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FARMINGTON — Spending time outdoors with dogs is critical for a canine's mental health, trainer Kim Anderson says. And throwing the ball for your dog in the backyard is not enough. "Dogs need to get out and explore and smell," she said. "And it's good for us, too."

Anderson said dogs know their own backyard and have explored every smell in it. Instead, dogs need a chance to experience new terrain.

The Four Corners area has a variety of opportunities for dogs and their owners to do just that. From hiking through the Glade Run Recreation Area or hunting for arches in Bureau of Land Management lands near Aztec to viewing heritage sites such as Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Simon Canyon and Hovenweep National Monument, there are activities for dogs and people of all breeds and abilities.

If the dog is up to the challenge, the Colorado mountains include many dog-friendly trails, including much of the Colorado Trail.

Daily walks provide dogs with mental stimulation and a chance to hone their social skills, which is why the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter started a volunteer dog-walking program that allows anyone older than 16 to walk dogs through Animas and Berg Parks for a maximum of 45 minutes.

"People have been really excited to come walk the dogs," shelter director Stacie Voss said.

Voss said there have been more than 1,300 volunteers sign up to walk the dogs, and some of those people come almost daily.

In addition to providing for the dogs' mental health, the walks help the volunteers, as well.

"One of those gals has actually lost more than 25 pounds," Voss said.

She said dogs often act different while on walks than when in the shelter, and the volunteers can report about the dog's personality after the walk.

"They get to be a dog — just a dog and not a shelter dog," Voss said.

Animas and Berg parks are just two of the various river walks in the area. Bloomfield's Verde del Rio San Juan Park and Aztec's Riverside Park also have trails along the river, as do Boyd Park, Among the Waters Trail and Westland Park in Farmington. Dogs are required to be leashed on those trails unless they are in the dog park located in Westland Park.

However, BLM land offers an opportunity for people who want to take their dogs off the leash. But people who take their dogs to areas where they can be off leash should take extra precautions, Anderson said. The dog should come when it is called, and the owners should be constantly aware of dangers such as rattlesnakes. If a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, the dog should be treated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible, she said.

Even if the dog always comes when it is called, people should have a leash with them, Anderson said.

"You don't know when you might need it," she said.

Even if a dog doesn't come when it is called, Anderson said there are plenty of options for outdoor fun. Extension leashes give dogs a way to explore more territory while still being under their owner's control. Anderson said owners can even take their dogs to parks and play fetch while using an extension leash.

Wherever people choose to take their dogs, they should also carry plenty of water for their dogs to help avoid heat stroke.

Anderson also encouraged people to take their dogs with them into pet-friendly stores like feed stores and hardware stores.

"Do not leave them in the car this time of year, even with the windows down," she warned.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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