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Aside from supper time or the random glimpse of a wild squirrel in a backyard tree, the high point in any dog's day is an outing with its owner.

Even veteran town dogs get weary of seeing the same old curbs and hydrants. A little more stimulating terrain helps keep life interesting.

That's why Connie Cloak takes Montana, her 9-year-old Border Collie, to Hood Mountain Regional Park on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa.

"My dog is the light of my life. We go to a city park every morning so we can walk around and she can socialize with other dogs," Cloak said. "But when we want to really get out and get some exercise and enjoy some natural beauty, the regional parks are where we go."

Park rules require keeping every dog on a leash, but even so, the regional parks offer a variety of trails and vistas that fenced dog parks lack.

"The regional parks are definitely dog-friendly," said Meda Freeman, spokesperson for Sonoma County Regional Parks. "We know that being out on the trail with your dog is a really wonderful experience."

The pastime also is pretty pleasing from the dog's point of view, said Cloak, who co-owns a Santa Rosa environmental consulting firm with her husband, Chris Carrieri.

"It definitely keeps my dog young to get out and be active and do new things, and part of what she likes is being with me," said Cloak, 57. "We're a team."

Occasionally, Montana has discovered a little more adventure than she can handle, happening upon a bobcat, coyotes and even a rattlesnake at different times.

"If she hadn't been on a leash, she would have run, and I think the coyotes would have attacked her," Cloak said.

That underscores the need for the leash law, which can be enforced by misdemeanor citations that require a court appearance, Freeman said.

"One of the reasons for the leash is the safety of the dog," she explained.

The leash rule also applies to the beach at Bodega Bay's Doran Park, where the surf can pose an added risk. But that doesn't mean dogs can't enjoy a sniff of the sea.

Favorite destinations for Cloak and Montana include Pinnacle Gulch, adjacent to Doran Park, accessible by trail and best visited at low tide.

"Montana loves the walk down there because there are lots of different habitats along the way," Cloak said. "We walk along, and she's interpreting everything through her senses."

Hood Mountain remains a favorite because it's challenging and offers some solitude, she added.

"I love Hood Mountain. I haven't explored very much of it. The access that I usually use is steep, and it's a bit of a climb. It's a very remote feeling," Cloak said.

"I like the quiet. I like to walk along and see what's there and look through my binoculars whenever I want. And my dog can sniff what she wants."

Another popular spot for dog owners is the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, with its oak woodlands. But Freeman cautions hikers to watch out for the park's boundary with the Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge and keep their dogs within the park.

Freeman also recommends the newly cut trails at the Taylor Mountain Regional Park at the south end of Santa Rosa, which are good for hikers with dogs. Although it gets busy, Spring Lake in Santa Rosa also is a favorite for dogs and their owners.

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"We have a range of parks and trails for all different kinds of experiences," she said. "Dogs are welcome at the river parks: Sunset, Steelhead, Riverfront. Foothill Regional Park is good because it's so convenient, right there in Windsor, but once you get out on the trail, you're having a wilderness experience."

One exception to Sonoma County Regional Park rules is Shiloh Park near Windsor, where trails are closed to dogs because of frequent use by horse riders.

Nothing in life is completely carefree. Dog owners do need to use leashes and clean up after their pets, no fouling the footpath. But the experience of hiking the park trails with your faithful canine definitely is worth a little work.

"When you're out with your dog, you get the companionship of your dog, and part of the fun is seeing how much joy the dogs have when they're out experiencing nature," Freeman said.

"They love being out on the trails. The wilderness experience is stimulating. It's great exercise, and it lets the dogs spend quality time with their humans."

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

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