We test Hungary’s dog-friendly beaches in the summer to see if they are suitable for those arriving with a guide dog. The basic needs of guide dog owners are the same as that of other dog owners’, so our comments could be on interest to everyone planning a holiday at the beach. The first beach Baráthegyi Guide Dog School tested was in Fonyód, the second in Balatonboglár.
The first dog-friendly beach of Lake Balaton opened in Fonyód. The beginning is promising: a great future beach can already be seen, which means that you can swim in the lake, the environment is beautiful, but the development of infrastructure is yet to come.
Balaton’s south coast is more developed in this respect than its north coast, where there is no real dog-friendly beach, which could be considered, because it is not very practical to cross the lake for a dog-friendly beach. Dogs have already been allowed to swim in the Inner Lake of Tihany, but we believe that only the beach of Fonyód is suitable for people and dogs to enjoy the lake together.
The dog-friendly beach in Fonyód is a 10-minute walk from the train station. It is trickier by car, because in front of the harbor, next to the train station, access only is allowed. We were instructed by a parking attendant to drive in, but do not park on the grass, which is indicated by a warning sign as well. Practically, we did not have to carry a cooler box and shade tents with us, and we were not punished either, so it would be worth removing the sign. It is not allowed to park on the grass beside the beach, so we looked for shade under the trees next to the dirt road, which was not much. There is no designated parking place and we have no information if there will be any, and the available place does not seem to be enough for that. For the time being, there is no sign to indicate the dog-friendly beach in Fonyód (only at the beach); there could be one before getting off the highway and one at the harbor.
The location of the beach is beautiful, overlooking the mountains of the north shore. We liked the beach, the water and the atmosphere. The dogs chase each other brightly and jump into the lake to the other dogs. The owners play with them both on the beach and in the water or control them, because many dogs meet each other for the first time. The good news is that we did not run into extreme cases or completely incompatible dogs or owners. Of course, not everyone loves the water: we saw a dog who could be smuggled into the water only on a life belt, so it happens that the dog-friendly beach is a greater joy for the water-loving owner.
It was great to swim together with the dogs. All six guide dogs splashed happily into the water after the balls and their owners when they called them in the water. It has been the first time for Dóri Sápi to swim together with her dog, Fidzsi. She happily said that her guide dog means security for her even in the water. A Hungarian Television Channel recorded our common swimming with the dogs.
The water is half-meter deep and gradually deepens, so the dogs immediately begin to swim, as their owners who cannot swim can walk in with them in the lake some 50-60 meters.
We arrived at 10 a.m., when a total of 4-5 dogs were on the beach and in the water. During peak hours, in the early afternoon, there were 50-60 dogs; from around 2-3 o’clock there were fewer. During peak hours, the 80-100-meter long coastline seemed short, however, everyone put down their towels on front of the beach and thus a 30-40-meter wide land remained unused to the dirt road leading to the beach.
As for sanitation, dog excrement was not a problem: we picked up one, but others also seem to do so, and not just after their own dog. The closed trash was almost full in the afternnon.
The Mayor of Fonyód promises to have sanitary facilities, canteens and even good food for dogs. As they are only in planning phase, the following is also recommended for the attention of the local government.
As dog owners we missed the possibility of drinking water options: dogs can drink either from the lake or the large puddles gathering on the beach that smelled like a swamp in the afternoon. Neither is a healthy solution, safe drinking water is required.
There is no designated area for dogs where their owners can take them to poop, and a warning sign with a trash would be suitable for this. The alert owners can take their dogs a few bushes away, but it may be missed in the heat of the game. It is not pleasant when a urinating dog causes an almost close physical experience to the sunbathers, and it is unhealthy in the long run, because the grass will burn out and the beach will have a pungent smell. So a designated area would be an option for this.
We missed the toilets. Two mobile toilet booths were placed there by the local government, there is no sink. A hygienic tissue and some hand sanitizer are good to have with you.
There are very few shade trees, so shading is to be solved by ourselves. Rentals of parasols and deck chairs would be desirable. Some of us missed the benches and tables, but of course, it is not a matter of personal comfort.
General weaknesses that do not depend on the beach
First it has to be said that we are not perfect either, but as many other, we strive to achieve correct canine behavior. This is why we mention some examples of community-building.
It happened that an unknown owner fed one of our dogs. If you are not allowed to offer food and drink to unfamiliar children walking with their parents without the parents’ permission, then it is not supposed to be done with an unfamiliar dog either. It refers to both pet and guide dogs, even more so to the latter, as a visually impaired person cannot even protest because he does not take notice of the intention of feeding.
It would be proper if the owners did not leave behind the food that their dog did not eat, because it is also unwanted feeding. There have been examples of forgotten food eaten by “foreign” dogs, which may cause problems due to food sensitivity, or if the food goes sour in the sun, e.g. canned food. A visually impaired owner cannot prevent this, if the dog is not near them, which may also happen to others in a beach like this.
On the beach some important rules on dogs can be read on a a sign, which should be complemented on the basis of the experiences.
What should be considered by guide dog owners
There is no car traffic around the beach; you can park at the edge of the dirt road, where dogs don’t typically beetle off, since they all have fun. However, the desire of guide dogs enjoying their freedom without their harness will guide them to play; they will mingle with the crowd many times. Keep this in mind and if you can be more relaxed if there is someone who keeps an eye on your dog, it is recommended to organize your program accordingly.
It’s also worth talking about the beach. Typically, there is a paved path on the beach, under which there are rocks which were covered with a thin layer of water when we were there. Even the bigger dogs had difficulty to get out of the water on the steep bank above the rocks, which is not high, but slippery. It happened that we had to help our smaller dogs to get out. Some ramps could solve this problem.
Little thong but we mention that one of the lower steps of one of the stairs leading to the water is loose, which is a problem when walking down the steps: one of us stood on it, while someone else walked down. We hope it will be repaired soon.
Our six guide dog owner friends enjoyed the day spent on the beach and recommend others to visit the beach with a sighted attendant.
In Balatonboglár there is no dog-friendly beach; the one which was supposed to be that could not really be called dog-friendly, so the local government removed the sign from there. The 5-meter long bank at the end of the street is not suitable for bathing. According to a man who spent his holiday there, it is not visited by anyone and the dead fish near the bank may be especially harmful to the dogs’ health. It’s good to hear that the local government has promised to find a worthy place for dogs to swim.
To sum up
Because of its great makings and friendly atmosphere the dog-friendly beach in Fonyód is recommended for everyone. After the development of the infrastructure, the well-intentioned initiative may make Fonyód a dog paradise of Lake Balaton.
Currently, there are 144 guide dogs on duty in Hungary, out of which we have trained 64; we would like to help guide dog owners in their vacation with useful information. In July, we are going to visit Lake Velence and share our experiences with everyone.