Everyone knows that while sticks and stones break bones, words cannot -- unless they're about your dog.
Be it beagles vs. boxers or cocker spaniels against Chihuahuas, nothing cuts closer to a person's character than the mutts they allow to share their house. Just try telling your neighbor you prefer your Shih Tzu to her German shepherd -- better get ready to put up a hedge.
But put your poochy pitchforks away: Dog license data from the Allegheny County Treasurer's office show that we're more alike than different when it comes to our canines.
Of the county's 100,000 registered dogs -- excluding Pittsburgh, which has its own dog licensing system -- the region's top dog is the Labrador retriever, numbering nearly 8,000 strong. They're followed by golden retrievers at 3,645, beagles at 3,023 and Shih Tzus, nipping at the larger competition's heels at 2,700.
No surprise that Labs took the top spot, experts say: They've capped national surveys for more than 20 years. But the runners-up may suggest a shift in preferences.
"The overall trend we're seeing is that larger breeds are making a move in popularity," said Lisa Peterson, director of communications at the American Kennel Club. "In New York City, the Yorkshire terrier had been the top dog for years, but the Labrador retriever has been making moves."
(The Yorkie is No. 11 in Allegheny County.)
Households are now looking for reliable family dogs over the cute little things that once adorned celebrity handbags, surveys suggest. But dog owners are fickle: American Kennel Club records show nearly every major breed has had a time in the No. 1 spot, usually driven by celebrity example or a starring movie role. "Air Bud," anyone?
Speaking of which, "Buddy" is the most popular name in the Allegheny County suburbs. That's followed by Max, Bella, Bailey and Molly. Less-affluent ZIP codes also favored names like "Duke," "Bear," and "Misty"; wealthier neighborhoods stuck to the countywide standbys.
On the whole, most ZIP codes shared the same taste in breeds. But some ZIP codes saw a much lower rate of spaying and neutering, sinking as low as 50 percent in parts of Duquesne and Braddock.
That spells trouble for animal caregivers such as Donna Bucek, director of animal services at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. Her shelter on the North Side of Pittsburgh is packed as it is, hosting up to 100 dogs in the summer.
"We already have more than enough animals here that need good homes," she said.
Already too well-versed in the difficulties of trying to adopt a diffident dog, she suggested dog owners put their pooches through a basic obedience program, introducing them to other pets and people. Too often, troubled dogs have invested their love on an owner who has left the scene.
In some ways, the list shows how predictable dog owners can be. For instance, there are more than 40 black female Labrador retrievers named Shadow in Allegheny County.
But it's also a testament to their creativity. Of the 18,000 different dog names wagging around the county, 13,000 of them are unique.
That means there's only one Ethel Mae, Cuddlie, Fishy, Fleetwood, Cole Martin, Cozmo Prince, Excalibur, D-Bowie, Doofus, Missy Luv Wee Paws, Lord Tobius and Zinfandel.
But there are two Sugarbears.
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497. First Published March 4, 2013 5:00 AM