Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Meaning:

Someone who is barking up the wrong tree is making a wrong assumption about someone or something.

Example: When I went to grab some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the kitchen, they were all gone! At first I thought my son had eaten them all, but I was barking up the wrong tree. It was actually my wife!

(In other words, the father jumped to conclusions and wrongly blamed his son.)
Synonyms / Related:
Off base, jumping to conclusions
A dog barking up the wrong tree.
Silly dog, it’s the other tree!

The Origin Of ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘barking up the wrong tree’? This common expression is believed to come from dogs and hunting. Here is why:

Dogs are sometimes used during hunts because of their strong sense of smell, their ability to chase and track other animals, and they add a bit of extra security for the hunter.

While out hunting in the wild, a dog may give chase if it spots another animal. During the chase, the fleeing animal may attempt to climb a tree to escape its barking pursuer.

Well, dogs aren’t great at climbing things, so instead of continuing the pursuit up the tree, they’ll usually stay at the bottom and start barking. The barking indicates to the hunter where the fleeing animal is hiding. Now, it’s possible that during all of this, the dog, for whatever reason, mistakenly chooses the wrong tree. If this were to happen, he would literally be ‘barking up the wrong tree,’ as the saying goes. (See the picture above for a depiction of this.)

Anyway, now let’s look at how old this idiom is. It goes back to at least the early to mid-19th century. For example, its earliest appearance in print (from what I’ve seen) is from the Knickerbocker Magazine, 1836:

‚Äč”You’ve been barking up the wrong tree, cried the Ohioan.”


Examples Sentences For ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’

  • My dad was barking up the wrong tree when he accused me of eating the last of the cookies! It was actually my sister. (Plot twist!)
  • After investigating the crime rates in my city, it looks like I barked up the wrong tree because I thought they had gone down.

Tip: There are many phrases and sayings on this site for you to read about. You can learn all about their meaning and origin. To find them, use the menu at the top. It is easy, give it a try!

Sharing is caring!