I strongly suggest knowing before you get your puppy home what you need from them, want from them, and could manage without their help. These are some dogs from the Service Dog Project.org (link to right)
Since I know I will need a pup to pick up and carry things for me, they have to first have associated the name with the item.
I take an inventory of every room in my house, my garage, and my shed. Everything! If it’s on the floor, on a table, on the wall, you name it. From curtains which will be changed eventually, to the hamper they may someday pull to the laundry room for me.
Don’t forget clocks if you will need to take medicine at a certain time. And have a plan for teaching the pup to read a clock–yes, they can recognize numbers. Or they can count dings if you teach them. They can also recognize a medicine bottle with a say, red dot sticker if you teach them colors, that is taken at 8.
They can learn to read words too, once they know what an item is, by simply adding another association to that item. Exit signs, bathroom signs, even with lots of practice, reading a checklist to be sure the stove, oven, and lights get turned off when you’re done cooking.
Little 8-16 week olds can’t remember huge lists (the human short term memory capacity is 7 items), but teaching two or maybe three things a day is possible. To teach it, they need to notice it, mess with it, and have a name put to it. This way they get the visual shape, the color, the smell, the texture, and a sound. Multi-sensory input helps with the memory.
Go back to those 2-3 items several times that first day to make the associations go from short term memory to long term, and keep going back from then on so it stays in the memory banks. I like to play a “find it” game, with a clicker and a variety of rewards a couple times a day.
A find it game accomplishes more than just remembering what something is: it builds their ability to mentally map your home. That will later translate into mapping where things usually are at the dollar store. Not to mention they will think it’s a game to ‘find’ what’s on your list, and enjoy the “work” they don’t know is work.
Picking up is sorta a hang up with some Great Danes. They aren’t the best breed for retrieving, generally speaking. That’s why I would deliberately choose a pup from a litter that likes to mouth and carry. Even play keep away is okay at 8 wks.
The easiest technique for “training” puppies is called “capturing’–there’s a whole lot of info about it on the page called “Helpful Techniques”. Essentially it is seeing and rewarding what a pup does naturally to encourage more of that behavior.
So anything my future Dane SD candidate mouths gets a click n praise. Anything they pick up and carry gets a click and a bunch of treats. Anything they pick up and bring to really happy me hits the Bil-Jack jackpot. I’ll let them stick their little nose right into the goodie bag like a horse eating its oats!
Teaching them colors is as easy as construction paper with items that are the same colors. Numbers are not so hard as you might think either, just some index cards with big bold numbers on them to put the word and the shape together in their minds. Say “2″ and point to it so they look at it, get them to touch it while you say 2 again, and have a happy click with big rewards.
Once they know their numbers, they can take you to aisle 5 in the grocery by themselves! You can count unnumbered aisles out loud, so they can learn to count too. If they know the number 3, you can simply put one bone, two bone, three bone down in front of them. Then let them pull bones out of the box while you count.
If you click fast and make a big happy noise when they hit three, the click indicates to them the counting is over, and they did it. With practice, a puppy will count three items when you say the word or show them the flash card.
I’m not as worried about fancy obedience as I am stimulating their brainpower by teaching them items, colors, numbers, and such. You can teach and older dog to sit, but this 16 week window when their intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds goes by very fast.