Astro GPS Collar - German Shepherd Dog Forums
 
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 01-01-2015, 05:13 PM Thread Starter
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Astro GPS Collar

Im knocking around the idea of getting am Astro GPS Collar for my SAR dog (in training) I would love to hear any thoughts from folks using them in training and on SAR call outs. Pros , Cons any thoughts what so ever. Thanks and I look forward to hearing your 2 cents.

Joe and Hera
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 01-01-2015, 09:23 PM
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I would think the GPS collar would be helpful in quickly locating the dog and what or who the dog found.


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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 01-01-2015, 09:42 PM
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I just bought one - got a great deal at Cabelas-Astro 320 with DC 50 collar for $399. They are discontinuing the DC 50 but I see the price has gone back up to $599 and the new alpha series collar is $799. But I imagine those kind of deals may still be find-able.

The Astro 320 is built on the GPS 62 series unit but it is not as good a navigational handheld as the 62 or the older 60. I will still carry my team-issued 60CX with me. But I can put aerials on the Astro and even calibrate maps like park maps etc to google earth and load into the GPS. VERY NICE. I already own a copy of to Garmin topo maps and that is a must! If someone on your team has the Garmin topo maps, there are no license restrictions on using their copy as long as you use the original disk.

Our team has an older Astro 220 with 7 DC30 collars that we bought a few years ago -- the plan was to keep the handheld at base and the collars in the field and use an antenna on a mast to track the dogs. The reality was a bit different. Dogs in and out of ravines / signals transiently lost / tracking was a real mess. The newer 320 advertises real time tracking on Garmin's Basecamp software but I am still not sold on that based on our hilly terrain and what we have seen in the past. Plus if it is not a team venture you are not going to get someone at IC to mess with all that. I will say though the newer units have much better GPS and radio transmitters than the old ones.

Like many, we found out the hard way that Garmin used VHF bands very close to what emergency services used (in the 150 band) and that being within a few feet of a 5 watt radio could fry the electronics. Well, our base station is 50 watts and the police use much stronger radios than we do. Talked Garmin out of a refurb unit after ours fried. NOW the Astro 320 comes with a warning. So you need to be careful using around VHF radios and there are ways to do it like making sure the mast for the Astros are lower than and isolated from the radio mast / letting your flanker do the radio talking etc or turning off the GPS when transmitting (it is when the radio transmits that there is a problem, not when it receives)

Some folks are able to make it work from a base station but since we have not had a lot of success in that regard we plan to pull data out of the collar (easier with new than old-but there is a way) so we plan on getting back to putting them on that dogs and downloading when we download the search crews' handhelds. GPS has definitely helped us make some real world finds by lining up clues given by the dogs (head pops, body language etc.) on the map (easy to do when you can mark a waypoint) and using the information along with weather info to place the next crews.

I intend to use my personal handheld with my dog. That way I have a better idea of where he went in real time. It is great for SAR if you have good map people at base as you can pull out the data and look for gaps in coverage and in the field you can see what you have and have not covered (have some tricks there...)

How will this go for training? I think the main value is you can keep up with where your dog has gone which is valuable if they are gone too long. Between coyote and beaver traps as well as wildlife, and cars I get antsy if my dog is out of sight for too long but they often ARE out of sight when the hit odor. Secondary value is helping you learn to effectively cover your search area by giving you a feeling for sweep widths, your navigation skills in working a search area, gaps in coverage etc. -- but you probably have to be comfortable with everything else before jumping into the GPS..

I would never recommend a GPS if the map and compass are not first mastered. But I am really excited about getting my own personal Astro. I have been managing our mapping software for awhile and there is a very steep learning curve on all this. Basecamp is Garmin's software and it is free. The topos are about $130. The aerials are a $30 annual subscription. There are ways you can download custom maps without buying the maps from Garmin but they make it easier. Basecamp (which is free) is top notch for working with map data. We also use Terrain Navigator Pro, but any more we mainly use it for planning and reporting purposes and use basecamp as our sole interface with the GPS.

Some folks like the alpha unit with the integrated ecollar. I decided not to go that route and I already have a Dogtra if I want to use one. There is a new T5 collar for the Astro 320. In terms of performance they are about the same though with some different features. For the price break I got the DC 50 was just fine.

EDIT - if your goal is real time ability to find your dog and verify coverage I would say go for it. For logging a dogs tracks after the fact and downloading the data, a cheap etrex or GPS logger attached to the dog's vest would serve just as well. I would say etrex because some of the cheap loggers out there won't talk to most mapping programs...there are ways to get the data out but on a real search you are obliged to use whatever software is on the base computer and Terrain Navigator and/or Basecamp are pretty standard. If you are working an on lead trailing dog, forget it. Get a good GPS for you, not the dog.

Nancy



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Last edited by NancyJ; 01-01-2015 at 10:08 PM.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 01-17-2015, 03:43 PM Thread Starter
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Wow what great information Jocoyn, Thanks for taking the time for such a thorough reply. I think its going to be a great tool for both training and SAR call outs.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 01-18-2015, 07:57 AM
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Of course now I want to buy a windows tablet to carry with me to play with in my car!

Nancy



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