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A woman holding a white cane standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to pull up.

Inside Scoop: Keeping long cane skills sharp after getting a guide dog

By Emily Greenham, Orientation & Mobility Specialist, Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada

Working with a guide dog can provide people who are blind with increased mobility, safety and independence. However, even for those who predominantly work with a guide dog, handlers should keep their long cane skills sharp. 

Consider a potential situation when your guide dog is unable to join you – it’s important that you can pick up your cane and head out the door – confidently and safely. 

Orientation and mobility skills are essential. This includes learning the walking routes in your neighborhood and city, and knowing which public transit routes can take you to places that you frequent, such as your workplace, school or grocery store. 

Here’s a checklist to help keep your cane skills sharp after getting a guide dog:

  • Go for a walk once a week – just you and your cane.
  • Travel a familiar route that you frequent with your guide dog. This way you will already be oriented to the route and can focus on ensuring that you are demonstrating proper cane skills.
  • Use your cane to help you locate landmarks along your route, paying close attention to how far you’ve walked, to help keep your orientation so that you don’t miss your desired location. One difference to expect is that you may start coming into contact with objects or obstacles that your dog typically guides you around.
  • Approach each intersection using your cane to locate the curb edge. Align yourself correctly by listening to the traffic and making alignment adjustments needed to cross the desired street. This will ensure that as you take your first step onto the road, you will begin crossing in a straight line. Continue to follow the sound of the parallel traffic as you cross to help minimize veering.

Sweep your cane side to side with constant contact or use the touch technique to ensure you are covering a minimum of one inch outside each shoulder. When stepping forward with your right foot, your cane should be clearing your left side. This is called the instep technique.

If you need an orientation and mobility refresher or more information about rehabilitation services, visit or call Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada at 1-844-887-8572. If you require a new mobility cane, visit or call 1-866-659-1843.