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I have had multiple scenarios where dogs I've owned or watched would consistently howl or sing at very specific things, and nothing else.

Scenario 1: Final Jeopardy

Whenever we babysat our friend's black-and-tan dachshund and watched Jeopardy, he would howl at the song used during Final Jeopardy. Not the intro. Not any of the outtakes of the song, but only when the song played during the part where everyone writes down their final answer. He didn't even have to see the television screen to know to howl. He just did it. I have no video of this particular dog, and he has since passed, but apparently there are many videos of dogs on YouTube howling to Final Jeopardy.

Here are several sample videos of various dogs during Final Jeopardy:

At no point in these videos is any of these dogs rewarded for their behavior. We never rewarded the dog we babysat for howling.

Scenario 2: Answering Machine

If our phone rang in the house and the answering machine picked up, once people started speaking to leave a message, both male dachshunds would howl and sing. They would not do this on playback. They also would not do this if the call came from inside the house.

While I found it adorable, I did not reward them for this behavior; I do not understand why they reacted like this every single time. Of note, I think one dog howled and the other joined in, as one has since passed and the other doesn't do it anymore.

I never rewarded our dogs for this behavior.


Why do these dogs choose to howl at these very particular scenarios and only at those times and so consistently? Are there specific tones in these sounds that might have enticed them to howl?

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    I would chalk this one up to the dog just being unique, just like humans. Can't always explain why some pets do things. – Dennis Graves Oct 10 '13 at 20:19
  • Some pets shows some unique tendencies which can't be explained similar to humans as sevargdcg said. – Ankit Sharma Oct 10 '13 at 20:21
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    @CareyGregory - Please add an new answer if you think you have a better explanation. The OP can change his mind, he's a regular and will see this, if you post a better one and we're all for that. – John Cavan Mar 12 '14 at 2:53
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    @CareyGregory - neither dog in either scenario received rewards / operant conditioning; the selected answer implies this is not an option. I would appreciate an answer that does. – JoshDM Mar 12 '14 at 4:45
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    Who doesn't? It is a catchy tune. – Oldcat Mar 19 '14 at 22:15
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Animals learn behaviours through a mechanism called operant conditioning (see this answer for a quick introduction). Basically, a dog will do whatever works, i.e., if performing a behaviour has previously led to good things happening(TM), it will probably try the behaviour again. If good things happen often* when the behaviour is learned and the dog will keep doing it.

It is likely that your dog got lots of attention and maybe even praise the first time it did this. If it did it again and you showed your family members what happened, they also paid the dog more attention, thereby rewarding the behaviour until your dog learned to perform it every time.

Skinner's pigeons are a great example of the type of behaviours animals learn in response to a reward mechanism they can't figure out.

Another great example is this post from cheezburger.com

Weird dog behaviours

*The most effective way to train a behaviour is through intermittent reinforcement, i.e. rewarding unpredictably but often enough (think slot machine) rather than all the time (think snack machine).

  • OK, but why did he start singing to it in the first place, and only Final Jeopardy, not any of the snippets? He's done it when he can't even see the television to relate it visually. – JoshDM Oct 10 '13 at 22:17
  • It maybe that he relates those sounds to the reward, and so there has to be an exact set of events that trigger the "singing" – Dennis Graves Oct 11 '13 at 1:13
  • Great answer and use of references to back up your claims. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 14:51
  • @JoshDM - That is something we can not say. Do you or someone in your family hum along with it. I suspect that when he did it he received praise and positive attention. That has led him to continue the practice... it could also be that he just really likes/dislikes the song and singing with/at it makes him feel good. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 14:54
  • I think it's the latter, but it is so odd that it is only the extended tune, not the partial tune. And it's not that it's been playing for an extended time; he started right in as soon as the music begins. – JoshDM Oct 15 '13 at 14:56
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My dog is a very disobedient 3-month-old puppy. He howls at the Jeopardy song at a certain spot every time, while completely ignoring almost all other television sounds. I have not rewarded the behavior ever and, in fact, she did it spontaneously on her own the very first time she heard it, when I wasn't even in the room. She does it every time the final clue comes on when it gets towards the end of the song, except strangely she won't do it again when I replay it right away and try to "make" her perform by rewarding her, perhaps because she has registered that it is not real after hearing it repeated.

I cannot buy the idea that this is a learned behaviour, seeing as I can't even "train" her to do it. I also found similar cases on YouTube of dogs howling at the exact same moment, also to the owners' bafflement and not related to any enticement on their part. This is clearly something instinctual, perhaps to do with the tone, which triggers the dog to respond in this way.

Perhaps the song sounds like a dog howling in the distance to them? Seeing as dogs are also social and they communicate via howls, barks, growls and the like with one another, I would think this is a likely explanation.

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Singing is a social activity that isn't restricted to humans. Wolves howl in chorus, recognizably harmonizing with each other. (If two wolves land on the same note, one or the other will shift.)

Dogs are domesticated descendents of wolves; some howl, some like howling in chorus, and some will harmonize with human singers or with music. Their sense of rhythm may not be great, and the chords that sound right to them aren't always the ones we would have chosen, but there's a very long history of dogs performing well enough to be on stage as novelty acts.

So the pooches in question may just have decided this was amusing on their own. Or they may have done it on impulse once, noticed that it made hunans happy, and learned to do it reliably -- training, though unintentional. Or they may have been actively encouraged, especially in the cited YouTube vids.

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