Barking Up The Wrong Tree


If someone is “barking up the wrong tree,” it means they are making a wrong assumption about someone or something.

Example: I am craving a snack and those chocolate chip cookies up in the cupboard are exactly what I’m looking for. However, when I went to grab them, they were gone! At first I thought my son ate them all, but I soon learned that 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: 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. Let’s see 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 decide to climb a tree (assuming its capable) to escape it’s barking pursuer.

Dogs aren’t great at climbing, so instead of following their target up the tree, they will usually just stay at the bottom and bark. The barking indicates to the hunter where the fleeing animal is hiding. Of course, it’s possible that during all this, the dog for whatever reason mistakenly chooses the wrong tree. He would thus be literally “barking up the wrong tree” as the saying goes. (See the picture above for a depiction of this.)

Anyways, this idiom goes back to at least the early to mid-19th century. Its earliest appearance in print that I could find 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 cookie in the jar.
  • After investigating the crime rates in my neighborhood it looks like I barked up the wrong tree because I thought they had gone down.

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