Great Danes began as a hunting breed, so they had to hunt with both nose, eyes, and ears. They are often very, very aware of things in their environment.
But most any puppy’s intelligence can be stimulated enough to learn at least some colors, numbers, and written words. The more you work with them, reward them, let them investigate and generally be puppies with a future purpose, the smarter they get.
The trick is to start young (8-16) weeks, and allow them to use all their senses to “back up the hard drive”. In other words, a red candle can smell like cinnamon, or a favorite apple treat which can help the color red stick in their memory.
The puppy will need to know certain “trained” behaviors, like touching with a nose, or find it games. But once they can show you they understand, it’s off to the races! Don’t underestimate a puppy’s ability to learn before 16 weeks!
A puppy can certainly learn to recognize colors, which comes in handy when they need later to tell the difference between a half gallon of whole milk and and a half gallon of skim milk at the grocery. It’s as simple as construction paper, treats, and items they already know that are those colors.
Place 2 different colored papers on the floor, place a treat on one of them. When the pup goes for the treat the color fills their visual field. Say the name, they munch the treat, and do it again 2 or three more times.
If you need to practice it some more, you can lure the pup to that color with a treat in your hand, say the word, then drop the treat on the paper.
You can do two colors at a time if you think your pup is sharp enough to remember two a day. Or teach one new color a day, but make sure to add a colored paper there you’ve done before so you know they can differentiate between them.
Once they reliably indicate the right color, you can add to that knowledge by saying “red candle” or “blue candle”, letting them then differentiate between the two with plenty of rewards–they have a foundation to help them select all sorts of groceries, tell red lights from green lights, and handle our human, highly visual world much better.
A puppy can also devolop visual number and letter recognition, to take you straight to aisle 7, or section B5 in a big parking lot. Remember flash cards when you were a kid? Well, this is more fun–recognizing #2 comes with a click and a lick of cream cheese! Wish my math learning had been that rewarding!
It’s the same basic idea as learning colors, since they are both a visual exercise. Use very big bold numbers on a large paper, and do the treat drop and verbal word. When they have learned that number, “practice” by putting big numbers on a piece of paper, tape it to the wall, and let them sort your laundry with you!
Practice some more by using a fat marker to write numbers on a box, and let them find their dried liver in it! Play the number games inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, at the neighbor’s and anywhere else your puppy’s comfortable enough to concentrate.
Teach letters the same way if your activities will often have combinations of letters and numbers, like parking lot sections. You can even use a set of soft knitted baby blocks to nose/click/treat and play with. Send them for toy F and they don’t really know they’ve learned a letter!
Pups can indeed “read”, though they won’t be sitting down with a cup of tea to get through “War and Peace”. They can visually recognize shapes on signs like “exit”, or written words like “Tylenol”.
Whether they already know what a jar of peanut butter is or not, get it out and let them have a lick just ’cause they’re so cute! Write PB big and bold on a paper and use it like flash cards: show the card, say “peanut butter”, and give them a lick.
Repeat until they are reacting to the flash card, then let them touch the jar before they get a taste. Set a jar of something else there beside it, and see do they know the difference. If not, practice PB with that other jar there awhile. They’ll catch on!
Many service dogs will need to guide their handler to an exit, so teach them exit signs. Odds are you’ll need a guide dog to find a bathroom at some point so teach them “ladies” or “mens” or the symbols found on public bathrooms. Whatever you need them to find!