Still, some behaviorists assert that emotions are a mere reflexive process in animals other than humans. According to them, animals can experience emotions but they cannot think about them. Accordingly, Nick could experience sadness but not grief, since that would require he understand something about life and the lack thereof. That argument is understandable -- dogs do not have the same large cerebral cortex as man, and therefore some secondary emotions that involve understanding are too complex for a dog's smaller cognitive capacity. I, however, disagree that dogs are incapable of experiencing secondary emotions.
Disappointment is a secondary emotion requiring an unfulfilled expectation. In order to feel disappointed, there must be anticipation. To anticipate, one must have the capacity to think about the future; to feel disappointment, one has to realize intellectually that the anticipated event did not and will not occur. This is a relatively sophisticated concept.Yet I have never met a dog owner who does not believe their dog feels disappointment. Who hasn't seen big brown eyes looking balefully at them when an important phone call postpones a planned walk in the park? Nick had the best disappointed face ever. Big rolls of skin would droop down as he pointed his nose toward the ground. His beautiful eyes would stare at me reproachfully from under his furrowed brow. His body language spoke clearly: "You let me down."
But, conversely, did he worry about disappointing me? And if he did, did he feel remorse? Remorse and its big brother, guilt, are advanced emotions. Experiencing them necessitates an understanding of a moral code and what it means to violate that code. I think dogs can understand some of our human moral code, but only the parts that overlap with their own.
Dogs have an ancestral code of moral conduct. Wolves have strict social rules. Some of those rules are easy to identify in dogs today. For example, dogs practice the concept of possession being nine- tenths of the law—though with dogs, it is more like possession is ten- tenths of the law. The most timid member of a dog family will growl and snap even at a more dominating dog in defense of a chew bone, and the bolder dog knows better than to try to take the bone away from the one chewing it -- at least not by force. Trickery, which Jack sometimes uses to take Butch's toys, seems to be acceptable. But after the bone is all gone, the more timid dog will often make gestures that acknowledge the other dog's dominance, such as face licking and submissive rolling. These actions could be considered apologetic, though they seem more likely to be an attempt to avoid later reprimand.
Dogs worry about keeping humans happy, so they go to extraordinary measures to avoid upsetting us -- within the framework of their own understanding. That, though, is the limit of their capacity to experience guilt or remorse. I realize some people may disagree with me, citing examples of a dog behaving sheepishly in front of its owner before a misdeed is even discovered. Surely, they contend, this is evidence of guilt. Well, I don't believe it is, unless it pertains to some rule of conduct shared by both species. It is far more likely, for example, that the dog remembers that his owner got upset previously when he came home to find that the sofa cushions had been destroyed.