Senior Dog Otto Gets a Pass


Some years ago, I read a short piece by one of our long-time contributors, Barbara Dobbins, talking about dogs she knew, including one of her own, who had achieved the age and status to have earned a “permanent hall pass.” I was so charmed by the piece that I asked Barb if we could publish it here as a blog post and she agreed.

At the time it was published, my darling Otto was five years old – in the absolute prime of his well-behaved life. And today, he is 13 years old, and I renew his permanent hall pass every few months, as it gets stained and torn with use.

Otto is always the first dog in a group to correctly perform any cued behavior – and is ready for the next cue.

Don’t get me wrong: Otto is still a Very Good Dog. If dogs are being asked to perform a variety of behaviors on cue and the prize is treats, he can still sit, down, stand, and back up faster than any other canine on the property. He wouldn’t dream of chewing up our human things, or jumping up on people rudely. And he’s always going to be WDJ’s top model – knowing just how to jump up on an object and hit a pose and even find his light.

But there are a number of things that dogs are not allowed to do here in my home or on my property, and Otto has decided, “To heck with it, I’m doing them!” And, precisely because of his long and distinguished record, we now look the other way when he sneaks a cookie off the coffee table, snarfs down the horse poop we come across on the trail, digs in the winter vegetable raised beds, or chases the mail truck along our fenceline, barking furiously the entire time. Oy! That last one is hard for me, especially because I am hosting an impressionable young foster dog who would absolutely love to join Otto in this fun activity (Coco now gets shut in my office at a certain point in the afternoon when the mail truck usually makes its rounds). But he has earned these privileges, in honor of his many years of near-perfect behavior.

And, bizarrely, because of course a dog doesn’t know about cameras, he always knows how to find his light…

I don’t know how much more time I will get with Otto, but I’m not going to spend any of it yelling at or even being annoyed by his new naughty behaviors, that’s for sure.

Do any of your dogs have a permanent hall pass?


  1. Yes I certainly do my little 3 1/3 lb toy chihuahua was very badly abused when we rescues each other, he loves the car sitting in his car seat, now still wants to go but sleeps in his seat, he is now fifteen and sees only shadows and is almost deaf, his bladder is shot so now has to stay in his playpen but he sleeps most of the day, I do his laundry at least twice a day as we go threw a lot of towels and washable pee pads, but I wouldn’t give that another thought as long as he is happy and eats well and not in any pain, he is my little warrior after the abuse then being a cancer survivor

  2. My dear Skip, one of my rescued Shelties who died last July, had a permanent “hall pass.” He was the epitome of a good dog, smart, friendly, confident, willing, energetic. And he never met a stranger. He would have gone home with anyone, but he always chose to come home with me. All the best to Otto for a long life. These wonderful dogs bring so much to our lives.

  3. Yes My Daisy 11 yr old Great Dane gets that hall pass. She has been that perfect dog from day one! Never ever doing a thing wrong always minding her manners and so smart. She was able to learn commands right off the bat and her vocabulary is amazing. I can carry on a conversation with this dog and she will go do what I instruct her to do. My family just looks in amazement how well she understands what I am saying to her, It is not only that I understand her too,
    She is having a few medical issue over the past year and half. Incontinence, vomiting and sometimes not eating, I do laundry once a day. Have a schedule set up now where I get up with her so she can go out to urinate at night, This along with medications have been helping her, I Love her with all my heart and will be at her side as long as she needs me no matter what, We are best friends for life.

    • Jane and I are doing that very thing as well, Debra. She had some incontinence issues a few months ago so rather than cut her water I figure if I get up to pee, she probably needs to as well (at least once of those times, anyway – I’m 60+ so it’s usually more than once for me 😉 It seems to be working well for both of us.

      Wishing you and Daisy a lot more time together, in health and happiness!

  4. My 3 year old small beagle named Chance has officially earned his hall pass too. Adopted when he was about 1 year old, a former hunting dog who obviously had never lived in someone’s home, he has become one of the sweetest, most well behaved dogs I have ever met. He is now helping a newly adopted 2 year old sister named G.G. (aka “Good Girl”), also from a similar background, adjust and enjoy her new home. He loves having canine company during this time of COVID-19 quarantine. They make a wonderful pair.

  5. As our dogs have aged, they always get permanent hall passes. They no longer have to sit to eat, to go outside, to greet people (just “four on the floor). We turn a blind eye to minor lapses in “bad” behavior (especially if they are on medication–for example, at the end of her life, one of our Danes was on prednisone and she suddenly became an avid counter surfer–she’d never counter surfed in her life, so we just took extra caution to remove things from the counter that she shouldn’t have, we didn’t yell at her, it wasn’t her fault). After having giant dogs all our lives (Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds), when our last large dog died, we decided we were too old to get another giant breed (it was getting harder and harder to help them if they had mobility issues), so we acquired two small dogs (and both are puppies, no less–I was looking for adults, but these two little bundles just kind of fell in our lap and neither of us could say no, so here we are). I’m finding myself reacting quite differently. I’m more “lenient” with the smaller ones–they get a few more hall passes, and I always yelled at folks for not socializing their small dogs to larger dogs. Now I’m on that end and I can tell you it’s a bit scary to let our little 5 pounder meet a Great Dane! I knew my Danes and Wolfhounds were dog-friendly and wouldn’t hurt a teeny-weeny, but the owner didn’t necessarily know that. I’m determined I’m going to socialize them to larger dogs, but it’s scary now that the shoe is on the other foot. So far, our little 5 pounder is well on her way to being well socialized with dogs of all sizes. Our little 3 pounder is lagging behind due to some health issues (which we knew he had when we adopted him). He’s finally gotten the “all clear” from our vet health-wise and socialization will start in earnest now!

  6. Cooper our GSP (5 yrs) old has one habit we give in to….stealing something for a treat trade. Yes – our fault but it can be so darn cute we laugh instead of correct. He never destroys the item – just dances around proudly. WE try to correct but laughter gets us every time and he knows it. So in return for a hearty laugh and wide smile – we give in and trade. It feels like a small price to pay for some sunshine in these dreary stuck-at-home times.

  7. All of my senior dogs earned their hall pass. I have a rule in the house, if a human walks up the dogs move. Once they reach about 11 or so, I don’t make them get up and move out of my way – I walk around them. It’s difficult for an older dog who may be experiencing arthritis or decreased muscle mass to leap up to get out of the way.

  8. Our 2 + year old “Winnie” is a rescue. WE got her at 10 months old and she has been a challenge. She was part of an invoulntary surrender. She is learning how to be a puppy at this late stage and we love it!!!
    Somebody who,lived in that house abused her. And it was a female and I have had a hard time bonding with her, but we are coming along!!!
    Nancy Metz

  9. Brutus, my rottie, had a permanent hall pass because, quite frankly, he was the perfect dog. He was a rescue, and after a 3 month adjustment during which he chewed up four dog beds, my husband’s golf clubs, and a car battery (yes, a car battery), we had ZERO problems with him. Never any accidents in the house, ever. When I brought home a momma dog and her seven pups from my business park landscaping, we were worried about how he would handle the pups. The momma dog submitted to him when they met, and he was the absolute BEST stepdaddy. Those pups would crawl all over him, pull on his ears, his LIP, chew on his feet. He’d sit there with his tug blanket in his mouth and play tug with the babies. Never aggressive with them, at all. Not once. He loved people, despite his first three years, esp kids. My niece was about a year when we got him, and he ADORED that baby, never left her side whenever she was around. Extremely gentle, extremely laid back, and chill. He crossed in February of this year–and while his last year was a hard one, he still never gave us trouble.

    • A CAR BATTERY? And he didnt have any medical problems afterwards? I’m thinking the golf clubs might have caused a bit of friction at the time, but to survive the battery incident is impressive! What a good boy.

  10. yes my 55lb rescue (will be 15 in January) gets a hall pass. Due to arthritis he doesn’t have to sit for a treat and he gets to pick which way we go on our walks in the neighborhood. Today he is at the oncologist getting ultrasound and xray to determine if his oral malignant cancer has spread (has been having bouts of diarrhea/vomiting and just doesn’t look well). He is everything to me, seen me thru my husband’s death and the loss of 2 other dogs I had adopted since adopting him when he was 7mths old. Don’t know how I will handle losing him as I suspect the time is coming up 🙁

    • Just keep in mind that somewhere “out there” someone is waiting for a good home. My Suzy girl (13) survived Lyme Disease although I think it created immune problems the last year – she was put to sleep in Sept. The house was so very empty without her – even tho my cat tried her best to fill the void – I went to the local shelter & found Axel – hes 8 – about half Suze’s size (she was 80 lbs) and he is an absolute love. Very good manners & sweet – of course Juliet (cat) does NOT like him but she didnt like Suzy either. Hes VERY intimidated by her.
      I, like you, thought so much about losing Suze for months – making the decision is the hardest. Whether you know in your heart its right or not. Just know many, if not all on this blog do understand & feel for you.

  11. My oldest border collie has a permanent hall pass! He gave his all to me in his younger years as my competition agility dog and now as a retiree can do anything he wants! He is my best friend and heart dog. 😄

  12. Yes, my 16 1/2-year-old terrier mix has one. He was a stray adopted from a large city shelter in 2005. While in the shelter, he was attacked by another dog. He came home with distemper, it turned out. He is the best ratter/mouser I have ever seen, beating the cats to the critters on the occasions when a cold winter leads them to find a way into the house. We don’t know what his past history was, but he is a wonderful family dog. This past year he has moved into “old man” status; he has some health issues, and he can sometimes be found staring off into space. But he still jumps and spins when the leash comes out, even though he lets me know after about 1/4 mile that he’s ready to turn back toward home. His housetraining is less consistent than it was and he often needs to be carried up the stairs at night. He gets to do what seems right to him now, even when we need to wait for him to decide to move out of a doorway or the hall.

  13. My Raindrop, a Chow mix rescue, was always given a hall pass. She was 2-1/2 to 3 when we adopted her, but she always seemed an “old soul”. So laid back and calm, her nickname was “Dog Ross” (as in Bob). She loved walks, never paying attention to the antics of any other dog, and only barked when she really had a good reason. Her favorite spot, no matter the weather, was the area under the table on our back porch. I added a thick crate pad, and several big towels to make her a “canopy bed”. She never counter surfed, always sat upon request, we never saw her jump on anyone, and I never had to train her. Sadly, lost her to lymphoma in 2018.

  14. My two little ones have always had a hall pass. I adoped them at 2 and 4 years of age a month apart. Both were neglected and abused and the vet suspected Hutch, my LaCocker, had been tortured at some point. Bodie, my pom, could barely walk; I suspect he had spent most of his life in a crate. One was found wandering the streets of Chicago, and the other was picked up by animal wardens as he wandered the streets of Indianapolis after Christmas. I doubt they had ever been loved or socialized as they knew nothing but fear when they came to me. After 5 years, they crave affection and give it freely to me. I doubt Bodie will ever trust any one else although Hutch now loves everyone he meets. They do get away with a lot, I have to admit, but I am old and retired so I have the time.

  15. Absolutely, I have two seniors who are allowed to do pretty much what they want. However, I have to say they really aren’t naughty. They were a major pain when they were both young and 6 months apart in age. It was like having two adolescent boys (rights of passage). I would NEVER do that again. But as it turns out they both evolved into well-mannered, loving companions. My oldest was diagnosed with cancer last spring so he has complete carte blanch; extra treats and soft toys to carry around. Special time alone with me and grandma. I can’t even get upset about the occasional accidnet. He tries so hard. Aging is an interesting process to observe and go through. My GSD for most of his life was somewhat ambivalent toward humans, he never solicited affection or attention. When he turned 12 and until he passed at 14 he never left my side. I am so grateful for the time I have had with my friends.

  16. Yes, my 14 year old Sammy has earned his Hall Pass!!! When I called Animal Rescue New Orleans to see if they still had the cute black and white border collie mix, they told me that he was considered “feral” and would require a very special person to adopt him. I asked if I could come see him and they said yes! During our visit the lady told me I would have to get the dog to show a submissive posture before I could leave with him……all I did was start scratching his tummy, and he rolled right over on his back!!! This was the beginning of a very special relationship with my first “Heart Dog”! He is normally well behaved, but these days when we go outside and I call him to come in, he looks at me, flips his head and runs in the opposite direction. He also has a mat on the sofa that he is supposed to get on when he jumps up, but I’ve found him scooched over on the cool leather some mornings. I don’t scold him for his “oversights”—-he had a stroke in January of this year and a mini stroke in October and I’m just thankful the Lord reversed all of his negative symptoms except a slight tilt to his head. I am grateful for every day that Sammy is still here with me!!!

  17. I would love some feedback on this if anyone cares to reply. I completely agree on a “hall pass” when it revolves around behavior due to health or age, like incontinence or not being very able to perform sit or down, but do you also give a pass for naughty behavior that you don’t normally allow? Doesn’t that send a mixed message to other dog members of the house and undermine training? It seems cruel to let one dog get away with murder while the others look at you like “hey, that goes against everything you have taught me- I am confused.” That seems like it could be dangerous for the dog. Consistency has always seemed to me to be the key to wheel behaved happy dogs. If I am lax with one dog, the other dogs pick up on that. What if one decided not to listen and ran out into the street, or killed a neighbors chicken? Maybe I am unclear on what you mean by hall pass.

    • Hi Tom, perhaps a trainer will weigh in. For my part, there is only one naughty behavior that Otto is doing that I fear might be “contagious” — the running down the fenceline barking at the mail truck. Woody knows he’s not supposed to do that; usually, when I hear the dogs bark at anything when they are outside, I just give my recall cue — and reinforce GENEROUSLY for quick returns. AT this point, Woody takes *Otto’s* barking as a cue to run to me! lol However, the young dog I am fostering, who has much less of a reinforcement history for recalls, is conflicted. Running and barking is VERY funI Perhaps more fun than getting food treats! She’s not sure; maybe 50/50. So I prevent her from being reinforced for joining Otto in his fun by making sure she’s in the house or in my office in the late afternoons, when the mail truck is due.

      In general, though, I don’t think of it as dogs having a concept of, “Hey, not fair! Otto gets to steal cookies and I don’t!” As long as I keep the reinforcements high for NOT taking cookies off the coffee table (“Leave it!… Good boy!”) for Woody, and manage the situation (don’t leave cookies unattended), the blatant, right-in-front-of-me cookie-stealing by Otto shouldn’t drift over to Woody.

  18. My 15 year old beagle Pepper has been on hall pass most of her life. The sign on her pen said “Perfect Pup” and she has indeed exceeded all expectations. A new pup entered our home. Grandma Pepper not only trained her but has served as a canine model citizen.

  19. Our 11 1/2 year old wire haired terrier mix, Kochany, has a permanent hall pass now. He did not when we first got him at 8 months old. He was (and still is) fearful of new people and situations, but always has loved other dogs. We really have no idea what breed he is, but he’s got that lovely wiry fur, much like your Otto. When Kochany was younger, he would chew any and everything. I left him for just a minute and came out to a hole in the arm of my armchair and stuffing all over the room. I literally left him for 60 seconds unsupervised. After that, he was never left unsupervised until he was almost 4 years old. He was either in day care or in a crate. Over the years, he stopped chewing everything and learned to chew the things we gave him to chew on. He got very good at making sure it was appropriate to chew on by watching our reaction. Now he rarely chews any toys any longer. However, if he did, I would not yell at him, simply take away the object. He still sits beautifully and waits. He is a great little dog and we think he’s perfect.

  20. My Lobo, a husky. We adopted him on what probably would have been hos last day in LA county pound. He was perfectly behaved, never destructive, the best alpha dog ever, very hard to get riled up but willing to enforce the rules.
    He was very laid back and super smart. We lost him too soon, but he left us his way.
    He was my souldog. Even after more than 10 years since his death i still miss him.

  21. My 14-year-old miniature Schnauzer and my 13-year-old GSD mix both have a permanent hall pass. Bonita. (the Schnauzer) spends most of her time sleeping and snoring. I have had her for about 8 years now from a rescue. She has occasional accidents in the house and sometimes stands in the middle of the yard and barks. I believe she has dementia and I know she now has sight problems. . Mec (GSD mix) has always been a good dog. She is still the demo dog for puppy class and the most trusted of my dogs. She is beginning to have a few problems with her sight I think, but she is doing well otherwise. She has started tearing up paper. cardboard boxes, and pee pads when I go to work. I may have a mess to clean up when I get home, but she still gets to be the one dog loose when I leave.

  22. Wow Nancy i remember when you first got Otto and published his first picture with you….i didn’t realize it was 13 yrs ago! In answer to the hall pass, my Abby, a springer doodle who looks like a cocker spaniel, gets a hall pass at 12 yrs for having a poop in the house now and then when she can’t hold it like she used to (well neither do i get the warnings/urges i used to so i can commiserate with her). She is the best girl in so many other ways that it is much easier to just pick it up and i know yelling after the fact doesn’t work! So that is her hall pass for life! love her lover her lover her so much! Thanks Nancy for the article! and Congrats on so many yrs with the big guy!

  23. Ramses was always the perfect gentlemen. He never jumped on people, humped legs, drank out of the toilet and wasn’t a trash digger. In his older years he remained a gentlemen. But very near the end he did soil the house a few times. He was on meds and a few times he couldn’t make it out the back door in time. He was always highly embarrassed. But I always told him it was all right.

    I notice Otto has a really great memory foam bed. I bought that exact same bed for Ramses and have always regretted I didn’t buy it sooner. He had arthritis (and a bad back) much earlier than I realized and once I bought that bed and set it up it was his favorite spot. He loved that bed. I’m so glad Otto has one.

  24. My Saffy (Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever) was the official Best Dog Ever. When we moved to our 2 acre property, there were no fences but Saffy never roamed off the property. We got chickens and she let the baby chicks sit on her. She loved kitties, other dogs, people. Even people that ‘didn’t like dogs’ were won over by her sweet personality. She lived to be 14-1/2. It was one of the hardest things I ever did when I helped her pass to the other side. I still miss her every day.

  25. I had one too. My Aussie Brumbie was a brilliant fellow. From when he was about five until he died at 16, he was soo good that he was entitled to any little trespasses he enjoyed. He was a delight, and five years, I still miss him so much. My current dogs have their good moments, but he was one in a million.