs.] We choose to play it pretty cagey when it comes to our product roadmap. But I think this latest generation of the Astro demonstrates that we're committed to the hunting dog market, and we actively listen to our customers to continually improve and enhance our product offerings. So while the DC 40 is our latest offering, it's far from our last.
BW: Oh, man, that's a good way of keeping us tuned to this channel€¦thanks, Ted!
Folks, on our next hunt I'll dig around in his training equipment bag while he's feeding his dogs and let you know what new stuff I find€¦hey, I'm always here to help!